Stock Market Slides Because Russia Is Scarier Than the Federal Reserve

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Markets were poised to end the week higher, despite a hotter-than-hoped-for inflation reading on Thursday.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

It was like a splash of cold water to the face, but there’s reason to be optimistic about the stock market in the weeks and months ahead.

The market was making headway this past week, shaking off inflation and rate-hike fears and the specter of Omicron. At Friday’s peak, the

S&P 500
was up 5% from its Jan. 27 low, when Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke and spooked investors. And then came a double whammy on Friday afternoon: Russia and vaccines.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.9% Friday, closing at 4419, leaving it down 1.8% for the week. Most of that decline happened in the final two hours and 35 minutes of trading. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average
lost more than 500 points, or 1.4%, Friday, closing down 1% for the week. And the

Nasdaq Composite
dropped 2.8% Friday, finishing the week down 2.2%.

Investors can’t blame rising prices for Friday’s plunge. Markets were poised to end the week higher, despite a hotter-than-hoped-for inflation reading on Thursday.

Escalating geopolitical tension was the first problem Friday. Both the United Kingdom and the U.S. suggested that Russia could soon invade Ukraine and advised their citizens to leave the country.

Geopolitical tension isn’t good, but it doesn’t have to do permanent damage to the stock market. The peak-to-trough move in the S&P 500 when Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014 was about 2%, yet the S&P 500 rose 11% for all of 2014. Still, the news injected a rush of uncertainty into the market. And investors really hate uncertainty.

A Covid-related issue was the second problem. The Food and Drug Administration said it would delay meeting to approve Covid vaccines for children under 5. That might seem to be a minor…

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