Funds now have the smallest bullish positioning in gold since June 2007. That could be your sign to buy.» Read More
With military action in Syria looming, gold has reclaimed it "flight-to-quality" status. But while we see gold continuing to move higher in the short term, there will be a clear limit to how far it can run.
This commodity has fallen from grace even more dramatically than Apple did last fall. But we have recently seen a distinct change in sentiment. Noting that gold has risen 20 percent from its low, some "techsters" even want to point to a new "bull market" for gold—but we wouldn't go that far just yet.
(Read more: Gold: 'It's like summer never happened')
With U.S. military action against Syria possibly coming within days, oil investors must ask themselves "Who wants to go home short crude into a three-day holiday weekend?" Since few will answer "me," I think it's a good bet that we drift higher into Friday's session.
Crude oil has traded more than $3 down from its $112.24 high, reaching a low of $108.60 in early Thursday trading. The market has undoubtedly softened, but the fact that the market closed above $109.01 was encouraging to the bull camp.
(Read more: Whew! Futures indicate that the oil spike won't last)
But the biggest factor is that we are heading into the long Labor Day weekend with Syria looming on every trader's mind. The reality is that no one wants to go home this weekend short crude, so traders are either long or flat, and we expect this attitude to help boost this market over the next 24 hours.
Syria concerns have driven crude oil to a two-year high. But the futures market is telling traders that a correction could come soon.
As the U.S. appeared to draw closer to a military strike against Syria, oil closed Wednesday at its highest level since May 2010. But while crude oil for October delivery closed at $109.52, crude for December delivery settled at $107.32, and crude for June 2014 delivery closed at $99.47, gaining just 2 cents on the day.
As investors get increasingly worried about Syria, oil rose to a two-year high on Wednesday, trading as high as $112 per barrel in the overnight session.
Syria doesn't export any oil, and produces very little. But the nation does have close allies in Iran and Russia. Indeed, both nations have warned the U.S. not to strike Syria.
Traders worry, then, that a military strike could evolve (or devolve) into a prolonged conflict that could threaten the supply and transport of crude oil across the entire Middle East.
(Read more: Why the Syrian crisis will mean higher gas prices)
Now that the U.S. and its allies are convinced that Syria used chemical weapons on its own people, military action against Syria seems to be a foregone conclusion.
In my view, it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when." U.S. officials told NBC News that military action could come as early as Thursday, and we have already seen crude rise 5 percent in anticipation of a strike.
When a strike happens, how high could we see crude trade? History tells us that once military action begins, if it looks like the action is contained to the targeted country, then oil will sell off. But it all depends on what the response to the strike is.
If we see Syria's allies in the region get involved—namely Iran and Russia—we could see crude rise as high as $115 or $120 rapidly. If the conflict turns out to be a prolonged situation, then we could see $125.
(Read more: Syria recalls Rumsfeld's law of 'unknown unknowns')
The fallout from higher crude prices is higher gasoline prices. After the Labor Day holiday, we usually see gas prices start to come off at the pump. The reason for this is simple—that is when summer driving season comes to an end, and when it does, demand falls. But this year, different factors are coming to the fore.
The market is contending with several scary scenarios that have put a serious crimp in the stock rally. The idea that the U.S. could carry out military strikes on Syria, combined with renewed pessimism about the debt ceiling debate, led the S&P 500 to drop over 1.5 percent Tuesday.
But Krishna Memani, OppenheimerFunds chief investment officer of fixed income, said such concerns are little more than red herrings. The real problem, he cautions, is slow economic growth.
Concerns about the debt ceiling came to the fore on Tuesday, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to congressional leaders saying that the U.S. will hit it in mid-October. When that happens, the government will not be able to issue more debt without authorization from Congress. And given how divisive that body has become, even another short-term authorization to keep the government functioning is not counted as a sure thing.
Lew's comments on "Squawk Box" didn't indicate that a compromise is imminent.
"We're not going to be negotiating over the debt limit," Lew said. "Congress has already authorized funding, committed us to make expenditures. … The only question is, will we pay the bills that the United States has incurred?"
(Read more: Lew: Obama not negotiating over debt limit)
Meanwhile, many Republicans have said that they would not vote for a bill avoiding a shutdown without the (unlikely) concession of defunding Obamacare. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) recently put it, "If you have an impasse, one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don't blink."
Memani downplays the White House and Republican rhetoric.
"If they don't compromise, then that clearly is bad for the economy," the fund manager said. "But it don't think that's really a base-case scenario, because we have seen this movie several times before."
The picture has changed for gold. First of all, the U.S. appears to be considering military action in Syria. Second, traders are becoming more skeptical of the idea that tapering is imminent. And between Syria and the evolving thinking about the Fed, December gold futures have gotten pushed up to a 2½-month high of $1,423.
However, gold is now approaching significant technical resistance around $1,428. I believe the push higher in gold will begin to lose steam, and present the opportunity for a contrarian play. For one thing, it's hard for me to believe that the current administration will formulate an aggressive military plan. After all, the public certainly does not appear to have the appetite for it.
(Read more: Gold jumps on possible strike against Syria)
If you think the Federal Reserve is happy with the recent rise in rates, then you're wrong. The Fed has to be quite uncomfortable with the velocity of this recent move, which has seen the 10-year yield climb up from 1.6 percent to 2.9 percent in just 3½ months. Meanwhile, one of the biggest misperceptions in the market today is that equities have properly digested this massive move.
So how does the Fed allow the market to acclimate to the rate rise, and keep the 10 year-yield suppressed specifically under 3 percent, even as the marginal efficacy of quantitative easing is being questioned? Simple: They minimally reduce (a.k.a. "taper") QE in September, to the tune of $10 billion to $15 billion.
(Read more: The 3 reasons everyone is dead wrong about bonds)
Why will that work?
I am not going to sugarcoat this: The durable goods number that was released Monday morning was terrible.
We expected to see orders for U.S. durable goods drop 4 percent, but they actually declined by 7.3 percent. A number this bad begs us to ask: Can the U.S. ever pull back on QE?
The reaction in the S&P e-mini indicated a belief that it won't happen anytime soon. Once that durable goods number was released, we saw the Dow erase all its early losses, and trade higher.
(Read more: The hidden reason why the Fed will taper: Pro)
Why would that happen after such a bad number? Because market participants believe that this indicates that there will be no tapering in September, and QE will continue. And I am beginning to believe that they are right.
After all, housing looks bad, and employment is not at the target that was set. And even though there have been some positives in the economy, we are still projected to grow by only 2 percent.
Is the Fed taking a September taper off the table? That's certainly what gold bulls are hoping for.
After holding the major $1,352 level, gold finished the week with tremendous strength, trading to new swing highs. Although the metal was just short of $1,400, it closed nearly $20 higher on Friday, reaching $1,399.90. Gold then continued the run on Sunday night, trading to $1,407.
This support for gold comes as investors view the taper as less of a sure thing. After new home sales data on Friday turned out to be a big disappointment, traders and investors found gold very attractive, betting that the $85 billion a month in bond purchases by the Fed will likely continue through the end of 2013. Weekly data have been the major mover for the metal and the dollar, as the clock is ticking for the Fed to make a move on the ongoing stimulus.
(Read more: The hidden reason why the Fed will taper: Pro)
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