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Column: Copper and gold take relaxed view of tight U.S. election

LAUNCESTON, Australia (Reuters) - Gold and copper are often viewed as commodity barometers of economic concern and growth, respectively, and both had a fairly muted reaction to what markets were said to fear the most about the U.S. election - a disputed outcome with no clear winner.

Gold bars are pictured on display at Korea Gold Exchange in Seoul, South Korea, August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

While the machinations of the U.S. presidential election will inevitably move toward a conclusion in coming days, the signal from commodity markets seems to be one of caution, but not too much in the way of concern.

At the time of writing, President Donald Trump had falsely claimed victory and said he will launch legal action to stop counting in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where he is ahead, and also seek a recount in Wisconsin, where he appears to have lost narrowly.

Democratic challenger Joe Biden has been more cautious, saying he is headed for a victory over Trump, something that will prove accurate if he holds onto his leads in other states currently too close to call, such as Nevada and Arizona.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, it is clear that the election is unlikely to be settled any time soon, and a plethora of legal challenges seem assured.

All of this should have been positive for gold, the precious metal often viewed as safe harbour in stormy market conditions.

However, spot gold remained stuck in a narrow range on Wednesday, losing some ground as the U.S. dollar gained amid the narrow election.

The price dropped as low as $1,882.79 an ounce, down 1.3% from the prior day’s close, but a recovery later saw gold end at $1,903.21, a decline of just 0.3% on the day.

While gold bulls may have been disappointed that a decisive Biden victory didn’t happen, thus diminishing the chances of increased stimulus spending in the short term, the longer-term case for the yellow metal remains intact.

With the Senate likely to stay in the hands of the Republicans, but the House of Representatives being retained by the Democrats, the ability of the president, whether Trump or Biden, to get their agenda passed will be severely constrained.

This likely means monetary policy will likely have to do more work, meaning the Federal Reserve will continue to keep interest rates low, a situation that has historically supported gold prices.

In the short term, the more disputed and ugly the U.S. election turns, the more likely gold will benefit from safe haven flows. However, given a resolution at some point is still the most likely outcome, these gains may prove temporary.

What is more clear is that the next U.S. president faces a divided nation, polarised into opposing camps, fed by hyper-partisan media and therefore unlikely to work in a bipartisan fashion.

This will likely stoke uncertainty and therefore keep a bullish backdrop for gold.


Turning to copper, the metal famed for its ability to be a bellwether of global economic growth showed some initial concern over the uncertain U.S. election, but by the end of the day it was largely unfazed.

Benchmark London copper futures dropped as low as $6,670 per tonne during Wednesday’s trade, down 2.1% from the prior day’s close, again as the market assessed that the probability of a large stimulus from a Biden clean sweep was now unlikely.

However, by the close of trade, copper was at $6,837.50 a tonne, up 0.3% from the close on Nov. 3.

While a U.S. stimulus package to aid recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic may be harder to achieve, copper can probably look forward to ongoing stimulus in top importer and consumer China, as well as in other leading economies in Asia.

A major commodity that may have shown some signs of life because of the U.S. election was crude oil, with benchmark Brent futures rising as much as 4% during Wednesday’s trade.

The rally could be ascribed to Trump claiming victory, given the market view that a second term for the Republican is bullish for crude as it would keep pressure on exports from Iran and Venezuela, both subject to U.S. sanctions.

However, Brent slipped back slightly to close at $41.23 a barrel on Wednesday, amid the realisation that Trump’s victory call was premature and the remaining votes to be counted in battleground states narrowly favoured a Biden victory.

Part of crude’s gains on Wednesday could also be attributed to fundamentals, including a 8 million barrel drop in U.S. crude inventories last week amid production shut-ins caused by Hurricane Zeta.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.

Editing by Lincoln Feast.