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A brewing battle between Ukraine and Russia sent traders racing out of equities Monday in search of safe-haven assets.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) slumped 154 points, or 0.94%, to 16168, the S&P 500 (GSPC) dropped 13.7 points, or 0.74%, to 1846 and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) slid 30.8 points, or 0.72%, to 4277.
It was the worst day for Wall Street in a month, snapping a three-day winning streak.
The tense situation in Ukraine worsened over the weekend as Russia sent troops into the country's Crimea region. That part of the country (toward the Southeast) is predominantly made up of Russians as opposed to several other regions that tend to lean toward Western Europe. Still, it's sovereign Ukraine territory and many world powers including the United States and European Union have threatened to enact sanctions against Russia for the move.
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"Barring a Russian attempt to take all of eastern Ukraine, which would produce a grave crisis, it appears that the big angle is economic -- with a growing likelihood of sanctions that will bite, to the displeasure of multinational corporations which may have to curtail their business dealings with Russia," analysts at Washington, D.C.-based political consultancy PRG Group wrote in a letter to clients on the day.
Indeed, the reaction across global markets was a race into safe-haven assets. Russian markets plummeted about 10%, while several other major European bourses crumbled more than 3%. Meanwhile, traders tossed money into the gold and U.S. Treasury bonds.
Gold prices jumped $23.90, or 1.8%, to $1,346 a troy ounce. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury fell 0.034 percentage point to 2.618%.
At the same time, the geopolitical tumult sent energy prices rallying. U.S. crude oil jumped $2.16, or 2.1%, to $104.75 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline climbed 1% to $2.79 a gallon.
Despite all the doom and gloom, Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, told his clients to keep their eyes focused on economic fundamentals since these type of crises tend to fade.
"While we cannot discount at all what is going on in the Ukraine because Russia is not some small, modest country, I would not be surprised if this week’s market close at 4pm on Friday is more determined by Friday’s payroll number and how people think the Federal Reserve will respond than what is going on in Crimea," he said.
There were also a handful of U.S. economic reports out.
The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing activity gauge ticked up to 53.2 in February, beating Wall Street estimates of 52, and up from 51.3 in January. Readings above 50 indicate expansion for the U.S. manufacturing sector, while those below point to contraction.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said personal income in January rose 0.3%, above Wall Street estimates for a 0.2% increase. Meanwhile, consumer spending climbed 0.4% in the same month, above estimates of a 0.1% rise.
The Big Three U.S. automakers also unveiled monthly sales figures on the day. Chrysler posted a significant gain in sales, helped by a surge in Jeep-brand sales. However, Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) saw their sales slump.
Elsewhere in corporate news, Men's Wearhouse (MW) and Jos. A. Bank (JOSB) seemed to inch closer to some sort of agreement capping months of hostile communications over a potential merger as the two signed a non-disclosure agreement.