Mar 13 - Summary: Wall St. suffered its biggest fall since early February as military showmanship in Eastern Europe ahead of a planned Ukraine vote offset signs of economic pick-up in the U.S. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Concerns outside the U.S., trumped signs of progress inside the U.S. The S&P 500 had its worst day in five weeks, sending stocks to their lowest close since early February. The flashpoints: Ukraine's acting president says the threat of war is rising with Russia on the border "ready to invade." Hours later, U.S. F-16 fighter jets landed in Poland in a sign of support for NATO allies. Goldman Sachs says up to $50 billion in capital has left Russia so far this year; do the math and that will turn out to be as much as $130 billion by the end of the year; double the outflow last year. Talk of war - not the only worry. There was a sharp economic slowdown in China in the first two months of the year. Investors fret what that means for the global economy. But as for now, the U.S. economy is looking better. Retail sales rose for the first time in three months, coming in slightly ahead of analysts' forecasts. The report is another sign the economy is getting back on its feet after slipping on the ice during a harsh winter. An even better sign: shorter unemployment lines. Weekly jobless claims fell to a fresh three-month low last week. On Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman nominee Stanley Fischer told lawmakers current Fed policy to guide the economy to stronger footing is correct and not out of touch with the realities of Main Street. SOUNDBITE: STANLEY FISCHER, VICE CHAIRMAN-DESIGNATE, U.S. FEDERAL RESERVE (ENGLISH) SAYING: "Anybody who has studied, and particularly studies this crisis, knows the cost of unemployment and understands slow growth is not an abstraction. Slow growth is people not finding jobs. Slow growth is problems for families and meeting their, even their food bill. And if one does not understand that, one cannot seriously think of being a policy maker." Amazon.com upping Prime prices. The annual membership fee in return for free shipping - jumping 20 bucks to $99. That's the first price hike since Amazon launched the service nine years ago. Amazon has been forced to raise prices because high shipping costs were eating away profits. Investors like the move - pushing the stock higher in a down market. Speaking of a down market, European stocks fell to five-week lows - spooked by the same Ukraine and China concerns.