Forget a potential trade war, geopolitical unrest or the D.C. chaos. Rising inflation is the single biggest risk to investors now, according to an analysis from Deutsche Bank.
"I think inflation is the mother of all risks here," Torsten Slok, the firm's chief international economist, said Tuesday in an interview on CNBC's "Trading Nation. "
Traditional measures of inflation in the U.S. have steadily risen in recent months, after anemic price pressure for the near decade since the end of the global financial crisis. At a time when the Federal Reserve is hiking interest rates and the economy is broadly enjoying a recovery, uncertainty surrounding the re-emergence of substantial inflation has once again captured the market's attention.
"We've been waiting for inflation, literally, for the last nine years, since the recession ended in 2009. You could ask the question, 'Well, why now? We didn't see inflation for the last few years, so what's different today?'" Slok suggested. He told CNBC he's been fielding more questions about risks surrounding inflation from his clients.
The answer can be found in a weak U.S. dollar (the dollar index has wallowed around the 90 mark for much of 2018, after a stunning free fall in 2017), an immense fiscal expansion in the last decade pushing the economy toward overheating, a tight labor market, and recent (albeit modest) price pressure in the wake of trade war possibilities and tariff talk, Slok said.
The expectation for higher inflation is not out of line with consensus opinion. Indeed, higher inflation is the consensus view of those sampled by Bank of America's latest monthly global fund manager survey, as net 82 percent of respondents earlier this month expect the core consumer price index to rise over the next year. Notably, this is just under the post-crisis high of 86 percent, recorded last month.
Earlier this month, inflation numbers came in hotter than anticipated, signaling inflation pressures could be mounting. The Labor Department reported its CPI rose 2.4 percent year on year, its fastest annual pace in 12 months. When removing food and energy, however, so-called core prices ticked higher by 2.1 percent year on year; still, this is the measure's largest annual rise since February 2017.
In another print that was above expectations earlier this month, the personal consumption expenditures price index — regarded as the Fed's preferred measure of inflation — rose 1.6 percent in February after four straight months of coming in at 1.5 percent.
Slok said further evidence of rising inflation in the coming months would allow the Fed to hike interest rates perhaps more aggressively than the market is currently pricing in. Thus, Treasury yield curves will subsequently steepen as the 10-year Treasury yield rallies.
"If you begin to see more realization of, well, maybe we will have some overshooting in inflation, that will certainly have implications not only for rates, but also for equities, and ultimately, also for the dollar," he said, adding overshooting inflation targets doesn't necessarily mean a breakdown in the equity market — so long as the 2 percent mark is not breached substantially to the upside.
"It depends a lot on what the exact profile for what inflation will be. The worry here really is that if inflation does overshoot to the upside, and the biggest worry is, is the market really prepared for more inflation? Then you could have more risks being injected," Slok said.