Although inflation is not a threat currently the case for a period of higher than average inflation can be easily made.
From an investment perspective:
- A period of high inflation is the most challenging period for traditional assets e.g. equities and Fixed Income;
- Before the inflation period, as we move from the current period of deflation there is a period of reflation, during which things will feel okay for a while; and
- During the higher inflation period the leadership of investment returns are likely to change.
These are some of the key insights from a recent Man article, Inflation Regime Roadmap.
Following an extensive review of previous inflation/deflationary episodes Man clearly articulate the case for a period of higher inflation is ahead.
As Man note the timing of moving to a higher inflation environment is uncertain.
As outlined below, they provide a check list of factors to monitor in anticipation of higher inflation.
Nevertheless, although the timing of a higher inflation environment is uncertain, Man argue the need for preparation is not and should commence now.
Investors need to be assessing the robust of their portfolios for a higher than average inflation environment now.
Man identify several strategies they expect will outperform during a period of higher inflation.
The level and direction of inflation is important.
This is evident in the diagram below, which Man refer to as the Fire and Ice Framework.
The performance of investment strategies differs depending on the inflation environment.
As can be seen in the diagram, the traditional assets of equities and bonds (fixed income securities) have on average performed poorly in the inflation periods (Fire).
Also, of note is that the benefits of Bonds in providing portfolio diversification benefits are diminished during these periods, as signified by the positive stock-bond correlation relationship.
As Man note, and evident in the diagram above, the path to inflation is via reflation, so things will feel good for a while.
Importantly, there will be a regime change, those investment strategies that have flourished over the last 10 years are likely to struggle in the decade ahead.
The expected new winners in a higher inflation environment are succinctly captured in the following diagram.
As can been seen in the Table above, Man argue new investment strategies are needed within portfolios.
- Alternative risk premia and long-short (L/S) type strategies, rather than traditional market exposures (long only, L/O) of equities and fixed income which are likely to generate real negative returns (See Fire and Ice Framework).
- Real Assets, such inflation-linked bonds, precious metals, commodities, and real estate.
Man also expect leadership within equity markets to change toward value and away from growth and quality. Those companies with Pricing Power are also expected to benefit.
Several pitfalls to introducing the new strategies to a portfolio are outlined in the article.
Time for Preparation is now
As mentioned the timing of a transition to a higher inflation environment is uncertain. Certainly markets are not pricing one in now.
Nevertheless, the preparation for such an environment is now. Man highlight:
- the likelihood of an inflationary regime is much higher than it has been in recent times;
- the investment implications of this new regime would be so large that all the things that have worked are at risk of stopping to work; and
- given that markets are not priced for higher inflation at all, the market inflationary regime may well start well before inflation actually kicks in, given the starting point.
Man believe investors have some time to prepare for the regime shift. Nevertheless, those preparations should start now.
In addition, Man provide a check list to monitor to determine progress toward a higher than average inflation environment.
Inflation Check List to Monitor
The paper undertakes a thorough review of different inflation regimes and the drivers of them. The review and analysis on inflation makes up a large share of the report and is well worth reviewing.
Man identify five significant regime changes to support their analysis:
- Hoover’s Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal (Deflation to Reflation)
- WW2-1951 Debt Work-down (Inflation to Disinflation).
- The Twin Oil Shocks of the 1970s (Inflation).
- Paul Volcker (Disinflation).
- The Global Financial Crisis (Deflation to Reflation and back again).
As noted in the list above, we are currently in a deflationary environment (again) – Thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Man expect the deflationary forces over the last decade are likely to fade in the years ahead. As a result inflation is likely to pick up. Central banks are also likely to allow an overshoot relative to inflation targets. Their independence could also be at risk.
They argue the current deflationary status quo is unsustainable, high debt levels leading to underinvestment in product assets resulting in lower levels of spare capacity and rising levels of inequality around the world will lead to policy responses by both governments and central banks that will result in a period of higher than average inflation.
They provide a checklist of factors to monitor, which includes:
- Inflation Momentum, which is broadly neutral currently
- Measures of inflation in the pipeline, which are currently deflationary
- Economic slack, which is large and heavily deflationary at present
- Labour market tightness, which is loose and heavily deflationary presently
- Wage inflation, currently neutral to inflationary
- Inflation Expectations, sending mixed signals at this time
Man conclude their dashboard is more deflationary than inflationary. They also believe this could change quite rapidly if demand picks up faster than expected.
Man’s view on the outlook for inflation are not alone, a number of other organisations hold similar views.
Although inflation is not a problem now, it is highly likely to become of a greater concern to investors than recent history.
This will likely lead to a change in investment return leadership. Those investment strategies that have worked well over the last 10 years are unlikely to work so well in the decade ahead. Man propose some they think will perform better in such an environment, there are likely others.
A review of current portfolio holdings should be undertaken to determine the robustness to a different inflation regime. This is a key point.
The performance of real assets in different economic environments was covered in a previous Post, Real Assets offer real diversification benefits, this Post covered analysis undertaken by PGIM.
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