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Four ways to stay ahead of inflation

The value of investments can fall as well as rise and you could get back less than you invest. If you’re not sure about investing, seek independent advice.

Often labelled the ‘silent assassin of savings’, inflation represents a hike in the cost of everyday living and the higher it rises, the less your cash will be ultimately worth.

Click to toggle accordion What you’ll learn:

What is inflation?

What impact can it have on savings?

How you might invest, if you want a better return, provided that you are prepared to accept the risk of loss.

Inflation rose to 3.0% in September, the highest annual rate since March 2012, increasing the likelihood of an interest rate rise in November.1

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, must now write a letter to the Chancellor explaining why the inflation rate is above the 2% inflation target.2

The higher inflation goes, the less your money is ultimately worth. The rise in the cost of living is due to the slump in sterling following last year’s EU referendum vote, which means imported goods become more expensive, with this cost passed onto consumers on the high street. This puts pressure on households with wage growth failing to keep pace, squeezing income in real terms.

During such periods, those who save into deposit accounts may look to redirect their savings into investments in a bid to get potentially better return, but it’s important to appreciate the risks in this: unlike cash bank accounts, investments can fall as well as rise and you could get back less than you invest, or lower returns than you might otherwise have achieved.

Here are some of the investments you could consider. But remember that a sensible investment strategy should hold a suitably diversified spread of assets.

Bonds

If you are prepared to take on some investment risk, you could look at investing in a bond fund to look for higher returns. Bond funds invest in a basket of IOUs issued by governments and/or companies looking to raise cash. When someone invests in a bond, they are essentially lending the bond issuer their money for a fixed period of time. During the bond’s life, they will receive a fixed rate of interest, known as the coupon, and when it matures, those who invested when the bond was first issued should get their original capital back.

However, it’s important to understand that your investment is not guaranteed. If the issuer gets into financial trouble, it could fail to meet its interest payments or even repay your capital. If that happens, you could get back less than you invest or nothing at all.

While you can invest in an individual bond at launch, they are also bought and sold on the open market, so you can invest at any stage in a bond’s life. But remember if you buy a bond after it has been first issued, you will pay its market price, which could be higher or lower than its issue price.

On the secondary market, bond prices change regularly and as a result, the yield on offer will also alter, so the rate of interest you get will be dependent on its price at any given time. In addition, when it matures, the capital repayment will be the amount, which was paid when it was initially issued and again, this could be higher or lower than what you paid. If you sell, you will get the market price and that may be less than you paid.

Broadly speaking, bonds are typically viewed as a lower-risk than shares and generally offer a relatively steady and predictable income, though some bonds do carry higher risk than some shares.

Opting for a bond fund can help you diversify your risk but these portfolios come in many guises and as such some will carry greater investment risk than others. Generally they will all hold bonds that are at various stages of their life and therefore will vary in value.

If you invest in a bond fund in order to stay ahead of the pace of inflation, you’ll need to find a portfolio, which is offering an income higher than the current cost of living. But always remember - the higher the returns being offered, the greater the associated risk of loss.

Invest in shares

An inflationary backdrop may be less harmful for equity investors because during such periods companies will often increase their product prices when their underlying costs start to rise. As a result, company earnings may have the potential to keep up with inflation, all things constant but there can be no guarantee of this; some companies may fail in inflationary times. If you are considering investing in the stock market, remember that the value of the shares that you buy can fall as well as rise and you could get back less than you invest.

But opting for a fund which invests in a wide spread of stocks is going to be less risky than putting your money into just a handful of shares. While you could invest in a low-cost tracker fund, which will simply mirror the performance of a particular index, such as the UK’s FTSE 100, equity income portfolios, which generally aim to deliver a steady income stream as well as capital growth, tend to be very popular with investors. These vehicles invest in the shares of dividend paying firms, or companies that tend to share their profits with their shareholders, and investors can opt to either take the income or instead re-invest it. It is vital to understand that dividends are not guaranteed; they depend on companies’ profits and those companies can decide to cut or cancel their payouts altogether, all of which can also cause share prices to fall.

Invest in commercial property

Real estate and property in general, is another asset class known for typically staying ahead of the cost of living over the long term. But while buying a property outright is quite an elaborate step to take to beat inflation, you can still access the asset class by going for a fund, which invests directly in bricks and mortar. By doing so it helps you to not only diversify your portfolio away from just bonds and shares but also spread your money across a broad range of properties, such as office buildings as well as industrial and retail parks. This can help with diversification by ensuring that if one or more buildings are unoccupied for a period of time, the other properties can still generate income. The rents paid by tenants, which are often linked to inflation, can provide a stable and sometimes rising income while over time, property values could potentially appreciate. However commercial property prices can be volatile and when the economic backdrop becomes uncertain many buildings may fail to attract a sufficient number of tenants or tenants could become solvent and default on rents, which means values and investment returns are very likely to fall.

In addition, it is vital to remember that property is an illiquid asset, in other words it cannot be sold quickly. This means that if values start to fall and investors en masse try to get there money out, fund management groups can impose so-called ‘lock-in’ periods, which means you will have to wait until the firm sells some of its assets before you can get your money back.

What about commodities?

Commodities can also be often viewed as a hedge against the rising cost of living. When an economy is expanding, consumers and corporations are generally financially better off and as a result they typically spend more. In such an environment, supplies can be squeezed and companies start charging more for their services and goods, including raw materials and commodities. For example, when the price of oil rises, the cost of petrol and diesel on the forecourts follow suit. But commodity prices can be highly volatile, as the market for oil has shown in recent times, and investing in the asset class is not for the risk averse. If you are considering putting some money into commodities, there are a plethora of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which track the price of both individual as well as baskets of commodities available. In addition, there is no shortage of actively managed funds, which invest in shares of commodity and commodity related firms.

Remember, the value of investments can fall as well as rise and you could get back less than you invest. Seek independent advice if you’re unsure of this investment’s suitability for you.

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