In economics, hyperinflation is problematic, and a root cause of economic uncertainty. True hyperinflation, marked by unfettered price increases and severe currency devaluation generally occurs during times of turmoil or war. This is a rare occurrence in developed countries. Regardless, growing inflation rates are an important dynamic to observe, and investors can smooth the yield curve by employing alternative investment strategies.
Market inflation is the decline in purchasing power of a currency over time that results in rising prices for goods and services. In other words, the value of a currency decreases in times of high inflation. In the U.S., inflation is measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which indicated a 5.4% annual inflation rate in 2021, an increase from 1.4% the previous year. The impact of inflation is consequential and far-reaching, affecting every aspect of the economy, including the investment world.
Conventional investments like stocks, bonds, and cash are less profitable in an inflated economy. That said, some types of alternative investments — real assets that do not fall into a conventional investment category — can do very well. This is especially true for alternative investments like real estate and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).
Unsure how to prepare for inflation? This paper will take an in-depth look at the post-pandemic economic shifts which are contributing to inflation, why alternative investments may be preferable in an inflated market, and how investors can make strategic decisions to guard against the consequences of inflation.
Data shows that, in addition to the highest annual inflation rate in 13 years, there has been an 8.6% annual increase in producer prices, a metric measured by the producer price index (PPI). Producer prices commonly increase in response to inflation, as a means by which businesses attempt to recoup losses. Both CPI and PPI data are published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These increases are reasonable and expected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which effectively halted the global economy for months. Although many factors contribute to the current rise in inflation, including efforts to improve pandemic conditions, evidence suggests that current market inflation is primarily driven by the following factors:
Inflation affects industries across all sectors, but it has a pronounced, direct effect on the financial services industries. When it comes to investments, the effect depends on the type of investment in question.
How does inflation affect stocks and similar holdings?
Consider how the following types of investments fare during times of high inflation:
Shareholders are not the only ones at risk for inflation-related investment losses; inflation can also indirectly affect people who do not actively invest. Retirees who depend on social security to supplement their income are vulnerable to rising inflation, as the trust funds for social security only invest in U.S. treasuries, which don’t keep up with inflation. In an effort to mitigate inflation’s impact on retirees, the federal government issued a 5.9% boost in benefits for 2022. While necessary, these boosts deplete an ever-dwindling reserve of funds.
REITs are a well-known, solid investment strategy in times of high inflation. However, that does not mean that the real estate market is impervious to inflation; the real estate market is impacted by dynamics that include labor and supply shortages, pent-up demand, and rising commodity prices.
Real estate is still a high-value investment choice for many reasons, which come into sharp relief during times when the economy is inflated:
The commercial sector presents an unrivaled investment opportunity. Office and retail properties create high-value profits, even in an inflated market.
In this Hartman Insights video, Hartman Income REIT CIO David Wheeler and National Sales Director Gian Craparo share their insights on the importance of diversification and how the financial crisis taught retail investors to seek out alternative investment strategies.
Alternative investments are generally defined by what they are not: stocks, bonds, and cash, all of which are considered traditional investments. More specifically, alternative investments generally fall into four primary categories: private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and commodities.
Each type of alternative investment has its own process, risks, and reward profile. However, most alternative investments are relatively illiquid, meaning they are not easily sold or converted to cash.
Some alternative investments have inflation hedging properties, such as appreciation potential, and the ability to generate cash flow and general noncorrelation to the stock market. Additionally, alternative investments can provide much need portfolio diversification, which mitigates vulnerability to widespread losses due to a singular economic event.
Inflation weakens purchasing power, causing the price of goods and services to increase. Investors who own real estate or invest in REITs may experience protection from inflation for the following reasons:
Leveraging the combination of returns by investing in real estate can reduce an investor’s overall portfolio volatility without sacrificing exposure to higher risk assets. A solid understanding of how market fundamentals and industry trends can affect investments will equip investors to create value.
The following graph illustrates how portfolios that include real estate investments fare in comparison to portfolios that do not.
Every year the Callan Institute publishes periodic tables that illustrate various investment returns over a 20-year period. The Callan Institute’s 2020 report includes a periodic table of annual alternative investments’ returns (compared to key public market indices), ranked in order of performance. It reveals the following trends:
These trends suggest that real estate investments, including indirect investments through REITs, yield consistent profits and few annual net losses. Real estate investments are resistant to inflation and can perform well in conditions of market uncertainty. Highly illiquid, real estate is an ideal sector for investors interested in stable, moderate year-over-year returns with potential for exponential growth in certain economic climates.