The U.S. dollar has been persistently strong across the last several years through thick and thin, while inflation has remained quite modest. As measured by the Consumer Price Index or CPI, inflation hasn’t topped 3% since November 2011 and hasn’t been above a 4% annual rate since the first few weeks of 2008.
But with quantitative easing in force, persistently high unemployment and no sign of “tapering” to the central bank policy anytime soon, some are wondering if this long run of modest prices is about to end.
In this environment there’s a chance that the dollar could slip lower or at least stay at relatively depressed levels — sparking inflationary pressures that affect commodity prices in materials, energy and food.
Even without breakneck demand propping up prices thanks to economic growth, we could see modest inflation in 2014 and beyond in this environment. If that happens, consider investing in these stocks.
Senior Housing Properties Trust
As the name implies, Senior Housing Properties Trust (SNH) is a real estate investment trust that plays senior housing. SNH operates about 370 properties around the U.S., including senior living communities and related medical businesses.
Senior Housing Properties Trust pays a very nice 6.3% dividend … although right now the company is paying out more in dividends than it makes in profits, thanks to a spate of acquisitions in the last few years and a lot of debt taken on as part of these deals. But the flip side is that these ambitious acquisitions — like a 2011 deal worth over $300 million to acquire 20 senior living facilities — have allowed Senior Housing Properties Trust to become a dominant player in the space.
And recently, Senior Housing Properties Trust also entered a deal to sell off some rehab facilities to generate some cash and focus on its senior housing mission.
SNH is only up by about 5% so far in 2013, but in an inflationary environment the real estate holdings will allow this stock to move higher. After all, nothing holds its value amid high inflation better than hard assets like real estate — and the sites Senior Housing Properties owns will be able to command higher rents and deliver even bigger dividends to shareholders.
ConocoPhillips (COP) is smaller these days after spinning off its refining operations as Phillips 66 (PSX) in 2012. But that has allowed the core exploration and production business of COP to shine thanks to the shale boom — free from volatility in the refining segment of the energy market.
After shedding billions of dollars in foreign and non-core assets, ConocoPhillips invested big on U.S. shale fields such as the Bakken formation in the Dakotas, and production has been soaring as a result. For instance, COP saw adjusted production of 1.51 million barrels of oil equivalent per day last quarter vs. 1.489 million a year ago. That’s only a modest uptick on paper, but for a company this scale it’s mighty impressive.
Energy prices always move higher when inflation takes hold, so it’s important to have some oil and gas exposure in your portfolio as a hedge. When you throw in the 3.8% dividend, too, it makes the case for Conoco even more compelling.
Gerdau (GGB) is a Brazilian steel company that has been hurt by the economic downturn and weak demand for base metals. Manufacturing and construction has been soft, particularly in Brazil’s key trade market of China, and this has weighed on GGB.
However, despite a 15% decline in 2013 and a flop of about 60% from its 2010 highs the company could be bargain buy.
Gerdau stock trades for a forward P/E of about 9 and a price/sales of a bit more than 0.7. That means that a lot of the negativity has been priced in. GGB is still nicely profitable after efficiencies made during the downturn, and pays a 2% dividend that is very sustainable at less than half of its total earnings.
Steel prices will soar in an inflationary environment, boosting the bottom line for GGB even if production doesn’t budge. Given this upside and the nice income potential, Gerdau may be a good place to hide if you’re afraid of inflation.
Another South American commodity stock to consider is Vale (VALE), which focuses on iron, nickel and copper among other metals.
The company is projected to top $3 in earnings per share in fiscal 2014, giving it a forward price-to-earnings ratio just slightly above 5. And based on roughly $1.09 in dividends over the last year, the stock yields about 6.5% and is paying out just a third of its profits in distributions, meaning the dividends are quite sustainable.
Like Gerdau, soft demand in Latin America and China has hurt the profitability of this materials stock. VALE is off 23% in 2013, and down more than 50% from its 2011 highs.
However, inflationary pressures could prop up Vale — and you get a nice dividend while you wait.
Gold miners are clearly a risky investment after a 27% flop year-to-date and a 50% flop from 2011’s highs. And unlike a lot of the other investments on this list, gold miners are much more susceptible to sentiment since gold isn’t exactly the same kind of play based on a “useful” assets like real estate, steel or oil.
Still, Goldcorp (GG) looks good to those wanting a hedge against inflation. The company’s EPS estimates have been moving up, and upgrades across the sector hint that the worst may be over for gold miners after their crash and burn. Daniel Putnam recently outlined the bull case for gold mining stocks with pretty compelling detail, and his take is worth a read by any investor looking at mining stocks as an inflation hedge.
After all, no stock is better for fending off inflationary pressures than a gold stock.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.