Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

The gold market has responded badly to the improving U.S. economy lately, so it's only natural that today's ugly December employment report had a correspondingly positive impact on precious-metals prices today. Spot gold prices soared $21, to $1,249 per ounce, sending the SPDR Gold (NYSEMKT:GLD) up 1.5% on the day. Silver returned to its outperforming ways, rocketing 3% higher, to $20.16 per ounce, and sending iShares Silver (NYSEMKT:SLV) to a 2.9% gain. Platinum and palladium finished with gains of 1% to 1.5%, as well, with platinum closing up $19, to $1,433 per ounce, and palladium gaining $7, to $742.

Some market participants were surprised that gold didn't react even more strongly to the jobs figures, which showed nonfarm payroll growth of just 74,000 in December. But some analysts pointed to an upward revision of 38,000 jobs to the November payroll figure, and the conundrum of the huge drop in labor-market participation that sent the unemployment rate plunging to 6.7% added a new variable to the thought process that could make it difficult to determine what direction the Fed will go next.


Mining stocks outperformed gold, with Market Vectors Gold Miners (NYSEMKT:GDX) gaining 3.5%. Some investors have pointed to the disconnect between falling gold-price projections from investment banks and the rising market price as potentially problematic, especially if a future plunge in gold prices leads to downgrades of credit ratings of major gold miners. Yet, as Fool contributor Vladimir Zernov observed earlier today, Goldcorp (NYSE:GG) has a relatively low-debt balance sheet, while even Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX), which is under a negative credit outlook from Moody's, has low-enough costs to make mining profitable, even at levels 10% to 20% below current gold prices.

Next week, the big question that traders are asking is whether gold can climb above $1,250, and remain there without falling back. With most analysts carrying bearish opinions about gold's future prospects, a positive move would defy the experts and lead to an interesting future for the yellow metal.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.