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.

 
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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.