Oil Climbs as US Bans Russian Crude Imports

(Associated Press) Stocks gained ground, oil prices jumped and the price of nickel surged so much that trading for it was shut on Tuesday, as the U.S. banned imports of oil from Russia and the economic fallout from its invasion of Ukraine kept rocking markets.

The S&P 500 rose 1.1% in afternoon trading, but only after earlier pinballing between gains and losses. It’s coming off a three-day losing streak where worries about a possible, painful combination of higher inflation and a slowing economy triggered the index’s worst day in 16 months.

The Nasdaq composite was 1.7% higher, a day after closing 20% below its record high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also bounced up and down, and it was sitting on a gain of 401 points, or 1.2%, at 33,200, as of 1:27 p.m. Eastern time.

At the center of Wall Street’s wild recent swings has been the price of oil, which has surged on worries global supplies will be upended because Russia is one of the world’s largest producers. After President Joe Biden announced the ban on imports of Russian oil, a barrel of U.S. crude was 5% higher at $125.48 per barrel. It got even higher a day before as worries rose about a possible ban, reaching $130.50.

Brent crude, the international standard, rose 3.4% to $127.35.

Investors have been factoring in the possibility of the U.S. banning Russian oil, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco, just as they have been adjusting to the volatility created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Markets just need time to digest things and they were credibly shocked when it (the invasion) happened,” she said. “It’s not a surprise that the E.U. is not going in with the U.S. on this, and that is certainly a positive for oil, but we also have to recognize that this is changing rather quickly.”

Already high oil prices have pushed the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the country to a record high. Biden said he hopes to limit the pain for Americans, but he acknowledged that the ban will increase gasoline prices.

“Defending freedom is going to cost us as well,” he said.

Biden also said he understood many European allies may not be able to make similar moves, because they are much more dependent on Russian energy supplies. European nations have said they plan to reduce their reliance on Russia for their energy needs, but filling the void without crippling their economies will likely take some time.

The U.S. ban on Russian oil imports is the latest move by governments and companies around the world to squeeze Russia’s finances following its attack of Ukraine. All the penalties raise questions about how high prices will go for oil, natural gas, wheat and other commodities where the region is a major producer. That’s in turn adding more pressure to the already high inflation sweeping the world, cranking up its hold on the global economy.

It’s also making an already difficult path for the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world even more treacherous. They’ve been hoping to raise interest rates enough to push down high inflation, but not so much as to cause a recession.

“This geopolitical risk has essentially reduced some of the Fed’s policy risk and they are far less likely to make a policy error this year,” Hooper said. “The Fed does recognize this risk to U.S. policy and will tread more carefully.”

All the uncertainty has led to wild trading across markets for commodities, where challenges for supplies are colliding with strengthening demand as the global economy comes back from its coronavirus-caused shutdown.

Trading in nickel was suspended Tuesday on the London Metal Exchange after prices doubled to an unprecedented $100,000 per metric ton.

Nickel is used mostly to produce stainless steel and some alloys, but increasingly it is used in batteries, particularly electric vehicle batteries.

Russia is the world’s third-biggest nickel producer. And the Russian mining company Nornickel is a major supplier of the high-grade nickel that is used in electric vehicles.

Tuesday’s spike for nickel forced the LME to shut down electronic and open-outcry, or floor trading. Trading in nickel will not resume Tuesday, and the halt could last longer than that “given the geopolitical situation which underlies recent price moves,” the LME said Tuesday.

In Asia, most stock indexes fell, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 down 1.7%. European stocks swung from early losses to gains and back, and the French CAC 40 fell 0.3%.

The price of gold — a measure of nervousness on Wall Street — rose 1.8% to $2,030.80 per ounce.

Treasury yields climbed, with the 10-year Treasury’s yield up to 1.87% from 1.75% late Monday.

They’ve swung sharply following the invasion of Ukraine. Downward pressure is coming from investors looking for safer places to park their money, and higher prices for Treasurys push down their yields. Pushing upward, meanwhile, is all the pressure from expectations for higher inflation as prices for oil and other commodities soar.