The inflation figures are horrid, once again. The Retail Prices Index, the cost-of-living indicator that they’d rather you didn’t focus on, is now lolloping along at a brisk 3.2%. No wonder the boffins at the CSO are trying to hobble the beast as best they can, with their mumbo-jumbo about how it consistently exaggerates the rise in prices.

It’s possible that their Machiavellian machinations will have some grit poured into the mechanism in the House of Lords tomorrow, but it would be unwise to hope that the Upper House to stop it altogether. When it comes to this sort of thing, it’s decision first, consultation later.

However, even a statistically-purer RPI won’t stop the relentless march of inflation, and investors would be wise to buy a little insurance if they can. As always, we’re being told that many of the factors in today’s unexpected jump are temporary, but students of Britain’s inflation-prone economy might beg to differ. Once these factors fall out, others will arrive to replace them, whatever the Bank of England governor may claim in his Inflation Report tomorrow.

The protection provided by index-linked gilts is now so expensive that it guarantees holders a loss (in real terms) on their investment. Take a little more risk, and a few opportunities remain. The National Grid RPI-linked bonds, 2021, were issued last year at par, and stand at £103. The coupon is only 1.25%, but both interest and principal rise in line with the RPI until repayment nine years hence.

The tax treatment is unhelpful, so the bonds are really only suitable for a SIPP or an ISA (which is where mine are). Capital protection with a good credit, and a small real return on your money looks pretty compelling to me. Knowing you’ve got the bonds also makes these inflation shocks seem slightly less shocking.

 

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