In Economics, Hyperinflation is Problematic, and a Root Cause of Economic Uncertainty

True hyperinflation, marked by unfettered price increases and severe currency devaluation generally occurs during times of turmoil or war. This is a rare occurrence in developed countries. Regardless, growing inflation rates are an important dynamic to observe, and investors can smooth the yield curve by employing alternative investment strategies.

In the U.S., inflation is measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which indicated a 5.4% annual inflation rate in 2021, an increase from 1.4% the previous year. The impact of inflation is consequential and far-reaching, affecting every aspect of the economy, including the investment world. 

Conventional investments like stocks, bonds, and cash are less profitable in an inflated economy. That said, some types of alternative investments — real assets that don’t fall into a conventional investment category — can do very well. This is especially true for alternative investments like real estate and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

Inflation: Why is it Happening?

Data shows that, in addition to the highest annual inflation rate in 13 years, there has been an 8.6% annual increase in producer prices. Producer prices commonly increase in response to inflation, as a means by which businesses attempt to recoup losses.

These increases are expected in the wake of the pandemic. Although many factors contribute to the current rise in inflation, including efforts to improve pandemic conditions, evidence suggests that current market inflation is primarily driven by the following factors: 

  • Labor shortages. A shortage of workers can put pressure on businesses to raise wages in an effort to attract new staff. Some businesses recoup labor costs by raising their prices, which subsequently raises PPI.
  • Disrupted supply chain. Supply chain issues, such as product shortages and halted production/transit lines, contribute to a limited supply, which drives up demand. Increased demand drives up a product’s price, fueling inflation.
  • Pent-up demand. As more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations, businesses reopen, and federal aid supplements the economy, consumer spending continues to surge. Consumers are expressing sudden, high demand for services they forwent during the height of the pandemic.
  • Rising energy prices. Surging energy prices driven by geopolitical forces, disrupted supply, and a reopening global economy may force business owners to raise prices to make up for money spent on energy-related costs.

How does inflation affect stocks and similar holdings?

Consider how the following types of investments fare during times of high inflation:

  • Savings. Even if funds are secured in a savings account with an average interest rate, inflation can shrink the value of savings dramatically. When an individual is working, earnings should theoretically keep up with inflation; when individuals are forced to live off of savings, inflation diminishes purchasing power.
  • Fixed income investments. When inflation rises, the purchasing power of interest payments declines. This is because the rate of interest stays the same on most fixed income securities until maturity. As a result, bond prices tend to fall as inflation increases.
  • Stock investments. Although some stocks hold up well against inflation, stock investments are negatively impacted in an inflated economy. According to long-term economic research, “Most of the empirical literature reports a negative relationship between inflation rates and stock returns in the post-1953 era.” Large U.S. stocks tend to decline in price alongside increased inflation. 
  • Alternative investments. Commodities and real estate investments have a positive relationship with inflation and tend to perform well in even highly inflated economies.

Inflation can also indirectly affect people who don’t actively invest. Retirees who depend on social security to supplement their income are vulnerable to rising inflation, as the trust funds for social security only invest in U.S. treasuries, which don’t keep up with inflation.

What Does Inflation Mean for Real Estate?

REITs are a well-known, solid investment strategy in times of high inflation. However, that does not mean that the real estate market is impervious to inflation; the real estate market is impacted by dynamics that include labor and supply shortages, pent-up demand, and rising commodity prices.

Real estate is still a high-value investment choice for many reasons, which come into sharp relief during times when the economy is inflated:

  • Real estate can provide dynamic cash flows. Income streams from real estate can rise over time, unlike investments with fixed cash flows. Short lease durations in high-growth sectors can yield higher market rents more quickly, increasing cash flows.
  • Real estate income may provide an inflation hedge. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that real estate income has generally outperformed inflation since 1995.
  • Value may increase alongside interest. Private real estate values have historically increased during periods of rising interest rates.
  • Sector selection is critical. Long-term leases with limited rent resets may be more susceptible to the effects of rising inflation. Sectors like apartments and warehouses generally have shorter-duration leases, which may result in less impact to a commercial real estate professional.

The commercial sector presents an unrivaled investment opportunity. Office and retail properties create high-value profits, even in an inflated market.

Real Estate Investments Benchmarked: Why Alternative Investments Fare Well in Inflated Markets

Alternative investments generally fall into four categories: private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and commodities. Each type of alternative investment has its own process, risks, and reward profile. However, most alternative investments are relatively illiquid.

Some alternative investments have inflation hedging properties, such as appreciation potential, and the ability to generate cash flow and general noncorrelation to the stock market.

Smart Investor Utilize Alternative Investments

Inflation weakens purchasing power, causing the price of goods and services to increase. Investors who own real estate or invest in REITs may experience protection from inflation for the following reasons:

  • Real assets carry intrinsic value
  • Inflation increases property value
  • Income from rent can grow with CPI
  • Inflation depreciates mortgage debt

Leveraging the combination of returns by investing in real estate can reduce an investor’s overall portfolio volatility without sacrificing exposure to higher-risk assets. A solid understanding of how market fundamentals and industry trends can affect investments will equip investors to create value.

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About the Author: 
Al Hartman is the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors at Hartman Advisors and the CEO of Hartman Income REIT Management, a Texas-based real estate investment trust.
Hartman Advisors is an Associate member of TEXPERSThe views and opinions contained herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Hartman Advisors nor TEXPERS. These views are subject to change.
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