Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks trade sharply lower as Russia-Ukraine conflict sparks nuclear fears

U.S. stock indexes were sharply lower Friday, with February jobs data beating forecasts, but investors focused instead on a worsening conflict between Russia and Ukraine which resulted in a fire at a nuclear power plant earlier in the day.

How are stock indexes trading?

Dow Jones Industrial Average

dropped around 490 points, or 1.4%, to 33,307.

S&P 500 index

fell 68 points, or 1.6%, to 4,294.

The Nasdaq Composite Index

dropped 246 points, or 1.8%, to 13,290.

On Thursday, the stock market failed to hold on to gains. The Dow closed down 96.69 points, or 0.3%, to 33,794.66; the S&P 500 fell 23.05 points, or 0.5%, ending at 4,363.49; and the Nasdaq Composite ended 214.07 points lower, or 1.6%, finishing at 13,537.94.

What’s driving markets?

Stocks were sharply lower Friday morning, despite U.S. employment data, with February nonfarm payrolls rising by 678,000, versus a forecast of 440,000. U.S. average hourly earnings rose 1 cent to $31.58 and hours worked rose 0.1 hour.

Investors, however, were focused on news of a now-extinguished fire at a nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar that had been shelled by Russian troops. The plant reportedly has six reactors, and three had been offline before the attack, according to Associated Press reports.

Dow futures initially plunged about 500 points immediately after the first reports of the nuclear plant fire emerged late Thursday, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 futures following a similar path.

Ukrainian state emergency services later said on Facebook

that the fire had been in a training building and had been contained. The regional military service said early measurements on Friday showed radiation was “unchanged” and was posing no danger to the population.

According to experts, the risk lies if the plant loses power and is unable to cool the nuclear material, leading to a meltdown, which could be accompanied by an explosion.

“Traders may be unwilling to hold risk over the weekend, given the reality of a hot war in Ukraine and that the situation can move in any direction,” said a strategy team at Saxo Bank, in a note to clients.

Investors were flocking to safe-haven assets, such as gold and the dollar, with the euro

plunging 1.4% to $1.0906, a level not seen in nearly two years.

Crude oil prices

remained elevated, with April West Texas Intermediate crude futures

over $113 a barrel and May Brent crude
the global benchmark, hovering atop $115 a barrel.

Which companies are in focus?

Shares of Airbnb

 were in focus after it said it would suspend operations in Russia and Belarus, according to a tweet from Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky. Microsoft Corp.

also said it was suspending new sales and services in Moscow.

Travel stocks were weak Friday, with shares of United Airlines

falling 3.5%, shares of Delta Air Lines

and American Airlines

dropped more than 2%.

The NYSE ARCA exchange has halted trading in the iShares MSCI Russia exchange-traded fund
according to a press release from BlackRock, the ETF’s issuer.

How are other assets faring?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y 13 basis points to around 1.71% from 1.843%. Yields and prices move in opposite directions.

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was up 1% at around its highest value since 2020.

Gold futures GC00 rose 1.2% at around $1,960 an ounce.

Bitcoin BTCUSD was down 3.2% near $40,000.

The Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP fell around 3%, while London’s FTSE 100 UKX was down 2.7%.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP closed down 1%, while the Hang Seng Index HSI declined 2.5% in Hong Kong and Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK gave up 2.2%.

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