NEW YORK — Stocks are drifting between gains and losses on Wall Street Friday, as uncertainty about the war in Ukraine and persistently high inflation continue to knock markets around.
The S&P 500 was 0.1% higher in morning trading, a day after closing out its fifth loss in the last six days. European stocks were up more, while crude oil prices were tentatively adding more gains after surging in recent weeks.
European stocks and U.S. stock futures made abrupt moves upward early Friday, before Wall Street trading opened, and some analysts pointed to comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin seen as surprisingly optimistic. Putin cited “certain positive developments” in negotiations with Ukraine, though he didn’t offer any details.
The S&P 500 opened with a 0.7% gain but quickly erased it and dipped modestly after a report on sentiment among U.S. consumers sank more than economists expected. They’re just the latest swings for Wall Street, which has been rocked by much bigger hour-to-hour reversals in prior weeks.
Investors are struggling to handicap how high Russia’s war in Ukraine will push prices for oil, wheat and other commodities where the region is a major producer. That’s raising the threat the economy may be heading for a toxic combination of persistently high inflation and stagnating growth.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 115 points, or 0.3%, at 33,289, as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was 0.4% lower after erasing an early gain. They all remain down for the week, even though the S&P 500 surged in the middle of it to its best day since the summer of 2020.
Despite Putin’s comments, plenty of uncertainty still hangs over markets, and sharp swings are likely only to continue. President Joe Biden will announce Friday that the U.S. will move to revoke “most favored nation” trade status for Russia. Other major economies are expected to do the same, which would allow for tariffs on Russian imports.
Amid all the uncertainty, U.S. stocks remain about 10% below their peak from earlier this year, while crude oil prices remain more than 40% higher for 2022 so far.
A barrel of U.S. crude oil rose 1.8% to $107.93 Friday after bouncing between gains and losses earlier in the morning. It briefly topped $130 earlier this week. Prices have sloshed around as worries about disrupted supplies joust with hopes for peace and the possibility that countries outside Russia could boost their production.
Brent crude, the international standard, rose 2% to $111.47 per barrel.
European stocks rallied more than the rest of the world, with the German Dax returning 2% and the French CAC 40 up 1.1%. Asian markets earlier in the day were mixed, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 falling 2.1% and stocks in Shanghai adding 0.4%.
Markets were already on edge before Russia’s invasion, as central banks around the world move to raise interest rates and remove support for the economy put in place after the pandemic. The Federal Reserve and other central banks hope to stamp out the highest inflation in generations, though they also risk causing a recession if they raise rates too high or too quickly.
Inflation has surged high enough that politicians around the world know they may be in trouble because of it.
Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras on Friday increased prices of fuels sold to its distributes by as much as 25%, citing the war between Russia and Ukraine, as official data showed inflation accelerated in February.
The company said in a statement announcing the increase the prior day that for weeks it refrained from passing on costs, but consistently high oil prices forced the adjustment to ensure supply to the Brazilian market.
Prices rose 1% in February, the most for the month since 2015 and driving 12-month inflation to 10.5%, according to data the national statistics institute released on Friday.
In a radio interview earlier this week, Brazil’s president said it is wrong for Petrobras to set prices in accordance with international levels and that his administration was seeking a solution. He also said ordinary people wouldn’t be able to cope with a massive increase to match international pricing. President Jair Bolsonaro is planning to run for re-election in October despite slumping approval ratings.
In the U.S., a report on Thursday showed prices at the consumer level leaped 7.9% last month from the prior year, the hottest inflation rate since 1982. It’s likely to get worse in the near term due to oil’s surge following the war and all the financial penalties the U.S. and allies imposed on Russia.
Biden has said he wants to limit the economic pain for U.S. households but acknowledged that “defending freedom” incurs costs.