A Matter of Pride

Eurozone this, Eurozone that…

Man, it’s getting irritating.

Can we, for one moment, imagine a world without the Euro? Yes. Why is it so difficult? What would the cost of that scenario be?

Deleveraging, people, that will be required. All of those nations that leveraged themselves into quasi financial extinction will need to deleverage massively, once the Euro is discontinued, for as long as it takes to pay off their debts.

What does deleveraging mean? It means not using leverage for as long as it takes. It means paying off one’s debts by working overtime and saving.

Do you think the Italians or the Greeks et al. are liking such suggestions. Of course not. That’s the thing with debt. If you can’t pay it off, you’re in deep sh*t. Nobody thinks of that while taking on debt.

When the Eurozone was formed, sovereign debt of financially weaker countries was sold worldwide using the Eurozone tag. As in “C’mon, it’s all Eurozone now, and these Greek bonds give a premium return as compared to German ones!” Ingenious way to market junk bonds. Meanwhile, citizens of these financially weaker Eurozone countries borrowed left, right and centre to build houses and to consume. As 2008 approached, many lost the earning power to pay back their monthly installments. Now, as more and more of this debt matures, these financially weaker Eurozone countries need to conjure up billions of Euros they do not have.

You’ve got to hand it to the marketeers. Pure genius. They always get you, don’t they.

The reason things are not really working is the looming idea of uncalled for hard work that the process of deleveraging requires. Even if one wants to put in hard work, where does one put it in, if there’s no work.

Thus, the only option remaining involves massive cutbacks, like you’re seeing in Greece just now. Consumer spending down to zero. Pension cuts. Medicare cuts. All-round cuts. To one level above slowdown, till the deleveraging process is over. Scenario will take long to smoothen.

After enjoying a penthouse suite, a 1-BHK feels pathetic.

Eurozone wants to remain alive financially, but are they willing to pay the harsh price?

What you’ve been seeing since this crisis exploded is infinite artificial maneuvering. This might stall the situation. The goal is to stall long enough so that the deleveraging process is over before the stalling process can be weaned off. And that’s a fatal error. Nobody understands deleveraging properly, because the world has never done it properly before, at least in modern financial times. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Deleveraging is going to take longer than all the stalling moves put together. That is my opinion. Stalling results in a false sense of security because of all the maneuvering to show that the economy is doing well. Owing to this false sense of security, people continue to consume. Instead of deleveraging, people leverage. Instead of decreasing, debt increases.

What’s the deal here? You see, pride and egos are at stake. Eurozone doesn’t want to become the laughing stock of the world, the focus of all jokes. Thus, for the sake of their pride, and to fan their egos, European leaders feel the need to keep the Euro alive, even if it costs them their elections, and their financial survival.

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First Step is Yours, India Inc.

Is this the end for Mama & Papa stores?

Foreign direct investment in retail. Tier II and Tier III cities gearing up for multi-brand big-ticket retailers, round 2. Upto 40 % discounts due to deals between manufacturer and retailer. Retailer operates on a 7-month payment cycle. Can Mom & Pop stores compete? Possibly not.

Broadly speaking, we live in two Indias. There’s India Inc., and there’s Bharat. No secret.

Citizens of India Inc. encounter Bharat at every second step. You’ve got bullock-carts, cycles and / or auto-rickshaws slowing down the spanking new highway. Do these bullock-cart fellows pay any road-tax? Power cuts. Countered with generators. Mosquitoes, flies. Long live repellents. Heat. Air-conditioners. Red-tape. Go with the flow. Corruption. Cut a deal. Movie at the mall. Call the manager and reserve the best tickets, away from the locals / villagers. The new fly-pass over your city congests traffic in the side-lanes, adding to the chaos in your city, while providing immense benefits to highway traffic. It’s under-area, which was meant to solve the parking woes of your city, is one long garden. It’s not being used for parking due to the threat of terrorism, as in someone might park a car with a bomb in it. The 10 km long fly-pass might have like 4 cross-to-the-other-side cuts for pedestrians / locals / villagers / labour. Net result is that pedestrians / locals / villagers / labour cross from anywhere, anytime.

You see India Inc., Bharat doesn’t want to be left behind, in any manner. Bharat counters every move of yours with its own unique formula. No cut to cross to the other side of the highway? No problem. Bharat just crosses through the highway. See? You can’t side-step Bharat. There’s only one long-term formula for your success, and that involves the incorporation of Bharat into the scheme of things.

As of now, Bharat is rushing for really cheap goods that look exactly like their expensive originals. As in a 50 $ Blackberry replica. Or a 100 $ i-phone duplicate. Cheap tablets. Dirt-cheap watches that look like Rolexes, Tags and Breguets. There’s no end to it. China will make sure of that. See, Bharat doesn’t want to be left behind. It wants to move with you, but at its own price.

While India Inc. shops with credit cards, Bharat runs a parallel economy. Strictly cash. Come and go. Zilch savings, so no need for banks. If there are savings, there’s some brother in need and will borrow on interest. It’s a bristling parallel economy with unique dynamics.

Does one see a common trajectory between India Inc. and Bharat?

Fortunately, yes. Both are consumers. Also, both are producers. Bharat’s big on agriculture. India Inc. is about tech, innovation, management and competence. Bharat can’t afford most of what India Inc. produces, so it lives on duplicates, or on its own agricultural produce. And India Inc. needs to realize this.

Nobody’s expecting India Inc. to live the life of Bharat more than it needs to. But, and this is a big but, the need of the hour is to incorporate Bharat more and more into India Inc.’s supply chain.

Those are the magic words. If you’re innovative, show it now, India Inc. Your country’s progress is proportional to the progress of Bharat, because Bharat’s numbers are far larger than yours. Slowly, you’ll see, that Bharat will stop slowing you down, as it progresses. The bullock-cart fellow will progress to a tractor. Your cinema-going villager will be more civilized. Bharat will clean-up, and mosquitoes and flies will reduce. A random Bharat citizen will be satisfied enough to not want to bomb his own country. Etc. etc. etc. It’s a process. Yours is the initiation part. Get on with it. Stop cribbing. Incorporate Bharat into your master-plan as much as you can, and sooner than you think, you’ll be enjoying the then EDUCATED and CONSUMING demographic dividend.

Learning to Be

Mrs. Market becomes an enigma, at times.

At such times, she’s very difficult to understand. She’s erratic and jumps around in an exaggerated fashion. She defies all logic, and flushes all analyses down the toilet.

I like such times.

Mrs. Market is not the only one who knows how to dump others. Over the years, she’s taught me the art of dumping. So, during incomprehensible stretches, I dump Mrs. Market.

The key to dumping her is learning to be. You need to be comfortable in just being. You roll out a few novels, or surf around, or even catch a few movies on your laptop. Or, you can close your eyes, envision something beautiful, focus on your breath, and listen to some music. At these times, there’s no need for any market- activity, and you’re not going to give her any.

Mostly, during these stretches, the rate of return in the debt segment is great. So, you identify safe debt instruments, park your funds, and go into hibernation mode. She’ll come around soon enough. Remember, you’re calling the shots and are not going to let her get into control mode. Otherwise, you’re fried.

Hibernation mode is a beautiful time. Your system recuperates. You even, perhaps, go on a holiday. Your off-spring enjoy the extra attention from you. And just because you’re not pushing Mrs. Market’s buttons for a bit does not mean you can bug your spouse that much more!

So, market people, learn to be. Nobody made a rule saying that one has to be market-active all the time. Do away with the norms, as long as you don’t injure anyone’s fundamental rights. Norms were made for average citizens. Are you satisfied being average?

The enemy of just being is boredom. You’re not going to get market-active just out of boredom. You’d rather wait for a conducive time to enter the market again.

In today’s world, there’s so much happening, that there’s no room for boredom. Thousands of hobbies are waiting to be tapped. Do something good for society. Help other people. Live life in a manner that you feel good about yourself. There are many ways to “just be”.

Or, just get acquainted with your inner-self and you’ll be amazed at the kind of avenues that open up.

Get with it people, dump your 24x7x365 market-activity compulsion, and just learn to be.

Burn-Out Notice

Information overload.

Short circuit in the brain.

Black-out.

You want to move your left hand, but the right one reacts.

Your body needs re-wiring, and rest.

This set of circumstances comes with the territory of trading. Often.

Imagine plugging into the complex matrix of erratic market play. That’s what happens when your trade gets triggered. Your poor nervous-system then deals with a lot of load, which doesn’t recede till well after the trade. Joy at profits, sorrow at losses, life is one big emotional pendulum. And this is just one trade. A sluggish trader might take one trade a week. The over-active one could trade many times in a single day.

What are we dealing with here?

Basically, the writing on the wall is quite clear. If you’re not able to regularly offset the damage to your system due to trading, you’re looking at early burn-out. As in, very early burn-out.

Your method of recuperation needs to bring your system back to its base-line, and then some. Your recuperation savings account needs to be in the black, as much as possible. That’ll ensure longevity in the trading arena.

What happens if you are drained, and the next trading opportunity comes? For me, the answer is crystal clear. Don’t take the trade. Rest. Recuperate. You would have played it wrong anyway. You were drained even before the trade, remember?

Sometimes, periods of recuperation can be long. At these times you need to stop comparing yourselves to other traders who find unlimited energy to keep trading, from God knows where. You are you. They are they. Who gave you the right to compare? Why are you judging others playing to a different plan with different energy and time-set parameters. If you really want to judge, then judge yourself. That’s it.

So, if a prolonged recuperative time-frame announces itself, respect it.

Your system will last longer in the game.

Trading is about sticking to the ground-rules, and then lasting. Your market-edge plays out only over a large number of trades taken over a long time-frame. Over the long run, your market-edge makes you show winning numbers, because the sample-size is big enough, and the time-frame under consideration is sufficient for many big-hitter trades to occur. Your big-hitter trades give a tremendous impetus to your numbers.

Even the best of edges can show a loss over a small sample-size (i.e. number of total trades taken in one’s trading career). It’s statistically very possible to suffer ten losses in a row, for example. You can call a coin-flip wrong ten times in a row. Possible. And that’s a 50:50 shot per flip. Your market-edge gives you a 60:40 shot, or maybe even a 70:30 shot. Still not good enough to not suffer a losing streak.

Winning streaks occur with time, and with supportive sample-sizes. Because of your edge, the winning streaks outnumber the losing streaks.

In the world of trading, if you want to win, you need to last.

Game-Changers

Change.

The one factor that keeps us evolving.

Adapt or get left behind. Seems to be the Mantra of the times.

The management of money has seen some big game-changers over the last few decades. We want to speak about them today.

In the ’90s, Bill Gates wrote about business at the speed of thought. We’re kinda there, you know. Let’s say you have an idea. From idea to framework, it’s mostly about a few button-clicks, with the web being full of idea-realizing resources. See, we’re already discussing the biggest game-changer, which is the flow of information. Today, we live in a sea of information. It’s yours to tap. Delivered to you on a platter. Such information flow changes everything, from lead-time to middle-men. Best part is, almost all of the information available is free!

Then there’s technology. Cutting-edge software, everywhere. Now, there’s even a software to smoothly organize your contract notes and calculate profit or loss, and taxes due. It’ll give you the appropriate print-out, whichever way you want it. You don’t need to hire an accountant to audit your market play. You just click the contract note and the software extracts all relevant information from it, organizing it beautifully. Actually, that’s nothing. Market-play software is what we should be speaking about. Cut to the movie “A Good Year”. Just picture Russell Crowe motivating his “lab-rats” to go for the kill and short an underlying, only to short-cover a few points below. The technical software follow-up of the underlying’s price on the wall-panels is the image embedded in my mind, as the price gets beaten down, and then starts to rise again.

Market software allows you to run scans too. A common exercise I do at the beginning of a trading day is to narrow down the 4,537 active stocks on the BSE and the NSE to about 10 tradable ones. I do this with 2 back to back scans. Each scan takes a minute. Then, I study the charts of the tradable stocks and select two or three to follow. That’s another 5 minutes. Putting on trigger buys or sells for these stocks takes 2 minutes. So, assuming that a trade gets triggered in the first minute, I have arrived from scratch to active trade in 10 bare minutes, with no prior market preparation. That’s what technology can do for you, and more. Software is expensive. It’s mostly a one-time cost with a life-time of benefit. Worth it. The management of money is a business, and each business needs initial investment.

Numbers have changed the game. Volumes have grown for many underlying entities that were illiquid earlier. When volumes are healthy, the bid-ask spread is very tradable. Thus, today, you can choose to trade in almost any avenue of your choice and you are almost certainly going to get a liquid trade.

Our attitudes and lifestyles have changed too. Today, we want more. No one is satisfied with mediocricity or being average. We have tasted the fruit that’s to be had, and are willing to get there at any cost, because we are hungry. Luxurious lifestyles lure us to rush into the game, which we play with everything we’ve got, because as I said, we’ve tasted the fruit, and we want more. Our approach has made the stakes go up. We need to adapt to the high stakes with proper risk-management.

It’s never been easier to access funds, even if you don’t have them. Leverage is the order of the day. Of course that changes the game, leading to higher volumes and increasing the frequency of trading. We need to keep debt-levels under control. It’s never been easier to go bust. Just takes a few button-clicks and a few missed stops. The leverage levels take care of the rest.

Game-changers will keep coming our way. As long as we keep adapting and evolving, our game will not only survive, but also blossom.

Watch Out for Bottomless Pits

A shareholder-friendly management?

Forget about it.

Very difficult to find, nowadays.

Gone are the days where you’d see an Azim Premji driving his 800, or a Narayana Murthy travelling economy class.

These legends believed in increasing the shareholder’s pie. And this they did, big time. Ask any Wipro or Infosys shareholder. These legends were very clear about one thing: there was no question of pumping in useless expenditure into their public limited company at the cost of the shareholder.

The norm, btw, is totally opposite. Public limited company managements live it up at the cost of the shareholder. Very few promoters are actually bothered about their shareholders. It is the norm to put medical bills, day to day living / wining / dining / entertainment costs, personal property purchases etc. into the company. Why should the promoter bear such costs when there is the public limited company to put these and such costs into? Logical?

Don’t expect too much from your average promoter. He’s not in the game for you.

Where does all this leave you, by the way?

Firstly, you need to look out for, and avoid bottomless pits. These are companies that bear huge amounts of expenditure emanating from the whims and fancies of the promoter. For example, the total sports sponsorship bill for Kingfisher Airlines is staggering. Then there’s this huge red flag in their balance sheet – the company is in under a mountain of debt. On top of that, this company just reported almost a 100 million USD Q2 loss. Math doesn’t add up for you to be investing in such bottomless pits, does it?

In your search for idealistic and shareholder-friendly managements, you might come up with a handful of names. Next you’ll find that it’s no secret. If there’s an idealistic and shareholder-friendly promoter around, people can see this in his or her deeds and of course in the balance sheet of his or her company. Savvy early investors make a beeline for such companies, with the result that by the time you get there, the concerned share-price is already quite inflated. You’ve identified a good investment, but you are not going to enter at an expensive price. If you do, you’ll not be able to sit on your investment for the long-term. Even slight volatility will shake you out of it.

Instead, you choose to wait for the right price to arrive, and then you enter. Well played.

The deal is, that more than 90% – 95% of managements don’t play it like an Azim Premji, or a Narayana Murthy, or an Anu Aga for that matter. However, shareholder-unfriendly promoters sometimes own companies that are lucrative investments. This can be due to niche, cycles, technology, crowd mentality, whatever. When do you buy into such companies?

As a long-term investor, you wanna be buying such companies at a deep discount to real value. My thumb-rule is a single-digit price to earnings ratio. You can have your own thumb-rule. You might have to wait a long time to get this kind of a price, but that’s what long-term investing is about.

As a trader, you buy into such a company with the momentum. You can buy after a resistance is broken. Or after a high is taken out. Or upon a substantial dip after the first burst of momentum. As a trader, what is far more important for you is to know when to let such a company go. Know the level by heart below which or at which you will exit such a company. In trading, exits are far more important than entries.

The mistake you don’t want to be making is to invest in a bottomless-pit, no matter how cheap the share price is.

So, … What Made Peter Jump?

The buck generally stopped with Peter Roebuck in the world of Cricket journalism.

Professionally speaking, Peter was cutting edge.

Though he was described as a complex person outside of his professional sphere, the only blip that seemed to punctuate his 55 years was a 2001 common assault charge on some 19 year old cricketers he was coaching.

As per the media, Peter’s is a confirmed suicide; he jumped six floors to his death, from his hotel window. Just before he jumped, he was being questioned by the South African police on a sexual assault charge. A police officer was in the room when he jumped.

Was it extreme shame over something he’d done? Perhaps just one big blunder in an otherwise good, successful and recognized life? If that’s really the case, one needs to reflect on things.

Sometimes a good human being can make a huge blunder. Let’s cite excruciating circumstances that drive the person to such an act. For example, extreme loneliness can result in a moment of madness, in which one loses self-control and crosses the line between decent and indecent behaviour. Let’s please not behave as if this does not happen. Don’t know if this was the case with Peter. As of now I’m just looking at the general applicability and the consequences of such moments of madness in our normal arena of life. Also, I’m gonna try and apply this to market play.

Before I do that, let’s stay with Peter for a bit. If it turns out that Peter was pushed over the ledge, this whole discussion will need to be discarded and the investigation of match-fixing will come into play, since Peter had just finished reporting on arguably the most unusual Test match in the History of the game. As of now, murder is being ruled out, so let’s stay with our original discussion.

Who feels shame? A human being with a conscience does. Who feels so much shame, that he or she can’t face society, family, spouse, kids etc. anymore? A human being who has probably committed a grave folly and who has a conscience that is now powerfully confronting him or her.

The media has not reported any History of sexual assaults in Peter’s case, so we are probably looking at one grave act in a moment of madness that became the complete undoing of an acknowledged soul called Peter Roebuck.

How many of us are in the same boat, where one grave act can become our complete undoing? All of us are. Please be very clear about it. That’s how unpredictable life can be.

As of now, I’m going to focus on this one grave act unfolding during one’s career in the markets. All you have to do is to activate huge amounts of leverage (= few button-clicks), and then ignore a few stop-loss levels (= 0 button-clicks) while you answer the margin-calls, and you have already committed the grave act that is potentially life-threatening. If the resulting losses clean you out, that’s one thing, but if they put you deeply into debt, contemplation of suicide can well be on the cards if yours is even a slightly melancholy personality.

See, that’s a very short route to where someone like Peter Roebuck ends up, irrespective of one’s arena in life.

All I can say is (and I’m saying this to myself as well) that please let’s take that smug look off our faces, and let’s please reflect, because a moment of madness can trap and terminate the existence of any human being, no one excluded.

Moments of madness occur in everyone’s life. We need to train ourselves to not react to them. That’s easier said than done, but it’s better to say it out loud and activate one’s system to become aware of such moments of madness when they are happening.

Only if one is aware that such a moment is unfolding can one actively choose not to react.