When Push Comes to Shove 

Genetically… 

… we’re savers. 

Indians. 

Save. 

That’s a good thing. 

Since the ’00s though, our banks have started pushing loans as if there’s no tomorrow.

The motto seems to be : we don’t care who you are, just borrow. If we know who you are, here, borrow some more

That is dangerous policy. 

It sets the stage for a push comes to shove scenario. Savings are being lent further, and they might not come back. 

What counts when push comes to shove? 

Deposits in the bank? No. Gone. 

Real Estate? No. No buyers. No renters. Illiquid stuff just won’t move. 

Equities? No. Dumps. Good entry levels though. No resale value for a while. 

Bonds? Perhaps. Short duration ones, provided underlying doesn’t go under. 

Gold? Yes. Big. 

Trading? Yes. Options, forex, commodities, what have you. 

Cash? Yes. Provided there’s no hyperinflation. Use it for day to day life. Use surplus to acquire great bargains. 

Farmland? Yes. You’re then sorted as far as food and water are concerned. 

Use your imagination. 

Prepare for a push and shove scenario. 

It probably won’t happen. 

However, you’re prepared, just in case. 

Advertisements

The Collapse of Mt Gox and its Meaning for You

February 2014.

Mt Gox collapses.

It’s not a mountain.

Mountains don’t collapse.

The largest Bitcoin exchange in the world – gone.

What happened?

Hazy area.

If one reads through the company’s press releases, it seems they themselves are not sure. Or, they’re trying to cover up that they got hacked, big-time.

Company’s claiming a black-swan event. Software goes into a crazy loop. Transaction shows as failed. However, system releases Bitcoin. Do this over and over again. You’re down 750k Bitcoin. Half a billion dollars. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Not buying it.

It’s probably not an inside job. Trail would’ve been too hot.

They’ve actually and probably gotten hacked. Possibly in the earlier days. Perhaps they tried to cover it up for the longest time, till it was no longer possible. There came a time then, it would seem, to throw in the towel and declare bankruptcy, coupled with the release of an unbelievable explanation.

Do the math. Conjecture.

We are down to conjecture, after an abominable event like this, where retail investors along with handlers, dealers and the works get fried.

For heaven’s sake.

Makes you rethink Bitcoin majorly.

Diversification is a safe thing. However, not at the cost of converting your computer into a big red flag.

There are two kinds of computers in the world. Those with Bitcoin or its cousins, and those without.

Currently, those with are targets.

There’s no better system of storing Bitcoin.

Banks aren’t taking it up systematically.

Dollar lobby is too strong.

It’s not letting Bitcoin settle.

Who was behind the possible hack?

You tell me.

Why would anyone sacrifice one’s sleep?

No tension, please.

We don’t wish to lose sleep over the fact that our computer might get hacked in the night. Also, will the cousin’s ever sort themselves out?

If criminals could hack Mt Gox, what are the chances of one’s desktop surviving?

Yeah, where does that leave you?

Till Bitcoin gets accepted more systematically, and till mainstream banks start storing it for you in their cyber-lockers, I’m afraid this leaves you off the Bitcoin demand-list.

Yeah, safety first.

What is an Antifragile approach to Equity?

Taleb’s term “antifragile” is here to stay.

If my understanding is correct, an asset class that shows more upside than downside upon the onset of shock in this age of shocks – is termed as antifragile.

So what’s going to happen to us Equity people?

Is Equity a fragile asset class?

Let’s turn above question upon its head.

What about our approach?

Yes, our approach can make Equity antifragile for us.

We don’t need to pack our bags and switch to another asset class.

We just approach Equity in an antifragile fashion. Period.

Well, aren’t we already? Margin of safety and all that.

Sure. We’ll just refine what we’ve already got, add a bit of stuff, and come out with the antifragile strategy.

So, quality.

Management.

Applicability to the times.

Scalability.

Value.

Fundamentals.

Blah blah blah.

You’ve done all your research.

You’ve found a plum stock.

You’re getting margin of safety.

Lovely.

What’s missing?

Entry.

Right.

You don’t enter with a bang.

You enter at various times, again and again, in small quanta.

What are these times?

You enter in the aftermath of shocks.

There will be many shocks.

This is the age of shocks.

You enter when the stock is at its antifragile-most. For that time period. It is showing maximal upside. Minimal downside. Fundamentals are plum. Shock’s beaten it down. You enter, slightly. Put yourself in a position to enter many, many times, over many years, upon shock after shock. This automatically means that entry quantum is small. This also means you’re doing an SIP where the S stands for your own system (with the I being for investment and the P for plan).

Now let’s fine-fine-tune.

Don’t put more than 0.5% of your networth into any one stock, ever. Adjust this figure for yourself. Then adjust entry quantum for yourself.

Don’t enter into more than 20-30 stocks. Again, adjust to comfort level.

Remain doable.

If you’re full up, and something comes along which you need to enter at all costs, discard a stock you’re liking the least.

Have your focus-diversified portfolio (FDP) going on the side, apart from Equity.

Congratulations, you just made Equity antifragile for yourself.

🙂

So, … … , When’s Judgement Day?

The “fiscal cliff” thingie has come and gone…

Gone?

People, nothing’s gone.

If something is ailing, it needs to heal, right?

What is required for healing?

Remedial medicine, and time.

Let’s say we take the medicine out of the equation.

Now, what’s left is time.

Would the ailing entity heal, given lots of time, but no medicine?

If disease is not so widespread, and can be expunged over time, then yes, there would be healing, provided all disease-instigating factors are abstained from.

Hey, what exactly are we talking about?

It is no secret that most first-world economies are ailing.

Specifically, the US economy was supposed to be injected with healing measures, which were to take effect from the 1st of Jan., ’13. Financial healing would have meant austerity and a more subdued lifestyle. None of that seems to be happening now. The healing process has been deferred to another time in the future, or so it seems.

You see, people, no one wants austerity. The consumption story must go on…

So now, since the medicine’s been taken out of the equation, is there going to be any healing?

No. Disease-instigating lifestyles are still being followed. Savings are low. Debt with the objective of consumption is still high. How can there be any healing?

Under the circumstances, there can’t.

So, what’re we building up to?

We’re all clear about the fact that consumption makes the world go round. What is the hub of the world’s consumption story? The US. That part of the world which does save, and where there is real growth, well, that part rushes to be a part of the consumption story. It produces cheaply, to sell where there’s consumption, and it sells there expensively. Yeah, like this, healthy economies get dragged into an equation with ailing economies. Soon, the entanglement is so deep, that there’s no turning back for the healthy economy. It catches part of the ailment from the diseased economy. Slowly, non-performing assets of banks in such healthy economies start to grow. The disease is spreading.

Hold on, stay with me, we’re not there yet. Yeah, what are we building up to?

Healthy economies take time to get fully diseased. Here, savings are big, domestic manufacturing is on the rise, and there a healthy demographic dividend too. Buffers galore, the immune system of a healthy economy tries to fight the contagion for the longest time. As entanglement increases, though, buffers deplete, and health staggers. Non-performing assets of banks grow to disturbing levels.

That’s what we are looking out for, when we are invested in a healthy economy which has just started to ail. Needless to say, we pulled out our funds from all ailing economies long back. Our funds are definitely not going back to economies which refuse to take medicine, i.e. which don’t want to be healed. Now, the million dollar question is …

… what’s to be done with our funds in a healthy economy which has just started to become diseased due to unavoidable contagion?

Nothing for now. Watch your investments grow. Eventually, since no one is doing enough to stop the damage and the spread, big-time ailment signs will invariably appear in the currently “healthy” economy, signs that appeared a while back in currently ailing economies. Savings will be disappearing, manufacturing will start to go down, and bad-debt will increase. Define your own threshold level, and go into cash once this is crossed. You might not need to take such a step for many years in a row. Then again, you might need to take such a step sooner than you think, because the ailing mother-consumer economy is capable of pulling everyone down with it, if and when it collapses. And it just stopped taking its medicine…

Let’s get back to your funds. In the scenario that you’ve gone into cash because you weren’t confident about the economy you were invested in, well, what then?

Option 1 is to look for an emerging economy that gains your confidence, and to invest your funds there.

Not everyone is comfortable investing abroad. What if you want to remain in your own economy, which you have now classified as diseased. There’s good news for you. Even in a diseased economy, there are pockets of health. You need to become a part of such pockets, just after a bust. So, remain in cash after a high and till after a bust. Then, when there’s blood on the streets, put your money into companies with zero-debt, a healthy dividend-payout record and a sound, diligent and honest management. Yeah, at a time like that, Equity is an instrument of choice that, over time, will pull your funds out of the gloom and doom.

You’ve put your funds with honest and diligent human capital. The human capital element alone will fight the circumstances, and will rise above them. Then, you’ve entered at throwaway prices, when there was blood on the streets. Congrats, you’ve just set yourself up for huge profit-multiples in the future. And, the companies you’ve put your money with, well, every now and then, they shower a dividend upon you. This is your option 2. Just to share with you, this is my option of choice. I like being near my funds. This way, I can observe them more closely, and manage them properly. I suffer from a case of out of sight, out of mind, as far as funds are concerned. Besides, when funds are overseas, time-differences turn one’s life upside down. This is just a personal choice. You need to take your own decision.

At times like this, bonds are not an option, because many companies can cease to exist in the mayhem, taking your investment principal out with them.

Bullion will give a return as long as there is uncertainty and chaos. Let there be prolonged stability, and you’ll see bullion tanking. Yeah, bullion could be option 3 at such a time. You’ll need to pull out when you see signs of prolonged stability approaching, though.

One can use a bust to pick up cheap real-estate in prime localities. Option 4.

You see, you’ve got options as long as you’re sitting on cash. Thus, first, learn to sit on cash.

Before that, learn to come into cash when you see widespread signs of disease.

Best part is, widespread disease will be accompanied by a big boom before the bust, so you’ll have time to go into cash, and will be ready to pick up quality bargains.

You don’t really care when judgement day is, because your investment strategy has already prepared you for it. You know what to do, and are not afraid. If and when it does come, you are going to take full advantage of it.

Bring it on.

When Cash is King

I don’t like crowds.

The last thing I ever want to do is to conform to crowd behaviour.

That’s one goal defined.

What does this mean?

Very clearly, for starters, it means singing one’s own tune, i.e. defining one’s own path.

It also means not listening to anyone. That requires mental strength, and the power to resist. Very tough.

In life, generally, one likes to be in tandem with the Joneses. And then, smart cookies that we are, we like to go one up on the Joneses, which would be the cue for the Joneses to catch up and then overtake us. Hypothetically, this is how the Joneses and the Naths could blow up all their cash.

It doesn’t stop there. To keep up, the average citizen doesn’t think twice before leaping into debt.

Bottomline is, when cash is king, hardly anybody has cash. In fact, most people owe money at that time.

This is the age of black swans. Crisis after crisis, then a bit of recovery, then another crisis, then some recovery, followed by a mega-crisis.

When a master-blaster crisis ensues, cash becomes king. Quality stuff on the Street starts to sell so cheap, that one needs to pinch oneself to believe the selling prices. Margins of safety are unprecedented. Now’s the time one can salt away a part of one’s cash in Equity, for the long-term.

That’s if one has cash to spare. This is report card time. How have you done in your REAL investment exam? Have you learnt to sit on cash? Have you learnt to buy with margin of safety? The Street doesn’t care for your college degree, in fact, it vomits on your college degree. Your college degree has no value on the Street, it’s just a piece of paper.

Learning on the Street happens everyday, with every move, every investment, every trade, every observation. Unless and until your own money is on the line, this learning is ineffective.

Get real, wake up, so that when cash is king, you feel like an emperor!

Is it Over for the Long-Term Investor?

Long-term portfolios are getting bludgeoned.

I can feel the pain of the long-term investor.

Is it over for this niche segment?

I really wouldn’t say that.

It’s not over till the fat lady sings, as somebody said.

What if someone trained hard so as to not allow the fat lady from starting her performance in the first place?

Well, for this breed, it’s not over by a long way. In fact, things are just getting started.

And what are the areas of training?

First and foremost, for the millionth time, one needs to understand what margin of safety is. In this era of black swans, one can fine-tune this area with the word “large”. So, simple and straight-forward: the long-term investor needs to buy with a large margin of safety.

This is a game of PATIENCE. Patiently wait for entry. Entry is the most important act while investing. If you cannot learn to be patient, change your line. Be a trader instead.

However scarce the virtues of honesty and integrity have become, keep looking. When you finally find them in a company, ear-mark the company for a buy. For you, managements need to be intelligent and shareholder-friendly too. They need to be evolved enough to take you into account as a shareholder. Keep looking for such managements, and you’ll be amazed at the unfolding potential of diligent human capital.

Before you enter this arena, answer another question please? Have you learnt to sit? If you don’t even know what this question means, you are by no means ready for the game.

So, when is one capable of sitting through some serious knocks, like now? If the money you’ve put on the line is not required for the next 5 to 10 years, you’ve totally helped your cause. Then, your risk-profile should fit the pattern. If a knock causes you an ulcer, just forget about the game and look for another game that doesn’t cause you an ulcer. Your margin of safety will help you take the knock. Knowing that your money has bought a stake with honest and diligent people who can work their way around inflation will help your cause even more.

If you are taking a very serious hit right now, you need to decide something. Are you gonna sit it out? Can you afford to, age-wise and health-wise? Yes? Fine, go ahead. I sat it out in 2008. If I could do it, so can you. It did take a lot. Taught me a lot too. I now know so much more about myself. Was a rough ride, is all I can say. Nevertheless, it’s a good option if age and health support you. If you decide to sit it out, please train yourself, from this point onwards, to do it right. Needless to say, don’t make the same mistakes again. Let’s be very clear about this point. If you are feeling pain at this point, it’s because you have made one or more investing mistakes. Don’t blame the market, or the times. This is your pain, because of your mistakes. Take responsibity for your actions. Do it right from here onwards.

If you can’t take the hit anymore, age-wise or health-wise, then you need to reflect. It’s none of my business to tell you to sell out. That would be inappropriate. All the same, as a friend, I would like you to ask yourself if you feel you are cut out for this niche segment. There are other very successful niche-segments. I know highly successful traders who started out as miserable long-term investors. So, just this one thing, get the questioning process started. Now. Then, listen to your inner voice and decide what you want to do.

There’s this one other point. Some people feel they can focus on both these segments simutaneously. You know, trade in one portfolio and maintain another long-term portfolio. Possible. People are doing it. I’m not about to start a discussion on focus versus diversification just now, because I’m leaving it for another day. Not because I don’t possess the mettle, but because I’m a little tired just now.

Wish you safe investing! 🙂

One More Lollipop

And another lollipop emerges from the stables of Bernanke et al.

Though this particular lollipop is stimulus-flavoured too, it is packaged a bit differently, in a “low interest rate regime till mid 2013” manner. This old-wine-new-bottle packaging is making it taste good to the public. A psychological distortion of reality? Yes.

The last lure, i.e. the actual stimulus lollipop, had stopped having its usual effect of doing away with panic. If you have the same lollipop ten times in a row, it starts tasting stale.

How many lollipops can one possibly have up one’s sleeve? How is one able to fool the public for soooo long? Is the public totally low IQ?

What do ultra-low interest rates mean?

Well, they don’t encourage you to save. You’d rather put your money in more speculative ventures that promise to yield more. Low interest rates thus create liquidity in the market and suitable policies push this liquidity towards speculation and spending. This in turn fuels markets and consumerism. The US financial think-tank seems to think that this formula is going to get them out of the woods.

When markets are fueled well enough with liquidity, investment banks make eye-catching short-term trading profits. Their quarterly balance sheets look good, because the short-term trading profits hide the lack of fundamentals (savings) and the non-performing assets. The public is made to believe that their economy is doing well because their large banks have performed “well”.

Question is: Where are the fundamentals? Long-term growth without the cushion of savings??? No excess fat on one’s body to cushion one from shocks??? You know it, and I know it, and so does the black swan, whose population has reached a record high. This is the age of crises and shocks. If you’re not adequately cushioned, the next shock might get you. And the next quake will occur soon enough, because this era has defined itself as the age of shocks. That doesn’t need to be proven anymore.

Thing is, El Helicoptro Ben Bernanke isn’t bothered about savings presently. His primary concern is to revive a failed / dying economy. He’s willing to try anything to achieve this, however drastic the method might be. And he’s chosen to enhance consumerism. It’s a short-term remedy. Unfortunately, it makes the long-term picture even worse.

The flip side of consumer spending gone overboard dulls the mind into believing that one can spend as if there’s no tomorrow, even if one has to borrow after spending one’s own excess cash. This might fuel an economy over the short-term, but over the long-term, the burgeoning debt will make the system implode.

The US economy is not changing its course owing to fear that if it does, it might face the inevitable right away. It has chosen a path of postponing the inevitable. Over the course of time between now and looming debt-implosion, more and more of the world is getting entangled into this web, since globalization is in and decoupling is out. This is what pilots of the US economy are banking upon, that if the entire world might be devastated by a US debt implosion, the entire world might choose to live with the current financial hierarchy for the longest time rather than reject it right now.

If nothing else, what this one more lollipop does do, is that it buys a little more time to breathe. That’s it, nothing more.