Interactive Investor

Inflation: what's really going on, and how long will it last?

25th November 2016 12:50

Ben Lord from ii contributor

The market has quite rightly seen inflation coming. In the first quarter of 2017, barring some unforeseen shock in oil, US and UK CPI indices will be back above 2%. Perhaps meaningfully so, depending on where oil is at that stage.

In the UK, the story is then augmented by the fact that our currency, on a trade-weighted basis, is 20% lower than it was at its peak in the middle of 2015.

This means that, according to the Bank of England's own projections, we should expect to have 4 to 6% higher CPI outcomes over the next two years. So, 2 to 3% higher inflation than now in 2017 and 2018, give or take.

UK bond markets presently are priced for RPI to average 3% a year for the next five to 10 years.

This implies, very broad-brushed, that CPI will be around 2% on average for the next 10 years, so the Bank of England is roughly going to deliver on its inflation targeting mandate.

What happens next?

Now, the UK economy has full access to the single market for the next two-and-a-half years, and after that we have no idea what happens next.

If I was running a company making widgets, for example, exporting to UK and European customers, I would be making sure that I operate at full capacity for the next two-and-a-half years. I would be hiring and investing ahead of the uncertainty event.

I am bullish on the UK economy, and we have lower interest rates and more liquidity after Mark Carney's stimulus package than before. And yet nothing changes for two and a half years.

Perhaps it is more likely, and intuitively it makes some sense, that inflation will lead wagesSo the only view I can have on the UK economy at this point is that the outlook for demand is solid for the next two and a half years.

In the bond markets we have all been looking towards healthy labour markets driving wages up, which in turn should drive up inflation. This has not materialised, and to many of us, this remains the last remaining puzzle of this recovery's cycle.

Perhaps, though, we have been looking in the wrong direction. Perhaps it is more likely, and intuitively it makes some sense, that inflation will lead wages. We will be watching wages very closely in 2017 for evidence of this.

Prices that companies pay for their input costs (PPI input costs) are now rising at a rate 12.2% higher than this time last year. Hedges have expired, and the pass-through to consumer prices is a matter of when, not if.

Long-term? Or a false dawn?

Central bankers are also preparing bond markets for inflation overshoots. And Janet Yellen's US Federal Reserve has stated that its tolerance for inflation overshoots and undershoots is symmetric.

In simple terms, the Fed has undershot its 2% inflation target by almost 1% per year for the last four years. Now we learn that their inflation targeting policy would tolerate an overshoot of 1% per year for each of the next four years.

That's a big deal. Indeed, on the other side of the world we recently learned that the Bank of Japan's new inflation target is to overshoot its inflation target.

The bond market is priced for this inflation to be above target for at least the next 30 yearsWho knows whether recent rises in inflation expectations are genuine and long term, or whether they are a short-term false dawn. But central bankers are already preparing us for higher-than-target inflation.

Finally, bond breakevens, the fixed income market's expectations for inflation, should surely be higher in the short term and lower in the long term, if the bond market's view is that this inflation is import-driven and transient.

And yet breakevens are telling us the opposite: five and 10-year breakevens are 0.5% lower each year than 20 and 30-year inflation expectations. The bond market is priced for this inflation to be more than short-term, and to be above target for at least the next 30 years.

I think we are at the early stages of a pricing out of deflation risk. We will not have to wait long to find out what the next phase in this inflation cycle is.

Ben Lord is manager of the M&G UK Inflation Linked Corporate Bond Fund.

This article was originally published by our sister magazine Money Observer here

This article is for information and discussion purposes only and does not form a recommendation to invest or otherwise. The value of an investment may fall. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.