The Thing with Gold

Equity has a human face behind it. Gold does not.

The human face with its human mind is capable of the best and the worst, the highest and the lowest.

The intelligent investor selects Equity with benevolent and diligent human faces and minds behind it to garner multibagger returns.

Gold is a metal. Period. It doesn’t have a brain. It is not able to find a way around inflation. Its prices fluctuate as per demand and supply. In times of uncertainty, it goes up and up. In times of economic and financial stability, it goes down and down. The net result of Gold’s price fluctuations over the past 100 years has been a 1% annually compounded return, adjusted for inflation.

What you should not expect from Gold is more than a 2- or 3-bagger return over the medium term. If things go really sour for world economy, you might get a 5- or even a 10 bagger return (looking at a kind of a doomsday scenario). If you are hoping for anything more from Gold, dream on.

2-, 3-, 5- and even 10-bagger returns are quite common in Equity over the medium term, and over the long-term, there’s no limit. Wipro’s been a 300,000-bagger over 25 years. There are hundreds of examples of 1000-baggers, and thousands of examples of 20+-baggers in Equity. Meanwhile, over the long-term, Gold goes back to the median.

Why Equity behaves like this is because of the human capital behind Equity. We’ll go into the details of this some other time.

Bottomline remains that, realistically speaking, Gold functions best as a hedge. In case 80% of our portfolio goes for a toss, that 20% which is in Gold for example can save the portfolio with its 5-bagger return.

If we enter Gold with the desire to make a killing, we either have unrealistic expectations, or we need to play Gold futures or Gold Equity. These have their own nuances, about which, again, we’ll talk another day.

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Investing is not about building a Consensus

We are what we eat, as an ancient proverb goes.

Another one says that we reap what we sow.

And from what little I’ve seen, eventually, we fall in line and invest as per the wiring of our mental framework. Till we don’t do this, we are following someone. Eventually there’s a clash of personalities. This is a clash between the one leading us and our own beliefs. We now have to make a choice to either go it alone, or to keep following the leader.

Each day after this clash has taken place, the rift deepens. More of our beliefs are being violated. That’s because the leader is investing according to his or her own beliefs. Investment is a projection of one’s personality. Such an evnironment full of conflict leads us to wrong decisions, which result in losses.

Investment isn’t about building a consensus. It’s really not about x number of people coming together, agreeing upon an opinion, putting money on the line and making a killing. That’s an approach that may be part of a trading strategy, but it is far removed from comfortable and healthy investing.

Investing 1.0.1 is about understanding one’s own personality, because this is going to interfere with every decision and thought process one will make in this line. The identification of any investment target needs to be in line with one’s personality, otherwise the acquired target will continue to disturb one’s thought process and everyday life. Who’s best suited to bring about an alignment between investment targets and personality? You are, not a third party. An outsider can only second guess how your mental framework functions. You know yourself much better than anybody else.

Once a basic alignment between personality and investment strategy has been achieved, things start to fall in place, with investments yielding satisfaction and profits.

One doesn’t need to form a consensus with anyone to identify a successful investment and make money in it.

A Beautiful Concept called Margin of Safety

The most beautiful, genius things in life are simple.

And therefore, they are difficult to implement.

We like complications. Sophistication. When something appears simple, our first impulse is that of rejection.

We get our families insured, our car insured, house, properties etc. etc. all insured, in fact, we are busy buying protection everywhere. During winter we wear protective clothing. Our children swim with protective gear. Our cars have seat-belts and airbags. The list of how mankind protects itself is endless.

Then why is it that when it comes to putting one’s hard-earned money on the line, all thoughts of protection go out the window, and one becomes malleable enough to jump into the next hot story at even seventy or eighty times earnings?

Why is it that here we are not clinging on to protection? Basic question – are there any protective measures prevalent in the world of investing? The answer is yes, and many. In this article, I’ll name two and address one.

There’s the protective stop-loss (to be differentiated from the trigger-stop). Let’s talk about this one some other day. Right now, let’s focus on the other major avenue for protection, called margin of safety.

Basically, what margin of safety says is “Buy Cheap”. Period. What it’s not saying is that one should buy any odd-ball, cheap stock. It’s referring to quality stocks and telling us to buy them as cheaply as we can. The result will be a buffer price-band, which in case of a major market-crash will still limit our losses and save us from the urge to abandon our investment at rock-bottom prices. So, this concept asks us to have patience and wait for opportunity, and not to be impulsive and plunge blindly.

Margin of safety is applicable while trading also. One can buy into market leaders upon dips. The dip gives one a short-term margin of safety.

The primary advocate of margin of safety is none other than Warren Buffett himself, from an investment point of view.

So, to implement this simple and beautiful concept, one requires the virtues of patience and discipline.

Wishing for you safe and lucrative investing!

Cheers!

Wanna Derisk? It’s REALLY up to you…

Risk profiling is an essential exercise that most of us skip before plunging into the markets. I mean, do we ever ask ourselves questions like “What makes me tick?” or “What gives me a kick?” or “When am I licked?” Frankly, no. Hmmm, maybe we do actually ask such questions, but not before receiving a solid pasting in the markets. You know, portfolio down 40%, world swimming before one’s eyes, that’s when such soul-searching questions start to pop up. Can’t they appear before we take the plunge? As in, can’t we sort ourselves out before going into the matrix? People, this is 2010, and the human being is trigger-happy. He or she does not learn without pain.

So, after suffering some real big-time knocks, we start to profile our risk-taking ability. Or we don’t, and take a few more knocks. If not knocked out by then, and still willing to play the game, we stumble upon some holy grail questions. Why is this happening? Why are the markets hammering the daylights out of us? Why are those grinning individuals over there almost always winning? Why are we such losers?

The holy grail answer, friends, is something I found out the hard way. I’m sharing it with you because, generally speaking, my philanthropic levels have overshot a certain critical mass for the day and I’m not able to contain the goodness (kidding :-), actually my trading software has encountered a glitch and while it auto-corrects itself online, I figured that instead of twiddling my thumbs, I could, maybe, write something).

So, where was I? Oh yes, I found out the hard way that unless one recognizes one’s appetite for risk-taking and then fine-tunes one’s investment strategy as per one’s risk profile, one is generally going to lose in the markets. Luckily, I didn’t get fully knocked out before this recognition. And, having survived to experience more market time while implementing above tenet, I can only reiterate that even if it takes you five to seven years to fully recognize your risk taking ability, invest the time and effort. You will not regret it.

Asset Management is as important as ABC, or Multiplication, or Calculus for that matter…

Imagine having lunch with a legendary investor like Warren Buffett. The first think he’ll talk to you about is the power of compounding. And when you say “Huh, what’s that?”, he’ll ask “Did nobody teach you about money management?”

And that’s the whole conundrum. Nobody teaches us how to manage money in school. Nor is this subject taught in college. We are left high and dry to face the big bad world without having the faintest clue about how to make our assets grow into something substantial.

Now why is this so? Is it that parents, teachers and professors worldwide have decided that no, we are, under no circumstances, going to teach our children how to manage their assets. No, that’s not the case. What is far truer is the fact that most parents, teachers and professors don’t know how to manage their own assets in the first place, so there’s no scope of teaching this art to others.

And do you know why that’s sad? Because youth is a prime time to sow seeds of investment that will grow into mountains later. When one is young, time is on one’s side. Salting away pennies at this stage puts into motion the power of compounding, a prime accelerator of growth. The time factor gives one tremendous leverage to deal with meltdowns, crises, calamities, catastrophes, recessions, depressions and what have you. As one grows up, one’s intelligently invested money has a very high chance of coming away unscathed and compounded into a substantial amount.

Don’t take my word for it. Just look around you. If you’ve been invested in the indices in India since 1980, your assets have grown 180 times in 30 years. That’s so huge that one is lost for words. This is despite all issues Indian and world markets have faced in these 30 years. All political crises, all wars, all scams, all corruption, everything. And, these returns are being generated by a simple index strategy. More advanced mid- and small-cap investment strategies have yielded many times more than these returns over this 30 year period. So just forget about meltdowns and crises, invest for the long-term, invest for your children, do it intelligently, and involve them in your investment process. Teach your children how to invest rather than making them cram tables or rut chemical formulae. Get them to take charge of their financial futures. Make them financially independent.

God has given the human being brains, and the power to think rationally. Let’s use these assets while investing. We’re looking for quality managements. We want their human capital to be working for us while we do other things with our time. We want them to figure a way around inflation, so that our investment doesn’t get eaten into by this monster. We don’t want them to involve our money in any scams. We want them to create value for us, year upon year. We want them to pay out regular dividends. Let’s inscribe this into our heads: we are looking for QUALITY MANAGEMENTS.

We are not looking for debt. The company we are investing into needs to be as debt-free as possible. During bad times, and they will come, mountains of debt can make companies go bust. There are many, many companies available for investment with debt to equity ratios which are lesser than 1.0. These are the companies we want to invest into.

We are also looking for a lucrative entry price. Basically, we want to buy debt-free quality scrips, and we want to buy them cheap. For that, we need to possess the virtue of patience. We just can’t get into such investments at any given time, but must learn to patiently wait for them. Also, we must learn to be liquid when such investments become available. Patience and timely liquidity are virtues that more than 99% of investors do not possess.

Of Kalyuga and the Skewed Nature of Growth

Once or twice a day, I need to remind myself that this is Kalyuga. Gone are the times when people were honest in general, and the human mind was not corruptible. In Kalyuga, one refers to the price at which a human mind is corruptible. That it is corruptible in the first place is a given.

One of the economic characteristics of Kalyuga is the fact that wherever there is growth, it is skewed in nature, and not uniform. Nations claiming uniform growth are often surprised by a black swan event which nullifies years of financial penance by the founding fathers of such nations. Few examples are the Iceland bankruptcy, the sub-prime crisis, a near default by Greece on its sovereign debt, with possible defaults brewing in Portugal, Spain and Ireland in the near financial future of world economics. Even 9/11 was an event that was triggered due to skewed growth. Of course that is no justification for such an event.

What meets the naked eye in developed nations on the surface is – development. Showers, telephones, infrastructure, emergency services – everything functions. So where are the anomalies that skew the path of uniform growth in such nations? These anomalies are found beneath the surface, in the corruptible minds of those in power. Whether it is the nexus between high-level politicians and bankers, or that between the former and the armed forces, such examples successfully dupe the low-level but honestly functioning majority of the population in developed countries. Ask the pensioner in Greece, who suddenly finds his pension reduced by half due to no fault of his. Or the 9/11 rescue worker, who then contracted complications and died a dog’s death because he wasn’t entitled to healthcare due to no health insurance, which he couldn’t afford. These are example of growth going skewed, that very growth that first seemed uniform in nature.

Emerging nations have never boasted uniform growth. The definition of an emerging market that you won’t find in the text-books speaks of high economic growth at the cost of a segment of the population or a culture. In India for example, 500 million citizens are enjoying growth at the cost of 645 million others, who a UN study has found to be devoid of the very basics in life. Here, corruption from the top has sickered through to the bottom, and the 500 million concerned are able to grow at about 9 % per annum. The crafters of this growth plan believe that the growing millions will pull up the stagnant and deteriorating millions ultimately; i.e. growth will sicker through. Of course that can only happen if it is allowed to by the corruptible minds in-charge.

In Russia, high growth is enjoyed by those who’ve joined hands with the Mafia. Those who take the plunge commit all kinds of crimes from murder to child pornography. Those who choose not to, lead endangered, poor and suffocating lives in their efforts to stay clean.

China has a labour portion of its population and an entrepreneur portion of its population that are growing economically. The former has no time to enjoy the USD 750 – 1000 salary per month because of a 12 hour working day and perhaps 2 or 3 free days a month. Mostly, man and woman both are working, and due to non-overlap in free days, they rarely see each other. Their economic growth will be enjoyed by their children perhaps. The entrepreneur portion is of course splurging. What of the farmers? They haven’t really grown economically. And the vast and spiritual Chinese culture of olden days, i.e. the Mandarin essence of China? Gone into hiding, where it cannot be prosecuted or finished off by the mad-men in-charge. And what of Tibet? Suppressed and destroyed. Some parts of it filled with nuclear waste. And what of freedom of speech and expression? Never existed, and when it started to exist, was finished off from the root in the Tiananmen Square massacre. Heights of skewed growth.

So where does one put one’s money to work? After all, there are problems everywhere. Good question, and one that needs to be sorted out by everyone on a personal level. One thing is certain though. These are times of uncertainty, and in such times, Gold gives superlative returns. So, one needs to get into Gold on dips. There’s no point leaving money in fixed deposits, because inflation will eat it up. Also, one can start identifying debt-free companies with idealistic and economically capable managements, who can boast of uniform and clean growth within their companies (yes, there are encapsulated exceptions to skewed growth on the micro-level). It’s these exceptions one needs to be invested in.

Why Bother with Fine-Tuning?

He eats his breakfast, but has that something on his mind. Doesn’t chew well, and since the mind is not on the food, he can forget about digesting the food well.

Later at work, something’s still bothering him. What is it?

The evening is spent with the family, but on the inside he’s still trying to pinpoint the root of his worry.

The night is restless. Couple of bad dreams. Nothing soothing about it.

Guess what?

His investment style doesn’t match his personality. The two entities are totally out of whack. His personality pulls him in one direction, but the way he’s invested his money pulls him in the other direction. He’s mentally uneasy because of this, and his investments are not going to do well in the long run, irrespective of market trend, because his opposing personality will make him take wrong decisions as far as the investment style is concerned.

Why didn’t he bother to fine-tune his personality with his investment style, and bring the two in sync?

Nobody told him to, and he was too dumb to realize it himself.

So he’s got 20% of his networth in futures, but he’s conservative on the inside. Hell.

And another 20% in penny stocks.

Make that the next 20 in small-caps.

And the next 20 in mid-caps.

The last 20 being in large-caps.

Pathetic. Obviously he’s not going to be at ease, after having put 80% of his money in relatively risky ventures, which are not in tune with his conservative nature. Till there’s a common meeting grounds between personality and investment style, this or any person who invests without taking basic nature and risk appetite into account is not going to breathe easy.

When I observe him, it gets me thinking.

What are the things that I don’t want from the markets?

Sleepless nights. A nasty visit from the tax authorities. Obsession to the point of not being able to focus on family. Deterioration of eye-sight. Losses. Low long term returns. These are the basics.

Ok, so I make a few rules for myself.

Like, for example, if an investment starts giving sleepless nights, get out of it.

Keep an account of everything. Play with clean, white money. No hanky panky, no money laundering, no nonsense. Thus any visit from the tax authorities will not turn nasty.

To keep the obsession angle out, and to keep vision intact, I can’t be day-trading. Even short-term trading requires too much market involvement. So, I need to formulate a medium to long term strategy.

Losses, well who likes losses. Thus I must be thorough in my research.

And I want high returns. The only conservative investors in History who have achieved high returns have all been focus investors, not diversified investors. Thus, I need to focus on a few areas while investing, and not diversify into many sectors.

See, it’s as simple as that. Identify your basic goals and formulate your basic strategy around these goals. And then breathe easy even when you play hard!