Federal Reserve

Pump Up the Prices: Putting Inflation in Perspective

graphic shows a dollar bill inflated

We’ve been hearing plenty out of the Federal Reserve Board from the business news outlets in recent weeks. Every wiggle of the Consumer Price Index has been dutifully tracked and reported, for those on inflation-watch. With recent inflation measures above the FRB’s 2% target, the finger-pointing becomes bigger news than the numbers themselves.

While we have fingers that are capable of pointing, we know they have better uses. One such use is preparing your portfolio to account for inflation. And this may actually take less energy than pointing and wagging our fingers after all!

When inflation dominates headlines, straight-line thinking starts taking over: how will we afford to buy groceries when gas is $300 a gallon? (I’m going to guess that we would find cuts elsewhere, like our cable bill, well before we starved.) And investors sometimes hop out of the market because the cost of doing business gets higher.

And those high-growth, pre-profit darlings will take a hit because a rise in interest rates—nominally to combat inflation—means these companies will pay more for the money to continue their pre-profitable journey.

When we invest in individual companies, we’re able to spot those holdings that benefit from a position of strength, whose business gives them the pricing power to ride out inflationary pressures. We’re excited about these holdings, and since we’re investing for the long haul, we’re expecting to ride along through multiple periods of rising and falling rates.

When we stretch out our time horizon, these major events look more like occasional bumps on the road to wealth.

So, in a way, we’re already investing for times of higher inflation. We make no guarantees that our way is better than any other, but we recommend caution when anyone acts like they have a crystal ball for this topic.

Let’s zoom out even more. At its core, asking about “when to get out” means that an investor will also have to ask “when to get back in”: success would require the investor to be lucky twice. We don’t prefer any scenario that slashes our odds so unnecessarily.

Clients, when you have questions or concerns, please reach out.


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Pump Up the Prices: Putting Inflation in Perspective 228Main.com Presents: The Best of Leibman Financial Services

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Bumps on the Road to Wealth: How to Invest for Times of Higher Inflation

When inflation dominates the headlines, it can feel like prices are headed up and up and up forever! But it’s never really a straight line, is it? Putting inflation in perspective.


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“Fed” Up With Inflation

photo shows a $1 bill inflated like a pillow

Recent weeks and months have been tumultuous in the stock market, and if you listen to market commentary, you will see one word come up over and over: inflation.

The funny thing is, market commentators cannot seem to decide whether we have too much or not enough. Many commodities started dropping a few months ago, driven by fears that inflationary prices would lead to a recession. When it looked like inflation was starting to level off, the same commodities dropped more. And then the Federal Reserve said it was satisfied with the way inflation was leveling off. Investors started worrying that the Fed was too complacent about the possibility of further inflation.

So guess what happened? Commodities dropped further still.

The moral of the story seems to be that the markets will do what they want in the short run and that market commentators will find excuses for it.

But we do believe that inflation will have a noticeable impact in the long run, and this poses many risks and opportunities for all of us.

With all the government stimulus money floating around, it might seem like inflation is inevitable. But the supply of money is only one side of the equation: money’s value depends on the supply of money versus the supply of all the things we want to spend it on.

For now the supply of money is up (due to the stimulus), and the supply of stuff we want is down (due largely to last year’s shutdowns and disruptions). The government’s hope is that as the next normal arrives, the supply of stuff will catch up to the supply of money—and inflation will settle back down.

Maybe that happens, maybe not. But we are less interested in what inflation does in the next year or two than we are in what it does in the decades ahead.

Everyone wants to build a bigger, brighter future. We are seeing an unprecedented demand for raw materials to make that happen, on top of the equipment and expertise to transform those materials into useful products. Whether we have a little inflation or a lot of inflation, this position strikes us as a good time to be in business for the companies producing raw materials and the ones manufacturing finished goods from them.

We do not know with certainty when or if this will play out. It may take years or decades. Even then, it may not come to pass the way we’re imagining.

But we think these big-picture trends will be more important in the long term than what the Fed announces this week or the next.

Clients, would you like to talk about this or anything else? Write or call.


The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.


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The 3% Solution

photo shows a red basket full of red apples in the grass

Finding potential bargains is one of the hidden joys of stock market disruptions. (And seeking bargains is a core principle for us!) Sometimes, economic setbacks affect the value of enterprises that are actually quite durable, companies that will probably survive and ultimately prosper.

We noted a few months ago that bargains had emerged among those providers of basics—like food, clothing, and shelter—and that we were likely to still need these things in the future.

Now we are noticing another benefit to some of these prospects.

Dividend yields in the 3% range in name brand companies, although not guaranteed, offer the opportunity for actual recurring investment income. You know another one of our core principles is owning the orchard for the fruit crop. Well, a share of ownership in a profitable enterprise, when some of those profits are distributed as dividends to the owners, can be like owning an orchard.

While the value of the orchard (or the ownership share) will fluctuate, the crop (or the dividend) may be a sufficient reason to simply own it.

Why are we mentioning this now? Income-producing investments may be a way to offset the twin Federal Reserve policies of near-zero interest rates combined with the intent to raise the cost of living by 2% per year. (Officials speak of wanting to “hit a 2% inflation target,” but that is just another way to say “increase in the cost of living.”) When savings is earning less than the inflation rate, purchasing power erodes day by day.

Let’s keep our eyes open.

Clients, if you would like to talk about options for your cash or any other portfolio issue, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Dividend payments are not guaranteed and may be reduced or eliminated at any time by the company.


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Odd Couple (of Goals)

Surveys indicate the public’s trust in the Federal Reserve has been declining over time. We totally understand this result.

The Federal Reserve, like other central banks around the world, plays a significant role in setting monetary policy. It operates under mandates written in law to promote full employment and price stability. Presumably, most people would be in favor of these worthy objects.

In practice, however, it seeks to raise the cost of living by 2% every year: that’s the actual effect of the goal we typically hear about, to hit an “inflation target of 2%.” That term is a less clear way of saying “raise the cost of living.” How many of us actually want that?

Now add in Federal Reserve policy on interest rates: keep them near zero for the next few years. So if the cost of living is rising and we earn next to nothing on our savings, then we are really going backward in purchasing power. A dollar of savings today plus zero interest for the next year and we will be short by 2 cents to buy the same amount of goods a year from now. That is a risk to our financial position.

This really is an odd couple of goals. It is rough on savers and people on fixed incomes.

The Federal Reserve has its rationale for all this, of course. It believes that a little inflation is good for the economy and that we are prone to have our spending manipulated by its policies for the short-term benefit of the economy. A better economy means more jobs, which is generally good for each of us.

We have our doubts about the logic. Fortunately, we can try to invest to take advantage of the opportunities these policies present. If we are willing to live with fluctuations in value, we may still be able to earn returns.

We believe it was simpler when savings had positive returns, but we are here to make the most of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about the risks and rewards of investing and saving, please email us or call.


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Toxic Negativity, Interest Rate Edition

© Can Stock Photo / sqback

Economic theorists are devoting a lot of analysis to the extraordinary exertions of central bankers, recent and planned, in their attempt to shape the economy to their wishes. Increasingly, we read and hear justifications of negative interest rates in connection with potential future “policy tools.”

Our life experience has taught us all that interest is the price of money. If you borrow money, the price you pay is interest. If you lend it out or deposit it, the price you receive is interest. A lot of things go upside down when you make interest rates go negative.

Can you imagine your bank balances declining every month because the bank charged you interest on your deposit? Or being paid every month to owe on a home mortgage?

Some Federal Reserve officials seem to have convinced themselves that this would all work out very well. The Federal Reserve would be able to distort things so we would spend more money than we otherwise would, which is often its goal. But we believe they are ignoring a huge problem, one that is right out in the open. It may take a little common sense to see it.

One of our bedrock beliefs about money, perhaps for most of us, is that we know how bank accounts work. There have always been special features attached to money in bank accounts. We understand it to be guaranteed, safe, and it will always be there. It is backed by the government via F.D.I.C. It does not fluctuate or lose value. We all know how this works.

But in the world of negative interest rates, money in bank accounts would no longer be like “money in the bank” as we have always understood it. It would not be safe, it would lose value, it will not always be there. Negative interest would eat it up part of it over time.

We have questions. As we watch our saving get chipped away, would we patiently listen to the theories of the economists about how it was all good? Would the average person conclude that the money has been ruined by the government? Would there be resentment against the Federal Reserve for taking action to impair our savings when it decides we are not spending enough?

Bottom line, part of the magic elixir that makes the modern world run is faith in our institutions. Destroy our traditional idea of how bank accounts work, and see if that lasts. We don’t know.

As we monitor this troubling trend, we’re formulating ideas about how to deal with it. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Too Close to the Sun

© Can Stock Photo / Paha_L

In Greek mythology, Daedalus constructs wings of feathers and wax so he and his son Icarus may escape from the island of Crete. Although warned against flying too close to the sun, Icarus becomes giddy with the sensation of flight. His wings melt when he gets too close to the sun, and he crashes into the sea and drowns.

This tale of hubris is perhaps mimicked in our time by central bankers around the world. Central banks including our Federal Reserve Bank are charged with conducting monetary policy to achieve stability of prices and favorable economic results. The stresses of the last global recession induced some of these authorities to adopt unprecedented policies.

Among these ideas, the most unusual might be negative interest rates. If we think of the rate of interest as a price – the price of money – then the concept of negative rates seems insane. If bananas had negative prices, producers would have to pay you to take them.

There are practical problems, too, for savers and investors. Imagine having $100,000 in the bank today. After a year of -1% interest, you would have, say, $99,000. “Money in the bank” would no longer be like money in the bank.

Why would central bankers consider such a policy? Like Icarus with his wings, they seem intoxicated by their apparent power to manipulate the economy. Negative interest rates would be a strong incentive to reduce savings and increase spending. This could theoretically boost the economy.

The unintended consequences of their actions could create real problems. Average folks trying to save for the future were severely disadvantaged by the zero interest policy of the last decade. Negative rates would make that even worse.
The Federal Reserve has not yet gone below zero. But a research paper published by a Fed official earlier this year concluded that “negative interest rates might be a useful tool…”1

Clients, our concern over this trend in Fed thinking bolsters our conviction about the investments we hold that would potentially benefit from the unintended consequences. No guarantees: we wish central bankers would simply avoid flying too close to the sun, so to speak.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes & References

1. “How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the Recovery?”, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2019/february/how-much-could-negative-rates-have-helped-recovery/. Accessed June 25th, 2019.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Easy Money, Hard Truths

© Can Stock Photo / alexskopje

If you follow market commentary, you may have noticed a lot of attention being placed on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. After a series of interest rate hikes, the Fed has started pumping the brakes and some market watchers—the President among them—are hoping for interest rates to go back down, or even a return to the Fed’s “quantitative easing” policy.

It is easy to understand the appeal of easy monetary policy. Being able to borrow money cheaply helps fuel economic growth. Corporations, individuals, and governments all benefit from being able to take out lower interest loans.

That growth comes with strings attached. The cheaper it is to borrow money, the more borrowed money accumulates on balance sheets. In moderation, borrowing money allows people and companies to accomplish things their own money could not. But those debts eventually come due, and not all of them always pay off. Too much debt can have catastrophic results.

We do not need to look far into the past to get a glimpse of the consequences that overly easy monetary policy can have. Not even 10 years ago there was widespread panic about the possibility of Greece’s national debt dragging the whole Eurozone down with it.

How did this happen? Greece was a developing country with a growing economy, but Euro monetary policy was dominated by larger countries with slower economies that wanted looser money to fuel their own growth. For Greece, that loose money just wound up inflating their debts into an unsustainable bubble.

We have been concerned for some time about signs that corporate and government debt in the U.S. may be growing into a massive debt bubble, and we are not alone. In our opinion, the last thing that the economy needs is even more debt. We hope that cooler heads prevail and the Fed agrees with us.

Clients, if you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

The Inflation Powder Keg

canstockphoto410676.jpg

A few weeks ago, the Federal Reserve issued a policy statement greenlighting more interest rate hikes despite fears of inflation.1 For years the Fed has struggled to keep inflation up to its target rate of 2%, and now that it is there, it looks likely to us that the Fed may overshoot the target entirely.

Interest rates and inflation tend to go hand in hand. When interest rates are high, borrowers can earn more money to spend, creating upward price pressures. When inflation is high, lenders try to raise rates to keep ahead of inflation. As rates continue to rise, you can often expect inflation to do the same.

Worse, there are other pressures looming on the horizon that we think may contribute even more to inflation. A strong economic cycle and robust jobs market may often bring higher inflation. As unemployment drops, workers become harder to find. Many companies might have to offer higher wages to get the employees they need, forcing them to raise prices—at the same time that workers have more money to spend from higher wages. Rising prices and rising wages equals inflation.

We also expect more price pressure to arrive from overseas. The trade war that the current administration seems bent on fighting shows no signs of cooling off. When you raise taxes on a product, such as a tariff on imports, inevitably the price may go up to pay for the taxes.

Tariffs create knock-on effects, as well. Many products manufactured inside the U.S. use materials imported from overseas that are subject to tariffs, so domestic products may also face rising prices. And domestic companies that are fortunate enough to dodge the tariffs entirely may still raise their prices opportunistically: with the prices of other goods rising, they have an opportunity to increase prices and profits without hurting themselves as much competitively.

Once again, where you have rising prices, you have inflation. Put it all together and the economy may be sitting on a powder keg of explosive inflation pressure. We do not know when or if the powder may exploded, but we cannot afford to ignore it.

We have gotten so used to low inflation rates in the past decade that it is easy to pretend they will last forever. Sooner or later, we expect some investors to be burned by this mindset. We want to do what we can to avoid being among them. Clients, if you have any concerns about how inflation may affect your portfolio or investment strategy please call us.

Notes and References

1:Press Release, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve: https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20180613a.htm. Accessed June 28, 2018.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

 

A is A

© Can Stock Photo / hurricanehank

At the height of ancient Greek civilization, the philosopher Aristotle taught the Law of Identity. A is A. Everything has a single identity, not two or more, and two different things do not share the same identity. A is A. A dog is not a cat; an orange is not an orangutan, an olive is an olive.

One wonders what has been lost through the centuries, when considering Federal Reserve Bank policy. The Fed, as it is known, is charged with a dual mandate. It is supposed to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

If Aristotle were alive today, he might teach that stable prices are stable prices. This would be in accordance with the Law of Identity. A thing is what it is. Yet the Fed has adopted a 2% inflation target, supposedly in accordance with its mandate of price stability1.

At 2% inflation, a dollar today buys only 98 cents worth of goods next year and about 96 cents the year after. Prices would double every 35 years or so, under this inflation target. Over the course of a century, a dollar would shrink to about 12 cents in purchasing power. In what sense is this ‘price stability?’ It violates the simple precept that Aristotle taught 2,300 years ago.

One error some people make is presuming the things we can measure are important, and the things we cannot measure are unimportant. Higher dollar volumes of activity are presumed to be good. So when productivity or technological improvements reduce prices of things we purchase and use, we are obviously better off—but conventional economic statistics may indicate otherwise.

There are ramifications for us as investors. The threats to our prosperity from inflation may be discounted by the Federal Reserve. The advantages of technological progress are understated. We think this means we need to be more sensitive to the damage that future inflation might do to our wealth, and the opportunities presented by technological progress.

Clients, if you have any questions about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call.

1Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, https://www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/economy_14400.htm


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.