Inflation is here, and it’s unlikely to go away anytime soon. Fortunately, investors looking to beat back rising prices have numerous options at their disposal, including several mutual funds that should fare well against inflation.
The May Consumer Price Index was a wake-up call. Consumer prices rose by 5% annually that month – up from a robust 4.2% in April, and the quickest pace of growth since August 2008. And while the Federal Reserve continues to insist that many inflation pressures are transitory in nature, they nonetheless recently raised their expectations for inflation not just this year, but also 2022 and 2023.
When the economy heats up, investors begin to expect that the Federal Reserve will cool inflation with higher interest rates. That puts downward pressure not only on investors’ current bond holdings, but also stocks, as corporate borrowing becomes more expensive.
Fortunately, mutual funds can help you beat back inflation via a number of diverse strategies. The best mutual funds for inflation invest in wide range of assets, from Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS) to commodities to real estate and more.
Here are five of the best mutual funds to protect against inflation.
Returns and data are as of June 17, unless otherwise noted, and are gathered for the share class with the lowest required minimum initial investment – typically the Investor share class or A share class. If you use an investment adviser or online brokerage, you may be able to buy lower-cost share classes of some of these funds. Dividend yields on equity funds represent the trailing 12-month yield. SEC yields reflect the interest earned after deducting fund expenses for the most recent 30-day period and are a standard measure for bond and preferred-stock funds.
Vanguard Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities Investor
- Fund category: Inflation-protected bond
- Assets under management: $36.3 billion
- SEC yield: -1.8%
- Expenses: 0.20%, or $20 for every $10,000 invested
As you might guess from the name, the Vanguard Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities Investor (VIPSX, $14.53) is a straightforward way to beat back inflation.
VIPSX holds TIPS, which are bonds that are indexed to inflation. This means the principal value of these bonds adjusts for movements in inflation – so when inflation increases, the principal value of the TIPS does, too.
However, while TIPS might perform better during inflationary periods, they still carry interest-rate risk. Specifically, if interest rates rise in a period where there’s little or no inflation, the market value of TIPS could decline, which would in turn bring down the net asset value of a fund such as VIPSX.
Still, VIPSX is one of the best mutual funds for inflation. It’s right for investors who want to diversify their fixed-income holdings, usually to complement a core bond holding that might not perform as well in an inflationary environment.
Note: Investors able to invest at least $50,000 can get the same exposure at a lower expense ratio (0.10%) via Vanguard’s Admiral shares (VAIPX).
Dodge & Cox Stock
- Fund category: Large value
- Assets under management: $89.0 billion
- Dividend yield: 1.4%
- Expenses: 0.52%
Value stocks tend to perform better than growth stocks during periods of rising inflation and rising interest rates, for multiple reasons.
For one, value stocks generally boast strong present cash flows that are expected to slow over time, whereas growth stocks have little to no current cash flow now but is expected to rise. However, inflation erodes at that expectation for future cash flows, which hurts growth stock prices today.
Also, some value stocks are simply built to benefit from higher interest rates. Take financial stocks, which can increase the spread between their rates on loans as rates rise, even as they continue to pay low rates to customers on their deposit accounts. Financials make up more than a quarter of DODGX’s portfolio, including top-three holdings Wells Fargo (WFC), Capital One Financial (COF) and Charles Schwab (SCHW).
With a team management approach (average tenure is 12.4 years), performance that consistently beats category averages, and a low expense ratio of just 0.52%, it’s easy to understand why Dodge & Cox Stock stands tall among its peers.
Parametric Commodity Strategy Investor
- Fund category: Commodities broad basket
- Assets under management: $1.1 billion
- Dividend yield: 2.5%
- Expenses: 0.94%
Another place to find performance amid inflation is commodities.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “too many dollars chasing too few goods,” that’s referring to “demand-pull inflation.” Well, commodities such as oil, gold, grains and lumber are the resources used to make those goods that those dollars are chasing.
In that kind of environment, commodity funds such as Parametric Commodity Strategy Investor (EAPCX, $6.38) can thrive, as they’re invested in the very assets that are inflating in price.
EAPCX invests in a broad basket of commodities, with agricultural, energy and industrial metals each representing roughly a quarter of the fund, and precious metals and livestock making up the remainder. That means you’re invested in everything from cocoa and crude oil to copper and cattle.
Parametric’s fund earns five stars from Morningstar thanks to three- and five-year returns that beat at least 90% of its competitors. Its 0.94% in annual expenses is pricier than the other mutual funds on this list, but perfectly average within the commodity space.
Vanguard Real Estate Index Admiral
- Fund category: Real estate
- Assets under management: $42.2 billion
- Dividend yield: 3.2%
- Expenses: 0.12%
REITs are a specifically structured business that’s designed to own (and sometimes operate) real estate of varying types. Office buildings. Hotels. Hospitals. Even storage units.
REITs provide natural protection against inflation, as their underlying real estate (and the rents they charge) tends to appreciate in value alongside consumer prices. This additional profitability tends to help REITs improve their dividends (remember: REITs must pay out at least 90% of taxable profits out to shareholders as dividends), often at a faster rate than inflation.
Neuberger Berman research shows just how resilient REITs have been in the face of inflation:
“In the 12 calendar years since 1991 when inflation was less than 2%, the average return of the REITs Index was 7.4%. If we take out the extreme year of 2008, that average rises to 11.5%. But the average return for the 18 calendar years when inflation was above 2% was 16.5%. Periods of higher inflation appear to have benefitted REITs.”
This naturally makes products such as VGSLX some of the best mutual funds to buy to combat inflation. Vanguard’s offering holds roughly 180 real estate companies, with top holdings including the likes of communications infrastructure play American Tower (AMT), logistics REIT Prologis (PLD) and datacenter owner Equinix (EQIX).
The fund also comes in ETF form: the Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ), which also charges just 0.12% annually.
T. Rowe Price Floating Rate
- Fund category: Bank loans
- Assets under management: $3.5 billion
- SEC yield: 3.5%
- Expenses: 0.76%
Bank loans are a less-traveled category, but one that investors might want to look at more closely when combatting inflation.
Inflationary periods and rising interest rates often go hand in hand, and that puts downward pressure on many bonds and other fixed-rate investments. However, a certain category of bank loans called floating-rate bank loans, can perform well in this environment. Financial institutions will often make variable-rate loans to companies with less-than-ideal credit, and the rates on those loans can change every 30 to 90 days. If interest rates go higher, so too will the rates on these loans.
T. Rowe Price Floating Rate (PRFRX, $9.58) provides exposure to floating-rate bank loans and other variable-rate debt securities. The portfolio is spread across roughly 400 loans, the vast majority of which are rated below investment-grade. Still, the effective maturity of its loans is only five years, and the fund features a low duration of 0.40. (Duration is a measure of bond risk; 0.40 implies that a 1-percentage-point rise in rates would result in a mere 0.4% decline in PRFRX’s net asset value.)
While there’s some credit risk here, T. Rowe Price Floating Rate is one of the best mutual funds to fight inflation with if you’re looking to secure a decent yield as well.
Kent Thune did not hold positions in any of these bond funds as of this writing. This article is for information purposes only, thus under no circumstances does this information represent a specific recommendation to buy or sell securities.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.