Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon

By:  Michael Allbee, CFP® Principal| Senior Portfolio Manager

The past few months saw some eye-popping inflation readings after subdued inflation prints last year due to COVID. The Core Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), which excludes the volatile energy and food categories, rose 0.9% in June after increasing 0.7% in May and 0.9% in April, bringing the year-over-year reading to 4.5%. Headline CPI, which includes energy and food, rose to 5.4% year-over-year for the largest 12-month increase since August 2008.

A confluence of events drove these inflation outbursts: 1) the year-over-year inflation readings were expected to jump during the summer due to the low readings a year ago, 2) the speedy rollout of widespread COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. and fiscal stimulus unleashed pent-up demand faster than expected, catching many businesses off-guard, 3) the flow of goods ordered from overseas was slowed by shipping bottlenecks including the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal, 4) staffing issues are a contributing factor in the shortages, and 5) other one-off supply constraints (i.e., ransomware attack on a U.S. fuel pipeline, a brutal winter storm knocked out the power grid in Texas, and a global shortage of semiconductors).

Many economists (including those at the Federal Reserve) expect many of these price hikes to be short-lived (“transitory”) as output increases to reduce the bottlenecks.  In fact, roughly 90% of the CPI increase was accounted for by reopening price rebounds and supply disruptions. By far the largest contributor to the price rise in that category (accounting for over a third of the increase in the headline CPI) was used car purchases as new car sales were disrupted chip shortages. The other large contributor was transportation services, chiefly airline ticket sales. All the other categories (core services) barely budged. Despite three monthly increases, the 12-month increase in the shelter component, which constitutes nearly a third of the overall index, is still just 2.6%.

And add to this that as the supply constraints ease, year-over-year comparisons to the abnormal pandemic era are subsiding (May 2020 marked the pandemic low in the price index), the $300 federal enhanced unemployment benefit is expiring (many states have already ended it), many employers are re-opening offices, and school will soon be back in session.

However, while inflation might prove to be transitory, the longer-term path of inflation is still unclear and could depend on economic policy decisions yet to be made. Consider this. Inflation has been rising since last June, and yet the Fed has not changed policy one iota. It has been running monetary policy full steam ahead during rising inflationary pressures. Adjusting for inflation, monetary policy has become easier as the real Fed Funds rate (adjusted for inflation) has fallen from -1.1% to -4.4%. This is the result of their new policy framework not to raise interest rates preemptively but to seek maximum employment and deal with inflation later.

Given that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” as famously said by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, our goal as your advisor is to construct a risk-appropriate portfolio that will withstand any one of numerous economic scenarios that may unfold, including a scenario of high inflation.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” At BFSG, we had already prepared our portfolio for an inflation scenario before coming into this year by reducing our exposure to long-term bonds, holding Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), initiating and adding to our gold position, holding international stocks denominated in foreign currencies, and having discussions with clients to reduce exorbitantly large cash reserves in low yielding savings accounts. We believe we will have an opportunity as inflation subsides over the next year to build these positions further and possibly add other real assets (i.e., real estate, natural resources, etc.). We believe our portfolios are prepared to meet the opportunity to enable our clients to withstand inflation and other challenges that will inevitably come our way.

Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.

Monthly Economic Summary

Last month was very good for the markets and below is the economic summary for April.  As always, if you have any questions or want to discuss more in-depth do not hesitate to give us a call!

Sources:

  1. Sources: J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Economic Update; Bureau of Economic Analysis (www.bea.gov); Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov); Federal Open Market Committee (www.federalreserve.gov)
  2. Indices:
    • The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based index used as a proxy for the U.S. bond market. Total return quoted.
    • The S&P 500 is designed to be a leading indicator of U.S. equities and is commonly used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI ACWI ex-US Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 22 of 23 developed market countries (excluding the U.S.) and 27 emerging market countries.  The index covers approximately 85% of the global equity opportunity set outside the U.S. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap segments in 26 emerging markets. Price return quoted (USD).

Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.

Monthly Economic Summary

As we enter April, we are still seeing the markets reach new highs. Below is a summary of the important economic data over the last month:

Sources:

  1. Sources: J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Economic Update; Bureau of Economic Analysis (www.bea.gov); Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov); Federal Open Market Committee (www.federalreserve.gov)
  2. Indices:
    • The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based index used as a proxy for the U.S. bond market. Total return quoted.
    • The S&P 500 is designed to be a leading indicator of U.S. equities and is commonly used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI ACWI ex-US Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 22 of 23 developed market countries (excluding the U.S.) and 27 emerging market countries.  The index covers approximately 85% of the global equity opportunity set outside the U.S. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap segments in 26 emerging markets. Price return quoted (USD).

Disclosure: BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.

Monthly Economic Summary

We know trying to keep up with everything going on in the market is difficult. We do this full time with several experienced professionals to help make sure we can get as much information as possible to help us try and make the best investment decisions for our clients. Below is a monthly summary we will be doing going forward to help you track some of the most important data points in one place. As always, if you have any questions or want to discuss more in-depth don’t hesitate to give us a call!

Sources:

  1. Sources: J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Economic Update; Bureau of Economic Analysis (www.bea.gov)
  2. Sources: J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Economic Update; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov)
  3. Sources: J.P. Morgan Asset Management – Economic Update; Federal Open Market Committee (www.federalreserve.gov)
  4. Indices:
    • The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based index used as a proxy for the U.S. bond market. Total return quoted.
    • The S&P 500 is designed to be a leading indicator of U.S. equities and is commonly used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI ACWI ex-US Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 22 of 23 developed market countries (excluding the U.S.) and 27 emerging market countries.  The index covers approximately 85% of the global equity opportunity set outside the U.S. Price return quoted.
    • The MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap segments in 26 emerging markets. Price return quoted (USD).

Disclosure:

Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Benefit Financial Services Group (“BFSG”), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from BFSG. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. BFSG is neither a law firm, nor a certified public accounting firm, and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of BFSG’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request.

BFSG does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to BFSG’s web site or blog or incorporated herein and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. Please see important disclosure information here.

President Trump’s Executive Order and How They May Impact You

Fiscal legislation stalled last week and with the current stimulus expiring President Trump this weekend signed new executive orders to provide temporary relief and hopefully help break the current gridlock in Washington. There are four key areas that we will take a closer look at:

1. Extend Unemployment Insurance – The $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits under the CARES Act expired at the end of July. The executive order will provide $400 a week in extra benefits to anyone receiving at least $100/week in regular benefits with 75% being paid by federal funds and 25% being paid by the states. This order is designed to be a temporary stop-gap until more permanent solutions are passed. As a result, the extra $400 a week benefit may last another 4-6 weeks for individuals.

2.  Deferral of Student Loans – Under the CARES Act no payments and no additional interest was set for all Education Department loans and this was set to expire September 30th. The new executive order will extend these benefits until the end of the year (December 31st).

3. Minimize Evictions and Foreclosures – The CARES Act provided protection for evictions and foreclosures but the dates they expired were different. The new executive order aims to provide more protection to prevent evictions and foreclosures due to COVID. The order should make funds available to aid renters and homeowners that cannot meet their obligations.  The order also instructs the HUD and Treasury secretaries to make funds available to assist renters and homeowners unable to meet their obligations.

4. Payroll Tax Deferral – The executive order will stop automatic withholding of employee paid Social Security tax of 6.2% for employees who make less than $4,000 every two weeks (approximately $104,000 per year) until the end of the year (December 31st). This is the most complex and controversial part of the executive orders. The challenge is that technically only Congress can reduce or eliminate payroll taxes so for this to go into effect there must be a reasonable expectation for Congress to move forward with this. The payroll tax deferment is scheduled to take effect on September 1st.

The goal of these executive orders is akin to slapping tape on a leaky pipe. They will provide temporary relief but do not make the situation permanently better. If these policies are indeed implemented, this suggests that they might force Congress to act by the start of September to avoid further disruptions.