Some prominent voices in the media are beginning to talk about inflation again. Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg, former long-bond advocate and perma-bear on most stocks, believes that a deflationary spiral has abated; in fact, he expects inflationary pressures to build more quickly than the “there-is-no-stinking-inflation” crowd will anticipate. He has advised adding some inflation hedges to portfolios, including TIPS, real return bonds as well as hard assets.
The problem with Rosenberg’s epic change of heart is that many market-based securities are not as confident about the onset of inflation as he is. For example, iShares TIPS Bond Fund (TIP), iShares CDN Real Return Bond Fund (XRB.TO) as well as IQ CPI Inflation Hedged ETF (CPI) all trade near 52-week lows; what’s more, their respective downtrends are intact.
Similarly, if food price inflation were set to take off, one might also expect to see farmers, fertilizer makers, tractor manufacturers and agribusiness conglomerates do well as a group. Yet Market Vectors Agribusiness (MOO) remains in the doldrums.
On the flip side, however, quintessential hedges such as gold and hard asset producers have been some of the best performers over the last 2 months. Not only is SPDR Gold (GLD) up more than 10% off of the June lows, but Market Vectors Hard Asset Producers (HAP) is suddenly “happening.”
One thing that may give the Fed greater ammunition to slow its bond purchases is the year-over-year Consumer Price Index (CPI) data. To the surprise of many, it hit the Fed’s target of 2.0%. That higher-than-anticipated data point may be one of the biggest reasons that investors are revisiting miners, metals and hard assets.
Nevertheless, ETFs that one might employ to hedge against inflation have been sending mixed signals about inflation expectations. From my vantage point, there are scores of reasons why gold and other hard assets might be gaining ground, from better economic data in Europe to bottom fishing to Asia’s currency woes. I am not convinced that deflation has been beaten in the United States… at least not until wage stagnation shifts to wage growth.