investing

Inflation-proof your portfolio

Highlights
  • The Treasury bond fund provides diversification.
  • You can buy individual TIPS bonds easily enough on your own.
  • TIPS are sold in maturities of 5, 10, and 20 years.

As government printing presses spew money to thwart the recession, there's a concern that inflation will be an unwanted consequence. Perhaps not the mind-boggling inflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when mortgage rates pushed into the 16 percent to 18 percent range, but a significant spike in any event.

Whether Uncle Sam will be able to keep inflation under control is debatable. But some advisers say it's not a bad idea to start picking up inflation protection for your portfolio.

"I don't think it's today's dragon to slay, but I think it's going to be over the next 12 to 18 months," says Herb Hopwood, president of Hopwood Financial Services in Great Falls, Va. "We're nibbling at some TIPS. We've participated in a couple of the recent auctions, and that's the way I'd recommend most people do it. Buy when there's a Treasury auction."

TIPS, or Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, can be bought as individual bonds or in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. The following chart shows a few of the mutual funds, ETFs, CDs and bonds that can buffer your portfolio against a weakened dollar and ballooning prices. If you buy a mutual fund from a company other than your own, you may be charged a transaction fee. If you sell an individual Treasury bond before maturity, there is a $45 fee.

Ways to buffer your portfolio
InvestmentFormMinimum Initial InvestmentExpense RatioLoad
Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)Bond$100NoneNone
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Fund (FINPX)Mutual fund$2,5000.45%None
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX)Mutual fund$3,0000.20%None
Schwab Inflation-Protected Fund (SWRSX)Mutual fund$50,0000.50%None
PIMCO Real Return Fund (PRTNX)Mutual fund$1,0000.90%3.00%
iShares Barclay TIPS bond (TIP)Exchange-traded fund1 share0.20%None
I BondSavings bond$25/electronic
$50/paper
NoneNone

One of the benefits of buying an individual bond is that there's a specific maturity that protects your principal. If you wait until maturity to cash the bond, you'll get your entire principal. You don't have that protection with a bond fund.

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The yield on TIPS is set at auction and interest is paid every six months. Your principal is adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, and the interest paid on the principal rises or falls accordingly. Inflation increases your principal, deflation decreases it. Hold the bond until maturity and you're guaranteed to receive your full principal even if a lengthy period of deflation actually eroded its value. If inflation predominated during that period, you'll receive at maturity more than your initial investment.

Be aware that the distribution yield shown for TIPS mutual funds and ETFs isn't necessarily what you'll get. For instance, on the day this article was written, iShares Barclays TIPS bond (TIP) showed a yield of 5.06 percent.

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