Stock Market Today-3/24: Stocks Gain, Oil Steady As Biden Meets NATO Leaders In Brussels

U.S. equity futures moved higher Thursday, while oil prices steadied and Treasury bond yields ticked modestly lower, as President Joe Biden prepares to meet with NATO and EU leaders in Brussels as part of an international effort to end Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Firmly into its first month, the so-called ‘special operation’ launched by Vladimir Putin has displaced nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million citizens and caused the death of more than 1,000 civilians, according to United Nations observers, but has yet to claim Russian control of a single Ukrainian city.

Biden’s Brussels summit, which will include meetings with EU, G7 and NATO leaders, is expected to produce both a fresh round of U.S. sanctions on Russian lawmakers, the first tranche of financial and military support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and a likely coordinated response from EU leaders to ween the region from its dependence of Russian energy exports.

Oil prices are extending gains in response, as well as in reaction to yesterday’s Energy Department data release showing a deeper-than-expected decline in domestic crude stocks, with WTI crude futures for May delivery rising 5 cents on the session to $114.98 per barrel.

In Europe, a better-than-expected reading of economic activity in March was clouded by surging input prices and a muted near-term outlook, adding to downward pressures on the region-wide Stoxx 600, which fell 0.1% by mid-day trading in Frankfurt.

In Russia, the Moscow Stock Exchange resumed trading on a limited number of stocks Thursday following a month-long closure following the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The benchmark MOEX index was last seen 6.5% higher on the session at 2,630.81 points, after rising as much as 12% in early trading, as investors bet that an $11 billion injection from Russia’s National Wealth Fund would support prices for the 33 of 50 stocks allowed to trade in the opening session.

In the U.S., another round of hawkish comments from Federal Reserve Presidents, including the San Francisco Fed’s Mary Daly, has consolidated bets on a 50 basis point rate hike at the central bank’s May policy meeting, with the CME Group’s FedWatch tool pricing in a 68.5% probability, up from just 32.9% two weeks ago.

Still, benchmark 10-year note yields were marked little-changed from last night’s close at 2.37% ahead of jobless claims and February durable goods data at 8:30 am Eastern time, while the U.S. dollar index was marked 0.16% higher against a basket of its global peers at 98.78.

On Wall Street, futures futures contracts linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average are indicating a 170 point opening bell gain while those linked to the S&P 500, which is down 6.5% for the year, are priced for a 27 point move to the upside. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite is called 107 points higher.

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U.S. Airline stocks moved higher Thursday after industry leaders urged President Joe Biden to lift the pandemic-era mask mandate on planes and in airports, arguing the rules a ‘no longer aligned’ to the current post-Covid environment.

The plea followed statements from most U.S. carriers said bookings and traffic has improved notably since the start of the year amid the easing of pandemic era restricts on business and travel.

United Airlines  (UAL) – Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report shares were marked 0.5% higher in pre-market trading at $41.53 each, while Delta Airlines  (DAL) – Get Delta Air Lines, Inc. Report rose 0.7% to $36.47 each.

Southwest Airlines  (LUV) – Get Southwest Airlines Co. Report shares were little-changed at $42.85 each while American Airlines  (AAL) – Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report rose 0.7% to $16.32 each.

Boeing  (BA) – Get Boeing Company Report shares were marked 0.7% higher in pre-market trading after investigations in China continued their search for a second ‘black box’ from the China Eastern Airlines 737-800 that crashed in the southern region of the country earlier this week, killing all 132 passengers and crew.

Yesterday’s discovery of the cockpit recorder will provide some clues as to the cause of the flight Flight MU 5735 disaster, which occurred around an hour after takeoff from the city of Guangzhou. China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) took possession of the recorder in Beijing Thursday, and have invited investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to travel to China to assist the probe.

Nikola Corp.  (NKLA) – Get Nikola Corporation Report shares surged 16.3% after the electric truckmaker said production of its flagship Tre BEV vehicles kicked-off earlier this week in Arizona.

KB Home  (KBH) – Get KB Home Report shares fell 3.55% after the California-based home builder posted softer-than-expected first quarter earnings amid a noted slowdown in new home sales and the biggest bump in mortgage rates in more than two years. 

Hertz Global  (HTZ) – Get Hertz Global Holdings Inc Report shares edged 0.55% higher after the car rental group said it had added Tesla-made  (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc Report Model Y sedans to its fleet this week.

Tesla shares, which are on a seven-day winning streak, were marked 1.1% higher at $1,010.00 each.

Overnight in Asia, with the yen trading at its weakest level against the U.S. dollar since 2015, the Nikkei 225 rose 0.25% to a nine-week high of 28,110.39 points, while the region-wide MSCI ex-Japan benchmark fell 0.52% in a follow-on move from last night’s sell-off on Wall Street. 

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