ETF Securities Research Blog

Trump populism will stoke inflation & volatility

Over the coming year, there are many elections scheduled where populist parties are gaining traction, most notably in the US. As inequality issues cannot be reversed overnight, we believe uncertainty is likely to remain elevated in the coming year, favouring safer, lower volatility assets.

In our September 2016 outlook we discuss that there is something unusual happening in modern politics that is threatening to destabilise incumbent political parties in the developed world, namely populism.


In some respects populism isn’t an ideology but a mode of political expression that is employed selectively and strategically, targeting issues of mass appeal and we can see this no better than the rise in popularity of Donald Trump in the United States. Populist parties tend to over-promise, developing simple policies with mass appeal, irrespective of their ability to be delivered.

Why has this phenomenon begun now? There do seem to be some key drivers of today’s rise in populism, primarily high inequality, generated by stagnant economic and wage growth alongside increasing cultural diversity. Gabriel Palma, an academic who has written on populism and inequality, implied in his work that globalisation is distorting the distribution of income. “What really matters is the income–share between the rich and lower income workers with their ever more precarious jobs in ever more ‘flexible’ labour markets becoming a source of tension”.

Populism – implications for investments and the economy
Regardless of the success of populism at elections, populist momentum can be a very powerful catalyst for reform, with incumbent parties scrambling to counter the populist wave. We have already seen Hillary Clinton pledge $275bn for infrastructure spending.

Along with a likely rise in infrastructure spend we are also likely to see increased spend on social initiatives to combat inequality. Infrastructure spend creates additional demand whilst social initiatives are likely to lead to an increase in consumer spending with the end result being a likely rise in inflation.

Populist policies in the US, which are likely to include tax cuts, prompting a potential widening of the budget deficit, could weaken the US dollar in the coming years. Furthermore, protectionist policies that could constrict international trade and investment are likely to exacerbate global currency volatility, in turn contributing to further investor uncertainty.

To read our September outlook please click here

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