Your Portfolio’s Silent Killer
Shhh, if you listen closely enough, you may hear the sound of your portfolio disintegrating away due to the quiet killer…inflation. Inflation is especially worrisome with what we’ve seen happening with commodity prices and the drastic fiscal challenges our country faces. Quantitative Easing (read Flying to the Moon) has only added fuel to the inflation fear flames.
Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist who believes the government inflation data is cooked, or you are a Baby Boomer just looking to secure your retirement, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that movies, pair of jeans, a tank of gas, concert tickets, or healthcare premiums are all going up in price (See also Bacon and Oreo Future).
Companies are currently churning out quarterly results in volume and seeing the impact from commodity prices, whether you are McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) facing rising beef prices or luxury handbag maker Coach Inc. (COH) dealing with escalating leather costs, margins are getting crimped. Investors, especially those on fixed income streams, are experiencing the same pain as these corporations, but the problem is much worse. Unlike a market share leading company that can pass on price increases onto its customers, an investor with piles of cash, and low yielding CDs (Certificates of Deposit), and bonds runs the risk of getting eaten alive. Baby Boomers are beginning to reach retirement age in mass volume. Life spans are extending, and this demographic pool of individuals will become ever-large consumers of costlier and costlier healthcare services. If investments are not prudently managed, Baby Boomers will see their nest eggs evaporate, and be forced to work as Wal-Mart (WMT) greeters into their 80s…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Every day investors are bombarded with a hundred different scary headlines on why the economy will collapse or the world will end. Most of these sensationalist scare tactics distort the truth and overstate reality. What is understated is what Charles Ellis (see Winning the Loser’s Game) calls a “corrosive power”:
“Over the long run, inflation is the major problem for investors, not the attention-getting daily or cyclical changes in securities prices that most investors fret about. The corrosive power of inflation is truly daunting: At 3 percent inflation – which most people accept as ‘normal’ – the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in 24 years. At 5 percent inflation, the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in less than 15 years – and cut in half again in 15 years to just one-quarter.”
In order to bolster his case, Ellis cites the following period:
“From 1977 to 1982, the inflation-adjusted Dow Jones Industrial Average took a five-year loss of 63 percent…In the 15 years from the late 1960s to the early 1980s the unweighted stock market, adjusted for inflation, plunged by about 80 percent. As a result, the decade of the 1970s was actually worse for investors than the decade of the 1930s.”
Solutions – How to Beat Inflation
Although the gold bugs would have you believe it, we are not resigned to live in a world with worthless money, which only has a useful purpose as toilet paper. There are ways to protect your portfolio, if you are properly invested. Here are some strategies to consider:
- TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protection Securities): These government-guaranteed tools are a useful way to protect yourself against rising inflation (see Drowning TIPS).
- Equities (including real estate): Bond issuers do not generally call up there investors and say, “You are such a great investor, so we have decided to increase your interest payments.” However, many publicly traded stocks do exactly that. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is an example of such a company that has increased its dividend for 37 consecutive years. As alluded to earlier, stocks are unique in that they allow inflationary pressures placed on operating profits to be relieved somewhat by the ability to pass on price increases to customers.
- Commodities: Whether you are talking about petroleum products, precious metals (those with a commercial purpose), or agricultural goods, commodities in general act as a great inflationary hedge. Another reason that commodities broadly perform better in an inflationary environment is because the U.S. dollar can often depreciate, which commonly increases the value of commodities.
- Short Duration Bonds: Rising rates are usually tied to escalating inflation, therefore investors would be best served by reducing maturity length and increasing coupon.
There are other ways of battling the inflation problem, but number one is saving and investing across a broadly diversified portfolio. If you want to secure and grow your nest egg, you need to use the silent power of compounding (see Penny Saved is Billion Earned) to combat the silent killer of inflation.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, WMT, TIP, equities, commodities, and short duration bonds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.