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Oil prices fell below $100 a barrel on Tuesday as China, the world’s largest oil importer, imposed new lockdowns to fight an outbreak of coronavirus, measures that could threaten demand.
The swing in oil prices, which approached $130 a barrel last week, rippled through the stock market: airline stocks rallied and oil producer stocks slid.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 7.4% to $99.91 a barrel, its lowest price since late February. West Texas Intermediate crude, the US benchmark, fell 6.4% to $96.44 a barrel.
Over the past week, crude prices have plunged more than 20%, reversing much of the surge after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine added turmoil to an already energy market. tense. Tens of millions of residents of Chinese provinces and cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are locked down amid an outbreak of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Travel was halted between cities, production lines halted and shopping malls were closed.
The measures could rumble global supply chains still struggling to recover from pandemic disruptions by slowing down major factory and transportation networks. Companies in China, including Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics company that assembles Apple iPhones, have suspended operations in the country.
The new measures hammered the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong, where many Chinese companies are listed. With a 5.7% drop on Tuesday, the index is down 10% so far this week and was at its lowest level since February 2016.
On Wall Street, lower energy costs helped push stock prices higher on Tuesday. The S&P 500 rose 2.1%, with gains led by airlines. American Airlines and United Airlines gained more than 9% on Tuesday, while JetBlue rose more than 7%. Data analysis released on Tuesday found that domestic ticket sales in February surpassed those for the same month in 2019, a first since the start of the pandemic. The trend is expected to continue in March, according to early data from Adobe.
Oil producers fell. Chevron and Exxon Mobil both fell more than 5% and Valero Energy 6.8%, putting them among the worst performers in the S&P 500.
Gas prices, which have been rising for weeks amid the conflict in Ukraine, also fell slightly on Tuesday. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $4.316, down from a high of $4.325 a day earlier, according to AAA data.
Wall Street has taken a beating this year as threats to the global economy have mounted. Inflation is rising at its fastest pace in 40 years, threatening consumer confidence, and the sudden rise in oil prices in recent weeks has exacerbated the situation. Tuesday’s rally followed three days of losses that left the S&P 500 down more than 12% for the year.
Federal Reserve officials began a two-day meeting on Tuesday and are expected to announce on Wednesday that they will raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point as they begin a campaign to calm the economy.
Investors also weighed in on mixed messages on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia as a fourth round of talks between the countries’ officials resumed on Tuesday. Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian representative, said that Russia and Ukraine had discussed a possible ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from Ukrainian territory.
“There is so much information that investors take into account,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at Forex.com. Ms Cincotta said investors could weigh domestic concerns against news from abroad and see the United States as a safer place to invest at this time.
“With the spread of Covid in Asia and geopolitical tensions in Europe, America seems like the best of a bad bunch right now,” she said.