BOSTON (TheStreet) -- A spike in inflation, forecast by economists for well over a year, may arrive in 2011.For investors, that means avoiding most bonds and steering toward inflation-hedging investments such as gold and energy commodities, coal and oil in particular. Energy stocks are up about 4% this year, second only to financial shares' 5% gain. Also faring well in periods of accelerating inflation are companies with a strong brand or market dominance. That's because they can pass along higher operating costs to sustain profits while retaining customers. Going big is good, and an industry leader is even better. Inflation was a benign 1.5% last year, down from 2009's 2.7% increase in the Consumer Price Index, the government's main inflation gauge. And the latest government figures for 2010, issued Jan. 14, show only modest increases in energy, housing and medical costs, so overall inflation remains low. But higher prices for food, oil and other commodities are starting to stoke inflation in Europe, so it may be only a matter of time before it kicks in at home in the U.S. On Tuesday, data from the U.K's Office for National Statistics showed annual consumer-price inflation jumped to 3.7% in December from 3.3% a month earlier. In the U.S., all one has to do is fill up the tank at the local service station to understand that commodity prices are rising. Gas prices nationwide are already averaging over $3 per gallon and are near record prices for this time of year. The recent surge in crude oil prices to nearly $100 a barrel on supply issues after the Alaska Pipeline shut down for emergency repairs has raised the specter that gas could hit $4 or more by the peak summer driving season. And that could curtail consumer spending as well as costs for a wide range of industries with a big exposure to transportation costs. That said, the following pages review which companies may benefit the most from quickening inflation.