After five straight days of losses, investors pulled stocks back from the edge on Friday by lifting the S&P 500 away from what many regard as a key support level near the 1,800 level.
Not only is this associated with the 200-day moving average, but it's the lower end of a support zone that's held large-cap stocks aloft since early 2014. Sinking below that threshold would put an end to the post-2011 stimulus-driven uptrend stocks have enjoyed.
The turbulence in stocks have been great news for gold and silver, as well as the related mining stocks, which are enjoying some of their best gains since the financial crisis. The Gold Trust SPDR (GLD) gained over 5 percent for the week and is up nearly 17 percent for the year. Gold prices approached $1,240 an ounce last week, up around $175 since January.
By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 8.3 percent for the year. And with stocks vulnerable and investors fearful, the rise in the shiny stuff is likely to continue.
Certainly, investors have a lot on their minds. There's the plunge in crude oil prices as inventories swell and OPEC bickers over whether to cut production; lackluster corporate earnings, the Zika virus; an economic slowdown in China; the reemergence of Europe's debt crisis.
Perhaps more troublesome for investors, along with the U.S. economy, are rising questions about whether the Federal Reserve moved prematurely to hike interest rates in December, as well as signs that monetary policy around the world has exhausted its ability to boost growth.
In the U.S., the job market remains strong, but other data point to an economy that's losing steam. And Fed officials admit that market volatility could make this worse by tightening financial conditions.
The futures market isn't pricing in another rate hike until 2018, while the Fed is still officially maintaining a four-quarter-point-hike forecast for 2016.
With stocks vulnerable, as well as the growing belief that the Fed will have to reverse course and ease monetary policy, investors are seeking a safe haven in gold and silver.
Opinions on Wall Street are divided over whether this is merely a flash in the pan. Marko Kolanovic, head of quantitative trading at JPMorgan Chase (JPM), has advised investors to buy gold as a hedge against rising global recession risks and the likely impact of the expected policy response from the Fed.
Analysts at Wells Fargo (WFC), on the other hand, note that commodities in general remain in a bearish multi-year super-cycle and that gold has lagged other asset classes in recent years.
Still, it's hard to ignore the allure of an investment that isn't a liability for someone else (such as cash, a bank deposit or bond note) and that has maintained its purchasing power throughout all of human history.
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