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Commodities

Oil and coal prices surge, rattling U.S. stock market

Investors dump equities as inflation anxiety intensifies

A scene from the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 28: Traders grapple with the prospect of prolonged, energy-driven inflation.   © AP

NEW YORK -- Fuel prices from crude to coal continue to surge across the globe, fueling concerns that the world is headed into energy-driven inflation and driving investors to seek out safe havens.

North Sea Brent crude, an international benchmark for crude oil prices, temporarily topped $80 a barrel for the first time since October 2018 in London on Tuesday. Back in New York, U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude also hit its highest price since July.

This uncertainty rattled investors Tuesday. American stocks were sold off sharply as bond yields rose, with investors trying to price in expectations of the Fed's next move. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 569 points, or 1.6%, after being down more than 600 points at the session's low.

Crude oil was not the only energy source sparking concern around the world. 

A key benchmark for coal has nearly quadrupled over the past year to a roughly 13-year high, according to market data company Refinitiv. Natural gas futures are trading their highest price in seven and a half years.

The surge comes amid growing uncertainties over the energy supply across the world. Rising coal prices have forced Chinese power plants to cut output, resulting in rolling blackouts in Shanghai and Beijing. Gasoline stations in the U.K. are running dry as a shortage of tanker truck drivers, exacerbated by Brexit, triggers a spate of panic-buying.

Rising energy prices also hang over the U.S. Federal Reserve's outlook for inflation, which Fed Chair Jerome Powell has repeatedly described as temporary. Strong upward pressure on consumer prices persists, and if energy costs hold steady at high levels, the Fed may have to bring forward its timetable for tapering bond purchases and raising interest rates.

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