Best Investments During Inflation ~ market folly

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Best Investments During Inflation

So, what is the best investment during inflation? The good news is that there are a multitude of securities and assets that can protect against inflationary pressure. The bad news is if such a scenario comes to fruition, your purchasing power is reduced. The main thing to keep an eye on is the money supply. Throughout the crisis, the monetary base has expanded, but has yet to materialize in the money supply. If/when this comes to fruition, you'll be prepared after learning how to invest for inflation below.

Interestingly enough, deflation has been the top concern amongst investors as of late and yesterday we detailed the best investments during deflation. But investors have quickly forgotten that inflation was the primary concern just a mere few months ago. This revisits a post we originally published in August 2008 examining investment scenarios for inflation versus deflation. Regardless of outcome, investors need to be prepared for either.

Why should you be worried about inflation? Well, how about because one of the greatest investors of this generation is concerned. Yup, Baupost Group's Seth Klarman is worried about inflation. Not to mention, Kyle Bass, the hedge fund manager who predicted the subprime crisis as well as sovereign defaults has voiced concern about inflation and significant currency devaluation around the globe. For every prominent investor worried about deflation, there is another concerned with the converse scenario.

Here are the best investments during inflation:

Avoid Cash/US Dollars: Inflation typically results in domestic currency devaluing. You can fight this by simply not holding it and allocating the capital into other assets and investments. Nowadays, cash is most certainly part of the asset allocation picture. During inflation, you want to have as little of it on hand if possible. Since it devalues during inflation, those of you wishing to press your bets against the US dollar can buy the PowerShares Bearish US dollar index fund (UDN).

Buy Gold & Precious Metals: If you'll think back toward the end of the crisis, gold was all the rage. As the Federal Reserve's printing presses worked overtime to churn out US dollars to resuscitate the economy, many became very worried about inflation. Their number one investment to protect against this? Gold. While precious metals in general are a solid bet, gold in particular is seen as a hedge against uncertainty and a store of value. For an in-depth thesis as to why you should buy gold during inflation, we turn you to out post on successful hedge fund manager John Paulson's gold fund. He launched this vehicle last year as a means of betting against the US dollar. Another option is the stocks of companies that mine the metal. One hedge fund recently opined that gold is good, but gold mining stocks are better.

We've detailed how countless other prominent investment managers favor yellow bricks. John Burbank's Passport Capital outlined the rationale for owning physical gold. David Einhorn's hedge fund Greenlight Capital also owns physical gold. Those of you who don't have access to physical bars can invest via the SPDR Gold Fund (GLD). Practically all of the hedge funds that are not investing in physical gold use this investment vehicle for their gold exposure. If gold doesn't tickle your fancy, legendary investor Jim Rogers sees opportunity in silver and palladium which can provide you with precious metals exposure. PALL is the ticker for playing palladium while SLV is a way to play silver.

Buy Crude Oil: Going long oil ties into the whole 'buy commodities' theme as protection. In a truly inflationary environment, oil is supply inelastic; any increase or decrease in price would not result in a corresponding increase or decrease in supply. In the past we've outlined how to invest in crude oil, as there are many investment vehicles out there, each with pros and cons. These funds include USO, DBO, & USL and are examined in-depth via the link above.

Short Fixed Income: Bonds should be avoided due to a weak domestic monetary system. In particular, avoid US Treasuries as they will underperform. As yields start to rise, bond prices will fall. A plethora of prominent investors have gone this route in order to gain inflationary protection. Seth Klarman has purchased out of the money puts on bonds. He's acquired tail risk insurance against a sharp rise in interest rates that protects him should rates skyrocket to 10%. Legendary hedge fund manager Julian Robertson had previously put on a curve steepener trade and then shifted to a constant maturity swap (CMS) trade. These are more advanced trades and typically are reserved for institutional investors. Retail investors can buy puts on or short the iShares 20+ Year Treasury (TLT).

Buy Emerging Markets: A weak domestic currency (US dollar) implies higher returns can be found abroad in other countries. A monetary system in trouble in the home land means your dollars should be invested abroad (especially consider commodity producing nations such as Australia and Brazil). You can invest in either emerging market currencies, equities abroad, or investment funds denominated in those foreign currencies. For broad emerging market equities exposure, one can purchase iShares Emerging Markets Index (EEM). For the Australian Dollar, consider FXA and for Brazilian exposure, consider EWZ.

Buy Technology: While this was also a suggestion for investing during deflationary times, it applies to inflation under the same rationale. Regardless of environment, technology is in demand and will continue to evolve.

Buy Treasury Inflation Protected Securities: These types of treasuries (known as TIPS for short) provide the safety of a government bond with the bonus of protection against inflation. You can buy these outright, or via the iShares Barclays TIPS fund (TIP).

While inflation was all the talk only a few months ago, it has since taken a back seat to deflationary chatter. Given the back and forth, it only makes sense to examine both scenarios. In the depths of the 2008 crisis we broadly examined investment scenarios for inflation versus deflation. At the time, it was unclear what type of environment we'd be entering. While still not entirely evident to this day, many have postulated that deflation in the near-term will then give way to inflation in the longer-term. A compromise of views, if you will. We've mapped out inflationary defenses above and for a look at the converse scenario, be sure to check out the best investments for deflation. Now you have a loose framework for either environment.

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