But of all potential economic outcomes, the one least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.
Investing is all about probabilities. If the perceived odds of an event are high, certain securities will be priced based on those expected probabilities. The corollary is that when an event is perceived as almost impossible, securities do not price in any chance of it occurring. If that event does occur, all sorts of securities need to re-price—often quite rapidly. I like to spend my time pondering what potential events the market completely ignores. Of all potential economic outcomes, the one that is least anticipated and least priced in, is an uptick in inflation.
It is said that generals always fight the last war. In terms of macro-portfolio wars, Japan’s experience with deflation colors all views. This seems odd to me because we have over two millennia of history showing inflation and currency debasements to be universal constants, with one outlier in Japan. The question is if Japan is the new normal or a true outlier?
Academics have studied the causes and effects of inflation ever since emperors and kings fixated on halting its effects. Despite a massive body of work, there is little agreement amongst experts on the causes of inflation. Since I tend to ignore “experts,” let me start by giving you the Kuppy definition of inflation. “Inflation is when too much of a certain currency chases a scarce resource and pushes its price higher when defined in terms of that currency.”
Using that definition, we’ve actually had rather dramatic inflation over the past decade—it just hasn’t shown up yet in the core consumer goods that central bankers are often concerned about.
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