LIMITED TIME OFFER: Get a $500 cash bonus with a personal loan.
Offer ends 9/30/21. Not available to OH residents. Bonus deposited into SoFi Money. See terms

Purchasing Power 101: Examining the Value of the US Dollar

By Colin Dodds · August 10, 2021 · 4 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Purchasing Power 101: Examining the Value of the US Dollar

Purchasing power is a concept used to express the amount of goods and services a consumer or business can buy with a given unit of currency. In the United States, purchasing power is directly linked to the value of the dollar.

Due to inflation, a dollar today typically won’t go as far as it did last year. And a dollar next year won’t buy the same things that it did this year. This fluctuation in US dollar purchasing power is constant, and goes unnoticed, except in times of extreme inflation.

How Does Purchasing Power Impact Investors?

Once you understand the purchasing power definition, you can start to understand its context for investing. The purchasing power of a dollar affects investors because it makes an impact on virtually every aspect of the broader economy. When the dollar buys less, it changes the shopping decisions of consumers, the hiring practices of employers, the strategic decisions of corporations, and the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

One way to track inflation and purchasing power of a dollar is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a statistic compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which reports the figure every month. The statistic measures the average of prices of a set of goods and services in sectors such as transportation, food, and healthcare. Economists consider it a valuable gauge of the ever-changing cost of living, though it does exclude some important spending categories, including real estate and education.

Investors, executives and policymakers use CPI as a lens through which to scrutinize other economic indicators, including sales numbers, revenues, earnings and so on. It also determines the payments made to the millions of people on Social Security, which gets adjusted for the cost of living every year, and retirees drawing a pension from the military or the Federal Civil Services.

Why Does the Value of the Dollar Change?

A number of factors drive the value of the US dollar, including large scale factors having to do with economic cycles, government politics and international relations. But the dollar has also experienced inflation for most of the last century.

Inflation rose after World War I amid increased demand for food and other raw materials, which raised prices of most consumer goods up until the Great Depression, in which the country experienced prolonged deflation.

That’s when President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in with a surprising policy decision: He banned private ownership of gold, and required people to sell their holdings to the government. That allowed the Federal Reserve to increase the money supply and stop deflation in its tracks.

Since 1933, through World War II, the Cold War, and a host of changing monetary and economic policies, the US dollar has seen various rates of inflation. It reached its peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s oil and gas shortages exacerbated existing inflation and led to a gas shortage, and an increase in the price of manufacturing and shipping of nearly every single consumer good. Using 2020 dollars as a measure, the dollar fell from $6.39 in 1971 to just $2.28 in 1987.

Inflation rose at a more steady pace through the 1990s, falling to historically low levels in the past decade. One reason for the ongoing inflation is that the Federal Reserve continually increased the money supply via economic stimulus. The logic is simple supply and demand: If there are more dollars, then each one is worth less in terms of purchasing power.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, the Federal Reserve has injected trillions into the economy. That, along with other stimulus measures, has many investors worried about the impact on the purchasing power of the dollar, and what that might mean for the broader economy.

What Purchasing Power Means for Investors

Generally, investors consider inflation a headwind for the markets, as it drives up the costs of materials and labor, boosts the cost of borrowing and tends to reduce consumer spending. That all tends to translate to lower earnings growth, which can depress stock prices.

But after decades of steady inflation, the markets have priced in a certain amount of shrinkage when it comes to the purchasing power of the dollar. Inflation has a great impact when it occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

But inflation can have benefits for investors as well. During an economic upswing, inflation is a reliable side effect of prosperity, since economic booms produce higher profits, which drives up the markets. Historically, some experts say that the decades when the S&P 500 Index has delivered the highest returns have been when inflation has been between 2% to 3% annually.

Investors saving for long-term goals, such as retirement, must take declining purchasing power into account when determining how much they’ll need to reach those goals.

How Does Inflation Influence Stocks?

Inflation impacts different types of stocks differently, and there are several strategies that investors can use to hedge against inflation. During periods of high inflation, growth stocks tend to underperform, simply because so much of their value is tied up in the expectation of future earnings, and inflation diminishes those expectations.

Value stocks, on the other hand, typically boast steadier earnings, and are valued in line with those earnings. As a result, value stocks, as a category, tend to hold up better during periods of high inflation.

Recommended: Exploring Different Types of Investments

Other investments to consider during periods of high inflation include dividend-paying utility stocks and REITs, gold and other commodities. And because periods of high inflation usually brings higher interest rates, it can be a good time to buy bonds, especially government bonds

The Takeaway

The value of the dollar, in terms of what it can buy, changes over time, but inflation isn’t always bad news for investors. Some stocks may perform better than others in an inflationary environment, and higher interest rates may be good news for bond investors and savers.

If you’re ready to build a portfolio taking your inflation expectations into account, a great way to start is via the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. You can use the platform to purchase stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and cryptocurrency.

Photo credit: iStock/pcess609


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SOIN0621239

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender