When we established our Wealth Preserver portfolio – which was before inflation took off – we said we would be less interested in trying to predict inflation’s course and more concerned with our efforts to forestall it. Nonetheless readers may be interested in our latest take on what the future holds – especially as the niceties of where inflation goes from here in different parts of the world have a direct effect on the portfolio’s fortunes.
We are thinking here of the importance for the portfolio of the value of the dollar and the likely effect on the exchange rate of a divergence in inflation between Britain and America.
First, a quick look at how we got to where we are, then our crystal ball.
It’s easy to think: inflation arose because of the war in Ukraine. Or because of an explosion in demand after the pandemic that overwhelmed supply chains. Or because central banks printed too much money. But in the view of many economists, all three played a part. This is relevant to how different countries are affected, even if inflation rates are similar, at say 8pc-10pc, across much of the West right now.
As people in Britain and Europe struggle with soaring gas prices, our counterparts in America are wondering what the fuss is about. Not only is the US self-sufficient in gas but, because gas is so difficult to transport in the absence of pipelines, America’s gas market is largely cut off from the rest of the world.
So while easily transported oil has a global price, gas prices in America are determined more by domestic supply and demand. They have risen, but much less severely than in Europe.
When it comes to money printing, America did indulge in it on a truly colossal scale and all that money pumped into the system surely increased demand across the economy when Covid restrictions were eased. In combination with supply chain problems, this will have pushed up prices.
But America’s Federal Reserve has now reversed course and is engaged in rapid “quantitative tightening”, as well as raising interest rates. Economists and investors who think money supply is especially important to inflation say this dramatic change of course and the rapid shrinkage in the number of dollars in circulation more or less guarantees that inflation in the US will fall sharply in time (there is always a time lag).
As far as supply chain disruption is concerned it’s probably fair to say that different parts of the world suffered more or less equally.
In summary, America’s inflation rate was less affected by the war than Britain’s, and its reversal of money printing should start to moderate price rises soon, while in Britain our energy prices are at the mercy of Vladimir Putin and we are reversing monetary policy more slowly.
For Questor’s money, therefore (and of course a plethora of things could render our analysis void), inflation looks likely to fall more quickly on the other side of the Atlantic. If our pounds lose their value more quickly than their dollars, it is likely to be reflected in the exchange rate, so we would expect sterling to fall further, which would put more pressure on inflation as we import so much energy and food.
For what it’s worth, then, this column’s prediction is that inflation will remain high in Britain. Part of the protection for investors will be to hold dollar-denominated assets, which will rise in value, other things being equal, as the pound falls. We’ll certainly be hanging on to our dollar investments, such as gold, commodities and shares that offer international exposure.
The insurer has been one of our portfolio’s most disappointing holdings but it received a fillip on Wednesday when the market welcomed its interim results with an 12.6pc rise in the shares. This cuts our loss to 24pc on a total return basis.
When we tipped Admiral for the wider readership last year we praised the quality of its underwriting and its entrepreneurial culture and those qualities remain. We’ll hold.
Partly thanks to Admiral, as well as gold, commodities and property/infrastructure funds, the portfolio has recovered some ground and now stands 0.5pc below its initial value, compared with a sobering 4.1pc loss when we last updated readers in July.
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