Inflation appears to be firmly on the rise and while that is bad news for consumers it’s not necessarily bad news for investors. In fact, inflation may provide new opportunities.
In the September quarter, the consumer price index (CPI) rose 3 per cent year on year, a level previously not forecast to be reached until 2023. The underlying rate of inflation, which removes extreme price changes and is generally considered a more accurate reflection of what is happening on the ground, increased 2.1 per cent on an annual basis.
Now the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is looking at bringing forward interest rate rises in the wake of this growing inflation rate. When it does, it will be the first time in 11 years that the bank has raised interest rates.
This development is highlighted by the RBA’s relaxing and then abandoning its target for the 3-year government bond rate (the benchmark) which it had originally set at 0.10 per cent. By the start of November, the market had pushed this rate above 1 per cent, 10 times the RBA’s original target, effectively forcing its hand.i
The RBA’s stated aim is to keep the inflation rate within its 2-3 per cent target range. But some seasoned market observers are forecasting the rate could get as high as 3 to 5 per cent by 2023, and perhaps a touch higher.ii
So why is this happening now?
There has been a combination of factors leading to the uptick in inflation, mostly resulting from events stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the prospect of a recession fading fast.
These influences include cost pressures from global and local supply chain bottlenecks along with higher energy prices, an uptick in rents and rising insurance costs.
A shortage of labour, partly on the back of the absence of migration and casual overseas workers throughout the pandemic, is now also putting pressure on wages.
For some months, there has been debate over whether inflation was just a transitory event in the wake of COVID, but it is beginning to look more permanent as the months go by.
Inflation is not all bad news for investors, but it may change the way you think about your investments.
The low interest rate regime that led to soaring property prices has left many investors with healthy gains in asset prices, adding to their wealth. While the move to higher interest rates may make borrowing money harder and take some of the boom out of the housing market, it is worth remembering the gains made to date are unlikely to be completely wiped out.
But it’s not just property; all major asset classes are highly valued at present.
Rising inflation traditionally erodes the value of bonds and cash. As interest rates move north, the appeal of those bonds offering the current low rates will fall and in turn so will the price.
As a result, it may be worth assessing whether your asset allocation to bonds is still appropriate for your circumstance and long-term goals, as floating rate bonds or inflation linked bonds may be more appropriate.
The reduced appeal of longer-term bonds traditionally increases the appeal of equities as a better hedge against rising inflation.
Also, with a once-feared double dip recession now looking unlikely in North America, Europe, China and Japan, many companies are expected to enjoy continued growth in what is still a low interest rate environment.
While sharemarket returns may be more modest than in recent times, many companies still offer potential. Quality companies offering a high return on earnings, a lowly geared balance sheet and the ability to set prices, will continue to provide attractive investment options.
The challenge with a higher inflation rate is that it could outpace any growth in interest rates, leaving those weighted towards long-term fixed interest investments in a situation where their money is being eroded over time. As the global economy begins to shift gears, now may be the time to consider reviewing your portfolio to reflect the changing conditions.
If you would like to know more about whether your current investment mix is appropriate for your circumstances and the times, please give us a call to discuss.