When the printing presses were turned on by
central banks in 2009 and 2010 there were many who held the view that the only
logical outcome would be a significant rise in inflation. With global growth still recovering from
severe trauma post Lehman Bros, there was concern that we would enter a period
of slow growth and high inflation. The
job of central bankers around the world was to finely balance attempts to kick
start economic growth without allowing inflation to get out of control.
The concern with inflation is whether it is
“good inflation” or “bad inflation”.
Good inflation refers to an expanding economy where wages are growing
and output is expanding. Increases in
the prices of goods and services are a direct result of a strong and growing
economy. Bad inflation refers to
increases in the prices of goods and services caused by external factors when
the economy is slowing or contracting.
While growth has returned to parts of the
global economy it still remains lower than trend and is being supported by
government monetary and fiscal stimulus and not domestic demand growth. Inflation on the other hand has begun to
increase significantly. What has been
important to note is that the main driver of this inflation increase has been
rising commodity prices. Oil is
approaching $100 a barrel and agricultural commodities are posting new multi-year highs such as bad weather, political instability and continued growing demand
from the developed world. Currently
commodity prices are adding in the region of 1% to annual inflation readings. With unemployment reaching double digits in
most economies and wages falling this is “bad inflation”.
Our view remains unchanged in that we believe
that inflation from growth is unlikely to push higher given spare capacity in
all areas of economies and a strategic shift in investors towards savings and
balance sheet repair which is likely to be a multi-year process. The significant increase in commodity prices
however, has forced us to re-consider that there could be a continuing rise in “bad”
inflation in the short term. Our
preferred strategy for hedging against current inflation concerns is to use the
commodity complex to add positions to your portfolio.
The Irish Economy
with inflation concerns, in last quarter’s Quintas Newsletter, we highlighted the subtle
trends in Irish inflation whereby increases in fuel and electricity prices were
increasing being offset by falling prices of food and clothing. We highlighted the risk to our view of low
Irish inflation coming from increased global commodity prices – which as we
explain above is beginning to threaten global inflation trends. As a small open economy prices for our
goods and services will be influenced by changes in prices in the broader
global economy and with pressure from food and energy prices continuing the
future trend of price changes will be inflowing by the interplay of domestic
deflation and global food and energy inflation.
remains stubbornly high despite record emigration numbers. Forecasts are for slight increases in
unemployment numbers in 2011 before they begin to fall in 2012 as growth takes
hold while emigration numbers are expected to continue to be steady. Our fiscal balance is expected to improve
significantly in 2011 as the bank bailout has been taken as a single hit in the
fiscal balance for 2010 though further losses cannot be ruled out, as was
evidenced by comments by Central Bank Governor Patrick Hounihan earlier this
Irish economy remains in a state of flux.
Our export sector continues to enjoy a solid rebound in activity and is
very much a bright spot of economic activity.
Unemployment however, remains the single most pressing concern and
should be the core focus of the new government.
Global factors are likely to help in the medium term as growth takes
hold though global inflation trends could be a potential risk.
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