The easiest way to protect a portfolio from inflation is to buy assets that will benefit from inflation. Below are a few of them.
Gold is seen as a classic inflation hedge. However in India over the last 30 years it has not been a good hedge against inflation. Another issue with gold is one needs to be a good trader or be reconciled to a real return of 1 or 2% over a long run. It is not a ‘business’ and does not have earnings to support the increase in price. It is just a speculative play – and you can find as many reasons to sell gold as you can to buy gold!
It is at best some kind of a speculative play. However for the first time in the World History has it become so easy to buy and store gold – in demat form, in ETF form, coins, bars, etc. The increasing demand (thanks to many people worried about the quality of paper currency) itself is like to create a high price of gold. If all the ETFs try to sell the gold, will there be enough buyers is a good question to ask. Gold surprisingly still has a very exalted place in the commodities space. It is important to remember that there are other commodities too! Silver, Copper, Aluminium are all important metals with somewhat similar characteristics. So if it is a commodity that you are seeing as an inflation hedge there are other metals too!
Commodities (like Gold) are also speculative. They will not benefit unless there is inflation (!). Unfortunately in India it is almost impossible for an investor to play the commodity market (other than gold). Crude prices are going up – albeit marginally, but it is difficult for the retail investor to play this market as an investor. Trading in commodities is more an interest arbitrage than anything else. Since trading and investing are two very different things, commodities are not really a great investment opportunity for the serious investor.
Inflation Protected bonds
Even though the Finance Minister spoke about it and RBI has made some noises about ‘inflation protected bonds’ it is still not available. Unlike commodities ‘IFBs’ earn income and are one of the safest ways to protect against inflation. Here the ‘rate of interest’ is adjusted to the inflation rate and it protects the portfolio against inflation. However the closest one can come to this in India is the ‘Floating Rate Bond fund’ which protects your portfolio against a fall in interest rates and gives you an income at the current rate of interest.
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