Inflation: One Worry to Cross Off the List

Oct.23.08 | About: iShares TIPS (TIP)

It's no surprise to learn that inflation expectations have been pounded downward in the wake of the financial crisis, although the magnitude of the drop may still turn a few heads.

Consider the outlook for consumer prices embedded in the spread between the nominal and inflation-indexed Treasury, as per our chart below. Mr. Market is now anticipating that consumer prices will rise a mere 1% a year for the next decade, down from nearly 2.6% as recently as this past July.

The source of this massive and sudden change of heart needs no explanation other than to point to the events of the past two months. Meanwhile, amid all the turmoil and fading of inflation worries an investor can, as of last night's close, buy a 10-year inflation-indexed Treasury at a real yield of 2.59%, as our second chart below shows. That's shy of the October 14 close of 3.05%, although it's still high by recent standards. At one point during this past March, the 10-year TIPS yielded a scant 90 basis points.

The opportunity to lock in a real yield of 3%, or something close to it, shouldn't be dismissed lightly. Indeed, a nominal 10-year Treasury currently yields 3.65%, a mere 106 basis points over its TIPS counterpart.

Inflation, of course, is a dead issue at the moment, or so the crowd believes. No wonder, since there's a persuasive case for thinking that it'll probably be some time, perhaps several years, before pricing pressures return with any great force. Disinflation, or worse, is upon us, courtesy of the economic challenges that await.

All of which only goes to remind that the best deals in the investing game typically come joined at the hip with frightening headlines and gloomy expectations for the assets in question. Some things never change.

Prices, by contrast, are always in flux. The only task, then, is figuring out if the going rate is attractive, and that starts by comparing it with what the crowd was accepting in the past.