Emily & Amanda are joined by advisor David Vaught, CFA. We discuss the rising inflation rates, the Fed’s response, and how all of this affects our investment portfolios.
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- Towards the end of this episode, Amanda and David discuss St. Louis Fed President Bullard. You can hear directly from Bullard with his recent interview on Bloomberg Radio
- Full transcript below:
Emily Agosto (00:08):
Welcome to connecting the dollars, a personal finance podcast. I'm Emily Agosto, a
CPA and financial advisor,
Amanda Vaught (00:16):
And I'm Amanda Vaught, attorney and financial advisor. Both Emily and I are co-
owners at Propel Financial Advisors.
Emily Agosto (00:25):
Propel Financial Advisors is an investment management and financial planning
company. We are fee-only fiduciaries and independent registered investment
advisors. I'm based in Chicago and Amanda is in New York City, but we work with
Amanda Vaught (00:40):
The purpose of our podcast is to explore personal finance topics, including
budgeting, investing, behavioral finance, current events, and other helpful
information. We also hope you'll get to know us along the way.
Emily Agosto (00:54):
Thanks for listening.
Emily Agosto (01:00):
Hi everyone. This is Emily here, introducing today's episode, which is a conversation
between Amanda and David Vaught. David is a financial advisor at Propel along with
Amanda and I. He is a CFA and has worked with investment clients for well over 20
years. He was on our very first episode of Connecting the Dollars last fall, which
discussed the state of the economy and the Federal Reserve back then, which was
October, 2021. And he's back today to continue that conversation focusing
specifically on the rising inflation rates, the Fed's response and how all of this affects
our investment portfolios. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Amanda Vaught (01:38):
Okay. So today we have Amanda Vaught. I'm here with David Vaught, another advisor
at Propel Financial Advisors, and he's joining us today to discuss inflation. Inflation
has been in the news a lot, and it has been hitting record highs. I have in the news
here, a 40-year record of 8.6% in March, which can really hurt. So we just wanted to
talk about what we're thinking in terms of inflation and how we're thinking about it
in terms of client portfolios and financial planning also. So welcome David.
David Vaught (02:18):
Well, it's good to be here, Amanda.
Amanda Vaught (02:20):
Yeah. I think we had you on last fall talking about the Fed and the Fed comes up a
lot, when we're thinking about inflation and what the Fed's gonna do to target
inflation going forward.
David Vaught (02:35):
Yeah. It's part of the Fed's dual mandate, you know, to use its tools, money supply
being a big one of them, to keep stability in the value of the dollar in inflation that
consumers face. The other part of the mandate of course, is to try to achieve good
employment situation so people can be at work. So right now the Fed has made great
progress on, on the employment front with unemployment being below three point, I
think it's 3.8 in the last report, huge job gains for the last year. But inflation
seemingly is a little bit out of control, where a lot of people think the Fed is a little
bit behind the curve, a little bit late to the party in terms of taking action to curb
Amanda Vaught (03:22):
Yeah. So we'll see how that pans out as we go through this year and into 2023, I
know a lot of the inflation spikes have come from issues related to COVID and supply
chain and, the Fed, you know, they can't do that much about the supply chain. They
can't print oil, you know, they printed a lot of money, but You know.
David Vaught (03:47):
Well many would say that printing of a lot of money is also one of the factors in
creating inflation. Certainly I remember that inflation back in 40 years ago with 1980
or so. And I remember that inflation, it was very bad. It was a persistent. And that's
what a lot of the theory is today that this one might be as persistent, but it was
driven by different factors. One of which was, you know, the buildup of, you know,
money supply and, fiscal imbalances that grew out of the Vietnam war. And also the
oil shocks of the seventies where, you know, oils price went through the roof largely
due the creation of OPEC and the oil embargo. OPEC embargoed oil. It wasn't allowed
to be shipped and the gas lines backed up, gas prices went way up. This one is very
different, driven in part by some of those factors, you just mentioned: COVID,
David Vaught (04:37):
And increasingly also by the geopolitical situation in that Europe is not just talking
about reducing its purchases of oil from Russia. They've already done so on natural
gas and they're looking for ways to do it so that they don't have to import oil from
Russia. That's gonna cause a huge shift in the oil markets. It's gonna be expensive.
The prices are likely gonna go up. And today, when we look at the what's really going
on in inflation sub-components of inflation today, they're largely in food and energy.
And I think everybody knows about the energy part. You just have to go to the gas
pump to see it. And that doesn't look long term, like it's gonna go away. The food is
also a little bit tied to the geopolitical situation since the Ukrainians are unable to
export, or maybe even to grow wheat, or as much wheat as they've grown. And
they're a major factor in the wheat market internationally.
Amanda Vaught (05:37):
Yeah. And that's what recent numbers have shown that recently, it's the food and
energy prices that are really driving inflation. I saw that, you know, what used to be
driving inflation, used cars and trucks. They actually fell in March by 4%. So we are
seeing some relief on some aspects, but in others it's getting worse. You know,
which, what they say is that inflation is personal. So your experience of it is gonna be
much different than somebody else's, you know, over the past year, if you weren't
buying a used car or truck, you maybe didn't experience such high inflation, but more
and more people need to go to the grocery store and put gas in their car. So yeah,
David Vaught (06:25):
Those declines in some of the components are part of what may have caused the Fed
to be a little bit behind the eight ball. Cause they were saying they expected a few
months ago, they were the inflation to be transitory so that these temporary factors
that are caused by the supply chain or the price of used cars and lumber and other
things we're gonna come back down naturally as those ease. Well, the supply chain
easing has not been total, you know, although some prices have come down and the
real concern now is that that the inflation is gonna become part of an inflation
psychology. Everybody's gonna expect it. People are gonna want more raises because
of inflation; companies are gonna take this opportunity to raise prices a little more
cause of inflation because they have more pricing power because everybody knows
inflation is going up. So those are factors,
Amanda Vaught (07:20):
David and I were just talking and we got interrupted by David's maid service. So
we're gonna jump back in now, keep talking about inflation and we wanted to discuss
some of what we could do as far as our personal finances go. Right now, if you have a
lot of cash on hand and it's in the bank, you are not making hardly any interest. High
yield savings accounts are paying maybe half a percent. So what do you do with all
this cash that you have maybe emergency savings, or maybe you haven't budgeted
well and you have excess cash built up and you're in a high inflation environment?
David Vaught (07:57):
Well, you have, you have two approaches to a debt. You could, if, if your debt is at a
high interest rate, you probably need to pay it down. That's probably always true.
But it's also true at inflationary times because interest rates are gonna go up more. If
on the other hand, you've got it in, you know, low rate mortgages inflation
essentially allows you to pay off a long term mortgage with inflated dollars. So that
hurts the bank, not you. So, so there's less and less of a reason to prepay any long
term mortgage because of the debt. But then what do you do with the cash? Well, we
think you invest it and the best inflation protections traditionally have been stocks,
in companies that have pricing power. So companies that are, you know, able to raise
prices during inflationary times are gonna do well.
David Vaught (08:53):
Some of them are gonna do better because they may push that a little too much and
increase their profits more than a lot of people think is fair. As people's money gets
tight, however, and as time continues in the inflationary cycle, people start to have
less cash. They have less money; they're being squeezed by higher cost. And that kind
in the long term hurt those same companies. So you need good solid companies that
are gonna be able to survive a recession and continue to make money in the stock
market. The higher interest rates make the fast growers that have done well in the
last few years a little less attractive because when their future earnings and in fast-
growth companies are priced in the market based on their future earnings and their
potential to grow into the future, that has to be discounted on a higher interest rate.
So their valuations tend to come down. So it's gonna involve more selectivity in the
stock market than when the whole market's just going up willy-nilly like it's been
doing. The other alternative.
Amanda Vaught (09:56):
You're talking about the fast growth, the growth companies. You're talking a lot
about the tech sector, right? Companies that are expecting to make a lot more money
in the future than they are today.
David Vaught (10:07):
That's correct. And that doesn't mean those companies are not good investments
long term because these these, the volatility and the cycle often accelerates the
disrupting effects of change. And many of those fast growing companies are
positioning themselves to be involved in new and growing sectors of the economy.
And when that change happens faster, they're helped. So the factors get, they
multiply a little bit when there's economic stress and they become more important.
So you can't totally ignore those those other kind of companies and investing in the
stock market. But you have to have a longer time horizon. You have to be willing to
hold on through periods of inflation. And, perhaps if the Fed becomes aggressive in
raising interest rates and tips the economy into recession, you may have to wait
through a recession with those investments. So you had to be careful. The safer,
shorter term investment is bonds.
David Vaught (11:06):
Of course, the interest rates are rising in the bond market. So we've had a bond
market where it wasn't paying any much to buy a bond who wants to invest in a bond
for 1% or less interest. But as interest rates up, you know, in the the 10 year is
approaching 3%. Now, although that may be a little overblown in the short term,
those rates are generally gonna go up in an inflationary period in a more normal
economic environment as well. And so they're gonna get more attractive, but the
ones that are gonna protect you from inflation are the treasury inflation protect
securities. And they're sensitive for a couple other reasons too. They often have
some duration in 'em. So as interest rates go up that can be, have an effective and a
negative effect on inflation, protected bond prices as well. And they also tend to
move in the market based on inflation expectations. So when the expectations of
inflation shift, they're priced differently, but generally those are, are good, two good
alternatives besides just letting inflation eat away the value of your cash in safer,
shorter bank accounts.
Amanda Vaught (12:15):
Right? And if, if an inflation is going up and the fed is responding by increasing rates
in an effort to cut the inflation, those increasing rates are gonna impact the bond
prices, right, by sending them lower. And so in general, you wanna move the duration
of your bond portfolio shorter because the longer out your bonds mature, the bigger
of a price hit that they're gonna take right
David Vaught (12:43):
Now, the exception to that Amanda I mean, it would, would be when you specifically
know that you need money in say three years or five years, or some specific amount
of time, because then you can buy, you can use a buy and whole strategy to buy
individual bonds or ETFs that mature at that same time that you're you're seeking,
you can buy ETFs with that, have a fixed maturity set into their the way they
structure their portfolios. You can use those, and then you're not worried about what
happens to the, the price of the bond. In the meantime, because you're gonna get
your maturity value on your data maturity. So there are other ways to approach that.
And then you also have to weigh that concern about interest rate risk or duration risk
that you're mentioning against the fact that if the view curve stays steep so longer
term rates are higher than shorter term rates. The place to get those higher rates is
in the longer maturity bonds. So you've got a risk reward equation there that you've
got to calculate as well.
Amanda Vaught (13:49):
Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. And then do you wanna just circle back to the equity
markets for a little bit? Earlier we mentioned pricing power; we mentioned long term
growth type of stocks as an area that could be hit by rising interest rates. And you
mentioned companies with pricing power as ones who would be successful, likely in a
high inflation environment. Can you think of any other example of where you do
wanna go in the stock market when you're getting high inflation? Do you want to go
to gold or other alternatives like that?
David Vaught (14:26):
Gold is a traditional protection you know, a classic flight to safety type protection.
It's considered safer than some investment assets that are volatile. The problem with
the gold today is that it's already run up in price a lot. It's anticipated some of these
inflationary pressures and has been very strong. So you know, people have a
tendency to buy gold after it's gone up instead of before it goes up. So there's always
a little bit of a timing question with gold. We generally say if people really want to
have gold, because they feel insecure in the markets, it should be a small allocation
in their portfolios. We'd rather that people look for things like, you know, real
estate, specifically commercial real estate, that's going to invest in properties that
are gonna stay in business that are releasing properties to solid companies that are
gonna last through the recession.
David Vaught (15:21):
Those cash flows of rent can also be a protection from inflation because the owners
are gonna raise the rent during inflationary times. And so you are buying into an
asset that can benefit from inflation. If the Fed tips us into recession, then that gets
riskier because some of those companies may cut back on their lease space and in
fact may cut back on their employees and then the rent is not quite as secure. So
that's the complicated nature of how you adjust to a changing market environment
and a changing macroeconomic environment. There are a lot of risk in there that are
hard to anticipate. So that means that diversification becomes your ally and you
wanna be in different sectors of the market that you think are solid that have pricing
power that can survive a recession and can still be okay. In a portfolio long term, all
that probably means you better expect a little less return of the stock market than
you've seen in the last 10 years as well. A lot of people think if you get 5% going
forward, you're gonna do pretty good in the stock market. And assuming inflation
gets down below 5%, then you're gonna do pretty well. If inflation runs way out of
control and you're getting low returns in the stock market, and then it gets a lot
Amanda Vaught (16:39):
Yeah. And I think not everyone, but the vast majority of people in this country
probably aren't saving enough money. And when this kind of thing [inflation
increasing] starts to happen, you can get double hurt if you don't increase the
amount that you're saving.
David Vaught (16:53):
Another thing thing that will happen is that governments at all levels, if we have
inflation or if we have a recession following the Fed's effort to fight inflation,
governments will get squeezed. So the government's safety nets will be under
pressure. They'll still work. There'll still be unemployment compensation. There'll
still be other kinds of welfare. There'll still be efforts to invest in infrastructure that
will create jobs for people. If jobs become a little scarce. But if, if those governments
get stressed as well, you can't count on somebody else to provide your safety net.
You gotta be more self-sufficient, which means you should be raising your savings
rates. We kind of preach that all the time, but it's usually true and it's usually true
for different reasons. And so those reasons continue to apply in periods of inflation
Amanda Vaught (17:42):
Yeah. Okay. Well, I think we hit all the high points. Is there anything else we wanted
to bring up?
David Vaught (17:47):
I want to mention James Bullard, it's interesting to watch, he's the Fed president
from St. Louis. So I kind of have a little Midwestern bias
Amanda Vaught (17:55):
Right now I think he's known as one of the more hawkish members of the Fed.
David Vaught (17:58):
He's a very hawkish member. He's been urging the Fed to raise rates even faster. He's
been around a while. This is not the first Fed he's been a part of because you know,
the Fed presidents can serve fairly long terms. If they're hired by the private sector,
not appointed by the president or anybody in the political world, they're appointed
by the member banks, through their board of directors of the regional Federal
Reserve. St. Louis is not a dominant large Federal Reserve banks like New York or
some of the ones out west or even Dallas. But he's had a good reputation for being a
forward-looking thinker and somebody that the Fed chairman and others listened to.
And so I think his signals that he's been calling, especially since you know, as the
year began, is that the Fed better get with it.
David Vaught (18:49):
They're behind the eight ball. They need to catch up let's raise rates. And now with
this more recent statement for, by the Fed Chair that they're looking for a 50 basis
point increase, James Bullard would say multiple 50 basis point increases. And so he
thinks that you have to, you have to take your best shot at inflation early, quickly,
and deal with it before it turns into, into more persistent inflation. Because it gets so
bad that you're gonna have to raise rates so much you're going to cause a recession.
So he's an interesting person to watch if you see people quoted, or if you just think
about why is the Fed changing its signals a little bit. It's because of some of those
interactions between the appointed Fed governors appointed by the President and
the Fed Presidents that are chosen from the private sector. So the Fed is a quasi-
governmental, quasi-private sector institution. And both those parts have influence
on its policy.
Amanda Vaught (19:47):
David Vaught (19:47):
You know, I like to talk about the Fed Amanda. So I had to throw that in about the
Fed there. I know, but it relates to inflation because they're the main inflation
fighter and they've generally done a pretty good job, but sometimes they come to the
party too late. That's what James Bullard's worried about.
Amanda Vaught (20:01):
Mm-Hmm <affirmative> yeah. I heard I was listening to another economist today
saying that she thought there was gonna be a 50 basis point hike in May, which like
you just said, the Fed confirmed today, that's we're recording this April 21st that
they were gonna do a 50 point hike basis point hike in May and then another 50 base
point hike in June right after. So it does seem like people are thinking that they are
really gonna try to stomp it out quickly.
David Vaught (20:29):
The Fed has a tendency just to do 25 basis point changes gradually and sequentially.
And so when it starts taking those bigger bites, there's a little concern going on
Amanda Vaught (20:40):
Yeah. Yeah. So I do just wanna reiterate, you know, we are speaking in general terms
today about approaches you can take in your portfolio, but if you are concerned
about your individual portfolio, and want more individual advice, we love to help
people with that kind of thing. So let us know if you have any other questions. Our
email and how to contact us is all in the show notes. So thank you David, for being
our special guest today,
David Vaught (21:09):
It was fun, Amanda. It's good talking to you. And I hope people gain a little
something out of the podcast that you and Emily are doing. I think they're going well.
Amanda Vaught (21:18):
Okay. Thank you
Emily Agosto (21:22):
For all links and resources mentioned today, head over to connectingthedollars.com.
Thank you for listening.
Amanda Vaught (21:30):
This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be
relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. This podcast does not engage in
rendering legal, financial, or other professional services.