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Does inflation help or hinder leveraged investments ?

Discussion in 'Investing Strategies' started by Simon Hampel, 23rd Aug, 2005.

  1. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Co-founder Staff Member

    9th Jun, 2005
    Sydney, Australia
    I've read a debate on another forum where they are discussing whether inflation helps or hinders investors.

    There seem to be two arguments:

    The first argument says borrowing money now and paying it back using tomorrow's dollars makes investment great for people using leverage (borrowed money). This works because inflation means that it's easier to get $1000 in the future to pay back our loan than it is to get that same $1000 today (our rate of pay would have increased in the future, making the amount of effort required to earn $1000 much less then than it is today). Or, flip that around and it says, the future value of $1000 is less than it is today (hence it costs us less to pay it back at some point in the future). This argument implies that the higher the rate of inflation, the better it is for people with loans.

    The other argument says that your investment returns have to "keep up with inflation" to maintain their value. For example, if you had $1000 in cash today, it would have less purchasing power in 10 years time because of inflation. You money is decreasing in value over time. If you were to invest that money in the bank - and if your money wasn't growing faster than the rate of inflation - then your money will also decrease in value over time (although at a slower rate than if you hadn't invested it at all). This argument implies that the lower the rate of inflation, the better it is for people investing.

    So, which argument is correct ?

    Well, I did some thinking about it, and some modelling using a spreadsheet, and my analysis has concluded this:

    They are BOTH correct !!

    (don't you hate that ? :eek: )

    Both arguments actually have an impact on the future returns of your investments. Borrowed money gets cheaper to pay back over time, but the real value of your investments decrease over time - both due to inflation.

    In fact, my spreadsheet (which I won't upload right now, because it would take me too long to explain it all) shows that there is a point of inflection where inflation changes from a help to a hinderance. Where this point actually sits depends on a multitude of variables, but let me explain my basic scenario.

    $20K cash put in as a deposit
    $80K borrowed
    $100K purchase price
    30 year interest only loan payments, with full principal paid out at the end of 30 years.

    I calculated the Net Present Value (NPV) of the payments over 30 years, and compared this with the NPV of the total returns (growth + income, ignoring tax) over the same 30 years. I then changed the interest rate and inflation rate, and each time I had the spreadsheet solver calculate what the minimum total return each year was to ensure that the NPV of returns was at least equal to the NPV of the payments.

    I then plotted those minimum return values in a chart against the interest rates, and it showed that for lower interest rates, higher inflation improved the returns, while at higher interest rates, higher inflation hindered returns.

    In my scenario, the point where the inflection occurred was when interest rates were around 8%. I haven't done enough analysis to work out how this figure changes as the assumptions in the scenario change - and it's certainly not a fixed point.

    More importantly, you need to understand that the compounding growth makes the returns increase exponentially, whereas the interest only loan without any capitalisation of interest does NOT grow.

    This means that the effects of inflation operate differently on the loan than they do on the returns,

    If you graph the NPV of the loan payments as inflation increases, you will find that the curve has an asymptote - such that further increases in inflation result in smaller and smaller increases in NPV of the payments. In other words, there is a limit to the effects that an increase in inflation will have on the NPV of the loan payments. For example, the change in inflation from, say, 1% to 2% has a much much larger impact on the NPV of the returns than a change of, say, 8% to 9%.

    At the same time though, the effects of inflation on the total returns of the property also have a limiting factor - higher inflation limits the returns and restricts them to an asymptote of their own. Thus, as inflation increases, the NPV of the returns of the investment tend (down) towards a fixed number.

    The trick is that, provided there is sufficient gap between the returns and the payments (ie you are actually making money out of the investment), then the limiting factor on payments versus the limiting factor on returns will cancel each other out to a certain degree - but you will still make a return.

    Given that an increase in interest rates make the payments a larger part of the equation, it makes sense that there would be a point at which high enough rates tends to change the impact of inflation on returns - hence the inflection point.

    In summary - my charts showed that the benefit of higher inflation on payments was less than the impact of higher inflation on returns.

    With low interest rates (below the inflection point, wherever that is), the higher the inflation, the better off you are. With higher interest rates (above that inflection point), the lower the inflation, the better off you are.

    Without further analysis to discover what variables determine the location of that inflection point, it is difficult to make any meaningful conclusions about what to do in different inflationary environments. However, my figures do seem to indicate that when there is growth to be had, lower inflation is generally a better thing for you.

    Naturally, the whole things gets even more complicated when you start to analyse the interrelationships between interest rates, inflation and investment growth as well - I've been working with these variables as if they were fully independent - but we know they aren't.

    Executive summary: it's really difficult to make any kind of accurate analysis that doesn't involve so many assumptions so as to make it all meaningless ... even so, I will summarise by saying that inflation has both a positive effect on loan values, and a negative effect on investment returns. The question as to which effect is greater requires more analysis, but my gut feel from my simplistic modelling so far indicates that the impact on investment returns will be the more significant - hence overall, a lower inflation rate would seem to be a better thing for growth investments.

    Comments ?
  2. Tropo

    Tropo Well-Known Member

    17th Aug, 2005
  3. Steve Navra

    Steve Navra Well-Known Member

    7th Aug, 2005
    Whew . . . thank goodness some amongst us love analysis :p


    What is the cause of inflation?
    Why does inflation cause interest rate increases?

    What effect will these two factors have on the growth of assets?

    And the answers to these 3 questions = the solution ;)
  4. Andrew

    Andrew Active Member

    16th Aug, 2005
    Moonee Ponds
    I'll bite.

    What is the cause of inflation?

    Increased demand with a fixed supply causes the price of goods to rise. Hence your
    dollar is devalued because the quantity of goods that it purchases is reduced.
    Increased demand will come about with higher wages or lower taxes, among other

    Why does inflation cause interest rates to rise?

    It doesn't directly, the reserve bank might raise interest rates in response to an
    increase in inflation in an effort to curtail inflation. Reducing the money supply is
    one way to cause a decline in demand and bottle up inflation.

    What effect will these two factors have on the growth of assets:

    Inflation: higher building costs - current stock has higher perceived value, little effect
    IMHO, as inflation rises so does wages and existing housing at least keeps up. Inflation
    really hurts the cash asset class, not real property.

    Interest rates: asset price must be adjusted so that the income derived from that
    asset can satisfy the investors outgoings, with an interest rate rise the value of
    the asset decreases (unless there is a corresponding income increase).

    The real factors (for real estate) which affect growth IMHO are increased ammenity
    and population growth.

  5. Tropo

    Tropo Well-Known Member

    17th Aug, 2005
    Not long ago I heard an interesting statement about inflation :

    Inflation, contrary to popular belief isn't caused by price increase - rather inflation causes price increase.
    Governments inflate their currencies to gain revenue, so inflation is another indirect form of taxation.
    Even in ancient times governments found tax revenues alone inadequate to support themselves, so they resorted to currency inflation as a way to " make money ".

    Most of the time rising inflation will push interest rate up (depends how much inflation will go up), which consequently might decrease spending and decrease asset value.

    We can speculate what might happen with investment property during higher inflation, but if property does not go up in price, investors practically will be subsidizing their tenants.

    What do you think about it ....
  6. Steve Navra

    Steve Navra Well-Known Member

    7th Aug, 2005
    Agreed . . .

    In a perfect world supply / demand rules.

    Again correct . . . indirectly the money supply gets tightened to control inflation. (To reduce the demand)

    Yes a most succinct comment:

    The point really and the answer to this topic is that in times of rising inflation and rising interest rates, these holding the assets will come out best!

    Although the rise in the asset value is offset by the value of a dollar (In real terms); the measured difference is against what a dollar can buy . . . in other words should be compared to cash.

    Food for thought . . . as many investors are afraid to make an investment purchase because they fear inflation and rising interest rates.

    The point they might be missing is that they will be worse off left holding the devalued cash.

    Example: Late 1980's

    Sure inflation and interest rates did go through the roof . . . and I personally did get ensnared in that cycle:
    BUT the important thing to remember is that the value of assets more than doubled over the years preceding the peak in rates.

    The extra value accrued will much MORE than offset the increased costs.