NEW YORK CITY, RAW – Wall Street’s main indexes have slipped as shares of Home Depot slumped after earnings while the prospect of harsh sanctions against Russia over its conflict with Ukraine kept investors on edge.

Seven out of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with consumer discretionary stocks leading the way with a 1.6 per cent decline.

Home Depot Inc fell 6.8 per cent after the home improvement chain reported a decline in gross profit margins for the holiday quarter due to a jump in transportation and labour costs.

Its stock was the biggest drag on the Dow.

Global stocks took a beating after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered troops to those regions, inviting fresh sanctions from the United States and the European Union.

Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project designed to bring Russian gas to the country and the UK slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three men close to Putin.

The European Commission and the United States were set to announce more sanctions later in the day.

“The fear factor remains elevated and until we get some sort of a clearer picture of what Putin may or may not do, the market is just going to stay in a state of confusion and volatile,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities.

“With the price of oil surging, the other question is how is the (Federal Reserve) going to deal with this?” Cardillo said.

The energy sector inched 0.2 per cent higher after oil surged to a near seven-year high as a potential conflict with Russia could tighten supplies.

Shares of most big banks rose, with Morgan Stanley gaining about 1.0 per cent.

US business activity regained speed in February, data from IHS Markit showed, but higher prices for inputs remained a burden.

Another set showed US consumer confidence fell for a second straight month in February.

In early trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 270.05 points, or 0.78 per cent, at 33,809.13, the S&P 500 was down 16.85 points, or 0.39 per cent, at 4,332.02, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 46.13 points, or 0.34 per cent, at 13,501.94.

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, was last up 29.40, well above its long-term average of 20.

Retailer Macy’s Inc jumped 7.3 per cent after topping expectations for comparable sales in the crucial holiday quarter.

SoFi Technologies Inc slipped 3.3 per cent after the fintech company agreed to buy digital banking platform Technisys in $US1.1 billion ($A1.5 billion) deal.

Digital World Acquisition Corp, the blank-cheque company behind former US president Donald Trump’s new social media venture, Truth Social, surged 9.7 per cent as the app climbed the charts after its debut on Apple’s App Store.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.49-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.25-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 7 new 52-week highs and 27 new lows while the Nasdaq recorded 18 new highs and 425 new lows.