Not a single component in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was moving higher in late trading, a testament to widespread selling as conflict brews between Russia and Ukraine. Reports surfaced this morning that the Russian naval chief in Crimea ordered Ukrainian forces to surrender, but it's unclear if that disputed account will lead to violence in the region. Russian forces are also said to have taken over some border posts, according to Ukraine's State Border Guard Service.
What's concerning globally is that Russia's actions in Crimea are already starting to impact the economy. The Russian ruble dropped versus the U.S. dollar and the euro, leading Moscow's central bank to raise rates 1.5% today to 7%. This could help stabilize the currency but will put continued pressure on an economy that grew just 1.3% in 2013.
Russian conflict pushes commodities higher
Oil and gold both shot higher today as nervousness over Russian intervention in Ukraine spread. At 3:15 p.m. EST, gold had jumped 2.2% to $1,350 an ounce, while oil was up nearly 2% to $104.60 per barrel.
As markets prepare for the worst, there's also talk of Western economic sanctions against Russia. This is important because Russia produces about 13% of the world's oil and is a huge supplier to Europe and China. Any interference in oil trade could raise energy prices in those regions and around the world.
An opportunity for U.S. oil explorers?
While higher oil prices may be seen as a boon for Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), both stocks are down today. These two energy giants may see higher upstream profits if oil prices rise because of conflict in Russia, but downstream refining profits would be squeezed in the process.
This is the balancing act integrated oil companies have been playing for years, because consumers haven't been willing to pay more for gasoline even as the price of oil rises. When either upstream or downstream profits go up, the other goes down.
That limits upside from some of the side effects that may come from this conflict, which is why shares aren't rising today.
Greater danger than past conflicts
Russia's role as the biggest crude oil producer in the world means that a conflict with Europe or the U.S. would have far-reaching economic consequence. Not only could costs for commodities such as oil rise in the U.S., but costs would likely go up in China, which would impact import prices here at home.
That's just one small example of an unintended consequence that could arise from Russia's current actions. Investors should keep an eye on this because it could have a larger impact on the economy than conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya in recent years.