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Russia-Ukraine: Wall Street bets on limited impact

The U.S. stock market advanced to all-time highs while the Russia-Ukraine crisis rose toward a boil, and NATO's hard evidence Thursday that Russian soldiers are inside Ukraine still drew a limited reaction.

Analysts say this is because the geopolitical tension has not escalated to the point of impacting the American economy and corporate profits. That situation could change quickly if the damage to Europe's economy became so severe it spilled acoross the Atlantic.

"The thing about Ukraine is, unless it turns into a World War III situation, which doesn't seem likely, it is just kind of noise," said Martin Leclerc, chief investment officer at Barrack Yard Advisors. Russian President Vladimir "Putin is like an old-fashioned dictator, but he's not a crazy man."

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk on Aug. 26, 2014.
Sergei Bondarenko | Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk on Aug. 26, 2014.

"I'm an earnings guy; I've got to believe cooler heads will prevail, that it's going to stay contained and not start World War III," said Nick Raich, CEO at the Earnings Scout.

On Thursday, Wall Street mostly bypassed positive economic reports to worry about Ukraine in the wake of reports that had Russian forces fighting alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, with NATO releasing images that it said showed Russian artillery units operating in Ukraine. Still the declines in U.S. equities was modest.

At a nationally televised news conference after the market's 4 p.m. Eastern close, President Barack Obama said he would bemeeting Thursday evening with his National Security Council to discuss Russianactions in Ukraine. Russia is already "more isolated than at any time since theCold War," and investors were withdrawing from the country, Obama said.

"We're seeing the U.S. economy so far plowing through global mixed results. But, if you really do believe the world is connected, as the rest of the world begins to weaken, it does put a lid on our near-term upside," said Paul Karos, a senior portfolio manager at Whitebox Mutual Funds.

"It is very difficult to discern how much is Russia-Ukraine versus a general malaise slowdown in Europe. We'll assume half and half until we get further clarity," Karos added.

"The last few weeks, the situation with Russia has been back and forth, but our data has been creeping to the positive, so people want to reward the market for improved economic momentum, yet it's hard to keep that for a long duration if the rest of the world is going to weaken as a result of other issues," Karos said.

Said Raich: "I would start to get worried when economic sanctions start to impact macro. There has been little impact on economic and earnings expectations. It becomes a worry when it starts to impact global earnings and macro. With particularly markets in Europe, you can start to see it, but will it spread to the United States and China."

He added: "The market thinks the same, and any de-escalation is a buying opportunity."

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

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