A Contrarian Bet on Inflation by Fund Giants BlackRock, Pimco and Vanguard

Although inflation has long fallen short of the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for years, some of the biggest funds are betting on the tide turning, according to an article in Bloomberg.

“A tight labor market, and the Fed’s willingness to consider putting off raising interest rates this year and letting inflation run hot, are bound to raise expectations and push up consumer prices,” the article says, adding, “That means getting into inflation-protected Treasuries, commonly known a TIPS.”

The article cites Bloomberg data showing that TIPS have outperformed this year, returning 3.1% in the first quarter and wiping out last year’s losses:

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said that inflation expectations are extremely important to price increases. But the article explains that the breakeven rate–the difference between yields on TIPS and nominal Treasuries—currently shows consumer prices rising by an average of 1.83 percent per year over the next decade. This may be too low, says Vanguard senior money manager Gemma Wright-Casparius, who expects 10- and 30-year TIPS to outperform their nominal counterparts down the road. “Long-dated breakevens are mispriced,” she argues, adding that the Fed would have to let inflation run for more than a few years given how long they have missed targets.

“This is the one asset class that the Fed is directly trying to impact” said Pimco’s Mihir Worah, “so it makes sense to own them.”

BlackRock’s global chief investment strategist Richard Turnill recently wrote that TIPS are “an attractive alternative to nominal bonds” and cited a growing economy and the Fed’s apparent willingness to let inflation temporarily accelerate past 2 percent.

Some don’t buy into the concept, including Morgan Stanley’s Guneet Dhingra who argues that most inflation optimism has already been baked into TIPS.