Gold surges, oil plunges, rupee up

Weekend volatility makes markets go topsy-turvy

The world – well, at least the financial world – seems a very different place today than what you might have left it last Thursday, before heading home for that much-needed weekend break. 

On May 31, when you might have been packing your laptop bag or collecting your car keys from your desk, the spot gold price was somewhere near $1,550 per ounce, a barrel of WTI crude was selling for $92 or so, and the Indian rupee had made a fresh lifetime low of Rs56.51 against the US dollar (Rs15.38 against the UAE dirham).

If, like many of us in the UAE, you weren’t tracking in real time what was going on, you might be a little bit taken aback to learn that gold sliced through two huge resistance levels – of $1,580 and $1,600 – to close at $1,629 per ounce on Friday, May 31, 2012 – a good $94 above its intra-day low of $1,535 on May 30.

At the same time, WTI oil prices dipped to about $86 a barrel, ending May with a record plunge of 16 per cent in a month – oil’s biggest monthly loss since 2008.

And there’s more – after making a habit of making fresh lows against the dollar – and, therefore, the dirham – the Indian rupee clawed back a good Rs1.56 from the US dollar and steadied at below Rs55 to $1 (below Rs15 to Dh1) yesterday.

In a reflection of the depleting confidence in a global economic recovery, investors dumped global equities, with the S&P 500 index falling 2.5 per cent on Friday, Dow declining 2.2 per cent, and Nasdaq shedding 2.82 per cent.

Following the trend set by global markets on Friday, the Saudi Tadawul tumbled by more than 4 per cent yesterday, and the Dubai Financial Market is down by more than 2.2 per cent this morning.

So, what happened so suddenly?

A handful of things, really, which seem to have changed investors’ outlook towards various asset classes almost overnight.

First, the US announced a disappointing payrolls data, which raised the likelihood of a fresh round of quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve. American employers added just 69,000 jobs in the month of May, the smallest net increase in non-farm payrolls in a year, the government reported. Analysts expected an increase of 165,000 jobs.

In addition, the US government revised downwards the payrolls figures it had announced in the previous two months – from an original estimate of 115,000 to 77,000 in April, and from 154,000 to 143,000 in March.

That did spook the markets, with global stocks plunging across the board and investors fleeing to the safety of gold, suggesting the yellow metal was once again winning back its safe haven status.

Then again, Spain spooked the markets once again when it became apparent that the country is in much deeper financial trouble than earlier thought, with an unemployment rate near 24 per cent, state banks nearing bankruptcy and consumers unwilling and/or unable to spend.

On top of it all, the dollar lost a bit of its recent strength against emerging market currencies, including the Indian rupee, but analysts aren’t reading too much into that drop. The rupee improved to 55.55 levels against the US dollar when it closed trading on Friday, but not before making another lifetime low of 56.51 on Thursday. Any recovery in the rupee may only be temporary, believe analysts, with fundamental flaws persisting in the Indian economy.

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