What Stagflation Is, and How To Prepare For it

Runaway inflation has raised fears that the economy is headed towards a return of stagflation but a host of Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC believe there remains opportunities for investors to safely navigate this tricky backdrop. Stagflation is a term coined in the 1970s to refer to a combination of high inflation and high unemployment. Recent surveys show economists and fund managers see increased risks of stagflation on the horizon. There are steps you can take now to get in a better financial position in case stagflation or a recession does happen.

The next big risk to the U.S. economy may be summed up in one word. And no, it’s not necessarily recession, though economists are evenly split on the risks one is coming. Instead, 80% of economists in the same survey named stagflation as the greater long-term risk to the economy, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. The next biggest risk they identified was deflation, with 13% of respondents.

Moreover, a recent Bank of America global fund manager survey found fears of stagflation are the highest they have been since June 2008. Stagflation is “by far and away the most popular description of what the economic backdrop will be in the next 12 months,” according to the report.

What is stagflation?

Stagflation is a term coined in the 1970s when there was simultaneous high inflation and economic stagnation or high unemployment, according to Jonathan Wright, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University. While there were some nasty recessions back then, many economists aren’t expecting a return to anything like that now, he said. “The sense in which you had stagflation in the 1970s is not one that I think is at all in the cards,” Wright said.

However, high inflation is prompting the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates — known as tightening monetary policy. With that, it is “quite likely” the unemployment rate will rise “a fair bit” from the 3.6% it is at now, Wright said. The result may at least be a mild recession, he said. Stagflation may happen if a recession sets in before inflation has gone down to where the Fed wants it to be, Wright said.

For example, if unemployment were to go up to about 5% and consumer price index inflation were also at above 5% in 2023, that would be a kind of stagflation, though not to the degree we experienced in the 1970s, he said. “It certainly would mean that the job market would be a lot less hot than it’s been,” Wright said. In the near term, the labor market may cool simply by having fewer vacancies, he said.

How likely is stagflation?

Despite surveys sounding the alarm on stagflation, not everyone agrees it’s inevitable. “It doesn’t seem like a high probability,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute. To have stagflation, you need both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, which Bivens does not see as likely.

“If we had a situation where unemployment rose pretty sharply, I actually think that would likely cause inflation to start coming down pretty sharply,” Bivens said. A more likely scenario is that if we end the year with a series of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, we could be in a recession by 2023, he said. “If that happens, I just expect inflation to relent pretty quickly,” Bivens said.

How can you prepare for a recession or stagflation?

A combination of inflation and shrinkflation, where product companies reduce the contents of everything that we buy, is making it so people’s money just doesn’t go as far now, said Ted Jenkin, a certified financial planner and CEO of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta.

Now, stagflation is also a possibility that clients are asking about, Jenkin said. “I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to hit a recession,” he said. “Whether this is a mild recession or we go into stagflation will be the big question.” Consequently, now is a great time to revisit your personal financial plan. “This is the absolute time for people to batten down the hatches and beef up the foundation of their financial house,” Jenkin said.

Try to aim for at least six months’ worth of emergency expenses in case a downturn does happen, he said. Also make sure you have prepared a recent budget to see if there are places where you can cut back. Additionally, take a look at any adjustable-rate debt you may have — credit cards, mortgages, student loans — and see if you can pare those balances down or refinance them. Now that interest rates are poised to go up, those balances will become more expensive.

Moreover, it’s a great time to invest in yourself to be more marketable professionally if layoffs become the norm. “Make sure you’ve really brushed up on your skills and competencies or education so that if the job market gets tighter, you’re marketable,” Jenkin said.

By: Lorie Konish

Source: What stagflation is, and how to prepare for it

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April Retail Sales Rise 0.9%, Even as Consumers Confront Sky-High Inflation

Americans ramped up their spending at retail stores in April, a sign that consumers are still weathering the inflationary storm even as prices continue to hover near a 40-year high.

Retail sales, a measure of how much consumers spent on a number of everyday goods, including cars, food and gasoline, rose 0.9% in April from the prior month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was in line with expectations from Refinitiv economists, but it marked a noted slowdown from the upwardly revised 1.4% gain in March.

The so-called core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services and are most closely correlated with the consumer spending aspect of the nation’s gross domestic product, rose 1% in April.

People walk through a shopping area in Manhattan on June 7, 2021, in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The April advance – which is not adjusted for inflation, meaning that consumers may be spending the same but getting less bang for their buck – was led by a burst in spending at bars and restaurants as well as on vehicles, clothing, furniture and electronics.

Receipts at gas stations actually dropped last month as prices at the pump briefly fell from highs recorded in March. However, gas prices have since notched a new record, climbing to a national average of $4.52 per gallon, up from $3.04 one year ago.

“American consumers continued to spend more at retail stores in April, despite inflation as lower gasoline prices helped to boost spending on discretionary items,” said Tuan Nguyen, a U.S. economist at RSM. “But it won’t last long as gasoline prices reached a record high in May.”

Signage displays fuel prices at a Shell gas station in San Francisco, California, on March 7, 2022.  (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

There are other signs that inflation is beginning to weigh on consumers: Walmart reported earlier Tuesday that its profit took a beating in the first quarter of the year as the company grappled with soaring prices for everyday goods like food and fuel and higher costs from snarled supply chains.

The data comes as consumers face the worst inflation spike in decades The government reported last week that the consumer price index climbed 8.3% in April from the previous year, close to a four-decade high. The reading was much higher than economists expected and underscores that inflationary pressures in the economy remain strong.

Rising inflation is eating away at strong wage gains that American workers have seen in recent months: Real average hourly earnings decreased 0.1% in April from the previous month, as the inflation increase eroded the 0.3% total wage gain, according to the Labor Department. On an annual basis, real earnings actually dropped 2.6% in April.

Source: April retail sales rise 0.9%, even as consumers confront sky-high inflation | Fox Business

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