Michael Ashton, who styles himself “Inflation Guy” on Twitter, has been preparing for this moment for almost 20 years. In the early 2000s, he was a derivatives trader at Barclays Capital in New York when he was tapped to build a business around inflation swaps, contracts that let traders bet on a rise in consumer prices. Ashton says he was a “good enough” trader—the real job was to build a market by being “an evangelist for the product.”
He became one even though, until recently, he expected inflation to be low and stable. Correctly so: In recent years, the U.S. consumer price index has often grown by less than 2% annually. Ashton says his measured outlook irritated his bosses at Barclays, who viewed it as an impediment to drumming up business. He thought it didn’t matter: Inflation was an ever-present risk, he was inventing ways to insure against it, and low inflation made it cheap to do so. Although the market grew, and Ashton in 2009 founded an advisory business for hedging large or unusual inflation risks, he remained a voice in the desert crying out that he had rain boots for sale. “The lack of interest was amazing,” he says. “It’s incredible how little people thought about it—what that risk was.”
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