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Gold rises as Trump focuses attention on global flashpoints

Fear of further escalation in North Korea and Syria is driving the gold price higher

 Gold rises as Trump focuses attention on global flashpoints
Donald Trump is flexing the US's international muscles

Anyone getting a golden egg for Easter would do well to hang on to it.

Gold has been on the rise in recent weeks and has now made up all the ground it lost after the election of Donald Trump in November. Back then, a stronger dollar carried all before it.

Not now though: continuing dollar strength is being trumped by an even more potent power. Fear.

So, what price US$1,300 gold shortly after Easter? - simply add Donald Trump to the Middle East, throw in a dash of North Korea and relations with China carried on through Twitter, and the resultant global political uncertainty looks set to push gold up and further up, no matter what the Fed does with rates, and no matter what happens with US employment later in the year.

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That gold hasn’t already moved higher in anticipation of further conflict is simply a function of how gold works as an investment. As any number of charts will show, it tends to be more reactive than predictive, so that, for example, in the stability that reigned after Trump got elected but before he actually took up the reins of government, the gold price went through its most sustained period of short-term weakness since 2013.

As soon as he actually took office though, market uncertainty returned and the reactive nature of gold became apparent again. It began a slow, steady rise.

That rise has accelerated in recent weeks as the Trump rhetoric against Syria and North Korea has ramped up.

Is he feeling the pressure at home and so looking to divert attention by taking action abroad?

Such a diversionary action is almost standard for statesmen and politicians throughout the ages. But what makes this President different is the uncertainty as to what his goals really are. It might not be so bad if he had always highlighted a red line on chemical weapons and had steadfastly been in favour of ousting President Assad.

But although the US’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told NBC last weekend that there was “no way” peace in Syria could happen with Assad still in power, that’s an almost direct contradiction of what she said two weeks earlier.

Trump himself is hardly more helpful. In the run-up to his election he declared NATO “obsolete” on several occasions. But now that he’s started chucking missiles around he’s suddenly reversed his position.

So what does the Trump regime really think, and indeed does it really think anything?

The optimistic answer is that like many new governments, after a slightly hesitant start this one is starting to find its way. The Syrian situation is highly confusing and it took an event like the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April to focus minds.

The situation with North Korea is more intriguing. The US Navy is now building its strength in the area, with the diversion of a carrier battle group headed by the USS Carl Vinson from a planned trip to Australia.

Nominally, this is in response to sabre-rattling from the North Korean President Kim Jong-un, who lately boasted about enhanced missile capability that will enable the North Koreans to project their nuclear power still further.

But Kim Jong-un rattles his sabre all the time. That the US is taking note this time round says more about President Trump’s desire to project American power than anything new in the North Korea situation per se.

 

It represents a step-change in the way the US approaches power and diplomacy in East and South Asia, following on from an earlier deployment of the Carl Vinson to the South China Sea in February.  

Because although the US military easily outclasses every other military force in the world across all manner of measures, President Obama rather downplayed this when he knitted together the intricate web of alliances and trade deals in the Far East that Trump is now shaking up.  

Indeed, one of Donald Trump’s very first actions on taking power was to kill off Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership - Mr Trump, it may be assumed, doesn’t buy into the utopian visions of technocrats.

Rather, he aims to get much more leverage from US muscle, as demonstrated in his tweets “to” China which state bluntly that the US is quite prepared to “go it alone” against North Korea. The cost to China cited by Trump is that terms of trade offered by the US would be significantly less favourable terms of trade.

But everyone knows there will be more to it than that. Apart from anything else a North Korean refugee crisis would land squarely at China’s door.

But how much of this is bluster remains to be seen. Should the Americans choose to engage in a conventional land war, it will undoubtedly win. But there is a caveat. America won the conventional land war in Iraq, just as it got the better of the conventional land war in Vietnam.

But it still walked away from both of those conflicts with a severely bloodied nose. Trump’s advisors will know this, and they will be well aware too that America is perhaps even more divided now that it was at the time of Vietnam. Prolonged war against North Korea is out.

But that leaves missile strikes. Which are only likely to stir up a hornets’ nest. And send the price of gold soaring. 

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