Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quick and Easy Math the Reuters Way!

More cool math from Reuters. Today's example comes from this article on the captured British seamen. Reporting on the "effects" of the "tension" on commodities markets, we get:


With the United States conducting naval exercises in the Gulf, the rising tension rattled global markets. Oil prices jumped by $5 overnight to more than $68 a barrel before they settled back to around $64. Gold jumped to a four-week high on safe-haven buying before prices eased.


Let's consider what these figures mean. Oil jumps $5 to some vague figure of $68 plus alpha - and then sinks "to around $64." If I'm not mistaken, that means it sunk $4 plus alpha - so, almost $5. In other words, the price of oil remains essentially unchanged, nothing to see here.

For gold, we don't even get any figures. It "jumped" to a four-week high on "safe-haven" buying. See, I just don't know what that means. Is there some blank on the certificate for purchase of gold that says "Reason for purchase," and a larger-than-usual number of people penciled in "worried about inflation due to skyrocketing commodity prices?" Yeah, somehow I don't think that's how it works. This "safe-haven buying" phrase is really just convenient wording for Reuters. Truth is, we don't know why people were buying gold more heavily yesterday than at any time in the preceding four weeks - but personally, I don't think there's anything alarming about gold prices reaching a four-week high in and of itself. I mean, for any period of four weeks, one of the days has to post the highest prices, right? It might as well have been yesterday. What would be alarming is if the price of gold spiked sharply and unexpectedly - but of course we have no numbers here to indicate that it did. For all we know from the complete lack of useful information given, the price of gold has been steadily rising starting three weeks ago, and yesterday just so happened to continue that trend.

Assuming that's the case, an accurate translation from Reuters-speak to English would be "Even with the United States conducting naval exercises in the Gulf, the rising tension completely failed to rattle global markets."

Amazing what a few choice adjectives can do for you when you want your facts to say something they don't.

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