Gold punches through US$1,300 as reality of North Korean missile attack is brought home

Gold rises and markets fall when missiles fly

The gold price could become the go-to market measure of American greatness, or otherwise

When President Obama was in the White House markets were on the whole less jittery about tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Back then they had other things to worry about like quantitative easing and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But they also believed in Obama’s ability to stay cool and that he could get tough if he really needed to – he killed Osama Bin Laden and presided over a massive escalation in drone strikes in the Middle East.

With Obama’s successor, President Trump, things are a little less clear.

WATCH: Gold crashes through $1300 on back of North Korea missile jitters

And that’s why North Korea’s firing of a missile into Japanese airspace has caused triple digit falls on the London stock exchange, has caused gold to punch a hole in the psychological US$1,300 barrier, and raised eyebrows and quickened the heartbeats of market watchers and commentators the world over.

What’s more, President Trump’s reaction has been surprising to say the least. He has had Rex Tillerson condemn a “provocative act” and referred the whole thing to the UN, which will meet tomorrow.

For markets, which are famously and increasingly taking the short-term view, working out what that’s all about is nigh on impossible.

READ: Trump’s threat to shut down the government is no bluff

After all, there was Trump’s big talk of “fire and fury,” his cosying up to and then backing away from the Chinese, and his sending of US carrier forces in different directions around the South Atlantic.

Now that the North Koreans have actually violated the airspace of a sovereign ally there is relative silence. Could it be that with the devastation recently wreaked by Hurricane Harvey in the South of the US, he’s got his in-tray full at the moment?

Or, more ominously, is it the calm before a bigger storm that Mr Trump is now cooking up?

What's setting the news agenda, however, is not North Korea

But before panic takes complete hold, it’s worth taking a look at what’s setting the news agenda at the moment in the US. There’s no doubt about it whatsoever, and it’s not North Korea and the threat of nuclear war.

No, the South of the US is a core constituency for the President, and the US media is looking very, very closely at how he handles the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The New York Times is leading on the Hurricane and so is Fox News, both in a big way. Home grown apocalypse is grist to the mill to the US news consumer, and at this point in late August there seems to be no need to import any overseas version to satisfy demand.

For peaceniks, that’s at least one tick in the box.

But really, it’s a question of degrees. If the North Korean missile crisis has been put in the “pending” tray, with Mr Trump leaving it to Rex Tillerson to brand the act “provocative,” how long will it stay there?

That’s the great unknown. Actually, probably less than 24 hours. Mr Trump will want to get ahead of the UN meeting and at least give some semblance that he is the big man who will ultimately be taking decisions.

Lack of a UN mandate hasn’t stopped more moderate and less bombastic Presidents

If the US can get a mandate from the UN for any action it takes, so much the better. But the lack of a UN mandate hasn’t stopped more moderate and less bombastic Presidents than Mr Trump.

Still, Republicans will be mindful of the negative electoral effect President George W Bush’s apparent lacklustre response to Hurricane Katrina had. Politically, Hurricane Katrina was more damaging to President Bush than the failed war in Iraq.

Advocates of a forward Republican policy will know this too. Alienating what support the President still has at home will not help their cause abroad. It was always going to be tricky to make American great again. Perhaps in the coming years the gold price will be a measure of how well it’s going.

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