Sinking Inflation Lifts the Dow, But Will it Force the Fed's Hand?

A lack of inflation has been good for consumers, but policymakers would prefer to see a higher rate. Find out why and what it means for investors.

Mar 18, 2014 at 12:30PM
Longview

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) were up 83 points as of 12:30 p.m. EDT, as favorable signs in the U.S. economy overwhelmed any nervousness about the ongoing situation in Ukraine. One piece of economic data investors seemed happy about was the February reading for the Consumer Price Index, which came in up 0.1% for the month and 1.1% over the past year. Those who remember the inflation-ridden period of the late 1970s and early 1980s will recognize the value of a low-inflation environment, but some policymakers fear the rate of inflation might be too low and potentially need further action from the Federal Reserve to avoid the negative impact of deflation.

Inflation
Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, via Wikimedia Commons.

What the CPI said this month
Looking deeper into the CPI report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed to a substantial rise in the food component as driving positive pressure on inflation. Prices of meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables all posted gains in the 0.7% to 1.2% range for the month, with the meat index having seen a longer-term jump of 4% over the past year.

Energy costs offset those gains in food prices, with seasonal adjustments playing a major factor. Gasoline prices rose 1.1% in February, but when you apply the BLS seasonal adjustment factor, the gasoline index actually fell 1.7%. That decline brought the drop in gasoline to more than 8% over the past year, and despite higher prices for natural gas, fuel oil, and various other heating products, the overall energy index has dropped 2.5% since early 2013.

When you exclude food and energy, the core CPI rose 0.1%. With an annual increase of 1.6%, the core CPI is a lot closer to the Federal Reserve's nominal 2% target than the full CPI is. Other measures of inflation were similarly muted, though, with chained CPI also up just 1% over the past 12 months.

What deflation can do
Paying higher prices is easy to see as a bad thing, but it's a lot harder to visualize why deflation is bad. Yet one great example is technology, where IBM (NYSE:IBM) and its tech peers have repeatedly seen prices of hardware products gradually fall over time as new innovations increase quality and make older technology obsolete. Indeed, one of the benefits of IBM moving out of its former emphasis on hardware is that it's a lot easier to keep services revenue stable and growing than it is to make continuing advances on what often was cutting-edge technology just a year or two ago. When prices keep falling, consumers have an incentive to wait for better products in the future, and that can be a big disincentive that can cause the exact revenue pressures that IBM and its peers have faced lately.

Deflation can also hurt companies if costs don't fall along with the broader trend. For instance, oil futures are predicting that prices will fall from their current level slightly below $100 per barrel to just above $90 by early next year. For Dow components ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX), falling prices are bad for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, lower oil prices directly reduce revenue and net profit from sales of their production. Yet even more importantly from a longer-term perspective, new projects to boost production tend to have high cost structures, and falling oil prices make those projects uneconomical. That will push sales and income down further until lower supply brings the market back into equilibrium.

Those and similar factors explain why the Fed aims to provide at least a minimal level of inflation in the economy. By sticking with a Goldilocks solution for inflation, investors are in the best position to benefit if policymakers succeed in reaching their targets for price rises.

Make your stock prices inflate
To keep up with inflation, you need strong returns. Many have said that you just can't find those returns on an after-inflation basis. But David Gardner has proved them wrong time, and time, and time again with stock returns like 926%, 2,239%, and 4,371%. In fact, just recently one of his favorite stocks became a 100-bagger. And he's ready to do it again. You can uncover his scientific approach to crushing the market and his carefully chosen six picks for ultimate growth instantly, because he's making this premium report free for you today. Click here now for access.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers