People have been reading way too much into gold prices

Backlash against the doom-mongers.

The plummet in gold prices has been a big story over the last day or so, and today's dead cat bounce in the market has been accompanied by an equally inevitable backlash from economists and commenters. Apparently the doom-mongers have been reading far too much into the drop in prices, and it's time for a reality check. Here, for example, is Monument Securities' Stephen Lewis (my emphasis):

When a price slides as that of gold has in recent days it pays not to draw too firm a conclusion regarding the fundamental significance of the movement.  When the fundamentals change as, for example, when economic growth picks up or inflation subsides, the process is usually gradual.  To be sure, investors may not notice what is happening until a signal event reveals the truth, but more often than not the market response to changes in fundamental economic conditions is also gradual rather than precipitous.  There has been no striking event or statement in the past few days such as might give convincing grounds for investors to abandon gold in favour of growth-correlated assets.  Consequently, attempts to spin the gold price collapse as an indication that investors are piling in behind the view that prospects for global growth and for the US dollar have brightened are lacking in credibility.  More likely, gold's slide reflects factors internal to that market, amplified perhaps in the conditions of heightened market liquidity, and volatility, that central bank asset purchases have created.

And here's Lars Christensen with the same point in graph form:

The big story in the financial markets this week is the continued decline in commodity prices – particularly the drop in gold prices is getting a lot of attention.

The drop in commodity prices have led some people to speculate that this is an indication that the global economy is slowing. That may or may not be the case. However, as Scott Sumner like to remind us – we should never reason from a price change. 

We have to remember that the price of commodities can drop for two reasons – either demand for commodities declined (that would be an indication that the global economy is slowing) or because of a positive supply shock (that on the other hand would be good news for the global economy).

The good news graph…

And the bad news graph…


This is not the place to speculate about whether we are in the “bad news” or the “good news”, but global markets are nonetheless telling us that this is not the time to panic – global stock prices have been trending upward, while commodity prices have been declining.

The point, says the Guardian's Nils Prately, is that gold moves to its own tune, and it's tune is at a very slow rhythm:

should we really be surprised that a 10-year bull market could be over? Gold has always run on long cycles, but a decade is still a very long time.

Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.