Should You Be Scared Of Inflation?

More than anything else, the financial markets are driven by fear.  Investors fear large, unexpected moves in the markets.  They fear missing out on opportunities.  And, most of all, they fear losing money.

Of course, fear becomes a real factor in the financial markets when a major crisis occurs, such as the bank bailouts in 2008.  Fortunately, these types of events don’t happen all that often.

On a more consistent basis, nothing generates investor fear like the threat of inflation.  Year after year, analysts and experts of all kinds warn of the adverse effects inflation can have on an investment portfolio.

Basically, inflation means the costs of goods and services are rising over a period of time.  As such, each dollar you earn can purchase less and less of those goods and services.

So what makes inflation such a big deal?

Well, if your income level doesn’t keep up with the pace of inflation, you’re essentially taking a pay cut when inflation occurs.  On a limited basis, it’s not a major concern. However, over a long period of time or in large amounts, inflation can be a real issue.

What’s more, severe inflation can lead to social unrest and other major sociopolitical issues.  Clearly, that’s the kind of stuff no one wants to deal with.

With that in mind, you might be wondering if the recent Fed stimulus is a reason to worry about inflation.  After all, many of those critical of the Fed have been citing inflation concerns.  Their argument is that with the Fed “printing” so much money, it will devalue the dollar to the point of significantly eroding our purchasing power.

Here’s the deal with the recent round of quantitative easing (QE3): yes, it should result in some inflation.  However, it’s actually supposed to create inflation.  You see, a certain amount of inflation is actually good for the economy – especially during a recession.

Let me explain…

There are actually several positive benefits to inflation when it is sits at a reasonable level (from 2% to 4% depending on overall economic conditions).

First off, reasonable inflation levels benefit the labor market.  The thing is, companies don’t like lowering wages because it upsets the workforce.  Instead, they can let inflation do their work for them.

Without getting too technical, companies can leave wages flat in tougher periods and inflation will function as a sort of pay cut.  Eventually, this means companies can hire more workers sooner than if inflation wasn’t occurring.

Second, inflation means money sitting in the bank is losing its purchasing power.  So, it makes sense for companies to go spend that money on capital investments, such as plants and equipment.  This capital spending then leads to economic growth.

Finally, when inflation is occurring, it means deflation is being avoiding. Deflation is very bad, even worse than high levels of inflation.  Just think of the Great Depression versus the high inflation of the 1970’s.  Everyone agrees the Great Depression was far worse than the 70’s.

What’s more, the Fed has a good track record of dealing with high inflation – particularly over the last 25 years.  On the other hand, a deflationary spiral is much harder to recover from.

Here’s why this is important to investors…

The first two reasons I mentioned about how inflation can be good are also good for your portfolio.  If a company is doing well enough to hire more workers or purchase capital goods, it should also be posting higher earnings.  And of course, that should translate to a higher stock price.

Let me break that down a bit further.

Suppose we’re in a recession or slow growth period with inflation running a modest 2%.  A company that makes widgets will raise the price of their widgets in line with inflation.  However, they’re holding labor costs steady due to the recession.  That means higher revenues with roughly stable costs (yes, materials costs will also rise, but in most cases labor is the far greater expense).

So what does higher revenue mean if costs stay the same?  Bigger profits.

Now, let’s say our widget company also has $100 million in the bank just sitting there.  If inflation is at 2% and short-term interest rates are paying 1%, then the company is effectively losing money.

So what will they do?  Well, they could buy another widget factory, buy more advanced equipment, acquire another company, expand into a new product, and more.  The payoff from these types of activities is almost certainly higher than what they’d earn saving the money.

Of course, any sort of expansion or addition to the company should result in higher revenues – and likely higher profits as well.  And, that’s exactly what investors are looking for when they buy stocks – in other words, higher stock prices.

Keep in mind, the benefits of inflation have an overarching effect on a portfolio as a whole.  Over time, it will benefit a cross section of companies.  It’s not necessarily the sort of reasoning investor use when purchasing one specific stock.  However, since most investors’ portfolios contain multiple stocks or mutual funds, healthy inflation is a positive for a vast majority of investors.

Bottom line, inflation isn’t nearly as bad as many investors think, especially during a recession.  Just keep an eye on inflation expectations.  As long as the number doesn’t exceed 3% to 4%, there’s nothing to worry about.  Even better, it should actually benefit your portfolio over time.


Foreclosure cancellations surge in Golden State

The number of foreclosures canceled by banks surged 62% across California last month, the same month major mortgage servicers were required to comply with new rules outlined by this year’s National Mortgage Settlement.

Banks in the Golden State canceled 15,539 scheduled auctions last month, according to a report by website That was a 36.7% drop from the same month last year.

Sean O'Toole, founder of ForeclosureRadar, wrote in the October report that the increase was most likely due to the effective banning of dual tracking in the state. Dual tracking refers to the practice by banks of pushing a borrower through the foreclosure process while at the same time negotiating a loan modification.

“This is another example of where changes in foreclosure trends are driven by government intervention, and not necessarily economic recovery. While the impacts are still unclear, the elimination of dual tracking may avoid some unnecessary foreclosures, but will lengthen the foreclosure process and delay ultimate recovery. Expect further impacts to foreclosure trends in the months ahead.”

There has not been a comparable spike in California foreclosure cancellations since December 2011, when banks were under heavy scrutiny by state and federal regulators for improperly foreclosing on troubled borrowers. That scrutiny resulted in the big mortgage settlement earlier this year — of which California was the biggest beneficiary.

The settlement, and a series of California laws backed by State Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, resulted in effectively banning dual tracking. O’Toole said banks are probably canceling foreclosure sales so that they will not be in violation of any laws.

Before the ban on dual tracking, a bank would often give a homeowner a trial loan modification and continue to postpone the foreclosure auction. By keeping the trustee sale in place, but postponing it, the bank could foreclose immediately if a trial modification did not work out.

But consumer activists railed against this practice, saying that it confused homeowners, strung them along and in some instances resulted in unnecessary foreclosures. Consumer activists had tried to pass legislation banning the practice in California, but the measures had failed until Harris put her weight behind them.


2 killed, 1 critically injured in Long Beach car crash

Two people died and a third was critically injured in a car crash Saturday night in Long Beach, authorities said.

The single-vehicle accident occurred about 6:20 p.m. on Redondo Avenue beneath the 405 Freeway, said Long Beach Police Department spokesman Aaron Eaton.

Two people were declared dead at the scene. The injured person was hospitalized Saturday night.

The crash was still under investigation, but the wet weather may have been a contributing factor, Eaton said.

Redondo Avenue remained closed Saturday night.