Inflation Indexed Notes-Piece #1 in 4 part series

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We feel that inflation has a direct and indirect impact on financial and real assets. That effect can arguably be seen the most directly through Inflation Indexed Notes. Here in this brief, we will outline the basics of this asset class as well as the current inflation and real rate environment.

Description, Characteristics and Opportunity Set

  • Government bonds that pay interest and appreciate with the pace of CPI.
  • They have generally been a less volatile way to access inflation protection compared to gold and other metals and resource stocks.
  • There is the opportunity to invest in US TIPS and Global Inflation Indexed Notes in sovereign countries that issue them.
  • The market is less robust and liquid than nominal Treasury Notes.

 

Unique attributes

Diversification-They have been uncorrelated to risk assets such as equities and also to other debt instruments in the past. However; they are not immune to a decline in value at the same time other risk assets are subdued by market pressure.

Inflation Hedge- They have served as an inflation hedge since their inception due to the direct principal tie to the consumer price index (CPI). Also, as the principal appreciates, the coupon rate is multiplied by the increased amount.

Dual asset class role-They fall into the “real return” and traditional bond categories.

Tax- They are free from state and local taxes.

 

Valuation

Since they have a real yield they are partly valued on the difference between that yield and that of a comparable Treasury nominal yield.

  • That difference is the “break even” or what investors expect inflation to be over the life of the bond.
  • If the investor expects inflation to be less than the breakeven rate, then all other factors aside, the nominal bond will be a better investment.
  • If the investor expects inflation to be more than the breakeven rate, then all other factors aside, the inflation linked note will be a better investment.

 

Current state of inflation and the inflation notes market

  • Real interest rates are now close to zero and set to rise only moderately, according to the IMF.
  • Similarly, the factors influencing rates in past are unlikely to reverse.
  • Ten-year real interest rates across countries fell from an average of 5½ percent in the 1980s to 3½ percent in the 1990s, 2 percent over 2001–08, and 0.33 percent between 2008 and 2012.
  • At least in the next few years, it seems unlikely that central banks will seek to push up real interest rates. As the IMF writes: “In summary, real [interest] rates are expected to rise. However, there are no compelling reasons to believe in a quick return to the average level observed during the mid- 2000s (that is, about 2 percent).”
  • Current 10-year breakeven rate is 2.21%. Expectations are a little higher than actual inflation.

 

Positive scenarios for TIPS

  • Purchase a high “real yield” and benefit from a decrease in real yields.
  • Inflation will increase the principal amount and the cash flow.

 

Negative scenario for TIPS

  • Purchase a low “real yield” and lose from an increase in real yields.
  • Deflation will allow the TIPs owner to retain the par value but there will be an opportunity cost with no inflation accruals and the chance to have bought a higher yielding nominal bond.

 

Global Inflation

American Inflation CPI 1.51 % march 2014
English Inflation CPI 1.67 % march 2014
European Inflation HICP 0.47 % march 2014
German inflation CPI 1.04 % march 2014
Japanese inflation CPI 1.51 %  february 2014
Chinese inflation CPI 2.31 % march 2014

 

It does not appear that inflation is a major concern presently as these year over year numbers indicate. Inflation indexed notes have generally not been a good performing asset class over the last year as inflation and inflation expectations have been muted in spite of the fear that the Fed’s printing press will eventually create inflation.

In our next piece we will dissect a few ETFs in this space and help determine the potential payoff as well as the inherent risks given this inflation and real rate outlook as well as the country weights within each product.

Sincerely,

Tom Koehler, CIO

 

 

 

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What is real anymore?

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While it could be interesting to explore this question in a broad philosophical sense, we will simply address and summarize some of the “real rates” of return currently available in fixed income.

The real rate of return is basically the nominal or stated rate minus the rate of inflation. Core CPI is currently running 1.6% year over year through February which is the same reading as January and is below the Federal Reserves 2% Target. If you add back food and energy, the rate is 1.1%.

While it is only one factor in determining the attractiveness of an investment, the real rate is a reasonable start to help assess whether or not a fixed income instrument is potentially appropriate.

Currently Treasury Bonds and Agency Mortgage Debt represent a large percentage of the Barclay’s Aggregate US Index and also those ‘total return” funds and “core bond” funds that manage around that index.

10 year Treasury Notes possess a yield of 2.76% and the 5 yr 1.74%. The Bloomberg US Mortgage Backed Securities Index effectively yields 2.92%. While there is some room to garner a positive real yield, it does not come without risk. The main risk is interest rate risk as the duration on both these types of instruments exceeds the real yield and with a rise in interest rates could wipe out any gain from the inflation premium. While there are legitimate reasons to hold some in an actively managed fund, it is a good time to review if your firms portfolio has too much in an asset class with a low real yield.

The US Bloomberg Corporate Bond Index yields 3.06% and offers slightly more real yield but with added credit risk as well as the duration risk inherent in most debt classes. The Emerging Market Sovereign Debt Index as represented by the I-Share EMB, yields 5.05% which begins to look attractive relative to US real yields. It does carry additional risk as it is a basket of disparate governmental policies in addition to reasonably high duration.

The real yields available with the markets listed above could turn into fantasy if the price of the bonds are driven down by credit, duration or country specific risk to name a few and the real yield you purchased becomes much less or even negative.

To avoid measuring the difference between these nominal products and the rate of inflation, an investor could invest in a bond tied directly to the rate of inflation or CPI. These are available globally but are most pronounced in the US and most know them as TIPS or Treasury Inflation Indexed Notes.

Currently the real yield on a 5 yr TIP is -.44 and on the 10 yr it is .61%. Those are “really” low to take on the interest rate risk but may be worth the risk if inflation were to begin to increase and not very worthwhile if inflation were to continue to decrease.

Given the search for real yield in a fixed income market with low rates combined with serious interest rate, credit and inflation risk, we will examine the inflation indexed asset class more in-depth in additional pieces to determine if a placement in a “real return” bond or portfolio of bonds makes sense for your clients.

Sincerely,

Tom Koehler, CIO