Inflation is coming, which could mean higher interest rates - expert

Experts are tipping rising oil prices and cargo disruptions will soon lead to higher prices and inflation.

And that could result in higher interest rates for borrowers, says Felix Fok of Milford Asset Management. 

"It's almost certainly coming... I think some of it is already here," he told The AM Show on Thursday. "There have been stories written about the costs of second-hand cars in New Zealand going up, for example."

Earlier this week, economists in the US forecast the Federal Reserve - the US equivalent of our Reserve Bank - would soon raise interest rates, despite the ongoing economic disruption of COVID-19. 

The Federal Reserve has previously said it doesn't expect to do so until 2023, but about half of economists in a recent survey said it would likely come by next year as inflation risks grow - particularly following an economic rebound and the recent US$1.9 trillion worth of stimulus checks sent out. 

Oil has also doubled in price since last year's shock, which saw prices plummet to levels unseen since the late 1990s. 

Those factors, combined with the pandemic's effect on travel, will soon see prices rise on the shelves, Fok said.

"Some of it has been COVID-related - it has been very difficult to have crew changes on large boats. Many countries don't want movement of people going  in and out when they may or may not be vaccinated, and they have to serve quarantine. That has caused ships to go to different places where they otherwise wouldn't have gone. 

"Elsewhere, we can see off the coast of California there's currently three dozen cargo ships anchored, waiting to berth. There's been a tremendous amount of disruption and therefore reduction in capacity for seaborne shipping. 

"It's also true for air freight - there are just fewer planes flying now, so the movement of goods has been more costly or seeing delays."

Fok said many people don't realise just how complex global supply chains can be these days. Before COVID-19, that wasn't much of a problem - it kept costs down - but has become a weakness, with shipping costs now three to five times what they were before. 

"At some point that's got to be reflected down the chain towards the end consumer. But there may be a time lag in this - usually inventories get run down, you have cheaper inventories you've stored up years before, or even have contracts in place that guarantee you certain shipping costs."

He said at this stage the Federal Reserve thinks any inflation rise will just be a temporary "bump", but the jury is still out.