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
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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