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Visualizing the History of U.S. Inflation Over 100 Years

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Visualizing the History of U.S. Inflation Over 100 Years

Inflation

This infographic is available as a poster.

Visualizing the History of U.S. Inflation Over 100 Years

Is inflation rising?

The consumer price index (CPI), an index used as a proxy for inflation in consumer prices, offers some answers. In 2020, inflation dropped to 1.4%, the lowest rate since 2015. By comparison, inflation sits around 2.5% as of June 2021.

For context, recent numbers are just above rates seen in 2019, which were 2.3%. Given how the economic shock of COVID-19 depressed prices, rising price levels make sense. However, other variables, such as a growing money supply and rising raw materials costs, could factor into rising inflation.

To show current price levels in context, this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows the history of inflation over 100 years.

U.S. Inflation: Early History

Between the founding of the U.S. in 1776 to the year 1914, one thing was for sure—wartime periods were met with high inflation.

At the time, the U.S. operated under a classical Gold Standard regime, with the dollar’s value tied to gold. During the Civil War and World War I, the U.S. went off the Gold Standard in order to print money and finance the war. When this occurred, it triggered inflationary episodes, with prices rising upwards of 20% in 1918.

YearInflation Rate*
19141.0%
19152.0%
191612.6%
191718.1%
191820.4%
191914.6%
19202.7%
1921-10.8%
1922-2.3%
19232.4%
19240%
19253.5%
1926-1.1%
1927-2.3%
1928-1.2%
19290.6%
1930-6.4%
1931-9.3%
1932-10.3%
19330.8%
19341.5%
19353.0%
19361.5%
19372.9%
1938-2.8%
19390.0%
19400.7%
19419.9%
19429.0%
19433.0%
19442.3%
19452.3%
194618.1%
19478.8%
19483.0%
1949-2.1%
19505.9%
19516.0%
19520.8%
19530.8%
1954-0.7%
19550.4%
19563.0%
19572.9%
19581.8%
19591.7%
19601.4%
19610.7%
19621.3%
19631.6%
19641.0%
19651.9%
19663.5%
19673.0%
19684.7%
19696.2%
19705.6%
19713.3%
19723.4%
19738.7%
197412.3%
19756.9%
19764.9%
19776.7%
19789.0%
197913.3%
198012.5%
19818.9%
19823.8%
19833.8%
19844.0%
19853.8%
19861.1%
19874.4%
19884.4%
19894.7%
19906.1%
19913.1%
19922.9%
19932.8%
19942.7%
19952.5%
19963.3%
19971.7%
19981.6%
19992.7%
20003.4%
20011.6%
20022.4%
20031.9%
20043.3%
20053.4%
20062.5%
20074.1%
20080.1%
20092.7%
20101.5%
20113.0%
20121.7%
20131.5%
20140.8%
20150.7%
20162.1%
20172.1%
20181.9%
20192.3%
20201.4%
20212.5%

Source: Macrotrends (June, 2021)
*As measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI)

However, when the government returned to a modified Gold Standard, deflationary periods followed, leading prices to effectively stabilize, on average, leading up to World War II.

The Move to Bretton Woods

Like post-World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930s coincided with deflationary pressures on prices. Due to the rigidity of the monetary system at the time, countries had difficulty increasing money supply to help boost their economy. Many countries exited the Gold Standard during this time, and by 1933 the U.S. abandoned it completely.

A decade later, with the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944, global currency exchange values pegged to the dollar, while the dollar was pegged to gold. The U.S. held the majority of gold reserves, and the global reserve currency transitioned from the sterling pound to the dollar.

1970’s Regime Change

By 1971, the ability for gold to cover the supply of U.S. dollars in circulation became an increasing concern.

Leading up to this point, a surplus of money supply was created due to military expenses, foreign aid, and others. In response, President Richard Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods Agreement in 1971 for a floating exchange, known as the “Nixon shock”. Under a floating exchange regime, rates fluctuate based on supply and demand relative to other currencies.

A few years later, oil shocks of 1973 and 1974 led inflation to soar past 12%. By 1979, inflation surged in excess of 13%.

The Volcker Era

In 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker was sworn in, and he introduced stark changes to combat inflation that differed from previous regimes.

Instead of managing inflation through interest rates, which the Federal Reserve had done previously, inflation would be managed through controlling the money supply. If the money supply was limited, this would cause interest rates to increase.

While interest rates jumped to 20% in 1980, by 1983 inflation dropped below 4% as the economy recovered from the recession of 1982, and oil prices rose more moderately. Over the last four decades, inflation levels have remained relatively stable since the measures of the Volcker era were put in place.

Fluctuating Prices Over History

Throughout U.S. history. there have been periods of high inflation.

As the chart below illustrates, at least four distinct periods of high inflation have emerged between 1800 and 2010. The GDP deflator measurement shown accounts for the price change of all of an economy’s goods and services, as opposed to the CPI index which is a fixed basket of goods.

It is measured as GDP Price Deflator = (Nominal GDP ÷ Real GDP) × 100.
Inflation using GDP Price Deflator

According to this measure, inflation hit its highest levels in the 1910s, averaging nearly 8% annually over the decade. Between 1914 and 1918 money supply doubled to finance war efforts, compared to a 25% increase in GDP during this period.

U.S. Inflation: Present Day

As the U.S. economy reopens, consumer demand has strengthened.

Meanwhile, supply bottlenecks, from semiconductor chips to lumber, are causing strains on automotive and tech industries. While this points towards increasing inflation, some suggest that it may be temporary, as prices were depressed in 2020.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve is following an “average inflation targeting” regime, which means that if a previous inflation shortfall occurred in the previous year, it would allow for higher inflationary periods to make up for them. As the last decade has been characterized by low inflation and low interest rates, any prolonged period of inflation will likely have pronounced effects on investors and financial markets.

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Markets in a Minute

Data Centers: Investing in the Infrastructure of the Future

Infrastructure refers to any asset that provides an essential service. In today’s interconnected world, data centers are exactly that.

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Data Centers

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Data Centers: Investing in the Infrastructure of the Future

Digital transformation is one of the world’s most prominent trends today.

For evidence, consider the growth in internet users worldwide. By 2023, 5.3 billion people (66% of population) will be using the internet, up from 3.9 billion (51% of population) in 2018.

This growth has resulted in an incredible amount of data being produced each day, whether its from streaming music on Spotify or buying goods on Amazon. But how is all this data being processed?

In this Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we shed light on the importance of data centers, and why they should be considered as core infrastructure.

The Role of the Data Center

A data center is a facility that stores, processes, and disseminates data. There are thousands of them around the world, and collectively, they’re referred to as the “cloud”.

This puts data centers at the center of nearly everything we do online: e-commerce, communications, storage and back-up, and even online gaming. To gain a better sense of what this all looks like, the following table breaks down the storage capacity of the world’s data centers.

Segment2016 Storage Capacity (exabytes)2021 Storage Capacity (exabytes) 
Compute160470
Collaboration170400
Database & analytics150380
Enterprise resource planning180420
Video streaming50180
Social networking60160
Search engine30100
Other consumer apps70190
Total8702,300

Source: Statista (2021)

One exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes, which means the world currently has 2.3 trillion gigabytes of total storage.

The largest segment is compute instances, which are cloud-based workstations used by data scientists. At the lower end of the scale are segments like video streaming (includes Netflix and Hulu) and social networking (think Facebook or LinkedIn).

Cloud Spending Reaches a Historic Milestone

For businesses that create and use data, moving to the cloud (as opposed to maintaining their own servers) has plenty of advantages like cost savings, flexibility, and security.

This is driving exponential growth in cloud infrastructure spending, which reached a record $130 billion in 2020. At the same time, spending on data center hardware decreased from $96 to $90 billion. These results are partly attributed to COVID-19, which forced many businesses to switch to a work-from-home operating model.

A survey conducted by 451 Research found that 40% of businesses had increased their usage of cloud services during the pandemic. In addition, 85% of those who were impacted indicated that the move would be a permanent one.

Data Centers are Infrastrcture

The scope of an infrastructure investor has historically been limited to companies in construction, energy, and transportation.

But what defines infrastructure?

It’s any physical system that is vital for an economy’s development and prosperity—and in a world where over 5 billion people are expected to be online by 2023, the data center is the perfect embodiment of that.

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Sustainable Investing Assets Worldwide (2018-2020)

From 2018-2020, global sustainable investing assets grew by 15% to reach $35.3 trillion. Here’s how they break down across five major markets.

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Sustainable Investing

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Sustainable Investing Assets Worldwide (2018-2020)

Sustainable investing is top-of-mind for many investors, but how fast is it actually growing?

Between 2018 and 2020, global sustainable investing assets grew 15% to reach $35.3 trillion. This works out to more than a third of total assets under management.

In this Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we explore the value and growth of sustainable investing assets across five major markets.

What is Sustainable Investing?

Sustainable investing considers environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in portfolio selection and management. For the purposes of this data, it is a broad definition that includes seven main approaches:

  • ESG integration
  • Corporate engagement & shareholder action
  • Norms-based screening
  • Negative/exclusionary screening
  • Best-in-class/positive screening
  • Sustainability themed/thematic investing
  • Impact and community investing

In most regions, it is becoming increasingly common to combine several of the above strategies within the same product.

Sustainable Investing Assets by Region

Sustainable investment data comes from five major markets: the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australasia. Currencies have been converted to U.S. dollars at the prevailing exchange rate at the day of reporting. We’ve based growth rates on U.S. dollar values.

Here is the value of sustainable investing assets in U.S dollars, sorted by asset amounts in 2020.

Region20182020Growth Rate
United States$12.0T$17.1T42%
Europe$14.1T$12.0T-15%
Japan$2.2T$2.9T32%
Canada$1.7T$2.4T43%
Australasia$734B$906B23%

All 2020 assets are reported as of December 31, 2019 except for Japan which reports as of March 31, 2020. Australasia is Australia and New Zealand. In 2020, Europe includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, the UK, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

The U.S. makes up almost half of global sustainable investment assets, and saw the second highest growth rate. One strong theme in the country is racial justice investing. Over 120 investors and organizations signed a call to action for the investment community to dismantle systemic racism and promote racial equity and justice. They plan to achieve this through various actions, such as hiring people of color and financing Black entrepreneurs.

Europe makes up over a third of all sustainable investing assets. The region has seen important regulatory developments, such as:

  • Institutional investors, asset managers, and advisors must report on how they integrate sustainability risks and adverse impacts at the entity level
  • Advisors are required to ask about their clients’ ESG preferences and advise appropriate products

While Europe saw a decline in growth from 2018-2020, this is because the region has changed how they define sustainable investing. Tighter legislation means that some products that previously qualified as sustainable may not meet the new requirements. The goal of the legislation is to create clear standards for sustainable products, promoting trust and easier access for investors.

The Mounting Pressure

Globally, the proportion of sustainable investing assets is growing. In fact, sustainable investments make up 36% of global assets under management, up from 28% in 2016.

Investment professionals say the top drivers of sustainable investing are to help manage investment risks, and because clients demand it. Not only that, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has reinforced the importance of sustainable investments.

“The climate crisis poses enormous financial risk to investment managers, asset owners and businesses….. The public and private sector must work together to ensure a just and rapid transformation to a net-zero global economy.”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

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