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When the US Federal Reserve reported 7% annual US inflation for December 2021, it was the highest rate for 39 years, since June 1982. That takes us back to a time when inflation was a persistent problem for investors and portfolios were adjusted accordingly.
In Europe, inflation is not quite so extreme. Even so, the trend is clear; it touched 5% in December, a record for the 22-year-old eurozone.
Inflation surges have been rare in the past 30 years, which makes today’s all the more surprising. What’s in little doubt is that government bonds perform poorly in such an environment. By contrast, commodities and property can be effective inflation hedges, although to what degree depends.
Sources: Eurostat, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and ECB.Notes: HICB stands for Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices and CPI for Consumer Price Index Inflationexcluding energy and food refers to the HICP excluding energy and food for the euro area and CPI less food andenergy for the United States. The latest observations are for July 2021 for the Unites States and August 2021 for the euro area.
Behind today’s inflation are the spike in prices of products during the pandemic, as people have diverted money that they can’t spend on services and supply chains have been disrupted. There’s also been a significant rise in energy prices. Among the products to increase in price most are second-hand cars while commodities such as electricity, oil and metals have also risen.
So how to protect wealth? In my case, I could hold on to my second-hand car and – if it continues to appreciate at 2021’s hyper rate – retire on the proceeds in 10 years’ time! I could also turn off the lights and wear a thicker sweater to cut the utility bills.
Seriously, though, it may make sense to adjust investment portfolios in case lasting inflation is returning. For sure, it could still be a transitory phenomenon as demand returns at the ebbing of the pandemic, but even the world’s central banks are beginning to see inflation as a problem that urgently needs dealing with.
As is often the case with inflation, rising commodity prices are among its drivers. Take metals prices. Despite stabilising towards 2021’s end, they rose more than a third in the year, as measured by the World Bank’s Metals and Minerals Price Index. Looking forward, the green energy push is likely to continue to boost prices. “Over the longer term, the global energy transition away from fossil fuels is expected to increase demand for some metals, particularly aluminium, copper, nickel and tin,” notes a World Bank blog.2
Note: Last observation is November 2021, Source World Bank
A simple way to hedge through commodities is to invest in the shares of metals and mining companies worldwide, which the VanEck Global Mining UCITS ETF makes easy. Alternatively, our VanEck Rare Earth and Strategic Metals UCITS ETF offers a more direct play on green energy.
Turning to real estate, the picture is more complex. Different types of property have risen in value to varying degrees during previous bouts of inflation. Today, changing work and shopping habits might well challenge the values of office and residential property following the pandemic. At the same time, residential and industrial property are booming in parts of the world. Fortunately, the VanEck Global Real Estate UCITS ETF is diversified across real estate sectors globally.
Of course, current inflation fears might prove overdone. Even so, it seems wise to diversify portfolios into likely inflation hedges such as metals and real estate. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the famous author, the history of inflation might not repeat itself but it’s certainly rhyming!
2Metal prices stabilize amid moderate demand growth and rising input costs. World Bank blogs. December 29, 2021. https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/metal-prices-stabilize-amid-moderate-demand-growth-and-rising-input-costs
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