Q: I’ve been reading a lot about potential inflation concerns and also about something called “TIPS” as an investment idea for this. Can you please help me understand how these work?
A: Yes, there has certainly been plenty of talk recently about whether or not we may see more inflation in the coming months and years. Here’s a bit more information about TIPS: what they are, and why they may be an option for some.
Remember inflation — that nasty beast that plagued the U.S. economy in the ’70s and ’80s, driving prices up more than 10 percent a year and wreaking havoc with financial markets?
For most Americans, high inflation may be only a distant memory, at least in the U.S. In fact, the last time the Consumer Price Index registered an annual increase above 4 percent was in 1991 — more than 25 years ago.1 And in the five years ending Dec. 31, 2017, it averaged only 1.4 percent.
Lately, there have been growing concerns about mounting inflationary pressures. A thriving economy, a tight labor market, a housing boom, the stimulative effects of the $1.5-trillion tax cut passed in December and, most recently, the prospect of a trade war all put upward pressure on prices. In January, the CPI spiked to a seasonally adjusted .5 percent for the month — which, if the trend continued, would put annual inflation considerably above the fed’s target rate of 2 percent. Although the monthly increase dropped down to .2 percent in February, many economists see an eventual uptick. The Federal Reserve has already been applying the brakes, with six increases in the federal-funds rate since late 2015, including a .25-percent hike in March.
But even at moderate levels, inflation can still take a toll on investments over time. Consider that the purchasing price of $1,000 would erode to just $744 if subject to 3-percent inflation over 10 years. So, for investors, especially retirees and others depending on fixed-income investments, inflation is a real concern.
TIPS to the rescue
In an attempt to protect fixed-income investors from inflation, the Treasury Department issues inflation-indexed bonds called Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) in five-, 10- and 30-year maturities with a return linked to the inflation rate. These bonds are available for purchase in $100 increments through financial advisors, banks and Treasury Direct (www.treasurydirect.gov).
The benefits of TIPS include:
• Rate of return is guaranteed to exceed the rate of inflation.
• Principal is indexed to the CPI.
• Semiannual interest payments are based on the interest rate applied to the inflation-adjusted value of the principal.
• Guaranteed return of the principal even if the rate of inflation drops.
The drawbacks of TIPS include:
• If sold before maturity, prices can be volatile, varying with interest-rate changes.
• TIPS are less liquid than ordinary treasuries.
• Interest payments on TIPS will vary, depending upon the inflation adjustment.
• Although the principal is adjusted for inflation, TIPS typically pay lower interest rates than treasuries with comparable maturities.
How do TIPS compare with traditional treasury bonds? Assuming the inflation rate is 3 percent and the yield of an unindexed $1,000, 10-year treasury note is 5 percent, the real yield of this note would be 2 percent (5 percent minus the inflation rate). After a year, an investor would gain $50 of interest but be ahead by only $20 because of the effect of inflation.
In general, it makes the most sense to purchase TIPS if you expect a major uptick in inflation. Whether that scenario is in the offing at this time is unclear. But if inflation does rear up, TIPS could be a viable alternative to consider.
Jeremy R. Gussick is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional affiliated with LPL Financial, the nation’s largest independent broker-dealer.* Jeremy specializes in the financial planning and retirement income needs of the LGBT community and was recently named a 2017 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager as mentioned in Philadelphia Magazine.** He is active with several LGBT organizations in the Philadelphia region, including DVLF (Delaware Valley Legacy Fund) and the Independence Business Alliance (IBA), the Philadelphia Region’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. OutMoney appears monthly. If you have a question for Jeremy, you can contact him via email at [email protected] Jeremy Gussick is a Registered Representative with, and securities and advisory services are offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.
1Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Consumer Price Index, 1913-Present.
Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Although the interest that inflation-indexed bonds pay is exempt from state and local taxes, federal income taxes apply. You are required to pay taxes on the interest and any increase in principal on an annual basis.
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