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.
February started off on a terrible footing for stock investors, with major market benchmarks falling between 2% and 3% as of 3 p.m. EST, but today's rout for stocks was good news for gold and silver. Futures pit trading for gold ended this afternoon with a $20 rise for the yellow metal, closing just shy of $1,260 per ounce. Silver finished up almost $0.29 to $19.41 per ounce. Those rises translated into gains for popular bullion ETFs, with the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEMKT:GLD) and the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEMKT:SLV) both climbing about 1% as of 3 p.m. EST. Platinum-group metals prices were mixed, though, with platinum climbing $13 to $1,382 per ounce but palladium falling $1 to $699 per ounce.
One catalyst for the stock market's decline was a weak figure from the Institute for Supply Management's Purchasing Managers' Index, which hit its lowest level since May 2013 and fell much more than investors had expected. The implied sluggishness in U.S. manufacturing activity reversed the trend toward greater strength and raised the possibility that the Federal Reserve won't taper its bond-buying activity under quantitative easing as quickly as most now expect. The central bank has reduced its monthly purchases by $10 million at each of its past two meetings.
Yet many economists believe January figures on the economy might reflect one-time weather effects, with many companies citing extremely cold conditions throughout much of the country in discussing their future guidance. If January figures turn out to be a lone blip, then the stock market could recover quickly and gold's gains could prove short-lived.
On the mining side of the business, mixed sentiment prevailed among both gold and silver miners. The Market Vectors Gold Miners Index (NYSEMKT:GDX) reflected the crosscurrents in the market, rising just 0.2% as of 3 p.m. EST, but certain mining stocks bore the brunt of investors' bearish sentiment. Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) fell more than 2% as a couple of analysts piled on with negative assessments of the gold miner -- HSBC cut its rating to neutral and Citi dropped its price target from $26 per share to $23. After last week's poor production update from Newmont, the miner needs to reestablish its ability to grow if it wants to reassure gold investors that it can benefit as much as its peers from an eventual recovery in gold prices.
Gold investors shouldn't take much heart in the price action in the yellow metal so far, as in the past stock market corrections would likely have produced even larger moves upward for gold. It's unclear whether gold will be able to put together a really large advance to convince gold bulls that a positive market environment could really be coming back for precious metals.
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.