Stocks edged down as investors awaited the results of Sunday's referendum in Crimea, which will give voters the option of choosing to leave Ukraine and join Russia, a move that would intensify the standoff between Russia and the West. The VIX shot up as a result, rising 10%, and indicating that put buying was popular as investors sought security from the widening crisis. As for the major indexes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.38%) fell 43 points, or 0.3%, and the S&P 500 dropped by a similar percentage. The week was the worst in seven for stocks on both fears about Ukraine, and worries about the Chinese economy slowing down. The week also saw a record drop in foreign ownership of U.S. treasuries, a development many observers suspected was due to Russia's cutting its holdings of U.S. bonds in preparation for possible sanctions.
In today's domestic economic news, the Producer Price Index fell unexpectedly, declining 0.1% from January on expectations of a 0.2% increase, showing that inflation is well under control, but that demand has been soft. Year over year, the index is up 0.9%, its lowest level since May. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan's first consumer confidence reading in March showed the index had fallen from 81.6 to 79.9, below expectations of 82.0, and a low since November as consumer expectations decline. The number is much stronger than it was two or three years ago, however.
Big movers were relatively few and far between today, but Liberty Media (FWONA) shares jumped 7% after Chairman John Malone dropped his bid to take full control of SiriusXM Radio after Liberty earlier gained majority control. The media giant pulled its offer to buy the company for $3.68 a share, and announced that the company would split itself into two stock structures, Liberty Broadband Group, for cable holdings, and Liberty Media Group, for media assets. With Sirius shares now trading at $3.40, investors seemed to cheer the decision to bypass a full acquisition, as well as the move to set up tracking stocks, which Malone said would help support its recent investment in Charter Communications.
Elsewhere, Tesla Motors (TSLA 0.91%) shares fell 2.9% as the battle between CEO Elon Musk and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continued to rage. The governor earlier this week put through a regulatory change requiring all new cars to be sold through dealer franchises, precluding Tesla's direct-to-consumer distribution model. In response, Musk published a blog post making reference to the recent bridge-closure scandal in the state, and to the governor's odd definition of "consumer protection," invoking the Mafia at one point. While the spate may seem to be minor, auto dealers in New York are now advocating for a similar ban, which would make it the sixth state to ban or restrict Tesla's sales model. The news signals that the issue is becoming a growing legal headache for the upstart electric carmaker.