Stock Market Today: Nuclear Fears Overshadow Stellar February Jobs Number

Last month's job additions vastly exceeded estimates, but an attack on a Ukrainian nuclear power plant dictated the market's direction Friday.

A screen grab captured from a video shows a view of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a fire following clashes around the site in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 4, 2022
A screen grab captured from a video shows a view of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a fire following clashes around the site in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on March 4, 2022
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wall Street couldn't have asked for any more out of the February jobs report, but a fresh escalation of danger in Eastern Europe was more than enough to keep stocks grounded to end the week.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday said that 678,000 jobs were created last month, blowing past expectations for 423,000. Moreover, the unemployment rate ticked down even further, to 3.8%, while average hourly wages shot 5.1% higher.

But casting a long shadow over that news were late Thursday reports that Russia's military fired upon Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, sparking a fire that was later extinguished. While the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that radiation levels remained normal, the reports revived memories of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (remember, that happened in Ukraine).

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Those concerns appeared to hold equity markets down from the get-go, and the major indexes never recovered. The Nasdaq Composite again led the way lower, off 1.7% to 13,313, while the S&P 500 (-0.8% to 4,328) and Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.5% to 33,614) also closed solidly in the red.

The "fear trade" was alive and well, however. Gold futures gained another 1.6% to $1,966.60 per ounce, while U.S. crude oil futures rocketed 7.4% higher to $115.68 per barrel – a closing level not seen since September 2008.

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"Events in Ukraine … are causing risk aversion and a flight to safety as the attack on a nuclear power plant illustrates how dangerous the war is to the entire world, and not just the tremendous suffering of the Ukrainian people," says Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance.

stock chart for 030422

(Image credit: YCharts)

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 declined again, losing 1.6% to 2,000.
  • Bitcoin suffered another steep decline, off 5.6% to $39,486.97. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m.)
  • Rivian Automotive (RIVN (opens in new tab)) – which is on next week's earnings calendar – slid 6.9% after Baird analyst George Gianarikas cut his price target on the electric vehicle (EV) maker to $100 from $150, though this is still more than double the stock's Friday close at $47.39. "On March 1, Rivian increased prices on its consumer vehicles based on inflationary impacts to its cost structure, only to reverse the changes to its pre-existing order book [on March 3]," Gianarikas writes in a note. While the financial impact to the roll back will be "material," or around $15,000 per each of the 71,000 book orders, he has "full confidence that Rivian has gathered one of the best management teams and top industry talent to fully capitalize on mobility's EV revolution." As such, the analyst maintained an Outperform (Buy) rating on RIVN.
  • Costco Wholesale (COST (opens in new tab)) saw its fiscal second-quarter revenue jump 16% year-over-year to $51.9 billion, while earnings per share increased 36% to $2.92 per share. The figures were higher than the $2.74 per share and $51.5 billion analysts were expecting. Still, shares slipped 1.4% today. "Investors are likely concerned about merchandise gross margins falling 30 basis points [a basis point is one one-hundredth of a percentage point] to 10.6% vs. 10.9% consensus," says CFRA Research analyst Arun Sundaram, who maintained a Hold rating on COST. "While it is difficult for us to be more constructive on the shares at current valuation, especially given the recent carnage to high multiple growth stocks, we think COST shares have support from a few potential catalysts this year, including 1) membership fee hike (potentially as early as June) and 2) special dividend payment (COST has paid four over past 10 years – latest was November 2020 for $10/share)."
  • Travel stocks took a hit today – possibly as a result of spiking oil prices. "We see limited direct impact from disruption to select commercial flight routes due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict," says Truist Securities analyst Naved Khan. "However, we see a larger indirect impact from a potential double-digit increase in average airfare due to record-high fuel prices + inflationary pressures." Among those selling off today were Delta Air Lines (DAL (opens in new tab), -5.6%), American Airlines (AAL (opens in new tab), -7.1%) and United Airlines (UAL (opens in new tab), -9.1%).

Big Stock Buys of the Billionaires

Today, we're finishing up our regular examination of the "smart money's" recent comings and goings.

Our final look explores the top stock picks of 15 billionaire money managers – a group that includes David Tepper, Ray Dalio, Daniel Loeb, Seth Klarman and numerous other elite names.

From Kiplinger's Dan Burrows: "Studying which stocks they're chasing with their capital (or which stocks the billionaires are selling off (opens in new tab), for that matter) can be an edifying exercise for retail investors. There's a reason the rich get richer, for one thing. But it's also helpful to see where billionaires sometimes make mistakes – at least in the short term. All investors are fallible, after all."

Read on as we look at 15 stock picks that make up outsized portions of these 15 billionaires' portfolios – including several household names, but a few well-off-the-radar equities as well.

Kyle Woodley
Senior Investing Editor, Kiplinger.com

Kyle is senior investing editor for Kiplinger.com. As a writer and columnist, he also specializes in exchange-traded funds. He joined Kiplinger in September 2017 after spending six years at InvestorPlace.com, where he managed the editorial staff. His work has appeared in several outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and MSN Money, he has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, and he has been quoted in MarketWatch, Vice and Univision, among other outlets. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism.