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Subject:  The Impact of Inflation on Yield Date:  1/30/2013  2:40 PM
Author:  globalist2013 Number:  34736 of 35909

Standard Disclaimers: The following post is not a recommendation to buy (or to avoid) the issuer mentioned. The post is merely a theoretical exercise that happens to use actual data.

Inflation is one of the many financial/economic buzz words that gets tossed around without most users ever defining what they really mean by the term. The current CPI index (and its variants) -- as they are produced by the Ministry of Economic Propaganda (aka, The Bureau of Labor Statistics)-- is just fluff and horse feathers. That wasn’t always the case. The pre-1980 series is a useful measure of YOY price changes as the average household might have experienced them. Since then --due to “revisions”-- the CPI has become a political tool, rather than a useful measure of things worth measuring. (The history of those revisions --especially the politics driving the revisions-- is a post for another time and, probably, another forum than this one.) So, let’s use a street-level definition and a street-level example.

If a first-class postage stamp cost you $0.40 cents last year and $0.42 cent this year, and the changes were one year apart, then you know you’ve suffered a 5% increase in your costs. If the price jumped to $0.44 from its previous $.40, then you can conclude that you suffered a 10% increases in your mailing costs. If you create a line-item, household budget yourself and track your expenses on a year-over-year basis, it is simplicity itself to determine what your actually experienced rate of inflation has been, and --possibly-- you can use those numbers to project what your future experienced rate of inflation might become. I happen to know that my experienced rate of inflation is 6%. Other households, because they are buying a different basket of goods and services, will report different rates of experienced inflation for themselves. But what all of those calculated rate will have in common is that they will be multiples of the “officially” reported rate. Even worse, their impact is real as you will find out when to go to the grocery store or gas pump. So the numbers aren’t the make-believe that characterizes most of what passes for “economics”. Inflation is a not-so-hidden tax on your future income and wealth.

If you buy a bond, any bond, you need to worry about the impact inflation will have on your yield. Even if you’re buying a 90-day CD, inflation will impact your yield. The principal returned to you will NOT buy as many goods and services as it did previously. Do the math. If your experienced rate of inflation is 6% per year, then your 90-day inflation rate is 1.5%. If you were dumb enough to buy a 90-day CD offering 1% (ann.), then you had to pay taxes on your gain of ¼% at ordinary-income rates. Let’s guess that your effective, Fed-state combo tax-rate on ord-inc was 25%. So, whatever three-quarters of one-quarter is what your after-tax yield was, from which you now have to subtract your experienced inflation-rate of 1.5%. Opps. You lost money, didn’t you? In other words, you made a very risky, very irresponsible bet, and --very predictably-- you lost that bet (unless, of course, your intention in buying the CD was to lose money, aka, your purchasing-power).

OK, enough of skirmishing. Let’s dig into some bonds. Below is the current prices and yield for JCP.

Cpn Due Price CY YTM
6.875 10/15/15 100.750 6.8% 6.6%
7.650 08/15/16 99.000 7.7% 8.0%
7.950 04/01/17 97.000 8.2% 8.8%
5.750 02/15/18 91.500 6.3% 7.8%
5.650 06/01/20 85.125 6.6% 8.4%
7.125 11/15/23 86.000 8.3% 9.2%
6.900 08/15/26 83.430 8.3% 9.0%
6.375 10/15/36 77.750 8.2% 8.6%
7.400 04/01/37 86.725 8.5% 8.7%
7.625 03/01/97 80.000 9.5% 9.5%

Look them over and tell me --if you can --which would be the best maturity to buy? If a high Current-Yield were important you to, you might choose the 7.625’s of ’97. If a low entry-price were important to you, you might choose the 6.375’s of ’36. If the highest YTM were important to you, you might choose the same 7.625’s of ’97 (as previously), or, possibly, the 7.125s of ’23, for offering only slight less of a YTM, but being a lot closer in maturity. But what if the most important thing to you were the actual, after-tax, after-inflation yield for each bond? Which bond might be the “best” one to choose?

If you want to know the CY for a bond, you can look it up or ask a bond calculator to produce the number for you. If you want to know the YTM for a bond, you can look it up, or you ask a bond calculator to produce the number for you. But if you want to know the tax-adjusted, inflation-adjusted yield for a bond, you’ve gotta build a spreadsheet. Depending --of course-- on how clearly you can frame the problem, and how fast you can write code, about ten minutes work is all it should take you to create a useable spreadsheet. So, creating the tool is no biggie. Let’s assume --Presto, Magico!-- that the task has been done and that our spreadsheet produces the following table (where our CG tax-rate is 15%, our ord-inc tax rate is 25%, our inflation rate is 5%, and prices are based on a purchase of one bond with a $10 commish.)

Cpn Due Price Adj_Cpn Adj_YTM
6.875 10/15/15 100.750 4.83% 0.0%
7.650 08/15/16 99.000 5.26% 1.1%
7.950 04/01/17 97.000 5.39% 1.8%
5.750 02/15/18 91.500 3.81% 1.1%
5.650 06/01/20 85.125 3.54% 1.6%
7.125 11/15/23 86.000 4.11% 2.0%
6.900 08/15/26 83.430 3.72% 1.9%
6.375 10/15/36 77.750 2.68% 1.2%
7.400 04/01/37 86.725 3.08% 1.2%
7.625 03/01/97 80.000 0.74% -0.5%

Again, let’s ask our same, basic question. Which might be the best bond to buy? Clearly, if a tax-adjusted, inflation-adjusted YTM were what is most important to you, then the 7.125’s of ’23 should be chosen. Nothing else offers a better return. However, now comes the realities of bond-investing. Is that bond, really, really, really the best one tactically to be buying? JCP is in a world of hurt. Its survival isn’t all that assured. A Chapter 11 filing isn’t unlikely (though the shape of the yield-curve predicts that traders aren’t yet pricing in a default). When you’re worried about an issuer failing, the last thing you want to be doing is to be buying their bonds a long way away from your likely workout-price. What’s the highest-priced bond in that list? The 6.875s of ’15, right? That’s just two years away. If a Ch 11 filing were immanent, the bond wouldn’t be priced as it is. So the higher probability bet is that bond will mature. But take a look at your effective-yield, which is zero. Do you really want to be putting money at risk in order to accomplish –-at best-- a scratch trade? That’s just stupidity. You might be able to get away with it this time. But sooner or later, such buying is going to cause you