While there were many important stories that broke this week, the one which found me briefly holding my breath was the failed auction of £1.75 billion in U.K. government 40-year bonds on Wednesday followed by the weak demand for $34 billion of 5-year U.S. Treasury notes later in the day. While Thursday’s successful auction of $24 billion of 7-year U.S. Treasury notes has temporarily put the government debt auction issue on the back burner, the interest rate plot is clearly thickening – and the debate on deflation vs. inflation is starting to heat up.
One excellent way to protect against inflation is through the use of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, more commonly known as TIPS. As I noted last September in Treasury Inflation -Protected Securities and Inflationary Expectations, TIPS utilize the CPI as an inflationary benchmark and TIPS coupon payments and the underlying principal are automatically adjusted to account for inflation.
All of this brings us to the chart of the week below, which shows a ratio of the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund ETF (TIP) to the 10-Year U.S. Treasury Note. This ratio has seen several jolts in the last six or so months, but since mid-December, investors have shown a strong preference for TIPS over the standard Treasuries. In fact, as concern about inflation has elevated during the course of the last week or so, TIP, with an average maturity of approximately nine years, has moved up impressively while Treasuries with comparable maturities have fallen. The ratio is now approaching its pre-Lehman levels, so that further moves could help to gauge whether inflationary or deflationary fears are dominating the thinking of investors.