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Morgan Stanley backs cautious Fed rate hike as Ukraine crisis fuels inflation

Morgan Stanley backs cautious Fed rate hike as Ukraine crisis fuels inflation © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of Morgan Stanley is seen in New York January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Byron Kaye and Jamie Freed

(Reuters) – Morgan Stanley (NYSE:) urged the U.S. Federal Reserve on Tuesday to take a more cautious approach to raising interest rates as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spurs already sky-rocketing global inflation.

In another response to the conflict, JP Morgan, which runs the most widely used emerging bond market indexes, said it would exclude Russia from all of its fixed income indexes.

Oil, metal and other commodities prices have soared as fighting in Ukraine has intensified, adding to concerns there is no end in sight to inflation.

“You can’t throw boldness on top of uncertainty,” James Gorman, Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, told a conference hosted by the Australian Financial Review (AFR) newspaper.

“The Fed has a real dilemma now. Unambiguously inflation is on the rise and it is not transient,” Gorman said, adding that he expected the Fed to raise rates “very methodically” and without surprises.

The U.S. central bank is widely expected to raise its benchmark overnight interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on March 16. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week it will act cautiously given the uncertainty of the impact of the war.

Morgan Stanley shares have declined 8% in a week, in sync with global financial stocks that have taken a beating.

The company is yet to comment on whether it plans to suspend operations in Russia or sever ties as many other financial firms have done, including the Big Four accounting and consultancy companies Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.

Ukraine has urged major western banks and asset managers to sever ties with both Russia and Belarus.

Dozens of companies have suspended sales and services, operations or production in Russia, and condemned the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

Russia, which denies attacking civilian areas and says it has no plans to occupy Ukraine, has been hit by sweeping Western sanctions that have choked trade, led to the collapse of the rouble and isolated the country as shippers have suspended container routes.

Seeking to ratchet up the pressure, the United States said Washington and its European allies were considering banning Russian oil imports.

Oil prices spiked to their highest levels since 2008 and Moscow warned that a Western ban on Russian oil imports may more than double the price to $300 a barrel.

If fuel prices remained at these levels, Qantas would need to raise airfares as its oil hedging contracts expire, CEO Alan Joyce said at the AFR conference.

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Companies that have taken action in Russia include Apple (NASDAQ:), IBM (NYSE:), French yoghurt maker Danone and Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea.

JPMorgan (NYSE:), which had placed Russia on index watch after sanctions were imposed on the country, said it would be excluded from all of the bank’s fixed income indexes on March 31, joining rival index providers Russell and MSCI in similar steps.

Credit rating firm Fitch joined rival Moody’s (NYSE:) in suspending its commercial operations in Russia. They had both downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating by a record-equalling six notches earlier this month.

German utility Uniper said it would write down financial exposure to the suspended Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, joining pipeline co-funders Wintershall Dea, Shell (LON:) and OMV.

Boeing (NYSE:) Co said on Monday it had suspended buying titanium from Russia as it had “substantial” inventory of the metal.

Procter & Gamble (NYSE:) Co said it was ending all new capital investments in Russia and “significantly reducing” its portfolio to focus on basic hygiene, health and personal care items.

Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger owner PVH Corp (NYSE:) – which gets about 2% of its revenue from in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine – said it would temporarily close its stores and pause all commercial activities in Russia and Belarus.

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