Is the structural case for inflation still intact?

Alex King, CFA, Investment Strategy Analyst
Nick Samouilhan, PhD, CFA, FRM, Head of Multi-Asset Strategy – APAC
2024-05-31
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

The views expressed are those of the authors at the time of writing. Other teams may hold different views and make different investment decisions. The value of your investment may become worth more or less than at the time of original investment. While any third-party data used is considered reliable, its accuracy is not guaranteed. For professional, institutional, or accredited investors only.

Central banks may win the near-term battle against rapidly rising prices, but over the longer term we think inflation will be a tougher opponent than some expect. With this in mind, asset allocators should look for opportunities to reinforce their inflation-hedging defenses. 

Flexible vs sticky inflation

Inflation is likely to moderate from last year’s sky-high levels in coming months — a result of the lagged impact of monetary policy tightening and a more challenging environment for credit given bank lending and liquidity concerns. We’ve already seen inflation come down in some of the more variable areas of the CPI, as measured by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Flexible Price CPI — an index that includes prices of food, autos, apparel, and other goods and services that are more immediately responsive to changes in the current economic environment or the level of economic slack (light blue line in Figure 1).

But looking further out, we expect inflation to be higher over the next decade than it was over the previous one. In fact, even as flexible inflation has waned a bit, “sticky inflation” appears to have taken hold, based on the so-called Sticky Price CPI (dark blue line in Figure 1), which includes many service-based categories, such as medical services, education, and personal care services, as well as most housing categories — i.e., categories of the CPI that tend to change more slowly over time.

Figure 1
designing-a-climate-aware-strategic-asset-allocation-fig1

What’s driving the change

We see a number of reasons to expect structurally higher inflation: 

  • Less relief from low-cost labor — In the prior cycle, wage growth was capped in part by a massive expansion in the pool of global workers, especially in China. That trend has largely played out with no clear replacement for relatively low-wage Chinese workers. 
  • Deglobalization and the rise of onshoring — As countries rethink their supply chains in an effort to reduce exposure to shortage concerns and geopolitical risk, there will be instances in which companies are willing to produce in places where it is less efficient to do so — activity that is inherently inflationary. 
  • More fiscal spending — The pandemic marked the start of an enormous fiscal spending binge, which likely can’t be pulled back all at once and, unless it’s offset, will add to the inflation pressure. 
  • Tight commodity supply — The underinvestment in commodity supply over the last decade looks poised to continue as investors worry about the transition to a lower-carbon economy and the uncertainty it creates about future demand for energy and other commodities. 
  • The energy transition – The move toward a less carbon-intensive economy will require significant investment in new sources of energy.

The investment implications

For asset allocators who agree with our inflation outlook, we think there are a number of investment ideas worth considering, including:

Adding real assets — Commodities have historically had a high beta to inflation, making them a potentially potent hedge. Those who aren’t comfortable investing directly in commodities might opt for a diversified real asset portfolio that includes, for example, commodities, natural resource equities, and TIPS. 

Tilts to inflation-sensitive sectors — Within an equity allocation, there may be opportunities to add to natural resource equities, as well as other inflation-sensitive equities such as listed infrastructure (where companies can often pass inflation directly to their rate payers). In addition, value stocks, given their lower sensitivity to interest rates, may behave better than growth stocks in an inflationary world. 

Risk management at the portfolio construction level — If we assume higher inflation ahead, and therefore higher interest rates, then allocators may not be able to rely on bonds for consistent diversification — that is, we could see more periods in which bonds and stocks are positively correlated as they were in 2022. This may call for new sources of diversification, including using certain hedge funds as a complement to fixed income (a topic our colleagues discuss in more detail here). 

Experts

Related insights

Showing of Insights Posts
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

Weekly Market Update

Continue reading
event
4 min
Video
2025-12-31
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

Monthly Market Snapshot — April 2024

Continue reading
event
20 min
Whitepaper
2025-05-31
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

As India goes to the polls, is the case for Indian equities still compelling?

Continue reading
event
6 min
Article
2025-06-30
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

Value stocks: Rules of thumb are meant to be broken

Continue reading
event
9 min
Article
2026-05-31
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

Structuring core fixed income: A constructive view on market and macro conditions

Continue reading
event
7 min
Article
2025-05-30
Archived info
Archived pieces remain available on the site. Please consider the publish date while reading these older pieces.

Read next