A Tool By The Name of “Barrier”

Come into some money?

Just don’t say you’re going to spend it all.

Have the decency to at least save something.

And all of a sudden, our focus turns to the portion you’ve managed to save.

If you don’t fetch out your rule-book now, you’ll probably bungle up with whatever’s left too.

Have some discipline in life, pal.

The first thing you want to do is to set a barrier.

Barrier? Huh? What kind of barrier?

And why?

The barrier will cut off immediate and direct access to your saved funds. You’ll get time to think, when hit by the whim and fancy to spend your funds.

For example, a barrier can be constructed by simply putting your funds in a money-market scheme. With that, you’ll have put 18 hours between you and access, because even the best of money market schemes take at least 18 hours to transfer your funds back into your bank account.

Why am I so against spending, you ask?

Well, I’m not.

Here, we are focusing on the portion that you’ve managed to save.

Without savings, there’s nothing. There can be no talk about an investment corpus, if there are no savings. Something cannot grow out of nothing. For your money to grow, a base corpus needs to exist first.

Then, your basic corpus needs a growth strategy.

If you’ve chalked out your strategy already, great, go ahead and implement it.

You might find, that the implemetation opportunities you thought about are not there yet.

Appropriately, your corpus will wait for these opportunities in a safe money market fund. Here, it is totally fine to accept a low return as long as you are liquid when the opportunity comes. There is no point blocking your money in lieu of a slightly higher return, only to be illiquid when your investment opportunity comes along. Thus, you’ve used your barrier to park your funds. Well done!

Primarily, this barrier analogy is for these who don’t have a strategy. These individuals leave themselves open to be swept away into spending all their money. That’s why such individuals need a barrier.

An online 7-day lock-in fixed deposit can be a barrier.

A stingy spouse can be a barrier.

Use your imagination, people, and you’ll come up with a (safe) barrier. All the best! 🙂

Happy Second Birthday, Magic Bull !!

Seasons change. So do people, moods, feelings, relationships and market scenarios.

A stream of words is a very powerful tool to understand and tackle such change.

Birthdays will go by, and, hopefully, words will keep flowing. When something flows naturally, stopping it leads to disease. Trapped words turn septic inside the container holding them.

Well, we covered lots of ground, didn’t we? This year saw us transform from being a money-management blog to becoming a commentary on applied finance. The gloom and doom of Eurozone didn’t beat us down. Helicopter Ben and the Fed were left alone to their idiosyncrasies. The focus turned to gold. Was it just a hedge, and nothing but a hedge? Could it replace the dollar as a universal currency? Recently, its glitter started to actually disturb us, and we spoke about exit strategies. We also became wary of the long party in the debt market, and how it was making us lazy enough to miss the next equity move. Equity, with its human capital behind it, still remained the number one long-term wealth preserver cum generator for us. After all, this asset class fought inflation on auto-pilot, through its human capital.

Concepts were big with us. There was the concept of Sprachgefühl, with which one could learn a new subject based on sheer feeling and instinct. The two central concepts that stood out this year were leverage and compounding. We saw the former’s ugly side. The latter was practically demonstrated using the curious case of Switzerland. There was the Ayurvedic concept of Satmya, which helps a trader get accustomed to loss. And yeah, we meet the line, our electrolytic connection to Mrs. Market. We bet our monsters, checked Ace-high, gauged when to go all-in against Mrs. Market, and when to move on to a higher table. Yeah, for us, poker concepts were sooo valid in the world of trading.

We didn’t like the Goldman attitude, and weren’t afraid to speak out. Nor did we mince any words about the paralytic political scenario in India, and about the things that made us go Uffff! We spoke to India Inc., making them aware, that the first step was theirs. We also recognized and reacted to A-grade tomfoolery in the cases of Air India and Kingfisher Airlines. Elsewhere, we tried to make the 99% see reason. Listening to the wisdom of the lull was fun, and also vital. What would it take for a nation to decouple? For a while, things became as Ponzi as it gets, causing us to build a very strong case against investing a single penny in the government sector, owing to its apathy, corruption and inefficiency. We were quite outspoken this year.

The Atkinsons were an uplifting family that we met. He was the ultimate market player. She was the ultimate home-maker. Her philanthropy stamped his legacy in caps. Our ubiquitous megalomaniac, Mr. Cool, kept sinking lower this year, whereas his broker, Mr. Ever-so-Clever, raked it in . Earlier, Mr. Cool’s friend and alter-ego, Mr. System Addict, had retired on his 7-figure winnings from the market. Talking of brokers, remember Miss Sax, the wheeling-dealing market criminal, who did Mr. Cool in? She’s still in prison for fraud. Our friend the frog that lived in a well taught us about the need for adaptability and perspective, but not before its head exploded upon seeing the magnitude of an ocean.

Our endeavors to understand Mrs. Market’s psychology and Mr. Risk’s point of view were constant and unfailing, during which we didn’t forget our common-sense at home. Also, we were very big on strategy. We learnt to be away from our desk, when Mrs. M was going nowhere. We then learnt to draw at Mrs. M, when she actually decided to go somewhere. Compulsion was taken out of our trading, and we dealt with distraction. Furthermore, we started to look out for game-changers. Scenarios were envisioned, regarding how we would avoid blowing up big, to live another day, for when cash would be king. Descriptions of our personal war in Cyberia outlined the safety standards we needed to meet. Because we believed in ourselves and understood that we were going to enhance our value to the planet, we continued our struggle on the road to greatness, despite any pain.

Yeah, writing was fun. Thanks for reading, and for interacting. Here’s wishing you lots of market success. May your investing and trading efforts be totally enjoyable and very, very lucrative! Looking forward to an exciting year ahead!

Cheers 🙂

The Frog That Lived in the Well

Once upon a time, there was a frog.

It lived in a well.

Its cousin, however, lived in the ocean, and this particular cousin came to visit.

Cousin froggy was stunned. How could one thrive in such a small space? Our original froggy, however, did not believe that one’s world could get any better. It loved the well, and only after much coaxing did it agree to see what the ocean was like.

Upon seeing the magnitude of an ocean, our original froggy’s head exploded. This story’s from Paramhans Yogananda. 

I’m sure you’ve heard this story from someone. Something similar probably happened to you too, of course on a much smaller scale of magnitude, with no head explosions and all that.

I used to walk around pretty smugly with my Blackberry, thinking that I was like there, connected. Experienced kind of a head explosion upon moving to an Android smartphone.

What is it about us humans?

Why are we so limiting?

Why do we create barriers around our life-experience, around our possibilities?

Market conditions keep changing. Just as we get tied up into a rut and define a market as range-bound and going nowhere, it breaks out. Are you able to cope?

Be honest.

Can you adapt to such changes in conditions?

Are you quick on your feet? Or are you lethargic, and full of inertia?

What’s that song by The Black Eyed Peas?

“don’t…don’t…don’t … … don’t-stop-the-party!”

I know you’ve been humming this song during your continuing debt market party, but there is more to the scene than just the debt market. The debt market is not where things start and end in the world of investing. There’s more.

The world of investing is like an ocean.

The next buzzing market will make itself known. It’s only a matter of time. Be ready for it. Don’t remain clogged up within the claustrophobic walls of one market only, out of sheer laziness and a false sense of security.

Get out there.

Experience the ocean, without your head needing to explode.

Getting Too Comfy For Our Boots, Are We?

What a party we are having in the debt-market, aren’t we?

Exceptional payouts, day after day, week after week, month after month, it’s almost going to be year after year.

Are you getting too comfortable? Lazy, perhaps?

Meaning to say, that when you can get a 10 % return after tax without having to move your behind for it, it is a very welcome scenario, right?

People, scenarios change.

It isn’t always going to be like it is at the moment.

Are you flexible enough to change with the scenario?

Or will you be lost in the current moment, so lost, that you will not recognize the signs of change?

What would be these signs? (Man, this is like spoon-feeding….grrrrrr&#*!).

Inflation begins to fall.

The country’s central bank announces back to back interest rate cuts.

Too lazy to read the paper? Or watch the news? Ok, if nothing else, your online liquid mutual fund statement should tip you off.

How?

The payout, dammit, it will have decreased.

Also, something else starts performing.

What?

Equity.

Smart investors don’t like the debt payout anymore. They start moving their smart money into value equity picks.

Slowly, media stops reporting about a gloomy economy. The buzz gets around. Reforms are on the way.

Foreign direct investment picks up. The media latches on to it. It starts speaking about inflows as if the world begins and ends with inflows.

Now, the cauldron is hot and is getting hotter.

Debt payouts are getting lesser and lesser. Equity is already trending upwards, and has entered the meat of the move.

If the trend contnues, a medium to long-term bull market can result.

There you have it, the chronology played out till just before the start of a bull market of sorts.

Be alert. Recognize the signs early. Be mentally in a position to move out of the debt market, if the prevailing scenario changes.

Otherwise…

… you miss a first run in equity. Boo-hoo. When stocks cool at a peak, and start falling, you make multiple wrong entries into them.

You get hammered by equity, having caught it on the down-swing.

You missed the correct entry time-point in equity because the debt-market made you too comfortable. You were late to act. When you acted, finally, you caught a correction, and took a hammering.

One or two more hammerings like that, and you’ll be off equity for the rest of your life.

And that, my dear friend, would be a pity.

Why?

Because, in mankind’s history, it is stocks that have given the best long-term returns. Not gold, not debt, not bonds, but stocks.

You need to approach them properly, and timing is key.

The Ugly Side of Leverage

Not too long a time ago, in an existence nearby, people saved.

Credit was a four letter word, or a six letter word, or whatever you want to all it, as long as you get my point.

People worked hard, and enjoyed the sweet taste of their labour.

They knew their networth on their fingertips, and there was no question of extending oneself beyond.

People were happy. They had time for their families. Words like sophistication, complicated and what have you had simpler meanings.

At the end of the month, as large a chunk as possible was pickled away.

For what?

Safety. Steady growth. For building a lifetime’s corpus. For the future generation.

Life was straight-forward.

Then came leverage.

At first, leverage was an idea that was looked down upon. People were slow to leave their safety zones.

Then they saw what leverage could do.

It could make possible a lifetime of fun. One could do things which were well out of one’s financial reach currently. Leverage could even buy out billion dollar companies.

All one had to do was to pledge one’s incoming for many, many years. If that didn’t suffice to fulfill one’s fun-desires, one could even pledge the house. The money borrowed would eventually be paid up, along with the compound interest, right? After all, one had a steady job that promised regular income.

What use was a lifetime of sweat if one didn’t get to enjoy oneself? One couldn’t really live it up after retirement, could one? That’s when one would eventually possess enough free funds to do what one was doing now, with the advent of leverage.

The do-now-pay-later philosophy soon took over the world.

Without being able to afford even a meaningful fraction of their expenditure, people began to go beserk.

What people didn’t know, and what they are now finding out the hard way, is that leverage is a double-edged sword. Since people didn’t know this, and since they didn’t bother to read the fine-print of the documents they were signing while leveraging their monthly salary or their home, well, financiers didn’t bother to educate them any further. No hard feelings, it was just business strategy, nothing personal.

Today, we know more. Much much more. Hopefully we have learnt. We are not going to make the same mistakes again.

So, when you buy into a company, look at the leverage on the balance-sheet. A debt : equity ratio of 1 : 1 is healthy. It promises balanced growth. If the ratio is lower, even better. We’ll talk about debt : equity ratios that are below 0.5 some other day.

Most companies do not have a healthy debt : equity ratio. Promoters like to borrow, and borrow big. You as an investor then need to judge. What exactly is the promotor using these funds for? Is he or she using these funds to finance a hi-fi lifestyle, with flashy cars, villas and company jets? Or is the promoter using these funds for the growth of the company, i.e. for the benefit of the shareholders? Use your common-sense. Look into a company’s management before buying into any company.

As regards your own self, reason it out, people. Save. As long as you can avoid taking that loan, do so. Loaned money comes with lots of hidden fees. If I’m not mistaken, now you’ll even need to pay service tax and education cess on a loan, but please correct me if I’m wrong. There’s definitely a loan-activation fee. Then there’s the huge interest, that compounds very fast. Ask someone who has borrowed on his or her credit card. There’s the collateral you’re promising against the loan. That’s your life you’re putting on the line. All for a bit of leveraged fun? How will your children remember you?

Also, when you invest with no leverage on your own balance-sheet, your mind is relaxed. There is no tension, and your investment decisions are solid. Furthermore, if you’re invested without having borrowed, there’s no question of having an investment terminated prematurely because of a loan-repayment date maturing coupled with one’s inability to pay.

How does the following sentence sound?

” Then came leverage, and common-sense disappeared.”

Not good, right?

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.

Recognizing and Reacting to A-Grade Tomfoolery

Air India and Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) … can you name two things these two have in common?

They’re both loss-making airlines.

Furthermore, there’s lack of will-power to make them profit-making, from the very top.

The problem with a government job is that you can’t kick the government servant out. The government servant thus enjoys complete job-safety and total lack of accountability. That’s been India’s recipe for ineffectivity and loss-making government institutions for decades. In Air India’s case, add to this massive subsidization by the government. Whenever the Maharaja can’t pay his bills, which is like every month, the government of India chips in with tax-payer money. There’s no real policy being pushed through to effectively earn something. Government servants travel free, big-time. If there’s a shortage of seats, honest, real-money paying citizens are off-loaded and left stranded to accommodate the highly evolved souls that rule our country.

Seriously, why do you still travel Air India? Because it’s cheap? Don’t you see through the tomfoolery? Are you blind? They might wake up upon sensing a complete lack of interest amongst travellers. Until that happens, and until they start performing with no ad-hoc cancellations and off-loading, travellers need to give them that wake-up call by using other airlines and by not subscribing to any money-raising gimmicks or IPOs that the company might come out with.

Cut to KFA. What’s wrong with Mr. Mallya? Unpaid pilots, unpaid fuel bills, unpaid taxes, seriously!?!

Vijay Mallya’s story is not about lack of efficiency. It’s about flamboyance. At the cost of his shareholders? Perhaps.

His liquor business is performing well. A little hand-holding through initial turbulence would have seen KFA through. One pays one’s pilots. Period. You don’t just hire scores of great pilots and buy a huge fleet of aircraft, and then stop paying your pilots. Such flamboyance is going to result in a loss-making enterprise for a few years, isn’t that common-sense? In that period, the hand-holding comes into play from the promoter’s other profit-making enterprises, right? Does that seem to have happened here? Unlikely, looking at the current status of KFA’s balance-sheet. Quarterly losses of 100 million USD and growing coupled with a burgeoning debt, Jesus Christ…

The airline industry involves a very precarious vicious-cycle. If you can avoid falling into it from the start, you are through. Prime example is Indigo Airlines.

The first signs of letting up tighten the noose one more notch. Unpaid pilots result in strikes leading to delays and cancellations. A traveller who has been bitten once decides to travel with the competition. Numbers fall. Now, fuel bills can’t be met. More problems, more delays and cancellations. Finally, you can’t pay your taxes. That’s when the tax department steps in. Headlines go ballistic. Huge bad publicity. Twitter battles. What was that? You want the same mollycoddling as Air India? You want government subsidization? Which world do you live in? Not happening!

Money needs to flow into KFA, not loaned money, but clean money, out of the parent-group’s own coffers. Any usage of KFA revenues to fund the parent-group’s activities is a strict no-no. For example, if the Kingfisher Formula 1 team or the group’s IPL Cricket team were even partly funded by KFA revenues, that would be a huge, huge red flag, given the financial condition of KFA. As of now, shareholders need to see some will-power emanating from the top to control the bleeding. The Street can even short the KFA stock down to zero if the promoter’s attitude does not change. Perhaps such an image-beating would be a wake-up call for the promoter.

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.

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.

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.

The Sweetest Spot

In the markets, we often lose our balance.

Then we find it. Only to lose it again.

The key is maintaining this balance over long periods of time.

There’s a spot, where everything, suddenly, goes into balance. I like to call it the sweetest spot. What are its characteristics?

Firstly, at the sweetest spot, health is intact, on the physical as well as on the mental level. Then, one has identified a trade, entered it, and the trade is in the money. At this spot, the spouse respects you and your profession, because neither you nor your profession are bothering him or her for space. Relationship with him or her is harmonious. At the sweetest spot, you find time for your children. You’ve got a rapport going. Your off-spring learns from your every word and action.

Phew, sounds amazing!

Wait, there’s more!

At the sweetest spot, one is debt-free. Neither is one under-trading, nor is one over-trading. Reactions to market events are sharp, and one turns with the market, i.e. one is in the Zone. As profit levels increase, so does position-size, proportionately. You are getting your strategy basics right, one after the other.

At the sweetest spot, goodness wells inside the human being, and he or she does an extra bit for the benefit of society.

Life, profession, existence…it’s all one smooth, harmonious, automatic flow.

Then, in a flash, the spot is gone. One or more of the many factors mentioned tend to go haywire. That’s quite normal.

Which only means, that you start looking for the sweetest spot again.

Whenever you find it once more, your primary goal is to maintain it as long as possible, again, and again and again (to the power of n, with n > 1).

Before you realize it, you are then staring at financial freedom. You are there, financially independent of any other factor or being. You have arrived.

Some things in life are really sweet, and worth striving for.

Making the 99% See Reason

Hey 99%,

Fine, fine, #OccupyWallStreet and all…

To be honest, this needs to be more about brains than brawn. The 1% are where they are because they’ve used their devious and canniving brains to become super-rich. Now you need to use yours to first extract yourself from your debt-trap situation and then to work towards financial freedom. Something like this can only work long-term. Using brawn, you’ll probably break the law and land up in jail, simultaneously exacerbating your predicament.

The first step is to SAVE. That’s what your forefathers did. They saved. They made your country a super-power because of their SAVINGS. If you’re not in a position to save, please get yourself into such a position. There’s no way out. To attain financial freedom, you have to start saving.

Tear your credit cards into two. Don’t consume. Don’t use and throw. Use, repair and reuse. Eat less if you have to, but extract yourself from the debt-cycle at any cost. There’s no other way.

Once you’ve started to save, you’ll need to learn how to manage your savings. Don’t ask the 1% to manage them for you. Instead, learn how to manage them on your own. With that, you’ll be putting yourself into the business of money- and asset-management, and then you can truly and totally boycott the 1%. That would be a message to the 1% that could make them scramble for survival. Believe me, to survive, they’ll be forced to change their ways. They don’t understand your brawn. It just aggravates them.

There’s enough material on the web available, that’ll get you going. The best thing is, most of it is free of cost. Go for it. Learn how to manage your savings on your own and make them grow. You can start by reading this very blog.

Continuous savings, over years and years, and the intelligent and independent management of these savings – these two acts will lead you towards financial freedom. Perhaps you will be too old to fully benefit at that time, but your children will benefit.

There’s no point beating about the bush – this is a long-term pursuit. No short-term effort or remedy is going to solve it.

Do it for your children.

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!

Jumping Jackstops

Recently, Mr. Cool and Mr. System Addict decide to get into a trade.

Yeah, surprise surprise, Mr. Cool is liquid again!

They’ve decided to trade Gold, and are pretty much in the money already. Their trades have come good first up. Both are leveraged 25:1, which is common with Gold derivatives. Mr. Addict has bet 5% of his networth on the trade, and Mr. Cool, true to his name, has matched Mr. Addict’s amount.

Gold prices jump, and Mr. Addict’s target is hit. He exits without thinking twice, and is pretty pleased upon doubling his trade amount within a week. He pickles 90% of the booty in fixed income schemes, and is planning a holiday for his girl-friend with the remaining amount. Instead of trading further, he decides to recuperate for a while.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cool rubs his hands in glee as the price of Gold shoots up further. His notional-profits now far exceed the actually booked profits of Mr. Addict. When’s he planning to exit? Not soon. He wants to make a killing, and once and for all prove to Mr. Addict and to the world, that he rules. He wants to bury Mr. Addict’s trade results below the mountain of his own king-sized profits. Gold soars further.

Mr Cool has trebled his money, and is still not booking any profits. He picks up his cell to call Mr. Addict. Wants to rub it in, you know.

Mr. Addict puts down his daiquiri by the poolside in his hotel in Ibiza. His girl-friend has at last started admiring him. They’ve been swimming all morning. “All right, all right, he’ll take this one call. Oh, it’s Mr. Cool, wonder what he’s up to?” Mr. Addict is one of the few people in the world who are able to switch off. He’s totally forgotten about Gold and his winning trade, and is really enjoying his holiday.

Mr. Cool tries to rub it in, but receives some unperturbed advice from the other end of the line. He’s being asked to be satisfied and to book profits right now. Of course he’s not going to do that. All right, fine, if he wants to play it by “let’s see how high this can go”, he needs to have a wide-gapped trailing stop in place, says Mr. Addict. Of course he’s got a wide-gapped trailing stop in place, says Mr. Cool. Mr. Addict wishes him luck, cuts the call, and forgets about the existence of Mr. Cool, dozing off into a well-deserved snooze.

As Gold moves higher, Cool starts to think about that wide-gapped trailing stop. Let alone having one in place, he doesn’t even know what it means. A quick call to the broker follows. The broker is ordered to install a trailing stop into Mr. Cool’s trade. Since Cool doesn’t know what “wide-gapped” means, he forgets to mention it. The broker doesn’t like Cool’s attitude and his proud tone. He installs a narrow-gapped trailing stop.

Circumstances change, and Gold starts to drop. It’s making big moves on the downside, falling a few percentage points in one shot. Cool’s narrow-gapped trailing stop gets fully jumped over; it doesn’t get a chance to become activated in the first place, because it is narrow-gapped and not wide-gapped. The price of the underlying just leaps over the narrow gap between trigger price and limit price. Happens. Cool does not install a new stop. Stupid.

Next morning, Cool’s jaw drops when he sees Gold down 15% overnight. On a 25:1 leverage, he’s just about to lose his margin. The phone rings. It’s the margin call. Cool panics. He answers the margin call. His next call is to Mr. Addict, asking what he should do. Mr. Addict is shocked to learn that Cool has answered the margin call. He asks him to cut the trade immediately.

Cool’s gone numb. Gold drops another 4%. Phone rings. Second margin call. Cool doesn’t have the money to answer it. In fact , he didn’t have the money to answer the first one. In the broker’s next statement, that amount will show up as a debit, growing at the rate of 18% per annum.

Mr. Cool’s not liquid anymore. Actually, he’s broke. No, worse that that. He’s in debt. Greed got him.

A Fall to Remember (Part 2)

Part 1 was when Silver fell almost 20 $ an ounce within a week. Like, 40%. Swoosh. Remember? Happened very recently.

And now, Gold does a Silver, and falls 20 % in a few days. These are the signs of the times. “Quick volatility” is the new “rangebound move”. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The wrong question here is “What’s a good entry level in general?” Why is this question wrong?

When something new becomes the norm, there is too little precedence to adhere to. It becomes dangerous to use entry rules which were established using older conditions as a standard.

I believe there is one way to go here. The correct question for me, were I seeking entry into Gold or Silver, would be “Is this entry level good enough FOR ME?” or perhaps “What’s a good enough entry level FOR ME?”

Let’s define “good” for ourselves. Here, “good” is a level at which entry doesn’t bother YOU. It doesn’t bother you, because you are comfortable with the level and with the amount you are entering. You don’t need this sum for a while. It is a small percentage of what you’ve got pickled in debt, yielding very decent returns. If the underlying slides further after your entry, your “good” level of entry still remains “good” till it starts bothering you. You can widen the gap between “not-bothering” and “bothering” by going ahead with a small entry at your “good” level, and postponing further entry for an “even better” level which might or might not come.

If the”even better” level arrives, you go ahead as planned, and enter with a little more. If, however, your “good” level was the bottom, and prices zoom after that, you stick to your plan and do not enter after that. This would be an investment entry strategy, which sigularly looks for a margin of safety. Entry is all-important while investing, as opposed to when one is trading (while trading, trade-management and exit are more important than entry).

Trading entry strategies are totally different. Here, one looks to latch on after the bottom is made and the underlying is on the rise. Small entries can be made as each resistance is broken. It’s called pyramiding. Trading strategies are mostly the complete opposite of investing strategies. Please DO NOT mix the two.

Sort yourself out. What do you want to do? Do you want to invest in Gold and Silver, or do you want to trade in them? ANSWER this question for yourself. Once you have the answer, formulate your strategy accordingly. U – good level – how much here? U – even better level – how much there? U – no more entry – after which level?

Life is so much simpler when one has sorted oneself out and then treads the path.

The Power of Leverage

Apart from the D-word, the Street’s got the L-word too.

This L stands for L-E-V-E-R-A-G-E.

So, how much leverage do you enjoy from your spouse?

Or, do you have any leverage on politician so-and-so?

Or, bank so-and-so or brokerage so-and-so is offering a 10:1 or a 16:1 leverage on derivatives.

Just racking up the various uses of the L-word.

In colloquial terms, the amount of leeway your spouse allows you in your marriage is called leverage. Also, the amount of dirt you have on a politician to coerce him into following your wishes – that’s called leverage too. But for now, let’s get back to the Street.

On the Street, The L-word gives the D-word its power to destroy big.

Do you remember what the D-word was? D-E-R-I-V-A-T-I-V-E-S.

A derivative is a stink normal trade without the power of leverage. When brokerages start offering you leverage like 16:1, the stink normal derivative becomes lethal. Then, small amounts of volatility can wipe out the principal put up by you. If a down-turn continues, your loss can become many times your principal. People can go bankrupt like this.

You see, for every market move, your profit or loss is the move times the leverage. On a 5% move, a 16:1 leverage can result in 80% profit or loss. Leverage works on the upside as well as the downside.

The problem arises when the player doesn’t know how to play either side. Most players don’t know.

Leverage can be used to one’s advantage only when the down-side is protected with a stop. Most people don’t use a stop while deploying leverage. That’s why they lose, and lose big.

This singular characteristic of the average market player of not knowing how to use stops results in a spiralling bomb during market down-turns. As losses pile up, selling pressure increases due to dejection or the like as the market heads even lower. What if they’d taken a 2% or a 5% or even an 8% hit when a stop was hit? They’d be out and the market could stabilize near the stop level because of lack of further selling pressure.

Leverage is something that must not be used if one doesn’t fully understand how to use it. Unfortunately, almost everyone consumes leverage as if it were a bar of Snickers. Leverage is served to customers on a platter. Even a loan, or debt on the credit card is leverage.

Leverage is the driving force of consumerism and the modern industrialized world.

Just 40 $ Away…

The first signs of greed can be sensed.

We’re talking about Gold.

A few months ago, serious players in Gold had identified Rs. 28,000 / 10 grams as their target for Gold.

This target has been achieved for a while now. Nobody’s booked their Gold.

Instead, the target has been revised to Rs. 30,000 / 10 grams, which is just another 40 $ an ounce away.

Please don’t tell me that nobody is going to book (meaning sell, as in booking profits) their Gold @ Rs. 30,000 / 10 grams. I’ve got this nagging feeling that they’re not.

Hmmm, greed is setting in. Nothing unusual. That’s how a bubble progresses.

Yesterday, an update from Reliance alerted me to the hypothesis that Rs. 40,000 / 10 grams was a real possibility in Gold.

Maybe, maybe not. As of now, Reliance is sounding like that fellow who predicted a Dow level of 36,000 some years ago. Today, 36k on the Dow seems impossible, even in one’s dreams.

Does it matter to you how high Gold can go? Or is your target more important? Both are valid questions.

If your target has been achieved, here’s one scenario. Book the Gold and put the released funds into debt. Debt in India is safe, and is giving excellent returns, especially to the retail investor.

If your stomach is full, do you dream about more food?

Seriously people, playing this by targets is a serious option.

It’s also ok if you wanna play it in a “let’s see how high this can go” manner. That’s just another way of playing it. Fine. In this case, you need to set trailing stops, and you need to stick to these if they get hit.

Either way, identify a booking strategy for Gold and stick to it.

Take greed out of the equation. There’s no room for greed in the career of a market player. There’s no room for fear either.

We’ll talk about taking fear out of the equation some other day, if and when unprecedented gloom and doom abounds.

One Step Closer to the Gold-Standard?

The gold-standard is an extreme scenario.

Imagine the world’s top currencies collapsing. For lack of a better alternative, the world resorts to gold for conducting international trade.

Probably a situation that’s not going to occur.

But then, are we doing anything to stop it from occuring?

Q: Is the US doing anything concrete to reduce its debt?

A: No.

Interpretation: USD will lose its stronghold as global currency at this rate.

Q: Does Europe have any concrete ideas about its financial future?

A: No.

Interpretation: Euro is nowhere near toppling USD from its global currency status.

Q: Is China doing anything concrete to increase transparency?

A: No.

Interpretation: Doesn’t make the Yuan a strong contender for top post.

Q: Is India doing anything concrete to reduce corruption?

A: Er…blah blah blah… No.

Interpretation: I’m not even trying to interpret the eyewash going on here.

Let’s move on to a country called Venezuela.

President Hugo Chavez just called all his gold home…!

Even if this is to taunt the US, it still is HOARDING.

Hoarding is infectious. The start of hoarding can trigger a “Domino-Effect”.

Whatever his ulterior motives were, Big Boy Hugo has taken the world one step closer to the gold standard.

To prevent hoarding from escalation, a counter statement needs to come, like NOW, from the major economic players of the world, something confidence-boosting. Don’t see that happening anytime soon. Seems that hoarding might escalate.

The gold-standard seemed to be a myth a few months ago. Now, at this stage, we seriously need to educate ourselves with regard to the gold-standard and position ourselves accordingly.

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.

El Helicoptro’s not able to Smell the Coffee

Helicopter Ben Bernanke just doesn’t get it, does he?

People have lost confidence in the Fed and its “stimulus”.

That’s why, when Benny Boy announced more stimulus a day after the “debt deal”, the Dow along with broader markets tanked even further.

The Dow only encompasses 30 stocks. Let’s look at the broader US market. For example, the Russell 2000 fell 9 % yesterday.

Now if that’s not a vote of no-confidence, then what is?

If we observe Bernanke’s dealings of yesterday, he heightened his stimulus announcement from one-week ago to “even more stimulus”. This is a death-trap.

How does El Helicoptro plan to finance his stimulus? By printing notes. Such free printing of notes leads to more and more currency in circulation, which ultimately leads to devaluation of the currency in question.

The devaluation process of anything financially connected to the US has been set in motion. Ben Bernanke is still not smelling the coffee.

Where does that leave you?

Ideally, one should have asked this question back in 2008, but if one didn’t, one will be forced to ask it now.

That’s what Mrs. Market does, it forces you to keep questioning your basics till you get her groove.

For the newbie investor who’s caught in the current fall and is taking his or her share of hits, well, the silver lining is the learning effect. He or she will buy with a margin of safety as an investor in the future, or will learn to respect a stop-loss as a trader. Mrs. Market will either force him or her to learn these basics, or will throw him or her out of her game forever.

What about more experienced players, who saw 2008, or perhaps older crises? If they are still taking a hit just now, well, they too need to get back to the basics. Mrs. Market does not discriminate between who is making the mistake. She’s universal in doling out her punishment to the non-performers, but also universal in doling out her reward to the diligent learners.

So what are these basics?

Mrs. Market 1.0.1 teaches two basic lessons.

Lesson numero 1 is for investors. They need to BUY WITH A MARGIN OF SAFETY. This allows them to sit tight during such a crisis, because they aren’t taking much of a hit.

Lesson numero 2 is for traders. They need to TAKE A STOP-LOSS once it is hit. With that they are out of the market and she can’t hurt them anymore.

That’s it. 2 lessons, people. No way around them. They need to be incorporated into one’s DNA before one can move on to second base with Mrs. Market.