Tags: Reflation | Inflation | Gold | Invest

Protect Yourself as Reflation Morphs Into Inflation

Protect Yourself as Reflation Morphs Into Inflation

By    |   Thursday, 16 March 2017 10:30 PM

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it definitely rhymes. Every time the economy hits the skids, the government steps in to try and keep the status quo going. Long-time students of history know that you’d have to go back nearly a century, to the 1921 recession in the United States, to find the last time the government didn’t step in. Laissez-faire attitudes about government interference in the economy were already on shaky ground then. Only today, government interference is the norm, and anything else seems ridiculous.

Knowledge of this pattern can be helpful to investors. Expect the government to step in, and you can plan on the fear subsiding. Realizing profits, however, can take some time. Returns typically become profitable within a few months, provided you invest at the point of maximum pessimism. Although, beware: it’s emotionally difficult to buy during periods of fear.

The Great Recession of 2009 took on a different tone than past interferences, however. Investors expecting a quick economic recovery were disappointed. While stocks quickly bounced, job growth remained moribund for a few more years.

What happened that made this unique? For starters, there was the scope of government involvement. We’re talking trillions of dollars in direct stimulus and thousands of pages of new laws. But the real kicker was the near-zero interest rates in the United States (and some brief forays into negative interest rates abroad). We still haven’t dealt with the full consequences of that.

During the 2009-2011 period of heavy activity by central banks and governments, the easy analysis was to pull up the old Milton Friedman quote: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”

What’s more, history tends to show inflation kicking up 12-18 months after the printing presses start up. It’s no wonder that stocks started rallying back towards their old highs. And it’s even less of a surprise that assets like gold and silver had their best showing since the late 1970’s when inflation hit its double-digit peak.

But inflation failed to show up to the party that markets were throwing. By mid-2011, the gold trade peaked and started a long, five-year decline. Inflation remained stubbornly low, as though it was no longer bound by the laws of economics.

What gives? That’s because the depth and severity of the Great Recession were so bad that a reflation was necessary first. It’s one thing to recover from a market correction—markets correct all the time. You can’t go more than two years without a 10 percent drop. But a 30 percent drop in housing nationwide? Something that central bankers argued was impossible because it had never happened before? That’s a different beast. Less than half of Americans own stocks, but nearly two-thirds are involved in the housing market.

It’s taken over eight years, but we seem to be reaching the end of the reflation. We’re nearing a new inflationary cycle. You can point to rising housing prices nationwide—although some popular markets are looking a little overheated in the short-term. You can point to rising food prices, despite some wild swings in agricultural commodity prices. In short, you can point to just about anything short of technology and find higher prices than there were eight years ago.

That brings us to the Fed. They’re (finally!) getting more aggressive about raising interest rates. While that’s partially based on factors like the job market, they’re also reverting back to their historical role of trying to keep inflation in check. It’s hard to argue that an economy that’s growing at 2 percent per year is overheating. But the consumer price index is showing prices rising closer to 2.5 to 3 percent. That suggests that it’s time to act. It’s also better for the central bank to have higher interest rates so that they have wiggle room to cut them during the next recession.

Speaking of that next recession, some say we’re overdue. It’s a point I’ve argued over the years as well. Typically we get a few bad years for the economy after 5-7 good years (an economic pattern that goes back to Biblical times). But looking at the data, I’d argue that without those zero-percent interest rates flooding the financial system, the weak economic years of 2013-2014 would probably have been negative.

We’ve had a “stealth recession” recently as a result, and with tax and regulatory reform, we could see the economy grind higher. So I don’t expect a recession right now. But we do have a fragile financial system that’s always susceptible to a short, but very temporary, pullback. Think less the 2008 crash and more on par with the 10-percent corrections of recent years.

All this points to potentially higher stock prices as the year continues to unfold. Even at today’s elevated valuation levels, stocks are the best game in town. Higher interest rates will knock down bond prices, so there’s risk buying there. Bond yields just aren’t high enough yet to justify switching out of utility or telecom stocks with their higher yields and dividend growth.

But gold is starting to look attractive too. Why? For starters, it’s out of favor and has been for nearly half a decade. But after 5 years of declines, the metal eked out a modest gain in 2016. And despite some rough moves, it’s also showing a gain as we near the end of the first quarter of 2017.

Gold does well during periods of rising inflation. But it does even better when there’s fear of rising inflation. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, so it’s likely that there’s still some solid upside here.

I’m no gold bug—but investors either have none or too much of the metal. I like a 5 percent allocation to physical gold (and silver), with the possibility of another 5 percent of your net worth in the mining stocks if we start to see gold trend higher. We’re not at that second tranche yet. It’s better to keep accumulating the metal instead, and treat it like insurance. Instead of your car or home, however, you’re protecting your investment portfolio.

For the inflationary environment we may be entering, stocks can continue to do well, even at today’s valuations. But the better value is in the precious metals. While stocks go to zero, commodities don’t.

Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.

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For the inflationary environment we may be entering, stocks can continue to do well, even at today’s valuations. But the better value is in the precious metals. While stocks go to zero, commodities don’t.
Reflation, Inflation, Gold, Invest
Thursday, 16 March 2017 10:30 PM
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