The Pound vs. Inflation: And How This Impacts Investors Today
If there's one thing that makes the process of investing decidedly complex, it's the constantly changing macroeconomic climate. This includes a number of individual aspects such as inflation and interest rates, and when combined they can have a cumulative impact on numerous assets and investment types.
Inflation is a particularly interesting macroeconomic factor, and one that tends to move independently to the value of the pound and the base interest rate.
Below Finance Monthly looks at the value of the pound against inflation during the course of the last 20 years or so, and ask how this should influence your investment choices in the near-term.
The Pound vs. Inflation – An Unbalanced Relationship
In simple terms, inflation has increased at a disproportionate rate to the pound over the course of the last two decades or more. More specifically, last years' prices were an estimated 303.3% higher than those recorded in 1980, meaning that 37 years ago £100 would have had the equivalent purchasing power of £403.34 in 2017.
Conversely, the pound itself has moved within a far narrower range during since the late 1980s and early 1990s, against a host of other major currencies. The GBP: USD has reached a peak 2.04 during this time, for example, while slumping to a low of 1.24 in January of last year. This trend is replicated across both the Australian Dollar and the Japanese Yen, while the pound has traded within an even more restricted range against the Euro since the 1990s.
From this, we can see that inflation and the cost of living has fluctuated far more noticeably than the underlying value of the pound, making it a particularly influence and volatile macroeconomic factor. This is an important point for investors to consider, as they must factor in the prevailing rate
of inflation and future forecasts to ensure that they build a viable trading portfolio.
Stocks vs. Bonds in the Current Macroeconomic Climate
To understand this further, let's compare the viability to stocks and bonds in the current, macroeconomic climate. In general terms, bonds are considered as more stable investment vehicles that are ideal for risk-averse investors, while stocks carry the burden of ownership for traders and are capable of delivering higher returns.
With inflation remaining high at around 3% in February (well beyond the Bank of England's target of 2%), however, bonds would appear to represent a better option in the current climate. This is because higher inflation can squeeze household incomes, lowering consumer confidence and spending in the process. As a result of this, both the economy and individual shares in the UK have the potential to be adversely affected in the short-term, while it's difficult to determine when inflation will return to a more manageable level.
Additionally, high inflation can also impact corporate profits through higher input cost, which can in turn lower share values and create negative sentiment within the stock market.
If this does happen, investors could well flock to defensive assets that are relatively risk-averse, particularly if inflation is expected to remain well above the BoE's 2% target throughout 2018. While further interest rate increases could reverse this trend, it's unlikely that the BoE will implement more than one hike this year if the current climate of uncertainty remains unchanged.
The Last Word
Of course, the economy and macroeconomic climate is a fluid entity, and one that could change considerably over the next few months.
Still, the spectre of high inflation is sure to be impacting on the decisions of investors and wealth management firms, as they look to diversify and optimise the returns of their clients in a challenging climate. This includes firms like W H Ireland, who are looking to build on recent growth and continue to thrive amid slower stock market activity and increasingly stained economic conditions.
So, while bonds may not be the most glamorous of asset classes, they offer genuine stability in the current marketplace.