We’ve had many years of low inflation in the United States. In the past year, however, inflation has increased. The U.S. economy is complex and many reasons are behind this acceleration. For example, the industrialization of the economies of China and India have increased the demand for commodities, which are used to build infrastructure. So the prices of commodities, such as steel and oil, have risen as demand has increased globally.
The law of unintended consequences also has played a part in inflation. Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandated a huge boost in the use of corn-based ethanol. This occurred at a time when world grain stocks are at a 30-year low and prices at historic highs. With more demand for corn, prices shot up. Livestock producers and food processors incurred greater costs, as corn is a staple of livestock feed. As a result, the cost of food rose and now, for example, eggs cost 40% more than they did a year ago. In fact, even the prices for non-food crops rose as farmers switched from them to grain crops, which are more lucrative.
So what holds value during inflationary times? Hard assets typically do. One such hedge against inflation is real estate. Despite the housing downturn due to the subprime crisis and resultant credit crunch, real estate historically has been a good long-term investment when inflation accelerates. Although the market is not at its peak, we haven’t seen a decline in U.S. commercial real estate comparable to the residential slump. Good value may lie in commercial real estate investment over the next few years.