With inflation worries starting to surface and the US Dollar resuming its fall, many investment advisors have advocated the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund (TIP). This ETF invests in Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, treasury bonds which promise to completely protect against inflation by calculating the coupon payment on inflation-adjusted principal.
The TIP is a smartly designed fund with an attractive expense ratio and plenty of liquidity. But it has one fatal flaw: TIPs haven’t been tested in truly inflationary times, and are thus a much riskier investment than most people think.
The protective value of TIPs rests on an accurate calculation of inflation. Critics have long accused the CPI of underestimating the true value of inflation. Much like the unemployment figures, the CPI numbers have been openly massaged over time to look more benign. They aren’t falsified per se, the index’s parameters are simply changed in a way that produces overly conservative figures.
TIPs were first issued in 1997, smack in the middle of the “great moderation”. They weren’t tested in the 1970’s. We don’t know if the US government will pay them back honestly and in full. It may simply be easier and cheaper to lower the CPI numbers, leaving TIPs holders exposed. This excellent Bloomberg story describes how poorly TIPs performed in early 2008, right when pre-crisis inflation hit its peak.
Full Story: http://seekingalpha.com/article/139425-why-investors-should-avoid-tip