“If the current annual inflation rate is only 1.5%, why does my grocery bill seem like it’s 10% higher than last year?” Many of us ask ourselves that question, and it illustrates the importance of understanding how inflation is reported and how it can affect investments. ¹Inflation is defined as an upward movement in the average level of prices. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the average level of prices when it releases the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a measure of the change in the prices for a “market basket” of consumer goods and services over a period of time. The CPI is developed from detailed expenditure information provided by families and individuals on what they actually bought in eight major categories: food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication, and other groups and services.
Tip: Back in the 80s. What would have cost you $1.00 in 1985 will now cost you $2.35 due to inflation. It’s important to factor in inflation as you consider your financial future. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
Whose Basket of Goods?Many find that the government’s “basket” doesn’t reflect their experience, so the CPI, while an indicator of the rate of inflation, can come under scrutiny. For example, the CPI rose 1.5% for the 12-months ended December 2013 — a modest increase. However, a closer look at the report shows movement in prices on a more detailed level. The CPI breaks out fuel oil prices, which rose 3.6% for the 12 months.² As inflation rises and falls, it can have three effects on investment.
Real Rate of Return
First, inflation reduces the real rate of return on investments. If an investment earned 6% for a 12-month period, and inflation averaged 1.5% over that time, the investment’s real rate of return would have been 4.5%. If taxes are considered, the real rate of return may be reduced further.²Second, inflation puts purchasing power at risk. When prices rise, a fixed amount of money has the power to purchase fewer and fewer goods. Cash alternatives — which earn a low rate of return — may not be able to keep pace with the rise in prices.³
Fast Fact: Historic Low. Inflation was at historically low levels in 2013, but it can range higher. The highest in recent history was in 1979, when it peaked at 13.3%. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
Trending LowerInflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, moved higher in 2010 and 2011 after a steady decline in 2009.
Chart Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014. For the period 1/1/1994 to 12/31/2013.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
- This is a hypothetical example used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific investment or combination of investments. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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