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ETFs to Play the Inflation Trade

Stocks in this article: DB INFL DEFL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Capital markets have been trying to sort out whether or not there will be meaningful price inflation because of all the liquidity injections and other steps being taken to stoke the economy or whether there will be deflation as we could have many more years of writedowns and poor economic activity ahead of us.

Protecting against inflation or trying to speculate on an inflationary outcome has been easy to do with various TIPS products or precious metals. Deflation has been tougher other than buying bond funds as a deflationary environment is good for bonds. A couple of new exchange traded notes from Deutsche Bank (DB) allow for more precise protection or speculation, depending on the end user's objective.

The PowerShares DB US Inflation ETN (INFL) will go up when the bond market perceives inflation risks increasing and the PowerShares DB US Deflation ETN (DEFL) will go up when the bond market perceives deflation risks increasing. I used the phrase "when the bond market perceives" because each note is tied to the spread between the yield of TIPS versus the yield of regular treasury bonds of like maturities. When the TIPS outperform it is viewed as an expression of inflation concerns increasing which is when INFL should outperform and when TIPS underperform regular treasury bonds it is viewed as an expression of inflation concerns decreasing which is when DEFL should out perform.

Each of the notes charges a 0.75% expense ratio. The indicative intra day value (IIV), which is the exchange traded product equivalent of the term net asset value, of the notes will move by $0.10 for each point change in the respective underlying indexes. As a practical matter this will be difficult to track in real time without a Bloomberg Terminal but Deutsche Bank has been maintaining the indexes since July 25 of this year and in that time the index underlying INFL is down 8.31% (through November 28) while the index underlying DEFL is up 8.54%.

Mentioning the returns of the two is noteworthy because in the same four month period the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund (TIP) was up 4.53%. This shows that INFL and DEFL can move a lot in a short period of time. They can add value for people looking to protect or hedge a portfolio as a little exposure to the notes might be able to go a long way but also be a positive for speculators as more than 8% in four months in which there was no panic in the US or other form of market malfunction is a decent sized move.

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