Over the last decade, inflation has been subdued around the globe and struggled to come close to central bank targets despite loose monetary policy actions. However, influenced by the economic effects of the global pandemic, inflation appears poised to re-emerge in 2021 and to have an impact in the years to come.
This should encourage a re-examination of portfolios that have largely benefited from robust equity and bond returns, and which may now face inflationary challenges. Investors who find themselves vulnerable to a sustained move higher in inflation should consider the inclusion of inflation-hedging assets, such as real assets, which have historically performed well and shown a higher beta and correlation to inflation than traditional assets.
Cyclical Inflation Drivers Accelerating
By keeping short-term interest rates low, the US Federal Reserve (Fed) expects to stimulate overall economic conditions and spark a business cycle expansion, which it hopes will be inflationary. The Federal Reserve Banks of San Francisco and Cleveland have explored the relationship between core inflation and the business cycle. They concluded that cyclical drivers of personal consumption expenditure (PCE) inflation (e.g., housing, recreational services, food services, select nondurable goods) have improved since the recession that followed the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), while acyclical drivers of PCE inflation (e.g., health care services, financial services, clothing, transportation) have remained stubbornly low and kept overall inflation subdued.1,2 (See Figures 1 and 2.)
Figure 1: Cyclical and Acyclical Core PCE Inflation (%) 2005-2021
Figure 2 Cyclical and Acyclical Contributions to Core PCE Inflation (%) 2005-2021
State Street GDP Outlook
For 2021, State Street is anticipating increased economic growth, measured by GDP rising 5.3% in the US and 5.7% globally.3 The V-shaped recovery in manufacturing is evidence of firming aggregate demand; along with supply constraints, the recovery has led to reduced stockpiles and higher commodity prices. Concerns about significant inflationary effects result from a resurgence of cyclical influences (e.g., healing labor markets) as well as from modestly rising acyclical influences.
State Street Inflation Outlook
Market expectations for inflation recently touched 2.6%, with 5-year breakevens reaching a level not seen since July of 2008, i.e., before the GFC sank inflation expectations. The implied inflation pick-up moved from a pre-pandemic reading of 1.7% to a low of 0.18% in mid-March of 2020, when investors fully considered the implications of continued easy monetary policy, massive fiscal stimulus, potential dollar weakness, and declining economic slack in the future.
We expect that, over the next few months, inflation measures will get a significant bump due to negative base-effects rolling off from 2020 and higher recent energy and food prices. The St. Louis Fed’s President James Bullard has suggested that the US economy is going to recover more quickly than many forecasters expect, and unlike recent experience he foresees more price volatility and higher inflation. In fact, he would embrace inflation over 2% on a sustained basis and accept it staying 0.5 percentage points above the Fed’s target for an extended period.4 Further, purchaser and manufacturer input costs have accelerated in the first two months of 2021, experiencing their largest gains since December of 2009. (See Figures 3 and 4.)
Figure 3 Historical US Core PCE and US CPI NSA
Figure 4 US Core PCE Deflator and US CPI SA
January 2020 to February 2021, Month/Month
Inflation-Hedging Asset Strategies
Investors currently under-allocated to inflation-hedging assets are vulnerable to a sustained move higher in inflation. Real assets have historically performed well in such an environment, with higher beta and correlation to inflation than traditional assets. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 5 Asset Class Inflation Beta and Correlation to Inflation April 29, 2005 to February 28, 2021
This current cyclical pick-up in inflation may, therefore, also counsel the consideration of investments such as commodities and global natural resources, as well of value-oriented equities in areas like infrastructure. For the latter, the potential approval of increased fiscal spending directed toward infrastructure in the later part of 2021 could prove to be another tailwind.
Real estate has been hit particularly hard over the last two years but has begun to recover and adjust its business models to the new reality of the pandemic-changed work environment and to the increased shift to e-commerce.
While inflation-linked bonds may have already experienced much of the increase in inflation expectations, shifting exposure to shorter-duration securities would be a way to mitigate interest rate volatility and better align with future inflation moves – without giving up too much yield at current levels.
And what if actual readings surpass current consensus expectations? If inflation overshoots at sustained higher levels, gold may play a larger and more significant roll due to the negative effect inflation can have on broad equity and fixed income exposures.
The current inflation outlook is more complex than it has been in some time. Massive monetary and fiscal stimulus, the release of pent-up demand in depressed service areas, pressures on global supply chains, and a weaker US dollar are all influencing expectations. And while output gaps may serve to cap the amount of the rise, a cyclical recovery likely will lift inflation almost everywhere.
Higher inflation will not surprise the markets, but the accompanying volatility will test investors’ asset allocation strategies. All investors may soon find themselves vulnerable to a sustained move higher in inflation, and should consider the inclusion of inflation-hedging assets, such as real assets, in their portfolios because of strong historical performance during inflationary periods.
About the State Street Real Asset Strategy
State Street offers investors a seasoned, diversified multi-asset strategy that combines exposure to a broad array of liquid real asset securities. (See Figure 6.) The Real Asset Strategy is expected to perform best during periods of increasing inflation or rising unexpected inflation. The Strategy is meant to be a complement to traditional equity and bond assets, providing further diversification, attractive returns, and a source of income in a low-yielding environment. For complete information, please contact your State Street representative.
Figure 6Components of the State Street Real Asset Strategy
1 Mahedy, Tim, and Adam Shapiro. 2017. “What’s Down with Inflation?” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter 2017-35, November 27, 2017. 2 Zaman, Saeed. 2019. “Cyclical versus Acyclical Inflation: A Deeper Dive.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Economic Commentary 2019-13. September 4, 2019. 3Weekly Economic Perspectives - GMPR Quarterly, State Street Global Advisors, March 22,2021. 4 Jeremy D. Schwartz, 2021. “Behind the Markets Podcast: St. Louis Fed President Jim Bullard,” Episode 227, Behind the Markets Podcast, March 5, 2021.
Investing involves risk including the risk of loss of principal.
The information provided does not constitute investment advice and it should not be relied on as such. It should not be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell a security. It does not take into account any investor’s particular investment objectives, strategies, tax status or investment horizon. You should consult your tax and financial advisor. All material has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. There is no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the information and State Street shall have no liability for decisions based on such information.
The views expressed are the views of Investment Solutions Group through March 23, 2021, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This document contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected. Investing involves risk including the risk of loss of principal.
For use in EMEA: The information contained in this communication is not a research recommendation or ‘investment research’ and is classified as a ‘Marketing Communication’ in accordance with the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (2014/65/EU) or applicable Swiss regulation. This means that this marketing communication (a) has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research (b) is not subject to any prohibition on dealing ahead of the dissemination of investment research.
The trademarks and service marks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners. Third-party data providers make no warranties or representations of any kind relating to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the data and have no liability for damages of any kind relating to the use of such data.
ETFs trade like stocks, are subject to investment risk, fluctuate in market value and may trade at prices above or below the ETFs net asset value. Brokerage commissions and ETF expenses will reduce returns.
Standard & Poor's®, S&P® and SPDR® are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC (S&P); Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC (Dow Jones); and these trademarks have been licensed for use by S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC (SPDJI) and sublicensed for certain purposes by State Street Corporation. State Street Corporation's financial products are not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by SPDJI, Dow Jones, S&P, their respective affiliates and third party licensors and none of such parties make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in such product(s) nor do they have any liability in relation thereto, including for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of any index.
Distributor: State Street Global Advisors Funds Distributors, LLC, member FINRA, SIPC, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of State Street Corporation. References to State Street may include State Street Corporation and its affiliates. Certain State Street affiliates provide services and receive fees from the SPDR ETFs. ALPS Distributors, Inc., member FINRA, is the distributor for DIA, MDY and SPY, all unit investment trusts. ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc., member FINRA, is the distributor for Select Sector SPDRs. ALPS Distributors, Inc. and ALPS Portfolio Solutions Distributor, Inc. are not affiliated with State Street Global Advisors Funds Distributors, LLC.
THIS SITE IS INTENDED FOR QUALIFIED INVESTORS ONLY.
No Offer/Local Restrictions
Nothing contained in or on the Site should be construed as a solicitation of an offer to buy or offer, or recommendation, to acquire or dispose of any security, commodity, investment or to engage in any other transaction. SSGA Intermediary Business offers a number of products and services designed specifically for various categories of investors. Not all products will be available to all investors. The information provided on the Site is not intended for distribution to, or use by, any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to law or regulation.
All persons and entities accessing the Site do so on their own initiative and are responsible for compliance with applicable local laws and regulations. The Site is not directed to any person in any jurisdiction where the publication or availability of the Site is prohibited, by reason of that person's nationality, residence or otherwise. Persons under these restrictions must not access the Site.
Information for Non-U.S. Investors:
The products and services described on this web site are intended to be made available only to persons in the United States or as otherwise qualified and permissible under local law. The information on this web site is only for such persons. Nothing on this web site shall be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell a security to any person in any jurisdiction where such offer, solicitation, purchase or sale would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction.
Before investing, consider the funds' investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. To obtain a prospectus or summary prospectus which contains this and other information, call 1-866-787-2257, download a prospectus or summary prospectus now, or talk to your financial advisor. Read it carefully before investing.
Not FDIC Insured * No Bank Guarantee * May Lose Value