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Why UK inflation-linked funds may not protect you against inflation

Inflation protection is costly

Rampant inflation is Public Enemy No 1 for most investors. (That is assuming you’ve already got yourself and the active fund industry behind bars).

Our standard defence? Index-linked government bonds – affectionately known as ‘linkers’ in the UK.

Linkers are a special type of government bond1 that automatically pump up your regular coupons and ultimate principal payouts in line with RPI inflation.

The easiest way to buy ‘em? Index-linked government bond tracker funds.

But there’s a problem with these funds in the UK – a potential mismatch between what you may think you’re buying and what you’re actually buying.

There’s a danger that your inflation protection could be drowned out by interest rate risk – that is, the possibility that your bond fund suffers large capital losses if market interest rates do take off.

The reason for this is that the UK’s index-linked bond funds are stuffed full of linkers that mature many decades from now.

These long-dated bonds (maturing in the 2030s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s) are highly sensitive to market interest rate changes.

Fluctuating prices and yields

When market interest rates fall, bond prices rise because their coupons (that is the rate of regular interest they pay) are more competitive compared to new issues coming on to the market.

Investors buy more of the more generous-paying bonds, driving up their prices and reducing their yield, until they trade in line with their peers and the new, lower interest rate regime.

The same is true in reverse. When interest rates rise, a bond’s price falls as its fixed coupon now compares less impressively with the vigorous income-bearers hitting the scene.

Investors will no longer pay as much for existing bonds, given their yields looks a bit skinny compared to the competition. Hence prices fall, until again yields are trading appropriately across the spectrum of bonds in issue.

See old Monevator articles from the attic for more on bond prices and yields.

Note that for very liquid government bonds, these fluctuations usually happen near instantaneously as the market’s perception about future interest rates changes all the time.

It’s kinda like a non-stop debutant’s ball, with the older bonds looking more or less lustrous versus the new generation, depending on how well nourished they are.

So far, so just-about-simple. But wait – don’t go calling Goldman Sachs just yet thinking you’re the next big thing in bond trading. There’s more!

The vast majority of government bonds are issued with a fixed lifespan, with the government promising to repay a particular tranche of bonds’ face value on some far-flung future date.

This date is indicated in the bond’s name.

For instance the UK Gilt Treasury 4.5% 2034 bond will be redeemed in 2034, which at the time of writing is just shy of 18 years away. Until then this particular bond will pay 4.5% a year (although as described above, the actual yield you’ll get from you bond will depend on the price you paid for it).

But here’s the bit that’s on the test as far as today’s article is concerned: The greater the number of coupon payments your bond has still to make until it matures, the more its price will fall or rise with interest rates.

That’s because a so-called long bond is stuck with its relative advantage or disadvantage for more years into the future than is the case with a short bond.

(A long bond is one where there’s a long time until it matures and is redeemed – at least ten years or more. A short bond is one that will mature in the next few years).

Duration and risk

The critical metric for this is called duration.

Your bond fund’s duration should be published on its factsheet. It tells you how susceptible the fund is to market interest rate changes.

The longer the maturity dates of the fund’s bond holdings – and the lower their coupons – the bigger the duration number. The bigger the duration number, the more volatile the fund.

In simple terms2 a duration of 23 means that if market interest rates go up 1% then the fund loses roughly 23% of its value.

Equally, if interest rates fall by 1% then the fund would gain roughly 23%.

And here’s the rub – the average duration figure of every UK linker fund available to DIY investors (whether passive or active) is in this risky high-duration ballpark.

To give just one example: Vanguard’s UK Inflation-Linked Gilt Index Fund has a duration of 23. Fully 80% of its holdings mature beyond the next ten years and its longest dated security matures in 2068!

I’ll be quite mature myself by then and only a few years short of my birthday telegram from King William V.

But, hey, these funds have been fine so far because market interest rates have trended down since the early 1980s. The rate falls mean linkers have climbed in price, enabling the L&G All Stocks Index Linked Gilt Index Trust to smash the FTSE All-Share over the last 10 years – bringing home an annualised return of 8.7% for the linkers compared to just 5.5% for the shares.

But there comes a point… the world and his wife is waiting for interest rates to rise again…

And while the world and his wife may not be right, if they are right then big capital losses in long-dated linker funds could render their inflation protection moot.

Which is a bummer, because the point of your bond asset allocation is to offer stability, not volatility.

How far could rates rise?

First of all it’s important to mention that these ‘market interest rates’ I keep going on about are not the same thing as the interest rate set by the Bank Of England, which is known (in a rare instance of clarity) as Bank Rate.

Rather, market interest rates refer to the going yields on the whole universe of bonds across the yield curve, reflecting the returns that investors demand for bearing the risk of holding any particular bond.

Market interest rates are strongly influenced by Bank Rate, to be sure. But they are also influenced by the interaction of supply and demand, market expectations on the economic outlook, the credit worthiness of the bond issuer, any particular bond’s maturity date, and more besides.

In other words if the Bank Of England jacks its interest rate up by 1% over the next few years, that doesn’t mean your fund with a duration of 23 will automatically lose 23% of its value.

What actually matters is the prevailing real yield. This is the annual average return investors demand for holding any particular tranche of linkers after accounting for inflation. This is the market interest rate we’re concerned with here and it’s historically been much higher than it is now.

The graph below plots the real yield from linkers3 since they were introduced in 1981. It’s our best clue as to where we might expect yields from linkers to be in ‘normal times’.

UK real yield

Source: Sarasin & Partners Compendium of Investment 20th Edition, p.37

As you can see, the real yield hasn’t sat above 2% since the early 2000s. Since then it has drilled deep into negative territory. It was around -1% at the end of 2015, and it’s been even lower since.

A return to a 2% real yield on linkers would see the value of a typical long duration bond fund plummet. This is why the risk ratings in linker fund KIIDs4 are as high as for most equity funds, despite UK government bonds being seen as a safer assets class than shares.

But don’t just take my word for it – listen to someone with skin in the game. Paul Rayner who manages Royal London’s UK Index Linked Government Bond fund counsels:

If inflation gets out of control, the Bank of England would have to react by pushing base rates up sooner and faster, meaning real yields would have to go up more.

Because you are in the longest-dated bonds, the real yield move would have offset any protection you had from inflation. You would actually lose money.

Rayner actually believes that long duration UK linker funds are more suited to pension funds than retail investors:

We really stress this when we talk to investors in the fund. Most inflation products out there are not inflation-protected bond funds but real yield funds.

With 19 years of duration, the biggest driver [of fund returns] is what happens to real yield, not inflation.

Distorted market

So look, this all sounds pretty grim, and almost like anyone with a linker fund in their portfolio might as well be on a long-haul flight with a time bomb in their suitcase.

However there’s no certainty that real yields on UK linkers will head north anytime soon.

Why? Because UK pension funds are on an all-you-can-eat linker binge that shows no signs of abating.

I could quote any number of institutions on this topic, but here’s just one view from global bond specialist Pimco:

Put simply, it is the seemingly insatiable demand from UK pension schemes that has pushed valuations to extreme levels.

These schemes feel they have no choice but to accept ever lower yields as they seek to immunise their inflation-linked liabilities.

In short, regulation has forced UK pension funds to explicitly link their liabilities to inflation. Whereas previously the industry earned high returns from equities, the closure of many schemes and their diminishing time horizon has prompted a shift to larger inflation-linked gilt allocations in order to reduce risk.

The resultant demand from the pension industry for linkers far outstrips government supply. Hence their yields have continued to fall.

The pension funds care more about controlling their risk than generating strong returns. While regulation can change and inflation-focused derivative products have been introduced to ease the logjam, asset managers Schroders believe that yields are stuck fast:

Pension funds waiting for index-linked gilt yields to rise to ‘attractive’ levels are fighting a losing battle.

The imbalance is structural and yields are likely to remain depressed relative to economic fundamentals for the foreseeable future.

Tectonic forces are at work in the UK linker market. Real yields have never been lower but a rapid and one-way rebound is not inevitable. Even then yields would have to rise faster than expected to catch the market out.

What’s the answer?

Even if a bloodbath is not inevitable, it’s pretty obvious by now that long duration linker funds are not the anti-inflation defence most of us are looking for.

So where else can we turn for inflation protection?

Your options are to invest in:

  • Short-dated UK linker funds with shorter durations.
  • A ladder of individual linkers (i.e. not a fund) that you hold to maturity.
  • Real assets like property, gold, or commodities that are famed for their inflation deflecting powers.

Let’s deal with each of these in turn (as quickly as possible, because that 2068 bond is in danger of maturing before this post ends!)

Short-dated UK linker funds

I can’t find any of these in the active or passive space that are suitable for us DIY passive investors.

True, there’s the Dimensional Sterling Inflation Linked Intermediate Duration Fixed Income Fund – which has a duration of 9.6 – but that’s only available through a Dimensional-approved financial advisor.

There’s also a St James’ Place Index Linked Gilt Unit Trust that also looks like an intermediate fund (duration isn’t given). But, again, that one doesn’t seem to be available beyond an approved network of financial advisors. Oh, and its Ongoing Charge is an eye-watering 1.2%.

If anyone knows of anything more suitable then please let us know in the comments below.

A linker ladder

This strategy is called a ladder because you buy a series of individual linkers with maturity dates that match your future spending needs.

For example, if you estimate your spending to be around £25,000 in 2026 (seriously!) then you’d buy enough of the linker that will mature in that year to cover you when it pays out. That’d be Treasury 0.125% Index-Linked 2026, then.

The amount that you’ll actually receive will be adjusted in line with RPI. This is why linkers are so valuable to anyone exposed to inflation risk, such as retirees.

The point is by holding your linkers to maturity, you can safely ignore any intervening capital losses (or gains) caused by interest rate movements because you are guaranteed a known payout (plus the inflation rate) on maturity.

With a ladder, the inflation protection works as advertised, except that there are frequent two year and occasional three year gaps between available maturity dates. Calculating income requirements for three years worth of inflation is negligible at current levels, but it will be less so if the money-munching inflation monster is on the loose and it’s wearing a 1970s-style kipper tie.

You’ll also have to accept buying inflation-protection in the current climate means buying into a negative real yield. You will be losing a percentage point or two every year in order to immunise yourself against the threat of unbridled inflation in the future.

That’s not necessarily a terrible bargain given the havoc inflation can wreak – and anyway, you won’t escape negative yields by buying equivalent nominal bonds or funds either, given their current paltry payouts.

But obviously it’s not going to turn you into Bridlington’s answer to Warren Buffett.

Rolling short-term linkers

Another thing you can do with your maturing linker ladder is to reinvest it… in more linkers.

Let’s say you invest your inflation-linked allocation in index-linked gilts covering the next five years. As each linker pays out income and eventually matures, you reinvest the proceeds into new linkers that mature further down the line.

For example, when your index-linked bond 2017 matures, you reinvest the proceeds into the 2022 issue to keep the ladder extended out to five years.

This is known as a rolling ladder, and it’s effectively a DIY short-term bond fund. Your rolling ladder will have relatively limited exposure to capital losses (if you were forced to sell for some reason) thanks to the shorter duration. But it’s also a lot less convenient than a bond fund, as you have to manage it yourself.

I haven’t worked out the platform / dealing fee implications, so I’m not saying “Do this!” But it is an option worthy of further research if you’re interested. (Please do share your comments below if it’s a strategy you’ve investigated or implemented).

Other real assets

Gold, commodities, property, and equities are all touted as assets that can protect you against inflation.

But while there is some truth to the claims, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that none of the above are truly good inflation hedges.

For example, while equity returns have beaten inflation over the long-term, they can be severely damaged by high inflation conditions over shorter timeframes. (Think the 1970s again.)

The chart below shows that only the returns of commodities, timber, and short-term linkers correlate particularly well with inflation in periods of three years and under.

Assets vs inflation

Source: Global Inflation-Linked Products, Barclays Capital, p.227

Does that sound half promising? Well, the author of the table goes on to say that the volatility of commodity returns make them a poor inflation defender across any time period, and that the short data sample is a strike against timber.

This is but one of many commentaries I’ve read warning against investing in commodities. And there are plenty more still that lay waste to the notion that gold returns bear any resemblance to inflation.

On the other hand, investing grandees William Bernstein and Jeremy Grantham have written about the potential of precious metal and natural resource commodity producers to put up a stiff fight against inflation.

It’s a whole other post really, so for now you can read Grantham’s take and make your own mind up.

Shorter duration global inflation linked bond funds

Okay, now these look like a good option for accumulators, so long as the fund’s returns are hedged back to Sterling to eliminate currency risk from the equation.

Global inflation-linked funds invest in linkers from other developed world countries (not emerging markets) with the bulk coming from the US while the long tail is made up of France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, the ANZACs and others.

The shorter durations of these funds mean less exposure to volatility should interest rates spike. The trick is to hold funds with a duration that matches or undershoots your time horizon.

Developed world inflation rates are related to each other (first cousins perhaps) but aren’t dead ringers. For instance here’s US CPI vs UK RPI over the last 50 years:

UK RPI vs US CPI

The two measures bear a resemblance, but UK RPI has been wilder at times. For this reason, if I was a retiree in need of precision inflation protection I’d think linker ladders first.

But as accumulators, most of us have time to ride out inflation – we’re more interested in diversification across asset classes.

In this scenario, global linkers can make a positive difference:

  • They have a relatively low correlation with other asset classes.
  • They offer a positive return but with less volatility than domestic linker bonds as interest rate movements across multiple markets mitigate financial shocks in any one country.
  • Higher inflation countries (hello UK) could benefit from a so-called ‘positive carry’ on the currency hedge, which could lower the mismatch in inflation rates over the medium term.

One among a number of sources extolling the virtues of global linkers is Barclays Capital. In its Global Inflation-Linked Products – A User’s Guide, the bank writes:

A currency-hedged global linker portfolio maintains the most attractive features of a domestic inflation-linked bond portfolio, specifically: better diversification, enhanced returns and low risk.

However, global inflation-linked bonds add a further diversification benefit to a portfolio, even if this already includes domestic inflation-linked bonds, leading us to see a global linker portfolio as the best way to capture the strategic benefits of owning linkers.

Both Tim Hale and Monevator’s own Lars Kroijer have global linkers on their list of acceptable assets, too.

Bear in mind that you shouldn’t have to pay tax on the inflation uplift received on income from index-linked gilts (assuming your fund is based in the UK). This is not the case for global linkers, so it could well be worth stashing them in your tax shelters.

There are a few Sterling hedged global inflation-linked products that are worth a look, although I have to say none look like my dream fund.

In the passive camp we have:

L&G Global Inflation Linked Bond Index I

  • OCF 0.27%
  • Duration – not given. Perhaps around 11 – 13? Contact L&G to find out for sure.
  • The fund holds 11% BBB rated linkers, which are below the UK’s AA- credit quality but still investment grade (just).

db X-trackers iBoxx Global Inflation Linked ETF

  • OCF 0.25%
  • Duration is 13.
  • The index is composed of 8% BBB rated linkers.
  • It’s a synthetic ETF.

Okay, well that’s the end of the passive contenders. With the choice is scarce so on this occasion – and with a clothes peg on my nose – I’m prepared to look over the active side of the fence:

Standard Life Investments Short Duration Global Index Linked Bond Fund

  • OCF 0.68% (Expensive!)
  • Duration not published – I judge around 9, but check.
  • Only 70% of holdings are actually inflation linked, 6% are corporate bonds, 2% are BBB.
  • 29% in UK bonds.
  • Active fund.

Royal London Short Duration Global Index Linked Bond Fund

  • OCF 0.33%
  • Duration is given as 5 in the brochure.
  • Only launched in February 2016 and info is scarce. There’s not so much as a factsheet available. I’d hold off until they reveal more.
  • 21% in UK bonds.
  • Active fund.

And that’s your lot, unless you know better? Again, please share your fund finds in the comments below.

Extra mature

Well, I don’t know about you but this post has certainly aged me. And if interest rates do jump up on those long-duration linker funds then I’ll probably add a few more grey hairs still.

How I wish the Government would release more NS&I index-linked certificates. They truly are the ideal antidote to the problem of inflation for small investors.

In the meantime, as a result of my latest research I now plan to pare back the allocation to linker funds in Monevator’s Slow & Steady portfolio to no more than 25% of its bond holdings. Perhaps less. I’m keeping them only as a diversifier as they are relatively uncorrelated with other asset classes.

The remainder of the linker asset allocation will go to a shorter duration global index-linked fund, which offers some inflation proofing and more diversification for the portfolio.

For retirees or near retirees, a linker ladder or inflation-linked annuity (as expensive as those options look) seem like a better bet. A small dose of commodity producer equities may warrant further investigation, if you can buy them cheaply.

Few areas in investing life are more important than inflation protection – I’m only sorry the options aren’t more comforting. As ever, we’ll just have to do the best we can.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

  1. Government bonds are also known as gilts in the UK []
  2. Trust me, you probably don’t want the complex explanation. []
  3. Presumably a benchmark 10-year linker, but it’s not specified. []
  4. Key Investor Information Documents. []

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{ 94 comments… add one }
  • 51 Scott November 14, 2016, 11:05 am

    A comment from a 2012 article on gilts, although not specifically linkers: “I guess we can all look back on this thread in 2017 and see which calls were right and which were wrong!” – we’re not quite into 2017, but given the recent article it seems timely to revisit it now:

    http://monevator.com/sell-government-bond-funds/

  • 52 Atlantic November 14, 2016, 11:10 am

    @Jeff Beranek Thank you for your reply and articles, most kind.

  • 53 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 1:39 pm

    Apologies if I am hi-jacking this thread, but it has triggered a thought I have had from time to time that I have not found an answer to. Specifically, how do you think about allocation if you have a defined benefit pension?

    I know – nice problem to have and all that, but it still applies to quite a few people.

    I have just retired modestly early, and taken my pension built up over the last 36 years in various organisations. Plus I will probably continue to work at some level in my areas of paission to stop my brain freezing up. Pensions with different levels of generosity; indexed to CPI or RPI, and different percentages for spousal pension in the event I go first.

    Is my pension enough? Hell yes! Plenty to live on in any reasonable circumstance without going berserk on the frugality thing. I know just how lucky I am.

    So why bother with savings and investments? A combination of ‘fun’ money, to do some things I really want to, and Oh Shit! money for the unforseen shocks – existing pensions end up in the pension protection fund lifeboat, sudden ill-health and major care costs, sudden rampant inflation that dramatically exceeds limits for my occupational pensions – etc.

    My current asset allocation is 50 – 50 defensive (cash and bonds) and growth, based on the Harry Markowitz ‘50-50’ rule of thumb from this post http://monevator.com/asset-allocation-strategy-rules-of-thumb/ responding to the key thought that I don’t want to be out of the market if it soars and all-in if it tanks.

    Logic says that I should roll up the pensions into an implied pension pot (using the HMRC conversion) and declare that to be defensive. That means I could plunge the rest for growth and still not be at 50:50. However the reasons for having the investments remain; which leaves me thinking “well this income stream is normal operating expenses, and this pot is the money you will want for all the other stuff”. Plus my horizon has shortened (even with our wonderfully increasing lifespans), and the opportunity to repair the damage of a market crash by working and saving is reduced.

    All of which leaves me with a gut feeling that a 50:50 allocation for the ‘other stuff’ is about right for my level of risk tolerance.

    Any one else got any thoughts or experience about how to factor a defined benefit pension into your asset allocation strategy? First world problem I know, but most FI blogs never seem to allow for that possible source of secure income.

    old_eyes

  • 54 The Investor November 14, 2016, 2:29 pm

    @Old–Eyes — Yes, most of us can but dream. 🙂 Congratulations, you earned it. In terms of how to think about it, my first thought is I’d treat it as part of the risk-free portion of my portfolio, either by looking at it as part of the income “floor” (links below) or by capitalizing the income stream and then looking again at my asset allocation.

    By capitalizing, I mean only conceptually of course, not selling! i.e. Calculating what sort of allocation of risk-free assets would be required to produce such a guaranteed income. (Be aware, as you doubtless appreciate, that at current low yields the amount is likely to be sky-high, maybe well into “two commas”.)

    These two articles below are very simple but might help clarify a little bit your thinking, though to be honest I don’t know that they’ll add much given your post above. Perhaps you should re-ask your question on one of these articles, which are a bit more on-topic, and see if it resurrects any subscribed commenters with more insights?

    http://monevator.com/the-most-important-goal-for-every-retiree/

    http://monevator.com/secure-retirement-income/

  • 55 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 3:14 pm

    @The Investor – thanks for that. I have read the previous posts and your comments. The image of the ‘planks’ that make up our ‘floor’ is a particularly good one.

    As far as I can see everything points to taking the capital equivalent of the pension and declaring it to be the defensive part of the portfolio. I know that rationally, but find it hard to take the logical step and go for growth with the remaining savings. Too much of that psychological flaw that finds loss much harder to bear than gain.

    Ah me! A lesson on our frailties I suppose. Pity I am not much more of a buccaneering free spirit, but “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”, or alternatively you are what you are – just get on with it!

    I can afford to be a bit more agressive and a bit less timid, but old habits die hard.

    Thanks again

  • 56 Jeff Beranek November 14, 2016, 3:44 pm

    @ old_eyes – I’ve read a great book called “Are you a Stock or a Bond?” by Moshe A. Milevsky. It helps to provide a good way of looking at human capital and “whole of life” planning. My wife has a defined benefit pension and I’m in defined contribution. We’re in our 40s and she’s a bond to my stock. ‘DB vs. DC’ offers some of the same trade-offs as ‘annuities vs. drawdown’ or ‘bonds vs. equity’. i.e. it’s probably best to have a bit of both to be truly diversified. They address differing risks or potential outcomes. In your particular case, you have the advantage of a firm base to work from. You can perhaps afford to allocate part of your portfolio to other goals such as family, charity or entrepreneurial investment. I like to think of equities as “putting your money to work”, but then so are bonds – once removed. As Andrew Craig would say “own the world”. The only true safe way to use money is to spend it now, but we’re hopefully optimistic enough to think we’ve still got a while to live or that others could benefit from that money.

  • 57 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 4:38 pm

    @ Jeff Beranek – Thanks Jeff I might look into that book. I have done a lot of thinking about the 5-capitals model of a sustainable economy, and wondered how much the thinking can be applied at an individual level. Balancing how I could use my human and financial capital to contribute to social and natural capital.

    The challenge is to move from “oh my god we are all doomed!” to “actually this looks OK” and learning to be a bit more expansive in your approach. As many others have pointed out, it can be quite difficult to switch from panicking and saving like crazy to recognising that if you don’t do X now (whatever X is) then you are likely to run out of time.

    I am right in the middle of trying to understand the freedom I have been working towards, and how I want to use it for personal fulfilment. I have often said if you are targeting FI it is important to be running towards something not away from something, but damn it’s difficult when you actually reach that point.

    However, only two weeks into retirement so confusion and uncertainty is to be expected. Give me a few more weeks to get over the shock and those grand plans I had for this point in my life may begin to make sense again.

    When I worked in the Netherlands staged, or tapered, retirement was the norm. It was held to be too much of a shock to stop suddenly. Unfortunately, most UK companies appear to see that as lack of commitment on the part of the staged retiree. As one of my more ruthless bosses used to say “a man going is a man gone”. Probably a touch of misogyny in there as well 😉

  • 58 Jeff Beranek November 14, 2016, 5:38 pm

    My father is retired and is struggling to switch from “saving” mode to “spending” mode. One definition of retirement is when your money works more than you do. Investment is giving money to your future self, just as debt is borrowing from your future self. I guess it must be kind of weird to be on the receiving end of your own money, but I guess you “deserve” it just as much as you “deserved” your salary. There are plenty of part-time and self-employed people in retirement. However, I was concerned when I heard a relatively elderly relative of mine was turned down when applying to rent a house because her income was all “unearned” pension income instead of salaried work. Surely the pension income is actually less risky!? Which leads on to the “disincentive to work” which is the lifetime pension allowance… Surely we should be encouraging well paid, (hopefully) highly skilled people to continue working even though they’ve built up enough money to never have to rely on the state…

  • 59 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 7:25 pm

    @Jeff Beranek – Yes it is a bit weird to have to remind yourself that what you get now from a pension is payment for income foregone in earlier times. I’m fine with that, but there is a structural problem with the rentier model of capitalism where the bulk of the profit goes to the capital owner, not to the workers who make it possible. There has to be a balance, and having suffered from it when I was a salaried worker I have no desire to use my resources to support that model. Ethical investment is important to me, although surprisingly difficult. So I will be looking around for some interesting ideas I can support.

    The idea that pension is less secure than wages is distinctly weird, but does mimic the kind of institutionalised dismissal of the person who is not working in the particular approved structure. Entrepreneurs feel it, the retired feel it, the financially independent feel it (unless they are fabulously wealthy at which point they become admired again irrespective of the source of their wealth), the marginalised feel it. As a society we have a peculiarly one dimensional view of what a life well lived looks like.

    One the lifetime pension allowance. Yes it was a disincentive to continue working as I reached it, partly because the job I was doing had an amazing pension package with big company contributions and they made it clear that me stopping contributions and rolling up their contributions in my salary was not an option. Not a lot of flexibility and imagination there. However, the fact that higher rate taxpayers get a better deal than standard rate tax-oayers never made much sense to me. I would have been happy with no lifetime limit and a flat rate of tax relief to encourage saving in this particular vehicle.

  • 60 Mroptimistic November 14, 2016, 9:00 pm

    For the future I am a little worried that pensions income could be discrimated against in a future tax change. The term unearned income was unchallenged back in the 70’s. ‘Our priority is to support the lowest paid with young families, they are our future’ type of stuff. As an aside, is your db pension subject to an inflation cap, if so perhaps invest to protect against that, which is where this thread came in.

    On the subject if IL gilts, I wonder if a ladder and holding to maturity is right in a negative real yield environment. If I buy an IL issue now, I know I am paying more than the value implied by the guarantee. The intrinsic value is the adjusted par, ie the issue price more or less, escalated by the inflation endured since issue. Part of the price I pay is that value and that part of the investment gets the inflation protection and real yield until maturity as per the coupon. The excess price I paid over this gets no coupon and not only no nominal return but certain nominal loss as it will decline to zero at maturity. The real loss on that part will be less than the nominal loss assuming positive inflation to maturity. If we straight line decline the price excess and then discount each year back at our assumed level of future inflation then that adjusted real loss counters the real income generated by the intrinsic value. Make sense so far ?

    However if I hold to maturity I am guaranteed that the excess in price paid goes to zero. Would it not be better to buy a longer dated gilt and still have some time to run when I sell ?

  • 61 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 10:15 pm

    @Mroptimistic
    “The term unearned income was unchallenged back in the 70’s. ‘Our priority is to support the lowest paid with young families, they are our future’ type of stuff. As an aside, is your db pension subject to an inflation cap, if so perhaps invest to protect against that, which is where this thread came in.”

    Yes my db pensions are subject to an inflation cap; hence the comment in my original post that it was one of the potential future shocks I needed to defend against. That and high care costs represent the two “Oh Shit!” scenarios that are most likely.

    Treating pensions as unearned income seems a stretch; although challenging public sector pensions as theft from the tax-payer (see endless rage from Daily Mail below the line commentors) might find political traction. Were pensions really part of the ‘unearned income’ regime back in the day? Not even I am old enough to remember.

    If someone is going to go after unearned income it is much more likely to be dividends and capital gains (tackling inequality by going after the rentier model of capitalism), or inheritance tax (after all the people who would have to pay the tax clearly didn’t earn it. Almost the definition of unearned income – no risk just wait around).

    So I think there are softer targets than pensions in payment, although clearly there are games to be played with tax relief going into a pension, out of pension or both.

  • 62 Mr optimistic November 14, 2016, 10:42 pm

    Hopefully you are right. My relatively modest db pensions are from two providers. Both have a 5% cap, both now deferred. I am thinking of taking one as a transfer. Factor I was offered was about 28. Reason for doing that would be inflation worries and mortality risk. Thing is, need a hedge against high inflation to invest in.

  • 63 old_eyes November 14, 2016, 11:07 pm

    @Mroptimistic – when you find that hedge against high inflation let me know 😉

  • 64 Mr optimistic November 14, 2016, 11:18 pm

    @old_eyes. Yeah, hence my interest here. No point trying to second guess the future as Lars et all rightly say. Personal Assets Trust, property, IL but surely not conventional bonds or 60:40 funds without discrimination.

  • 65 Mr optimistic November 15, 2016, 11:07 pm
  • 66 dlp6666 November 16, 2016, 10:56 am
  • 67 Mr optimistic November 17, 2016, 12:24 am

    By happy coincidence, one of the deferred DB schemes I have been fretting about wrote yesterday to say that as they are in surplus they are transferring liabilities to an insurance company, giving some if the surplus back to the sponsoring company, and improving the benefit by removing the 5% inflation cap. So a bit less worry for me and another provider going to the market to buy up IL gilts to hedge their risks. Interesting that TIPs still have positive real rates which presumably shows the USA doesn’t have the liability matching regulations we have here.

    Very noticeable that all the US forum discussions on IL bonds are in complete alignment with the main article here. Only time will tell as this is largely uncharted waters but the best advice we are going to get.

  • 68 CroydonBabyBoomer November 17, 2016, 1:54 am

    I retired at 58 on. DB and am now 70. I think the 50:50 rule is OK provided you include your DB in the 50 bond allocation. I am 60 equities 30 cash and 10 bonds

    I have mostly kept out of bonds and have larger than necessary cash assets but this is what I have been spending on capital requirements, car, house improvements and investments for grandchildren. My allocation in short term Global And Corporate bonds with some NS index linked certificates

  • 69 Steve November 18, 2016, 5:57 pm

    Stupid question: does this article only apply to inflation linked funds? Non-linked bond funds give you what they say on the packet?

    I was just about to buy a non-linked bond fund (e.g. Vanguard Global Bond Index GBP with duration of 6.81) when this article appeared and has thrown me slightly. A little knowledge can be dangerous :-). My take-aways from the piece are that most linkers have long durations, which is bad as this means a high volatility (the opposite of the stability I think of bonds as being). I am accumulating, so comfortable with some volatility… is there a rule of thumb for when to opt for a linker such as the L&G one mentioned (duration ~12) or a non-linked one with half the duration? Should a linker out-perform a non-linked one (given long enough) or does it tend to under perform (you might be trading inflation guarantee for return)?

  • 70 The Accumulator November 18, 2016, 7:14 pm

    Hi Steve, the duration aspects of the piece apply the same to nominal bonds. Duration of 6.81 means an approx 6.81% loss or gain for a 1% rise or decline in interest rates. The main rule of thumb is to match your duration to your time horizon and definitely don’t make it longer. The issue with linkers in particular is that there are only long-dated funds out there.

    Whether a linker outperforms conventional bonds should, under normal circumstances, depend on inflation. If inflation is higher than expected then linkers should do best, if lower then nominals win out. Since linkers were launched in the early 80s inflation has trended downwards so nominals have won over that timeframe. Would have been a different story in the ’70s and who knows in the future? Ideally both are part of your mix. Diversification and all that.

  • 71 Henry November 28, 2016, 8:15 am

    Following on from Steve’s above question, are there any funds/etfs which combine both nominals and inflation-linked gilts together?

  • 72 Jeffrey Beranek November 28, 2016, 2:01 pm

    I’m not aware of a passive gilt fund that includes linkers and conventional bonds. However, according to the DMO, linkers account for 26% of the total UK gov market. So you could create your own portfolio using the same ratio. This figure probably does not include quasi-government bonds like Network Rail, municipal, etc.

  • 73 IanH December 19, 2016, 12:17 pm

    I’m pondering whether to reduce my holding of Vanguard UK Inflation Linked Gilt Index fund (GB00B45Q9038). As I have the income version does anyone know if / how the timing of income distributions could affect the timing of selling my holdings?

  • 74 Jeff Beranek December 19, 2016, 12:26 pm

    @IanH – No, the timing does not matter. As with all income generating securities, the price to buy or sell should take account of whether or not you will be entitled to the next/last distribution. I say “should” because there is a potential arbitrage opportunity if the price does not reflect the value change due to the distribution. However, the amount is usually so small that it is either lost in the noise of the market or taken care of by traders with sophisticated tools (e.g. high-frequency trading) and much lower trading costs than the average Joe (or Jo).

  • 75 Jeff Beranek December 19, 2016, 12:30 pm

    @IanH – Oh, and there are no distributions from the Vanguard UK Inflation Linked Gilt Index (Income) fund anyway. See: https://www.vanguard.co.uk/uk/portal/detail/mf/overview?portId=9225&assetCode=BOND##pricesanddistributions

  • 76 IanH December 19, 2016, 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Jeff – a very helpful response indeed. So no excuses to dither futher… though I’m sure I can come up with something.

  • 77 tom a January 17, 2017, 4:42 pm

    Hi

    I have a passive portfolio within my sipp and wont be withdrawing money for at least 25 years.

    If I hold my index linked gilt fund for the duration of that fund, perhaps 23-25 years, can I forget about the volatility and expect to be protected against inflation in the long term.

    Is it true that I cant suffer a capital loss if i hold the fund for the duration of the fund. (assuming the UK government doesn’t go bust)

    Many Thanks for you time.

  • 78 Jeff Beranek January 17, 2017, 7:52 pm

    If you hold a linker fund for 23 years you’ll still hold a lot of long-dated bonds 23 years from now, because new bonds will always(?) be reissued. According to the Fixed Income Investor all UK linkers are currently showing a negative yield to maturity at an assumed rate of inflation of 3%:

    http://www.fixedincomeinvestor.co.uk/x/bondtable.html?groupid=3530

    I presume this is because they are so expensive right now and there will be a significant “capital” loss, even if they keep pace with RPI. His calculation methods are explained here, but I can’t really get my head around them:

    http://www.fixedincomeinvestor.co.uk/x/learnaboutbonds.html?id=206

    Personally I think you are pretty much guaranteed to lose (some) money relative to inflation over time holding linkers, even if you just buy one long-dated one and hold it to maturity. However, you are pretty much guaranteed to get (most of) your money back.

    I hold some linkers (US and UK ones) mostly because they are poorly correlated with other assets classes and may provide a level of insurance/protection when markets are down.

    Jeff.

  • 79 The Accumulator January 17, 2017, 8:11 pm

    @ Tom – no, because as your duration ticks down year on year, the chances are the fund’s duration will stay roughly where it is. So you may be ten years out but the fund is still duration 25. Interest rates move against you, at that point, you would need to hold for another 25 years to make up the loss. The reality is that interest rates move around so it’s not very helpful to look at a fixed point in time like that. It’s better to look at the balance of risks you take on when holding a long bond fund in an era of negative interest rates. There aren’t many aces left in the deck.

    Re: capital loss. The short answer is no. The long answer is here: https://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=422451

  • 80 Lewis March 15, 2017, 5:45 pm

    What about Royal London Short Duration Global Index Linked Fund Inc M? It seems to click the short duration, index linked and GBP hedged boxes. It’s an active fund but the charges aren’t that high (0.29%, although the KIID says 0.31%).

  • 81 Lewis March 15, 2017, 5:46 pm
  • 82 The Accumulator March 15, 2017, 9:23 pm

    Thanks, Lewis. It’s mentioned in the article.

  • 83 Lewis March 15, 2017, 10:40 pm

    Doh! I just found the fund myself recently and I didn’t go back to check the article! My memory was obviously wrong.

  • 84 Lewis March 15, 2017, 11:01 pm

    There is however now more information on the fund. From the annual report dated 31/10/2016:

    “The Fund held a short duration position (interest rate risk) for most of the period in the expectation of rising yields, which detracted from performance. In terms of positioning, the Fund was underweight UK index linked gilts and European periphery index linked bonds, while being overweight index linked bonds in the US, Australia, Canada and Japan on account of attractive yield differentials. However, the UK market outperformed overseas markets over the year, supported by monetary easing and pension fund demand for long-dated index linked gilts. The Fund is overweight shorter dated bonds, given rising inflation expectations, and underweight longer dated maturities; this stance contributed positively to performance. The Fund is entirely invested in index linked securities, with an overweight position in foreign index linked sovereigns and an underweight position in index linked gilts, relative to the benchmark.”

    In the long version of the annual report, there is a full list of holdings.

  • 85 The Accumulator March 19, 2017, 6:41 pm

    Hey Lewis, I appreciate you taking the time to update us. I must go have a nose around the annual report.

  • 86 Matt April 4, 2017, 8:07 am

    I was just reading through Vanguard’s Target Retirement prospectus and found it interesting that they don’t believe index linked bonds to be necessary until just prior to the target date.

    “In the few years prior to retirement, we also add inflation-linked bonds to manage the risk of inflation eroding spending power.”

    Looking at their Target Retirement 2015 fund they appear to hold 9% (approximately 16% of the bond allocation) in their UK Gilt Inflation Linked fund.

  • 87 civilman September 17, 2017, 2:37 pm

    One option that seems to meet criteria is AXA Global Shot Duration Bond Fund at 0.45%. Factsheet indicated durations<5 years and invests in high proportion of inflation linked and high yield bonds. Its a new fund though.

  • 88 The Accumulator October 25, 2017, 6:46 pm

    @ civilman – thank you for this. Only just found time to have around. I couldn’t find any reliable info on the proportion of inflation-linked but prospectus suggests it could be as high as 60% in junk bonds. Also not hedged to £.

    Your tip off led me to Axa’s World Funds Global Inflation Short Duration Bonds. This looks more promising but also not hedged to £.

    Personally I’m steering clear of any global bond fund not hedged back to pound.

    @ Matt – Yes, I was surprised by how late they are on the linker brakes too. Also, I think they invest in individual linkers – as they don’t actually name the fund unlike the other holdings.

  • 89 Jeff Beranek October 25, 2017, 7:28 pm

    I may be wrong, but I don’t get too excited about currency hedged funds. First, I don’t believe any kind of hedging comes for free. I’m sure any kind of hedging strategy comes with an additional cost, which I’m sure will at least in part be passed onto the client. Second, hedging usually involves active decision making, which presumably relies on human judgement – which usually costs money and could be wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as far as I’m aware, at it’s best currency hedging will only operate over a fairly limited timescale. If today £1=$1.30 and next year £1=$2.00 then there’s almost nothing that a currency hedged fund or ETF can do about it. A currency hedged fund does not remove currency risk. It might mitigate short-term fluctuations, but if you are a long-term asset allocation person then these should not concern you. Personally, I think the best way to mitigate currency risk is to hold all currencies (or perhaps a strong lean towards your likely currency in retirement for your “cash-like” asset allocation).

  • 90 The Accumulator October 25, 2017, 7:50 pm

    Hi Jeff, I think there’s a distinction to be drawn here between hedged equity funds and hedged bond funds. Gov bond funds are meant to be a source of stability, so anything a hedge can do to smooth out currency volatility especially in the short term ensure that global bonds play the appropriate role in a UK investor’s portfolio. I totally agree re: equity funds. No point and likely to cost you diversification points over time.

  • 91 Humble Pie November 20, 2017, 6:01 pm

    There are a couple of newish ETFs that might be of interest to some folks. Both are invested in US TIPS and are GBP hedged:
    Lyxor US TIPS (DR) UCITS ETF Monthly Hedged D-GBP (TIPH) has a duration of a little over 8 years and OCR of 0.2%, or:
    UBS ETF (LU) Barclays TIPS 1-10 UCITS ETF (UBTP) has a shorter duration of 5 years and OCR of 0.15%.
    Both of them are still new (and quite small) so not completely ideal. Also KIID/factsheets for both refer to somewhat alarming maximum entry/exit charge of up to 5%(!) but seems vague in terms of how much will actually be charged.

  • 92 Neil Richardson January 13, 2018, 7:06 pm

    I can’t buy the Royal London short duration index linked gilt fund from my iii sipp or ISA, or indeed any of the others mentioned above. They say regulation doesn’t allow it. It’s a shame because it would have fitted my portfolio nicely. Anyone been able to buy from within tax wrappers?

  • 93 Craig January 16, 2018, 9:12 am

    Think you’ll find it at Hargreaves Lansdown.

  • 94 Neil Richardson January 28, 2018, 11:25 pm

    Thanks Craig, I was a iii technical error.

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