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Fed rate debate, Ukraine tensions could jolt markets in the week


Traders on the floor of the NYSE, Jan. 25, 2022.

Source: NYSE

Stocks are likely to be volatile in the week ahead as investors watch tensions between Russia and Ukraine and debate how quickly the Federal Reserve can raise interest rates.

Markets were roiled in the past week and bond yields spiked after a hot inflation reading Thursday upended many Wall Street forecasts for interest rate hikes. Investors were dealt another blow Friday after the White House warned that Russia could invade Ukraine during the Olympics. Both the U.S. and U.K. have called for their citizens to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.

“I think the Fed is keeping everyone on edge, and this is going to add to that edginess,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “So we had a three-week earnings respite from the macro. We turned micro, and this week we were reminded earnings season is pretty much over and all macro issues matter again.”

The major averages slid sharply on Friday afternoon, and Treasury yields came off the highs they set after Thursday’s report that January’s consumer price index jumped by 7.5%, a 40-year high. The S&P 500 lost 1.8% for the week, falling to 4,418.

With about two hours left to Friday trading, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing that there were signs of Russian escalation at the Ukraine border. Sullivan said it was possible an invasion could occur during the Olympics, despite speculation to the contrary.

“Up until now, I’d say it was all about monetary policy. This throws an extra unknown into the works,” said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex. “The dollar is rallying, oil prices have rallied and stocks are selling off… Even if nothing happens this weekend, people will be nervous about it in the next week.”

Boockvar said the Russian tensions complicate the central bank’s outlook, and an invasion would add to already hot global inflation. “It’s causing problems for the Fed because this basically would inflate oil prices, food prices, wheat, fertilizers and everything else and just make the Fed’s inflation fighting capability that much more difficult to maneuver,” he said. “The Fed can’t back off. You can’t blame geopolitics as a reason not to hike rates.”

He said if the central bank were concerned about an economic impact, it could slow hikes.

Fed’s inflation fight

By Friday morning, some economists had ratcheted up expectations for the Fed to hike interest rates by a half point in March, following the January inflation report. Others, like economists at Goldman Sachs, have raised their views to a faster pace, with as many as seven quarter-point hikes for this year.

Fed speakers will be a highlight in the week ahead, particularly St. Louis Fed President James Bullard who appears on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday at 8:30 a.m. Bullard added to market turbulence and the sharp jump in bond yields Thursday when he said that he would like to see rates rise by 100…


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