Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inflation linked bonds are back in the spotlight

With global concerns about inflation, the attention turns, predictably, to asset classes that are good inflation hedges.  The FT has a good article on the topic.   Mechanically, inflation linked bonds will provide inflation protection.  But they have a problem - only part of their nominal return comes from inflation - the other part is a real return.  Currently the real return on US inflation linked bonds is basically zero.  If demand for TIPs increases this could go negative (it has in the past).  

Alternatives to TIPs include any real asset.  For example, in the long run, stocks are excellent inflation hedges, although in the short run they often do poorly, in large part because investors don't understand that they are real and not nominal assets.  Commodities are good hedges - but very volatile.  

At the end of the day, trying to bet on inflation is a risky business.