US investors seek protection from inflation

Position themselves for more unexpected kinks in road to recovery

Reuters May 16, 2021


US investors grappling with the latest stock volatility and evidence of inflation say they have been positioning themselves for more unexpected kinks in the road to recovery.

The moves to hold assets that could withstand a prolonged surge in inflation come as data earlier in the week showed US consumer prices rose by the largest amount in 12 years in April in a jump that was well above Wall Street’s expectations. Bottlenecks in global supply chains and scarcity in the labour market were among the reasons for the surge in prices, Labor Department data showed.

Another wrinkle for investors trying to navigate the economic reopening is the Federal Reserve, which expects a jump in inflation to be “transitory,” meaning it will be slower to raise interest rates in order to make up for persistently low inflation over the last decade.

“What we’ve learned in the past 24 hours is that the amplitude of inflation is going to be more important than anyone realised and it’s too soon to tell how persistent it will be,” Bob Miller, head of Americas Fundamental Fixed Income at BlackRock, said on Thursday. “That will be the debate over the summer.”

Miller, who said his firm is holding more cash than it normally would, expects that the combination of the Fed’s policy and signs that inflation may be rising more above expectations “is going to create more financial market instability over the next summer and fall if not dialled back.”

There has been evidence of more cautious behaviour in recent weeks. Investors moved $57.3 billion into cash during the last week of April, the largest inflow to cash since March 2020, and followed that with the largest weekly inflow into gold in three months during the first week of May, according to Bank of America Global Research.

“The inflation bump that we expected will be higher and bumpier than we expected,” said Brian Nick, chief investment strategist at Nuveen, who has been increasing his weighting in small-cap equities and is moving into emerging markets stocks in anticipation that the reflation trade extends throughout the remainder of the year.

Transitory troubles

Inflation fears have weighed on equities this week, particularly growth stocks. Overall, the benchmark S&P 500 is down about 3% from its record high hit earlier this month and the Nasdaq down about 7% from a recent peak, partially rebounding on Thursday after sharp falls earlier in the week.

Some investors concerned about inflation are favouring Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, and yields on 10-year TIPS are close to a three-month low.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2021.

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