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1 Jul 2022 - Sectors positioned to survive inflationary times

By: Datt Capital

Sectors positioned to survive inflationary times

Datt Capital

June 2022

Invest in inflation. It's the only thing going up.

-- Will Rogers

Every day we read about higher costs of food, energy and property via higher interest rates, while our pay packets don't seem to be rising as fast as the cost of living. 

We're being told to learn to cut back on our quality of life and to expect lower returns going forward from our investment portfolios because of ostensibly more difficult business conditions and, prima facie, higher than typical stock valuations.

The spigots of 'helicopter money' opened by central banks all over the world are slowly being closed along with rising interest rates that make the traditional 'safe haven' of fixed income, riskier than recent historical experience would suggest. In addition, the spectre of war is a key risk as the probability of conflicts increases during poor economic times.

What is an investor to do? In an environment of low economic growth, high inflation (a situation known as stagflation) as well as tightening monetary and fiscal policy along with geopolitical risks.

A sensible thing one can do is to put more onus on tangible, hard assets versus the recent popularity (and erstwhile success) of investing in abstractions. In these adverse market conditions, we believe that it's prudent to get back to the basics.

Accordingly, factors such as positive cash flow, positive real returns (post-inflation), relatively low valuation multiples, returns to shareholders via capital initiatives and strong market leadership positions we view favourably. 

Which asset classes will be resilient?

We can use history as a guide in comparing similar environments in the past with the present day. The stagflationary environment in the 1970s is a reasonable comparable in some ways to the present day, with numerous 'oil shocks' experienced analogous to the global 'energy molecule' crisis being experienced today.

The sector that experienced the best returns over this decade was the energy sector, with the worst returns coming from the technology sector. Value and small-cap assets performed best throughout the decade, with growth assets and government bonds providing the worst relative returns.

Accordingly, we believe the most favour sectors to be going forward to be:

  • Energy - unpopular and cheap due to ESG mandates with material operational leverage to higher energy prices going forward
  • Agriculture - defensive, real asset class, albeit with typically lower returns
  • Tangible goods and commodity producers - will benefit from the trend towards greater localisation and the unwinding of globalisation

It's important to observe that recent inflation has been driven by shortages and supply chain disruptions. Rising rates are unlikely to control inflation in the short term. Inflation has been labelled the 'silent tax' as it essentially measures the fall in a currency's purchasing power. It reduces the standard of living for the majority, which has the knock-on effect of reducing economic activity and increasing the probability of a recession.

Accordingly, it's imperative to invest with those stewards of capital that can outperform the rate of inflation earning a real rate of return, thereby preserving one's purchasing power and quality of life. Passive market exposure may not provide this however, we firmly believe that the appropriate actively managed funds in combination with other uncorrelated assets provide a higher probability of preserving an investor's wealth in real terms.

Since August 2018, the ASX200 Total Return index has compounded at an annualised rate of 8.79% per annum. Over the same timeframe, as an example, the Datt Capital Absolute Return Fund has doubled the index return: achieving 17.73% per annum (past performance is no guarantee of future performance) at lower relative risk, despite some of the most turbulent markets in living memory.

This demonstrates the importance and value of adding high performing active managers; with the ability to invest within the sectors experiencing tailwinds to a diversified portfolio as a potential hedge against inflation.

Author: Emanuel Datt

Funds operated by this manager:

Datt Capital Absolute Return Fund

Disclaimer: This article does not take into account your investment objectives, particular needs or financial situation; and should not be construed as advice in any way. The author holds no exposure to the stock discussed

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