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ETFs for Deflation

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the 30-year Treasury yield back under 4%, there are few signs of inflation and investors should consider repositioning their bets, with several ETFs available for the job.

Economic data remains weak and there is unlikely to be a resurgence of inflation even if the recovery stays on track. Home prices are holding steady, unemployment is high and interest rates remain low. The CPI has shown increases thanks to favorable comparisons, but these will start to disappear. Modest growth has failed to broadly push up prices, with only a few specific counter examples.

Short of rapid economic growth, something that few economists, if any, predict, I expect that investors will do well by assuming inflation is a potential, rather than imminent threat.

With economic growth and no inflation, high-yield stocks are likely to do well. iShares Dow Jones Select Dividend Index (DVY) is a good stock ETF. It's down about 9% over the past three months, nearly 4% better than the S&P 500 Index. Over the long haul and in a low-rate environment, DVY is likely to outperform the broader market. Investors can use the dips to pick up shares and lock in higher yields.

The JP Morgan Alerian MLP ETN (AMJ) has performed better; it's down about 1% since late April.

On the more conservative side, short-term government bonds will do well in deflation. An ETF such as iShares Barclays 1-3 Year Treasury (SHY) will hold its value and also offers some inflation protection, since yields can adjust more quickly.

Even iShares Barclays TIPS (TIP) isn't a terrible play. Investors who are really worried about inflation may be more comfortable holding TIP, but in a steady deflation, the value of these bonds could decline.

TIPS will not decline below face value, but if the principal of the bonds held by the fund have increased due to inflation, that added principal can be lost in a deflation. The losses will be mild, however, and some investors may be willing to accept the loss as a price for inflation protection.

Investors can adjust their bond position based on aggressiveness and conviction. At the most conservative end is cash and short-term bonds, with potential gains and losses increasing as investors move out the yield curve. iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury (TLT) will see the largest gains and losses from shifts in interest rates.
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