Moody's Cuts Russia's Credit, Wheat Prices Soar, Powell Allays Investors' Fears

Stocks in U.S. inch higher; oil slips from highs

Moody's cut Russia's credit six notches as it expects "sustained disruption to the economy" as a result of global sanctions against the country after it invaded Ukraine. Russia's stock market remained closed.

U.S. stocks are higher after yesterday's surge that came in the wake of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s congressional testimony signaling a Fed rate increase would be lower than what investors feared. 

Key Takeaways

  • Top credit agency Moody's decreased Russia's credit by six notches.
  • U.S. stocks are rising, following yesterday's surge that came after Fed statements that allayed fears of a big interest rate hike.
  • Best Buy Co. Inc. and Kroger Co. shares rose after reporting better-than-expected earnings.

Powell is set to testify before Senate lawmakers this morning after telling House lawmakers yesterday he would propose just a quarter-percentage-point rate hike at the central bank’s March meeting. All major U.S. stock indexes posted solid gains yesterday of more than 1.5%.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.86% after slipping over the past week. Crude oil prices lost earlier gains, dropping to around $109.60 a barrel after earlier nearing $117 a barrel. Prices are still at their highest level since 2014.

Big retailers reporting earnings today include Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST), Big Lots Inc. (BIG), and Gap Inc. (GPS). Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) and Kroger Co. (KR) shares rose after reporting better-than-expected earnings. Other companies expected to report include Broadcom Inc. (AVGO), Cooper Companies Inc. (COO), and Marvell Technology Inc (MRVL). 

The Labor Department reported initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined by 18,000 to 215,000 for the week ended Feb. 26, fewer than economists had expected. 

claims

Later today, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is expected to report a rise to 61 in its services activity index for February, compared to a fall to 59.9 in the previous month. 

The euro declined against the dollar, and Bitcoin fell from its recent highs.

Quick Hits: Today's Headlines

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) plans to close all 68 of its physical bookstores, pop-up shops, and "4-star" stores in the U.S. and U.K., ending some of its longest-running experiments in physical retail. The retailer said it was working to identify new roles within the company for employees at the shops it would close.

Separately, Amazon workers at a second New York warehouse will hold a vote to unionize. Organizers had already won the right to hold a vote at a different facility in Staten Island, New York. 

Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has invited the United Auto Workers (UAW) to hold a union vote at Tesla. The UAW has not responded after Musk tweeted that he was open to a union vote after long resisting the move.

Several states launched an investigation into TikTok's effects on children. A bi-partisan group of eight attorneys general is expanding its original investigation into Meta Platforms’ Instagram business and its potential harms for young users.

Peloton Interactive Inc.’s (PTON) founder and former CEO John Foley has sold $50 million shares to MSD Partners, which is backed by Michael Dell, according to a securities filing. Even with the stock sale, Foley will maintain effective control of Peloton.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) will host its annual spring product launch event on March 8, the company announced. Apple is reportedly expected to launch a lower-cost version of its popular iPhone with 5G, a new version of the iPad Air, and a high-end Mac Mini. 

The Big Story: Soaring Wheat Prices

Filling up your gas tank isn’t the only thing getting more expensive: The cost of bread is expected to go up as well, as wheat prices hit their highest prices in nearly 14 years.  

Wheat prices opened limit up on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) once again yesterday, the exchange’s limit for how far up or down prices can move in one day. Wheat futures settled at $10.59 per bushel, up nearly 8%, on the CBOT. That marks the highest level since 2008. 

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has raised fears about wheat shortages. Russia is the world's largest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is among the four biggest exporters of the commodity. Of the 207 million tons of international wheat traded, 17% comes from Russia, and 12% comes from Ukraine, according to Bank of America. 

Prior to Russia's invasion, Ukraine was on track for a record year of wheat exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the conflict has caused major disruptions at Ukrainian ports, impacting the export market there. 

Soaring wheat prices will likely push up costs for U.S. consumer items like cereal and bread. Cereal and baked goods prices have already climbed 6.8% in the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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