inflation on the rise?

Regular readers know that I like the economic work done by Jim Paulsen of Wells Capital, the Wells Fargo investment management arm.  His May 1st “Economic and Market Perspective” piece argues that the US has turned the corner on inflation, which will –contrary to consensus beliefs–be on the rise from now on.

His argument:

–the first signs of upward wage pressure in the US are now becoming visible (in developed economies, inflation is all about wages)

–recently, a rising dollar has kept the price of imported goods from rising (in some cases, they’ve been falling) and suppressed demand for US goods abroad.  That’s changing, turning the currency from a deflationary force into in inflationary one

–productivity is low, meaning that companies will have no way of offsetting higher wages other than to raise prices

–in past economic cycles, the Fed has somehow invariably remained too loose for too long.


I’m not 100% convinced that Paulsen is correct, and to be clear, he expects only mild inflation, but I’ll add another point to the list:

–although it doesn’t talk much about this any more, the Fed has clearly in mind the lost quarter-century in Japan, where on three separate occasions the government cut off a budding recovery by being too tight too soon.  In other words, there’s little to gain–and a lot to lose–by being aggressive on the money tightening trigger.


Suppose Jim is right.  What are the implications for stocks?  This is something we should at least be tossing around in our heads , so we can have a plan in mind for how to adjust our portfolios for a more inflationary environment.

My thoughts:

–inflation is really bad for bonds.  As an asset class, stocks benefit by default.  But bond-like stocks–that is, those with little growth and whose main attraction is their dividend yield–will be hurt by this resemblance.

–if the dollar is at or past its peak, it’s time to look for domestic-oriented stocks in the EU and euro earners in the US (the basic rule here is that we want to have revenues in the strong currency and costs in the weak).

–companies that can raise their prices, firms whose labor costs are a small percentage of the total, and consumer-oriented firms that are able to expand unit volumes without much capital investment should all do well.

–I think that average workers, not the affluent, are the main beneficiaries of a general rise in wages.  So firms that cater to them may be the best performers.




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