Fidelity Buys Inflation Protection for Canada Amid Trade Threat

  • Joanna Bewick adding inflation-linked bonds, gold stocks
  • ‘Inflation could be a pain trade as no one is expecting it’

The backlash against global trade could crimp growth, top economic policymakers have warned. Fidelity Investments’ Joanna Bewick worries it will also stoke inflation and she’s buying protection for her funds in Canada.

The rise in anti-globalization movements, rallying crude prices and an upturn in the U.S. economy are all fuel for the return of long-absent inflation over the next year or so, according to Bewick, a fund manager at Boston-based Fidelity where she helps manage the $7.65-billion Fidelity Strategic Income Fund and Canadian funds.

“Any time you interfere with the free flow of workers, money, goods, this increases costs and it’s inherently inflationary,” Bewick said in an interview last week in Toronto. “Most investors have gotten a bit complacent about inflation protection. Inflation protection is cheap and you want to buy it before you need it. Some inflation is coming. Not runaway inflation, but it’s coming.”

The world’s fourth-largest asset manager has started adding inflation-protection instruments including real-return bonds and gold stocks to its Canadian portfolios, as investors begin to look ahead to an environment of higher prices. DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach is also starting to warm up to inflation-linked bonds amid signs price growth could start to accelerate.

For a QuickTake explainer on the free trade debate, click here

Inflation has been slow in the world’s largest economies ever since the global financial crisis as the developed world has been struggling to accelerate growth. Even as Canada’s core inflation rate fell to a 2-year low in August, undershooting all forecasts in a Bloomberg survey, the rising opposition to global trade accords adds to evidence the period of slow price growth might be coming to an end, Bewick said.

“Inflation could be a pain trade as no one is expecting it,” Bewick said in an e-mail after the interview. “Even low levels of inflation erode buying power.”

Real return bonds, which pay a rate of return on Canadian government securities that are adjusted for inflation, account for 2 percent of the C$1.45 billion ($1.1 billion) in the Canadian portfolios she manages, Bewick said. She also holds a small but “impactful” position in gold mining companies as part of her portfolios’ equity mandate.

Canadian inflation-linked bonds returned 7.6 percent this year, according to an index compiled by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. With a total return of 9.3 percent in 2016, global inflation linked-bonds are on track for the best year since 2011, according to the Bloomberg Barclays Global Inflation-Linked Total Return Index. The yield on Canada’s real return bond due in December 2044 fell to 0.2 percent on Monday, 11 basis points above a record-low of 0.09 percent in February 2015.

Meanwhile raw-materials producers, led by gold mining companies including Barrick Gold Corp. and Goldcorp Inc., have surged 52 percent this year for the top performance among 11 industries in the benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index. The group is on track to halt its longest yearly losing streak since 1988.

Of particular concern is the rise of anti-globalization movements around the world that threaten the free flow of cash, goods and services between countries, Bewick said.

Protests against global trade agreements are gaining momentum in Europe and elsewhere. As many as 320,000 protesters marched in seven German cities on Sept. 17 to oppose free trade deals between the European Union and Canada, and the EU and the U.S., as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Opponents argue the accords will cost jobs, promote industrial agriculture and lower standards.

Blocking Growth

Global economic leaders including International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde have warned blocking trade blocks growth.

Irrespective of whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton win the U.S. presidential election, Canada’s southern neighbor may become more protectionist and more willing to increase fiscal spending. That will add to inflation pressure that’s already started spreading from real estate into other sectors of the U.S. economy since the middle of 2015, Bewick said.

“We’ve enjoyed a low inflationary environment; for some parts of the world it’s too low,” Bewick said. 

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