From Crisis to Crisis : Who said Investing was for the faint-hearted?

The central focus while investing is on returns. Over the last 100 years, adjusted for inflation and tax-deductions, fixed deposits have given negative returns. And, over this period of time, the asset class of equity has yielded around 6 % compounded per annum (adjusted for inflation), which is more than 5 times what gold has yielded. There’s human capital behind equity, which strives to give returns despite inflation, and goes around taxes through legal loopholes. Gold is gold, there is no brain behind gold. It cannot evade the forces of inflation and taxation. Thus, equity is a higher yielding asset class. For those who don’t realize the value of a 6% compounded return per annum over the long run after adjusting for inflation, let me give you an example which might boggle your mind. Had the Red Indians who sold Manhattan Island to the Americans in 1626 invested their 60 Gilders (= sale proceeds, with the purchasing power of USD 1000 today) @ 6 % per annum compounded after adjusting for inflation, their principle would have been many times the total value of entire Manhattan today. See? In the world of long-term investing, one needs to be clear about the fact that the power of compounding can move mountains.

At the same time, drawdowns in the asset class equity are also the largest. During the 2008 meltdown, the likes of a Rakesh Jhunjhunwala saw his portfolio shrink by 60%. He took it without blinking, by the way. Why? Because equity is not for the faint-hearted. Steadfast investors know inside out that equity has given these returns despite two world wars, one great depression and many recessions / meltdowns. Today, there’s a crisis, and then there’s another crisis. One’s portfolio gets walloped from crisis to crisis, and needs to survive all crises to get to the good times. A potential USD 184 billion debt default looming in Dubai doesn’t shake the long-term investor. Why not? What if the potential debt default becomes larger, let’s say USD 1 trillion. Still nada. What’s the deal?

When a long-term investor puts money on the line, he’s willing to risk 100% of it. Why? That’s because in such an investor’s portfolio, there’s a whole range of scrips. Some go bust, others don’t do well, some remain at par, and a few outperform. Those scrips that go bust or yield below par have a loss limit of 100% of the principal. And the long-term investor has already termed this loss as acceptable as per the dynamics of his risk-appetite. What’s the outperformance limit on those of his scrips that outperform? None. They can double, triple, multiply even a 100-fold, or a 1000-fold or more over the long-run. 2 examples come to mind, a Wipro multiplying 300,000 times in 25 years and a Cisco Systems multiplying 75,000 times in 15 years. A steadfast long-term investor will strive to pick quality scrips with an edge, and will go into the investment at an opportune moment, such that the chances of these manifold multipliers residing in his portfolio are high. And, if 20% of one’s picks multiply manifold over the long-run, one doesn’t need to bother about even a 100% loss in the other 80% of the scrips. Not that there is going to be that 100% loss in this 80%, because these scrips too have been picked intelligently and at opportune moments.

So, what’s the best opportune moment to pick up a scrip? The aftermath of a crisis, of course. Such a time-period has something for all. Those who like buying at dips can pick up almost anything they like. Those who like buying at all-time highs can pick up the scrips that have been eluding them because these too will dip during a crisis. A crisis is not a crisis for the long-term investor. It is an opportunity.

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