Thursday was another volatile day on Wall Street. After opening lower, most market benchmarks recovered their lost ground and moved modestly higher by the end of the day. Gains were limited to small fractions of a percent, however, and market participants didn't seem all that comfortable with the way stocks behaved. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) had the smallest gains, but the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) and Nasdaq Composite fared only a little better.

Today's stock market


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Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

On a quiet day for the overall market, some investors paid attention to the gold mining industry. Mining stocks did reasonably well, with the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEMKT:GDX) rising nearly 3%. Yet we're still a long way from where gold investors were just a few short weeks ago. Excitement about the precious metals markets has waned significantly.

Then and now

The summer was a great period for investors in precious metals. Gold prices soared to around $2,060 per ounce in early August, and the yellow metal made multiple forays above the $2,000 mark. Silver saw even more impressive gains, as prices more than doubled from their March lows to top out above $29 per ounce.

Gold bars in a pile, and a chart with yellow lines.

Image source: Getty Images.

At the time, everything looked set up for a big rally in gold and silver. The Federal Reserve had indicated that interest rates would remain low indefinitely, making it easier for gold investors to get financing for their investment positions. Meanwhile, supply constraints were also helping to support prices. Projections for $3,000 gold and $50 silver were common among those following the precious metals markets.

Fast forward to now, and things have changed for the worse. Gold has fallen back, and even with a modest gain Thursday, prices of $1,869 per ounce have fallen back into a familiar range rather than producing the unstoppable momentum seen in other financial markets. Silver has fallen even more dramatically, with today's gains pulling it back above $23 per ounce. That's still more than 20% below its recent highs.

What could drive gold higher?

There are several catalysts that could drive greater interest in gold and silver. Some are pointing to the U.S. presidential election in November as a source of geopolitical uncertainty. Certainly, comments from President Trump suggesting that he may refuse to give up the White House even if he loses the election have gold bulls paying close attention.

Silver also has an industrial component, and calls for stimulus measures from the U.S. government could have important implications for the white metal. So far, Congress and the White House haven't been able to reach agreement on further assistance for the economy. That's hurt silver, but an eventual deal could send prices higher.

Finally, gold mining companies  are taking advantage of higher prices to look for new opportunities. That's part of what sent AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Kinross Gold (NYSE:KGC), and Yamana Gold (NYSE:AUY) up between 5% and 7% Thursday. Other gold miners also did well.

When the stock market isn't showing any clarity about the future, it's often helpful to look at other financial markets. Gold and silver get a lot of attention, and even after their recent pullback, it's entirely possible that further gains could be right around the corner.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.