Stern Advice-How investors can get ready for inflation

NEW YORK Wed May 21, 2014 2:00pm EDT

NEW YORK May 21 (Reuters) - Last month was not a good one for inflation hawks, unless they were looking for validation.

The U.S. consumer price index was up 0.3 percent in April, its largest increase in 10 months. And producer prices were up 0.6 percent - their biggest monthly rise since September 2012.

Of course, that does not mean prices have run amok; many think we still have more to fear from ice than from fire, macroeconomically speaking. But for those of us who remember the 1970s, even barely, it is a sign that ought not to be ignored.

In 1972, the U.S. Labor Department's consumer price index rose 3.3 percent. The next year, it was up 8.7 percent, and the next year, it soared 12.3 percent. In the 10 years ended with the beginning of 1983, consumer prices more than doubled.

That history presents savers and investors with a quandary: How do you protect yourself from the possibility of future inflation without tying up too much money in unrewarding investments now?

Here are a few options:

- Own your home. The brief "owning a home is no longer the American Dream" period seems to have ended in most locales; if you buy a home and live in it long enough to pay off your mortgage, you're likely to hold your own against a lifetime of price appreciation. The average annual appreciation rate for single family homes between 1968 and 2013 - encompassing some very good and very bad periods - was 5.3 percent. The average annual inflation rate over that time was 4.4 percent. Furthermore, by locking in a fixed low interest rate mortgage, you'll beat rising rates as well.

- Buy dividend growth stocks. Over long periods of time, stocks beat inflation handily, though they may lag during individual years of very high inflation, according to data from Ibbotson Associates, a subsidiary of research firm Morningstar Inc. Companies that increase their dividends every year can provide an extra buffer. As consumer prices rise, so do the dividends.

- Consider mining and natural resources companies. All of those commodities - gold, minerals, oil - tend to go up in price when consumer inflation is accelerating. But you can't do much with a commodity and they don't pay dividends. They cost money to store, even if you're holding them through a fund. Instead look at the companies that also make money for extracting those resources; they'll make money when prices rise, and most of them pay dividends too.

- Limit your spending. Of course, the less money you spend, the less you have to worry about prices. That can mean setting up your life to reduce those expenses that tend to rise the fastest: living in an energy-efficient home and driving a fuel-efficient car, and keeping up with preventive medical care. Shop for deals when you can get them on the big items designed to last a long time. For example, with General Motors Co recalling nearly 12 million vehicles in the United States so far this year, it would not be surprising if shoppers found new deals on GM cars. (Editing by G Crosse)

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