Not like the '70s but still a threat
The consumer price index has been rising 3.9% per year of late -- the highest pace in the U.S. since October 2008. Worse, it flared without a push from the labor market, given that the unemployment rate is still 9%. The rising prices have been manageable. The risk is that they will climb even more once jobs reappear. No, we don't envision 1970s-style double-digit inflation; there's just too much downward wage pressure being exerted by cheap overseas labor. But a 5% or 6% rate is a legitimate threat. John Brynjolfsson, who runs commodity investment firm Armored Wolf, fears the Federal Reserve won't have the courage to raise short-term interest rates when it needs to. One way to hedge against inflation is by owning shares of established companies with proven pricing power, those with steadily rising operating margins. This usually indicates they have the ability to raise prices and maybe even the leverage to hold down price increases from suppliers.

All prices as of 5/16/11. All price/earnings ratios are based on consensus analyst estimates for earnings over the next 12 months (the equivalent figure for the S&P 500 is 14.2).
Last updated May 26 2011: 6:54 AM ET

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