A street sign for Wall Street is seen in the financial district in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021.
A street sign for Wall Street is seen in the financial district in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. Reuters / BRENDAN MCDERMID

Wall Street's main indexes struggled for direction on Thursday, with growth stocks including Tesla and Advanced Micro Devices losing ground as the Ukraine crisis kept investors on edge.

Tesla lost 3.2% and Advanced Micro Devices dropped 4.9%, while the S&P 500 growth index dipped 0.6%.

Reflecting a defensive mood on Wall Street, the S&P 500 utilities index rallied 1.9% and real estate added 1.1%.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine now a week in, hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed, and Russia itself has been plunged into isolation.

"The market is entirely locked on what this geopolitical turmoil looks like," said Ross Mayfield, an investment strategist at Baird in Louisville, Kentucky. "We're kind of in uncharted territory here, so you end up with these days where there's kind of no thread."

Soaring prices of oil and other commodities have stoked fears that recent high inflation could combine with stagnant economic growth, making it more difficult for the Federal Reserve and other major central banks to manage interest rates. [O/R]

The percentage of fund managers who expect so-called stagflation within the next 12 months stood at 30%, compared with 22% last month, a survey from BofA Global Research showed.

Wall Street surged in the previous session after Fed Chair Jerome Powell said he would back a quarter point rate increase at the March 15-16 meeting, assuaging some fears of a more aggressive hike.

"We are going to stay in a tight range until we have the Fed meeting in two weeks because there's limited earnings," predicted Jay Hatfield, chief investment officer at Infrastructure Capital Management in New York.

"There's no real reason to be long, unless, of course, there's some peace or stability in Ukraine, which doesn't seem likely."

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street's fear gauge, was on track to end lower for the second straight session.

In afternoon trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.22% at 33,965.52 points, while the S&P 500 lost 0.03% to 4,385.16.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.96% to 13,619.64, reflecting the weakness in growth stocks.

Meanwhile, data showed a measure of U.S. services industry activity dropped to a one-year low in February and employment contracted.

Kroger Co jumped 11% after the grocer forecast upbeat annual same-store sales and profit, encouraged by strong demand for its pick-up and delivery services and sustained home-cooking trends.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc slid over 9% after the apparel chain forecast a decline in earnings for the first half of 2022.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.25-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.91-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 23 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 41 new highs and 152 new lows.