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Wall Street week ahead: US stocks seen as safe haven, even after panic sell-offs

As headlines about an apparent escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine hit traders’ screens, selling was the word on Wall Street. Once again, though, for many it looked like nothing but another buying opportunity in US stocks. Benchmark US Treasury yields hit their lowest in 14 months on Friday after Ukraine said its forces had attacked and partly destroyed a Russian armored column that entered Ukrainian territory overnight.

The  S&P 500 ended Friday down a mere fraction of a point. The three major US stock indexes posted a second straight week of gains after a correction that evaporated following a brief drop of 4 per cent.

An escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine will likely bring stronger economic sanctions against Russia from Europe and the United States – and harsher retaliation from Moscow. Business sentiment is already on edge in Germany as Europe’s largest economy deals with reduced trade with Russia. An index of Russian equities has dropped 6 per cent for the year so far. Against that backdrop, US stocks – backed by earnings – still look like the best option for investors in developed markets.

US-based stock funds that invest in European equities have marked nine straight weeks of outflows, according to Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company. Flows into US stock funds in that time have come to about $ 3 billion.

During the selloff on Friday, the utilities sector remained strong, rivaled only by energy stocks, with investors focusing on high-dividend payers as US Treasury bond yields fell.

Looking forward, though, unless something else happens to upset markets, investors seem more focused on the re-emergence of leadership from the healthcare, biotechnology and tech sectors. The Nasdaq Biotech Index ended Friday up 0.9 per cent, gaining 4.6 per cent for the week.

Brian Reynolds, chief market strategist at Rosenblatt Securities in New York, believes tech, healthcare and large-cap biotechs are in position to lead the US stock market higher for the next several weeks. He sees the S&P 500 rising on Monday if tensions do not become worse.

“If Russia does not escalate, stocks are likely to open above the 1,960 they were at earlier today as people who put on knee-jerk shorts cover,” he wrote late on Friday.

At a 4.6 per cent rate, revenue growth for S&P 500 companies is expected to be higher than estimates going back to October last year. Even as economic figures remain somewhat mixed, investors still remain positive about overall US demand.

“These are horrible human tragedies and that’s worthy of mention every time this comes up,” said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors in Rochester, New York. “However, the economic impact (in the United States) has been small.”

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