10 Common Effects of Inflation

How Can Inflation Be Good For The Economy?

Inflation does have some benefits. When more dollars are produced, spending increases which leads to more aggregated demand. This will result in higher production. Inflation also encourages more borrowing and lending which increases spending. For more information, watch this video.

Reviewed by Michael J BoyleFact checked by Kirsten Rohrs SchmittReviewed by Michael J BoyleFact checked by Kirsten Rohrs Schmitt

Inflation is the overall rise in the prices of goods and services over time. It has significant effects on consumers, businesses, investors, and the overall economy.

Moderate inflation has been a fact of life for more than a century. It’s important to distinguish between the inherent effects of inflation at any rate and those that only come into play when inflation runs unusually high.

Key Takeaways

  • Inflation is the sustained and broad rise in the prices of goods and services over time; it erodes purchasing power.
  • A small but positive inflation rate is economically useful.
  • High inflation tends to feed on itself and impair the economy’s long-term performance.
  • Real estate, energy commodities, and value stocks have historically outperformed during high or rising inflation.
  • Bonds and expensive growth stocks tend to lag as inflation lowers the present value of their future cash flows to investors.

What Causes Inflation?

Inflation is the rise in prices of goods and services over time. Consumers lose purchasing power when prices rise. The power of a single unit of currency doesn’t go as far as it did before. A little inflation isn’t much cause for concern but inflation can pose serious problems when prices rise too quickly.

Some of the most common causes of rapid inflation include:

  • An imbalance in supply and demand: Inflation tends to increase when consumer demand for goods and services increases while supply remains limited.
  • The disruption in supplies or supply shocks: Global energy prices jumped following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia cut off global energy supplies and tightened the market in response to sanctions placed by the international community. This drop in energy supplies caused prices to increase.
  • Expectations of inflation: People often demand higher wages to prepare for future price increases when they expect prices to rise. Producers and businesses tend to respond by raising prices and this causes inflation to rise.

Inflation has some major impacts on the economy.

1. Inflation Erodes Purchasing Power

This is inflation’s primary and most pervasive effect. An overall rise in prices over time reduces the purchasing power of consumers because a fixed amount of money will afford progressively less consumption.

Consumers lose purchasing power regardless of whether the inflation rate is 2% or 4%. They simply lose it faster at a higher rate.

Inflation measures the rise in prices over time for a basket of goods and services representative of overall consumer spending. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the best-known inflation indicator. The Federal Reserve focuses on the PCE Price Index in its inflation targeting.

2. Inflation Impacts Lower-Income Consumers

Low-income consumers tend to spend a higher proportion of their incomes on necessities than those with higher incomes. They have less of a cushion against the loss of purchasing power that’s inherent in inflation.

Policymakers and financial market participants often focus on core inflation. This measurement of inflation excludes the prices of food and energy because they tend to be more volatile and less reflective of longer-term inflation trends. But earners with lower income spend a relatively large proportion of their weekly or monthly household budgets on food and energy, commodities that are hard to substitute or go without when prices spike.


The poor are also less likely to own assets like real estate which has traditionally served as an inflation hedge.

Recipients of Social Security benefits and other federal transfer payments receive inflation protection in the form of annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) that are based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This is an index of consumer prices for hourly wage earners and clerical workers.

3. Inflation Keeps Deflation at Bay

The Fed’s target inflation rate is set at 2% over the long run. This allows it to meet its mandates for stable prices and maximum employment. It focuses on modest inflation rather than steady prices because a slightly positive inflation rate greases the wheels of commerce. It provides a margin of error in the event inflation is overestimated and deters deflation. The overall decline in prices can be much more destabilizing than comparable inflation.

Lenders can charge interest to offset the inflation likely to devalue repayments. It also helps borrowers to service their debts by allowing them to make future repayments with inflated currency. But deflation makes it more expensive to service debt in real terms because incomes would be likely to decline along with prices.

One reason modest inflation rather than deflation is the norm is that wages are sticky to the downside. Workers tend to resist attempts to cut their wages during an economic downturn. Layoffs become the likeliest alternative for businesses facing a downturn in demand. A positive inflation rate allows a wage freeze to serve as a cut in labor costs in real terms.

The benefits of inflation only provide insurance against deflation until price hikes exceed the customary and expected rate because inflation can also spiral out of control if it’s high enough.


Deflation represents a departure from the norm so it’s also more likely to trigger expectations for additional deflation. This causes further spending and income declines and ultimately widespread loan defaults that can set off a banking crisis.

4. Inflation Feeds on Itself When It’s High

A little inflation can signal a healthy economy so it’s not likely to cause inflation expectations to rise. It’s mostly background noise if inflation was 2% last year and is 2% this year. Businesses, workers, and consumers would likely expect inflation to remain at 2% next year in that scenario.

But expectations of future inflation will begin to rise accordingly when the inflation rate accelerates sharply and stays high. Workers start demanding larger wage increases as those expectations rise and employers pass those costs on by raising prices on output, setting off a wage-price spiral.

A bungled policy response to high inflation can end in hyperinflation in a worst-case scenario. Rising inflation expectations in the U.S. during the 1970s lifted annual inflation above 13% by 1980 and the federal funds rate to more than 20% by 1981. Unemployment topped 10% as late as mid-1983 following the ensuing recessions.

An index of the cost of living in Germany increased to a level of more than 1.5 trillion times its pre-WWI measure by December 1923.

5. Inflation Raises Interest Rates

Governments and central banks have a powerful incentive to keep inflation in check. A common approach over the past century has been to manage inflation by using monetary policy. Policymakers can raise the minimum interest rate, driving borrowing costs higher across the economy, by constraining the money supply when inflation threatens to exceed a central bank’s target. This is typically 2% in developed economies and 3% to 4% in emerging ones.

Inflation and interest rates tend to move in the same direction as a result. Central banks can dampen the economy’s animal spirits by raising interest rates as inflation rises or risk appetite and attendant price pressures. The expected monthly payments on that boat or corporate bond issue for a new expansion project suddenly seem a bit high. The risk-free rate of return available for newly issued Treasury bonds will meanwhile tend to rise, rewarding savings.

6. Inflation Lowers Debt Service Costs

New borrowers are likely to face higher interest rates when inflation rises but those with fixed-rate mortgages and other loans get the benefit of repaying these with inflated money. This lowers their debt service costs after adjusting for inflation.

Assume you borrow $1,000 at a 5% annual rate of interest. The annual decline in your inflation-adjusted loan balance will outweigh your interest costs if annual inflation subsequently rises to 10%.

This doesn’t apply to adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), credit card balances, or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), however. These typically allow lenders to raise their interest rates to keep pace with inflation and Fed rate hikes.

7. Inflation Lifts Growth & Employment in the Short Term

Higher inflation can lead to faster economic growth in the short term. The 1970s are recalled as a decade of stagflation but U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 3.2% annually on average between 1970 and 1979, well above the economy’s average growth rate since then.

Elevated inflation discourages saving because it erodes the purchasing power of savings over time. That prospect can encourage consumers to spend and businesses to invest.

Unemployment often declines at first as inflation climbs as a result. Historical observations of the inverse correlation between unemployment and inflation led to the development of the Phillips curve that expresses the relationship. Higher inflation can spur demand while lowering inflation-adjusted labor costs, fueling job gains, at least for a time.

The bill for persistently high inflation must eventually come due, however, in the form of a painful downturn that resets expectations. Chronic economic underperformance otherwise results.

8. Inflation Can Cause Painful Recessions

The trouble with the trade-off between inflation and unemployment is that prolonged acceptance of higher inflation to protect jobs can cause inflation expectations to rise to the point where they set off an inflationary spiral of price hikes and pay increases. This happened in the U.S. during the stagflation of the 1970s.

The Fed was subsequently forced to raise interest rates much higher to regain lost credibility and to convince everyone again that it would control inflation and then keep them high for a longer period. This caused unemployment to soar and to stay high for longer than would likely have been the case if the Fed hadn’t allowed inflation to spiral so high.

9. Inflation Hurts Bonds & Growth Stocks

Bonds are generally considered to be low-risk investments that provide regular interest income at a fixed rate. Inflation and especially high inflation impair the value of bonds by lowering the present value of that income.

The yield on newly issued bonds increases as interest rates rise in response to rising or elevated inflation. The market price of bonds issued previously at a lower yield then drops proportionally because bond prices are the inverse of bond yields. Investors with Treasury bonds are still in line for the expected coupon payments followed by principal repayment at maturity but those who sell their bonds before maturity will receive less as a result of the increased market yields.

There’s less of a consensus about whether high inflation hurts or helps stocks overall. Conclusions depend on the definition of high inflation and whether the historical record cited includes the 1970s, a lost decade for U.S. stocks amid stagflation.

Growth stocks tend to be more expensive and they’re notoriously allergic to inflation. Inflation discounts the present value of their future cash flows more heavily just as it does for high-duration bonds. Technology and consumer stocks have lagged during past episodes of high or rising inflation.

10. Inflation Boosts Real Estate, Energy, & Value Stocks

Real estate has historically served as a hedge against inflation because landlords can protect themselves by raising rents even as inflation erodes the real cost of fixed-rate mortgages.

Rising commodity prices can cause inflation to accelerate. Commodities can change when growth slows when it does. This is particularly true of energy commodities that tend to continue to outperform.

Energy equities, real estate investment trusts (REITs), and value stocks have historically outperformed during episodes of high or rising inflation.

Areas Impacted

Inflation can have a positive impact on the economy. People continue to spend rather than save their cash when prices rise at a moderate rate. Most consumers open up their wallets even when there’s a slight increase in prices because they often expect things to get more expensive in the future. But savers will take a hit as inflation continues to rise:

  • You’ll have to increase the amount of money you save for retirement because the target amount you set to match your current lifestyle won’t be enough when it comes time to leave the workforce. You won’t be able to support yourself in retirement if you don’t adjust how much you’re saving based on inflation.
  • The value of certain fixed-income investments drops. The rate of return on government-issued securities drops as inflation increases. And more people may decide to sell them when returns drop, which decreases their value.
  • The value of the national debt rises because the amount of interest owed on that debt increases. Governments may be forced to raise taxes or cut down on spending when this happens.

Not every asset’s value moves in the same direction because of inflation. One may drop just because another rises. Mortgage rates may rise but the value of your home may drop.

Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?

Inflation comes with both winners and losers, just as with any other economic phenomenon.

Who Benefits?

Inflation can be a boon for certain borrowers. Consider mortgagors who have fixed-rate loans on their homes. You won’t be affected if you have a rate locked in at 5% and inflation causes interest rates to rise. That can’t be said for your neighbor who may have an ARM that changes based on market rates.

You’re probably going to be in luck if you’re in the market for a new home because higher prices and higher interest rates often knock out the competition, boosting the amount of inventory available. You’re likely going to be able to get the pick of the lot if you can afford it.

Who Doesn’t Benefit?

Inflation reduces purchasing power so consumers represent the primary group who stands to lose when prices rise. Their money doesn’t go nearly as far and it allows them a limited number of goods and services that they can purchase. Most consumers tend to think twice about buying a big-ticket item such as a new appliance or a new car when inflation is high.

Home buyers may also feel the pinch during these times because higher prices mean higher interest rates, making borrowing more expensive.

People on fixed incomes are also negatively affected by inflation. Consider retirees who receive Social Security. They may receive COLA increases on their benefits but this may not be enough to sustain the same standard of living they’re used to when prices increase to certain levels.

What Is Inflation’s Primary Effect?

Inflation is the rise in prices of goods and services. It causes the purchasing power of a currency to decline, making a representative basket of goods and services increasingly more expensive.

How Can Inflation Benefit Homeowners?

Homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages benefit from inflation because it effectively discounts the present value of their future mortgage payments. Home equity increases as housing prices rise as a result of inflation. Homeowners who rent out their homes can increase rents with inflation.

What Is Deflation?

Deflation is a sustained period of broadly declining prices. It’s often the result of a severe economic contraction that causes consumers and businesses to curtail spending and investing. Deflation is destabilizing because it makes it harder to service debts.

The Bottom Line

Inflation can be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it.

Governments and central banks plan for manageable price increases by setting inflationary targets and consumers respond by spending as prices tend to increase at a nominal rate. But that changes when inflation overheats. This can diminish the purchasing power of consumers. Governments generally raise interest rates, reduce the amount of money banks must have on reserve, and cut back on the money supply when inflation runs rampant.

Read the original article on Investopedia.