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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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