Use These “TIPS” to Protect Yourself Against Inflation

by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist
Monday, April 19, 2010: Issue #1241

A recent Communiqué column of mine, in which I recommended Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), outraged a number of readers.

Why was it so upsetting? Because – and don’t ask me what they’re smoking – 17% of Americans actually approve of the job Congress is doing.

Taking both parties to task, however, I wrote:

#1: When George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans came to power a little more than nine years ago, they promised to cut wasteful spending, limit the size of government and move closer to a balanced budget.

Instead, they…

  • Created a Medicare drug entitlement that will cost nearly $1 trillion in its first decade…
  • Started a string of expensive financial bailouts that continues today…
  • Passed a record number of earmarks…
  • Increased federal spending 58% faster than inflation…
  • Presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt.

#2: Then, last November – anxious for change – voters threw the bums out and put the Democrats in charge. The Democrats promised to change this reckless course and restore fiscal sanity to the country.

Instead, they tripled the budget deficit in their first year. The White House and the Congressional Budget Office now estimate that this year’s deficit will explode to $1.56 trillion – a post-World War II record at 11% of the overall economy – and add $9.7 trillion in debt over the next decade.

Facts vs. Opinions

Here are the other points I made…

#3: The Obama Administration’s own projections see the federal debt hitting $18.5 trillion by 2020. However, that was before the passage of the healthcare reform bill – the biggest new entitlement since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

#4: Unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the prescription drug benefit and the new federal healthcare program have now jumped to $108 trillion, nearly eight times our annual GDP.

#5: Moody’s has threatened to downgrade the Triple-A rating of U.S. sovereign debt, perhaps within three years. A drop in our credit rating would both decrease the perceived safety of Treasury securities and increase the interest that Uncle Sam – excuse me, you, your children and your grandchildren – will pay on the deficit.

#6: Credit Suisse recently produced a report pointing out that the country whose debt profile most resembles that of Greece is – hold your breath – the United States. (If you believe a picture is worth a thousand words, try this: http://www.usdebtclock.org/)

#7: Down the road, Washington – with the reluctant consent of the Federal Reserve – could opt to solve this problem the way so many governments throughout history have – by inflating our way out of it.

Inflation: The Bane of Debt-Holders & A Godsend to Debtors

Inflation is the bane of debt-holders, of course. But it is a godsend to debtors – and Uncle Sam is the biggest of them all – as they can repay fixed obligations with increasingly worthless currency.

What surprised me was not that some readers had a difference of opinion. I always welcome that. It was that respondents uniformly barked that they didn’t want to hear my “political opinions.”

Opinions? Go back through these seven points and tell me which one contains an opinion. Even the last one modestly states that Uncle Sam “could opt” to inflate our way out of this problem.

As Jack Nicholson reminded us in A Few Good Men, some people can’t handle the truth. Especially when it’s something they don’t want to hear.

For example…

  • When we warned 11 years ago about the massive bubble in Internet stocks, the majority of respondents gushed about the New Era and insisted we “just didn’t get it.”
  • When we warned six years ago about the ominous housing bubble, many scoffed and insisted that home prices “always go up.”
  • When we talk today about the threat to your financial security that Washington is creating with its Ponzi-style entitlement schemes, a lot of investors don’t want to hear that, either.

Believe me, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want high inflation any more than you do.

Fortunately, inflation today is as tame as a kitten.

The Benefits of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities & Three Ways to Buy Them

I only suggest that you buy Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities ( TIPS) as an important insurance policy. (Because when inflation – the thief that robs us all – rears its ugly head, neither stocks nor bonds do well.)

You can purchase inflation-protected Treasuries (TIPS) in three ways…

There are several advantages to buying TIPS…

  • TIPS pay interest every six months, just like a regular Treasury bond. But unlike traditional bonds, your principal increases each year by the amount of inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI). Semi-annual interest payments also increase by the amount of inflation.
  • The interest you receive is exempt from state and local (but not federal) income taxes.
  • TIPS are less volatile than traditional bonds.
  • They’re also excellent diversifiers.

Some investors complain that these securities haven’t done anything exciting lately. Of course not. We’ve been in the grip of disinflationary forces, not inflationary ones – and that won’t change next week or next month.

Protection Against The Government “Doing Something”

But as the deficit keeps expanding and the electorate grows increasingly unhappy, pressure will mount on the government to “do something.”

That “something” could be a decision to inflate our way out of this mess, rather than risk the kind of deflationary spiral that Japan has endured over the past two decades.

Bear in mind…

  • The Fed has already taken interest rates close to zero…
  • Congress has already tried a massive fiscal stimulus…
  • The Federal Reserve has already created trillions out of thin air to mop up worthless securities.

If the economy stumbles again and further government action is taken, it could be even more reckless, resulting in inflation.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, that’s just my opinion.

Good investing,

Alexander Green

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