The Reopening Continues: Is Inflation a Concern?
- Consumers are fueling the economic recovery as spending and credit usage soar from pandemic lows.
- CPI data surged 4.2% year-over-year in April, but the Federal Reserve is adamant broad price increases are transitory and not a long-term economic threat.
- After a rough first quarter, bond markets have stabilized, and equity markets continue with the “re-opening” trade as value stocks continue to outperform.
The re-opening of the US economy is in full swing, evidenced by a surge in American’s travel plans. AAA expects 37 million people to travel over the holiday weekend, a 60% increase from last year’s historical lows.1 Of course, this is to be expected as a greater percentage of citizens are vaccinated, and people begin to satisfy pent-up demand. There is even a new buzzword for this surge in travel demand – revenge travel. People lost a year’s worth of travel for weddings, family vacations, etc. and they are ready to spend to take back this part of their lives.
Speaking of spending, recent economic data confirm what we already know. Americans are opening their wallets (and credit cards) and purchasing goods and services at an incredible clip. Although the Commerce Department reported consumer spending for April was flat, it raised its March’s increase to 10.7%.2 This is not a surprise as most households received the additional $1,400 stimulus checks in March. An additional sign of consumer demand and confidence is credit usage. In early May, the Federal Reserve reported consumer credit increased 7.4% in March, including a 7.9% increase in revolving credit (i.e., credit cards). It is likely spending will accelerate in the coming months as reopening expands and as we highlighted in prior Insights, Americans are flush with savings.
Of course, we have to once again discuss inflation. If you turn on any financial news network or any news for that matter, you will hear a lot of chatter about inflation. And for good reason, the April Consumer Price Index rose 4.2% compared to a year earlier. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the largest year-over-year increase since September of 2009.3 Pent-up demand and the economic reopening, combined with supply chain bottlenecks and shortages in the labor supply have created this perfect storm. Despite the surge in prices across most goods and services, the Fed has clearly laid out its position that the current inflation data is “transitory.” And they mean it; the minutes from April 27-28 Federal Open Market Committee meeting references transitory eight times. 4
After a terrible first quarter, bonds have stabilized across the board. The Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index is up 0.78% so far in May. This includes a return of 2.33% for long-term Treasuries after a loss of 11.50% through April. Commodities continue to perform well, up 6.5% in May following a stellar return of 23.4% for the first four months of the year. Gold has finally started to surge. After returning a dismal 10.65% during Q1, gold rose 4.50% in April and another 7.45% so far in May.
Broadly speaking, equities continue their strong performance. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ Composite have advanced 13.01%, 12.38%, and 6.89% year-to-date respectively. They have, however, taken a slight breather in May, increasing 1.53%, 0.48% and -1.53%. And yes, value continues to outpace growth. So far in May, value stocks have outperformed growth by 4.6% (2.44% vs. -2.16%).
Foreign equities are doing well. Developed market stocks, as measured by the MSCI EAFE Index, continue solid returns. In May the index has returned 3.01% and is up 9.80% year-to-date. Not faring as well, but still with solid returns are emerging market stocks, up 0.35% in May and 4.92% for the year.
How concerned should we be with inflation and its impact on our investments? Is it transitory or not? While the Fed clearly has an opinion, the markets send mixed signals. The rotation from growth to value stocks, the sharp and steady increases in commodity prices, and the recent surge in gold prices indicate inflation concerns are valid and persist. However, the recent pause and pullback in long-term Treasury yields argue inflation expectations are priced in.
Fortunately, we do not have to know the exact answer to have a well-positioned portfolio. The “re-opening trade” is real, has momentum, and is well suited for an inflationary environment. Value stocks, the beneficiaries of the reopening, are dominated by financial services and commodity-based companies. Accordingly, they are likely to continue their strong relative performance in an inflationary environment. An overweight to value stocks as part of a well-diversified portfolio is prudent.
At CAM, we have implemented this overweight for our clients while recognizing a diversified exposure to all types of stocks and bonds is necessary to maintain a proper risk exposure. Along with your Concord Wealth Advisor, we are constantly monitoring the markets so you can relax, and take advantage of this summer’s great reopening.
All performance data generated through Morningstar.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cpi.pdf
Federal Open Market Committee: https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/fomcminutes20210428.pdf
Note: All performance data in the following two charts were drawn from Morningstar.
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The information provided in this commentary is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice and it should not be relied on as such. It should not be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell a security. It does not take into account any investor’s particular investment objectives, strategies, tax status, or investment horizon. You should consult your attorney or tax advisor.
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