So, When Does One Attack Here?

Ammunition.

Your game revolves around it.

We’re not talking war over here.

Or are we?

The marketplace is a war-zone, come to think of it.

Question is, how do you use you ammo?

Do you fire the bulk right away?

Who are you trying to scare?

This is the marketplace, people, overall, it’s not scared of your few rounds. There are just too many players, with varied interests and ideologies. Your few rounds might cause a mini-spike in the underlying concerned, but that’s about it. That mini-spike is not going to make it to tomorrow’s paper.

So, why bother? You don’t need to attack here. Straight away, that is. You can attack when the time is ripe, and when you are ripe too.

What does being ripe for an attack mean?

It means that your defences are fully in place and on auto-pilot. Your basic income is taken care of and suffices your family’s needs. Actually, let’s go a little further and say that your family is able to live comfortably on income generated by you which is independent from any of your speculative / risky activities. This is the first step. You need to work yourself into such a position, even if it takes you a long time. Without knowing that your family is safe, no matter how you fare in the marketplace, you will not be able to trade freely.

Then comes the second step in setting up your best defence. You need to have access to an emergency fund. Meaning, this kind of a fund needs to be salted away first. It then needs to be made accessible when required, and otherwise, it is to remain unused. Don’t let your emergency fund’s miniscule return bother you. In lieu of that, you are getting safety. Your emergency fund needs to remain safe, sound, and there, when you need it. This way, if and when something happens, and funds are required, a). you won’t have to tap into your family’s basic income, and b). you won’t have to tap into your trading corpus. You’ll access your emergency fund. Your family will remain financially undisturbed, and so will your trading, despite the emergency.

Now comes the final step, before you can get on with your trading, yes, even aggressively. In this step, the focus is on you. While setting up your family’s basic income and your emergency fund, you have struggled. Your health could have taken a knock. Your mind could be in a whirl. Normalize, my friend. Take time off. Stare at the wall. Get your body-chemistry back to equilibrium. Take a vacation. Take many vacations. Finally, when you are in shape, go for it.

Ok, so you’re in shape, and ripe for attack.

Now, the time needs to be ripe for attack too.

Mrs. Market has three basic modes of movement. She trends, moves in a range and then, she just plain goes nowhere, i.e. she’s flat.

Your aggression needs to be implemented only when she’s trending. Period.

That’s when it’ll yield mind-blowing returns.

Fire away when she’s flat or moving in a range, and you’ll keep getting stopped out.

How can you tell when she’s trending?

Through technical analysis.

So, study. Learn to differentiate between her three basic modes of movement.

Then, when she trends, and only then, use your ammo aggressively.

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Deductions – Aren’t They Making You Sick?

The human being likes it easy.

Well, most do.

That’s why, many of us like to give out our hard-earned savings to be managed by a third party.

We like to believe that our full energies are required for our mainstream profession. We don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of managing our savings.

In fact, we want to know as little as possible about the way our savings are being managed by the third party.

The third party starts from where we left off, and takes it to the Goldman level. Believe me, today, a Goldman attitude is the norm. Wealth manangers are looking to make the maximum out of you. They talk more about ways to squeeze fees out of you than about ways to make your corpus grow.

Chew this, digest it, and when you’re ready, please say the magic words.

All right, all right, I’ll spell it out for you. The magic words are “Enough! Enough! I’ve had enough of fee deductions! I’m ready to manage my savings on my own!”

See, that was simple. Say it, and then do it.

Deductions are a pain. Many strike behind your back. You feel you didn’t know about them. Well, it was all in the fine-print. Did you bother to read the fine-print?

Who reads fine-prints? Wealth managers know the answer to this question. That’s why, all the nasty stuff is put in fine-print. The sugary stuff is saved for the pitch. When an investment is pitched to you, it sounds so sweet, that you feel like jumping into it. Careful. The people, who have prepared the pitch campaign, have spent many days deliberating over it. The person pitching the investment to you has spent long hours practising the pitch. No jumping please. Tell the pitcher to buzz off, and that you’ll call him or her back if and when you’re ready for the investment. Meanwhile, read the fine-print.

This is when the pitcher takes out his last and most deadly weapon. “But Sir, deadline is till tomorrow noon,” is the sound of this time-weapon. Earlier failings have prepared you for this. You have learnt to ignore the time-bomb. You are going to take your own sweet time to decide. It’s your hard-earned money, and the least it deserves is thorough due diligence on your part.

Meanwhile, you’re reading the fine-print. You’re realizing that the game is stacked against you. There’s a monthly mortality / cover deduction in the insurance policy being pitched to you. Then there are administration charges to cover day to day expenses. Don’t forget fund management charges. Now, there’s probably even some adjustment for short-term capital gains tax. Also, there are upfront deductions on the first few premiums, pretty sizable ones. There’s a 3 to 5 year lock-in. Switching charges. Hey, where was all this in the pitch? And remember when they spoke about how you could take a loan against your policy. Did you hear anything about the huge loan disbursement fee, or whether or not service-tax and education cess charges would be passed on to you? And may heaven help you find solace if you surrender your policy prematurely. Premature surrender charges were conceived by the descendants of Shylock himself. Such surrender charges carve out chunks of flesh from your investment’s corpus.

For the company pitching the investment to you, accountability has been made very easy. All they have to do is to deduct all background charges from the daily NAV, and then publish the NAV after these deductions. You will be sent an yearly statement (if you don’t ask for a statement sooner), where stuff like mortality and cover charges will be shown in small-print. Take all this into account while calculating your returns on the investment, before wondering where a chunk of your profits went.

That’s a common scenario in unit-linked insurance policies. The market goes up so much, but your ULIP only yields you this much. Where did the rest go? To answer this question partly, look at the deductions.

The classic counter-argument (made by fund-managers) to above discrepancy is this. The market went up so much, fine, but the scrips in the mutual funds, to which the policy was linked, didn’t move up so much.

Maybe, maybe not. To find out, you’ll have to dig even deeper. Most of us don’t want so much hassle, and we resign ourselves to the dictates of the investment’s deduction policies.

Meanwhile, here’s an alternative. Learn. Study. One hour a day. Your savings deserve this from you. Every learning resource is available online, and most of what is available is free of cost. Make use of this unique opportunity. In a few years you’ll be savvy enough to manage your own funds. Thus, you’ll save yourself from the scourge of deductions.

Connect to market forces by playing with your own money, yourself. Learning solidifies in your system when you put your own money on the line. Play small for many years. Make all your mistakes in these years. Get mistakes out of the way. Learn from them. Don’t repeat them.

Soon, you’ll realize that you are ready to scale it up. Your system will sense that you have now gone beyond making big blunders, and will send you the appropriate signals telling you to scale up.

Welcome to the world of applied finance. May yours be a long and lucrative tenure.

What Does it Take to Decouple?

Is Decoupling a myth?

Why hasn’t any country been able to decouple from collective world economics for longish periods?

What does it take to decouple?

For starters, good governance. Over long periods.

Resources. One needs to have independent resources, as in energy resources. For example, India does not have ample independent oil resources. Going nuclear could make it a stronger candidate for decoupling, but does the country have responsible governance to handle nuclear energy safely? As of now, no.

A conducive business environment is the order of the day. Business needs to thrive. It can only do so, if laws are approved, that are favourable for business. The private sector needs to be allowed to grow wherever possible. Red-tapism and babudom are enemies of decoupling.

To thrive, business needs proper infrastructure. Bottlenecks arise when those responsible for getting this infrastructure in place simutaneously siphon away funds, thereby decreasing the quality of the infrastructure proportionately. Bottlenecks are enemies of decoupling.

Internal demand drives a decoupled economy. The demographic social structure of such an economy allows demand for manufactured goods to blossom.

What kind of a population dynamics caters to this sort of demand creation? One with a healthy demographic pyramid, with the broad pyramid base boasting a large, young consumer base.

This young consumer base is also supposed to be the decoupled economy’s demographic dividend.

Demographic dividends don’t just start existing just like that. They need to be reaped after sowing the proper seeds. An economy needs to first provide proper education and healthcare infrastructure, so that its citizens enjoy a beneficial environment to grow up in, which is when they can go on to become productive citizens.

Savings of productive citizens provide cushion to the decoupled economy. No savings, no cushion. The first Tsunami then destroys the decoupling.

Domestic payment cycles need to be healthy, and not chokingly long.

Imports are a necessary element of trade. Importers should thrive too, but not to the extent of recoupling a decoupled economy.

Then there are moral values. These keep a decoupled economy on track, after everything else is in the correct trajectory. Productive citizens need to do the right thing. Long-term, holistic thinking. No corner-cutting.

Sounds utopic, right?

Well, at least one is allowed to dream!

What Are We, Really? (Part 3)

Heinous crimes … happen in India.

For example the recent Gurgaon r#pe case.

What are we, really?

We were supposed to be reaping a demographic dividend. What happened?

A society that mistreats its women-folk is a sick society.

At its core, the ideology of India is spiritual. And, the driving force of our spiritualism is “Shakti”. The “Shiva” portion is more like a rock of stability. The activity bit is left to Shakti, to rise, purify, and reach Shiva. Shakti is about action. She is the driving spiritual force of India.

So, when from deep inside, our driving force is feminine in nature, and when on the outside, we find ourselves in a male-dominated society, this is a huge paradox that we are forced to deal with.

China has dealt with a similar paradox – with force. Chinese governments, over the ages, have suppressed China’s mandarin-spiritual nature so heavily, that today, it is buried deep, deep down, and is not able to surface. Thus, their paradox is not able to feed off itself, since one pole is out of action. It’s not a solution, but that’s what they’ve done.

In India, spiritualism and basic life go hand in hand. Shakti is beyond suppression. Simultaneously, male domination makes itself felt, in pockets. At every moment, we are faced with our paradox. We need to deal with it, properly, peacefully.

Though the average Indian is dramatic in nature, let’s just get realistic for a while. Which portion of a society is responsible for its continued existence? As in, who bears children?

Bob Marley got his lyrics wrong in one song. “No woman…no KIDS” is what the scene is. No kids … no continued existence … end of your civilization.

A society can only be deemed healthy and fit for continued existence, if it provides a safe and harmonious environment to its women and children. Period.

How are women in India dealing with the paradox?

There is rebellion. Some are able to express themselves. They rebel openly, in their speech, their way of life, dressing-sense, etc. etc. Many others are not able to rebel openly, because of suppression. They rebel in their minds. At the first opportunity, their rebellion will break out.

How is the average dominating male reacting?

There is resentment. Jealousy. Anger. Frustration. Etc. etc. Evolved males are not showing these symptoms. They are dealing with the rebellion peacefully. Unevolved, unemployed, raw / young males are showing the above negative symptoms. They are not able to deal with this new expression of freedom. Their domination is threatened, and their hormones play havoc, which is when they commit heinous crimes, for example r#pe. Unforgivable. Yet, committed.

That’s where we are, people. A two-tier society in every respect. Spiritually (evolved-unevolved divide), structurally (male-female divide), and economically (rich-poor divide). We are still finding ourselves. Please don’t treat us as a mature society.

Specifically, please don’t invest your money here with the idea of steady growth. There will be growth, but it will be hap-hazard, as and when we keep finding ourselves. Many set-backs. Then proper trajectory again. Then road-bumps. And so on, and so forth, till we find ourselves once and for all.

Your money here is set for a volatile ride, till India’s out-of-whack pockets begin to heal.

This is Getting Murky

Have you actually seen China’s account books?

Has anyone, for that matter?

How does the US pay for its imports from China?

With treasury-note IOUs?

Are Chinese GDP numbers doctored?

If yes, for how many years have the Chinese cooked their books?

How many more bailouts is Greece going to require?

Isn’t the amount of financial maneuvering increasing from bailout to bailout?

It feels as if real debt is being made to “go away” synthetically.

Things are getting murky in the financial world.

When that happens, the stage is set for tricky synthetic products to be offered.

It’s time to go on high alert.

You see, for the longest time, banks in the “developed” world have not been clocking actual business growth. However, their balance sheets are growing on the basis of trading profits. In almost all cases, the “float” is not increasing significantly from clients’ savings, or from new business. Instead it is increasing from good trading.

However, trading can go wrong for a bank. All that is required is one rogue trader. Blow-ups keep happening. For banks, good trading is at best a bonus. It is not something solid and everlasting to fall back on for eternity.

Well, that’s what most or all “developed” international banks are doing. They are relying on their international trading operations to see them through these times. (((Compare this to an emerging market like India, where an HDFC Bank generates 30%+ QoQ growth, for the last 8 quarters and counting, on the basis of actual business profits from new accounts, savings and fresh real money that increases the float))).

While the scenario lasts, what kind of synthetic products can one expect from the plastic composers of financial products?

And we are going to get something plasticky soon, since “developed” international banks have gotten into the groove of trading, and since trading is their ultimate bread and butter now.

So what’s it gonna be?

The conceivers of plastic in the ’80s still had a conscience. For example, Michael Milken’s “Junk Bonds” still had actual underlying companies to the investment. That the companies were ailing, and could probably go bust, was a different issue. In lieu of that, junk bonds were giving returns that beat the cr#p out of inflation twice over, and then some. Though investors knew that these underlying companies were ailing, greed closed their eyes, as crowds lapped up the product. We know how the story ended.

In the ’90s, anything with the flavour of IT ran like an Usain Bolt. The conceivers of plastic products here were tech enterpreneurs, coupled with bankers that pushed through their IPOs. One had a lot of shady dotcoms with zero or minus balance-sheets clocking huge IPOs, apart from being driven up to dizzy heights by greedy public, from where their fall began.

By the ’00s, whatever 2 pennies of conscience that remained were now out the window. Products like CDOs did the rounds. These had no actual underlying entity, like a bond or a debenture. They were totally synthetic, mathematical products, assembled by bundling together toxic debt. The investment bankers that conceived these products knew that the debt was toxic, and were cleverly holding the other end of the line, i.e. they sold these products to their clients as AAA, and then shorted these very products, knowing that they were bound to go down in value because of their toxic contents.

We are well into the ’10s.

What’s it gonna be?

I think it’s probably going to be a “Structure”.

There is going to be an underlying. The world is wary about “no underlyings”.

The catch is going to come from the quality of the underlying, as in when it’s ailing badly and the world thinks otherwise (in the ’80s, the junk value of the underlying was no secret. Here, it probably will be).

Where is the product going to be unleashed?

Emerging markets. That’s where money has moved to. Also, investors there are not as savvy, since they’ve not been properly hit.

Why is the time ripe?

Interest rates are kinda peaking. Investors have gotten used to sitting back and raking in 10%+ returns, doing nothing. When interest rates start to move down, that would be the stage for the unleashing of the product in question.

Lazy, spoilt investors would probably lap up such products offering something like 13%+ returns, with “certified” AAA underlying entities to the investment.

So watch out. Don’t be lazy or greedy. As and when interest rates start to move down, move your money into appropriate products that are not shady and that have safe underlyings. From knowledge, not from hearsay.

Be very selective about who you let in to give investment advice. Even someone you trust could be pushed by his or her employer institution to aggressively sell you something synthetic with a shady underlying.

Be very, very careful. Do your due diligence.

Don’t get into the wrong product, specifically one with a lock-in.

Making the Grade

It’s your convocation. From now on, you’ll be a degree-holder.

Yippeeee!

Just pause for a second.

All your life, you’ll be introducing yourself as a master’s in this or a bachelor’s in that, or perhaps even as a Ph.D. in xyz.

Have you even once considered, that your respective field will continue to evolve, long after you stop studying it?

For example, one fine day, in a Chemistry lecture to class XII, I noticed that the stuff I’d learnt for my master’s degree exams was the very stuff I was now teaching these 17-18 year-olds. That was a big realization for me. It then dawned upon me, that I had to either keep moving with the developments in the subject, or I needed to change my profession. I moved on from Chemistry in 2004.

So, for heaven’s sake, a paper degree is not your ticket to your subject for life. Things, people, seasons, subject-matter, issues at hand – everything changes. Every decade or so, there’s a complete overhaul. To stay on top, and still feel like a degree-holder of your subject, you need to be with things as they move, through the whole decade.

Does your marriage give you a licence to stay married to that same person for life without working on the relationship day in, day out? No, right?

Your degree doesn’t make you a king-pin in your subject for life either, without the appropriate ground-work everyday. Let’s please digest this truth.

The worst-case scenario of whatever I’ve said above happens in the markets. It is a worst-case scenario, because you enter the markets with some finance degree, thinking that the degree has taught you to play the markets successfully. Nothing is further from the truth. Here, you have a piece of paper that gives you false confidence, and you see your balloon bursting after your first few live shots at Mrs. Market.

Financial education in colleges and universities lacks two basic factors. The thing is, these two factors are game-changers. Get them wrong, or don’t know much about them, and your game becomes a losing one.

What are these two factors?

Everything and everyone around us teaches us not to be losers. We are taught to shove our losses under the carpet.

Cut to reality: winning market-play is about losing. Losing, losing, losing, but losing small. To be successful in the markets, we need to learn how to lose small, day in day out. It’s not easy, because our entire system is geared up to win, every time.

Then, everything and everyone around us teaches us to seal that win and post it instantly on our resume, on facebook, on twitter. Modern society is about showing off as many wins as possible. Losers don’t get too many breaks.

Cut to reality: winning market-play is about winning big, very big, every now and then, amidst lots of small losses. That can’t happen if we immediately book a winner. We need to learn to nurture a winner, and to allow it to win big. Again, that’s not easy, because as soon as a winner appears, our natural instinct tells us to book it and post it. So bury your “win it-cut it-post it” attitude. Instead, win, let the winner win more, and more, and when you feel it’s enough, without getting greedy, cut it, and then keep quiet, bring your emotions back to ground zero, and move on to the next winning play.

The reason, that most teachers of finance in colleges and universities don’t know about these two factors, is that their own money is almost never on the line. They have almost never felt the forces of live markets through this “line”, day in, day out. The line one puts on is one’s connection to market forces. Only a regular connection to these forces teaches one about realistic, winning market-play.

One could argue that the case-studies examined in finance school are very real. Well, they are very real for those protagonists who actually went through the ups and downs of the case-study in real-life. They got the actual learning by being exposed to live market forces. You are merely studying the statistics and drawing (dead) inferences, devoid of first-hand emotions and market forces. Whatever learning you are being imparted, is, well, theoretical.

Theory doesn’t cut it in the markets. Theory doesn’t make the grade.

So, what makes the grade?

I consider a seven year stint at managing your own folio a basic entry requirement into bigger market-play. What happens during this time?

Each body cell gets attuned to real market forces, live. You get to know yourself. You build up an idea about your basic risk-profile. Your market-strategy takes shape. It is fine-tuned to YOU.

During this stint, money needs to be on the line, again and again, but the amounts in play need to be small, because you are going to make many, many mistakes.

And please, make whatever mistakes you need to make in this very period. Get them all out of your system. Make each mistake once, and never repeat it, for life. Point is, that after this stint, money levels in play are going to shoot up. Mistakes from this point onwards are going to prove costly, even devastating. The kinds, where one can’t stand up again. You don’t want to be in that situation.

Once you are comfortable managing your funds, and don’t get rattled by Mrs. Market’s constant action, her turnarounds, crashes etc. etc., your market decisions are such, that you start applying your knowledge of money-management successfully. You have now become a practitioner of applied finance.

Applied finance is advanced level market-play. To win at applied finance, your money-management basics need to be fully in place and rock-solid. You can define applied finance as Money Management 2.0.

Winning at applied finance is self-taught. You don’t need a degree for it. In my eyes, a degree here is in fact detrimental, because you then spend a long time unlearning a lot of university stuff during real market-play. You actually see for yourself, that most of what you learnt applies only in theory. The stuff that makes winners, where is that? Why wasn’t it taught? Well, you’ve got to go out there and learn it for yourself.

Let theory be where it belongs. Respect it, but leave it in its appropriate world. The world needs its theoreticians to make it go round, but you need to go beyond theory, to win big.

Put on your practical shoes when you put your good and real money on the line, and be ready for anything.

Let your mistakes teach you.

Keep making the grade, day in day out.

Long after society tells you that you’ve made it.

What’s your Value to the Planet?

Nothing’s forever.

That applies to the Dollar too.

Let’s be very clear in our minds, that the Dollar is not going to rule the roost forever.

Nothing has.

Is the US showing the fundamentals that would allow the USD to hold its position for even a decade?

I don’t think so.

The policy to print notes and to throw them from a helicopter on top of any problem or issue is long-term detrimental to the Dollar’s fundamental value.

Eventually, fundamentals shine forth. What’s true is true, and eventually, the truth is recognized.

What then?

Gold-standard?

Possible.

Has been adopted before.

What speaks against it?

Gold’s too bulky. Can’t carry it around.

So what? Store it in a bank, and carry its value on a credit card, ready to be spent.

There could be Gold wars.

Aren’t there Dollar wars? Oil wars? So fine, there will be Gold wars. Tell me something new.

Gold reserves are limited.

Hmmm, after all the world’s Gold has been mined, what then?

Actually, why do we want get into this rigmarole in the first place?

How about this?

What’s your value to the planet?

Can it be translated into a point system at any given time? Can the points be carried around on a credit card, ready to be spent?

Why not?

Your blog gets a hundred clicks today, so big brother adds a hundred value points to your value point (VP) account, redeemable through a carry card, or an iris-check, or finger scan or what-have-you.

You do community service for five hours @ 50 VPs an hour and scoop up a cool 250 veeps (= VPs).

What? You invented a breakthrough technology? You get it patented through big bro, and everytime anyone uses it worldwide, 5 veeps are transferred to you. For life. You’ve made it big.

You manufacture gambols? Every unit sold fetches you 2 veeps. Oh, you’re making wimlets for 5 veeps a piece, are you?. Dragloons for 20? Hamlins for half a veep?

A burger costs one-fourth veep, and a round of groceries can set you back by up to 10 VPs.

You’ve got to keep them VPs going. If you’re clever, you’ll do something that keeps the veeps coming in on auto-pilot, so that you can focus on something new, to achieve another breakthrough elsewhere.

Dr. Dracula charges 2 veeps for a blood-test. He does 10 blood tests a day for free. Big B rewards any pro bono activities with bonus veeps. Doc Dracula doesn’t mind.

Professor Loo Sing Mind delivers lectures at 50 veeps a shot. He also lectures at the community evening school twice a week. Bro wanted to reward him 50 VPs per community lecture. Prof forwarded the reward veeps to the “food for the poor scheme”.

Herr Wasser serves water at the factory all day. He earns an eighth veep for every glass served.

Miss Gour May owns a restaurant. Any food that’s left over is distributed to the hungry. BB is not leaving any form or service unrewarded. Miss May earns an extra 100 veeps a month from the state for being an exemplary citizen.

Mrs. Sprint Fast is a national athlete. For every international race she wins, there are 50,000 VPs waiting. Her olympic gold medal got her a million veeps from benevolent big brother. When she retires, she’ll take up sports journalism @ 50 veeps per two hours of coverage or per article.

Mr. Poo R. Man is a beggar. The state shuns him. There’s no way for anyone to transfer even a single VP to him. He can only be given physical food and clothing by charitable people. He soon decides to quit begging, and joins community school to learn a craft. His studies are funded by the state. Citizens are free to donate veeps to various schemes run by the state. Community school is one such scheme.

Dr. Savio Planeto is a research scientist who works for the Climate Change Foundation. He is paid 1000 VPs for every day of research. Any breakthroughs will be rewarded extra, and befittingly. His summa cum laude on his Ph.D. earned him a million veeps from the state.

Miss Bee Keaney walks the ramp for 2000 veeps a go. 25 assignments a month keep her account flooded.

Mr. Keep D. Law is a government servant in the justice department. For any papers that he pushes through on time, there are 50 veeps waiting for him. Any slacking means no VPs. If a case is closed, he gets 500 veeps if he has a role in the case’s paperwork. Thus, the state encourages him, a small cog in the wheel, to push cases towards closure. Imagine, then, the efficiency of this state. Also, there’s no way any citizen can pass on a VP bribe to Mr. Law. It’s just not possible without anybody noticing. So it’s not done. Result is, that the government servant focuses on efficiency to ramp up his VP account.

SEE?!?

Within a few minutes, we have been able to conjure up a whole new currency system that functions on the basis of one’s value to the planet.

If we can do this within minutes, why can’t the world work towards it in the next twenty odd years?

Of course it can.