Break-Even Inflation

If you currently own bonds, you’ve already made a bet on inflation, whether you know it or not. Traditional fixed-income investments may not provide the real return investors need during periods of high inflation. It’s important to know whether your traditional fixed-income investment breaks-even with inflation.

Break-even inflation is the difference between the nominal yield on a fixed-rate investment and the real yield (fixed spread) on an inflation-linked investment of similar maturity and credit quality. If inflation averages more than the break-even, the inflation-linked investment will outperform the fixed-rate. Conversely, if inflation averages below the break-even, the fixed-rate will outperform the inflation-linked.

Calculation Formula:

Comparable Fixed-Rate – Inflation-Linked Real Yield = Break-Even Inflation

Calculation Example:

4.00% 5-Year CD
1.05% Inflation-Linked Real Yield
2.95% Break-Even Inflation

An inflation-linked investment’s coupon is determined by adding the current rate of inflation to the real yield. In the example above, the average rate of inflation would have to be more than 2.95% in order for the inflation-linked investment to outperform the fixed-rate investment. And if inflation averaged lower than 2.95%, the fixed-rate investment would outperform the inflation-linked.