By Alberto Cavallo, Megan Czasonis, William Kinlaw, and David Turkington
We show how unstructured price data from online retailers can anticipate inflation shifts and enable investors to hedge inflation risk dynamically.
Investors and academics have been studying inflation, and how it affects asset prices, for more than four decades. Their findings are discouraging: there just aren’t many assets that offer a reliable hedge against inflation. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS), introduced in 1997, represent the only U.S. asset class whose returns are linked explicitly to inflation, but they have drawbacks. For one, their yields are lower than normal treasury bonds during most periods, when inflation is low. In an ideal world, investors would capture the higher yield of treasuries when inflation is benign and shift into TIPS to capture their price appreciation when inflation expectations rise. To do this, they need a good leading indicator of the market’s collective inflation expectations. In this paper, we show how unstructured price data from online retailers, spanning millions of products captured by PriceStats®, can be used to forecast the relative performance of TIPS and treasuries.