Bonding

As Equity players…

…we enter the bond segment to…

conserve capital.

There is no other reason.

Return?

We do make a slightly better return than a fixed deposit.

We’re not in bonds to make a killing.

That is outlined for the Equity segment.

We’re Equity players, remember. 

I was just going through the top ten holdings of each of FT India’s now “discontinued” (new word for mini-insolvency?) debt funds. (I’m uncertain just now what word they’ve used, was it “stopped”? Or “halted”?) [Just looked up the internet, the words used are “winding up”].

My goodness! 

The fund managers in question wanted to outperform all other funds at the cost of asset-quality. 

Many of these top ten holdings (for six funds, one is looking at six top ten holdings) one would not even have heard of. 

A top ten holding constitutes the backbone of the mutual fund being studied. 

If the backbone is wobbly, the whole structure trembles upon wind exposure. 

This corona black swan is not a wind. It’s a long-drawn out cyclone, to fit the analogy. 

This particular structure has crumbled. 

Fund managers concerned have acted out of greed – that’s the only explanation for above top ten holdings. 

No other explanation comes to my mind. 

That they are also holding large chunks of Yes Bank and Vodafone is more an error in judgement, albeit a grave one. 

People commit errors in judgement.

Could one still overlook the a large chunk’s (10%?) segregation in FT India’s Debt folios, where Yes and Voda bonds have been marked down to zero?

Such a hit is huge in the debt segment.

Why are we in debt?

To conserve capital. 

10% hit in debt?

NO.

Wobbly top ten holdings?

NNOO!

Had no idea that the FT India debt portfolio had so many red-flags. 

Till they dropped the bombshell that they were discontinuing their six debt-funds, from last evening, one had no idea. 

Now that it’s dropped, one digs deep to understand their mistakes.

Why?

One doesn’t want to make the same mistakes. 

One doesn’t want to be invested in any funds in the debt segment which are making the same mistakes.

However, another look at their holdings reassures one that one won’t be making such mistakes, of greed, and of comprehensive failure to read managements and road conditions – in a hurry.

Nevertheless, one wishes to be aware.

Now that one is, all measures will be enhanced to prevent even an inkling of such an outcome for oneself. 

Wait up. 

Such measures were already in place. 

Greed? In bonds? 

We’re in bonds to conserve capital. 

No greed there. 

Top ten holdings?

Rock-solid. 

That’s the fundamental tenet one looks for while entering any mutual fund, whether in the debt or in the equity segment. 

We’re good. 

Secret Ingredients in Times like Corona

Hi,

It’s been a while.

Unprecedented times call for every iota of resilience that’s inherent.

Whatever we’ve learnt in the markets is being tested to beyond all levels. 

If our learning is solid, we will emerge victorious.

If there are vital chinks in our armour, we will be broken. 

Such are the market forces that are prevailing. 

Have we learn’t to sit?

Meaning, over all these years, when over-valuation ruled the roost, did we sit?

Did we accumulate funds?

Did we create a sizeable liquid corpus?

If we did, we are kings in this scenario. 

One of the main characteristics of a small entry quantum strategy is that it renders us liquidity, almost through and through. 

If we are amply liquid in the times of mayhem, there is absent from our armour the debilitating chink of illiquidity.

Illiquidity at the wrong time makes one make drastic mistakes by succumbing to panic. 

We’re not succumbing to any panic. 

Why?

Because our minds are focused on the bargains available.

The bargains are so mouth-watering, that they are entirely taking away our focus from existing panic.

To twist our psychology into the correct trajectory in a time like Corona, the secret ingredient that’s required is called (ample) liquidity. This secret ingredient is a direct result of the small entry quantum strategy, which we follow. 

Then, let’s address the other potential chink, and just sheer do away with it. 

Having access to ample liquidity, are we now greedy?

What does greed mean?

It’s not greedy to buy when there’s blood on the street, no, it’s actually outright courageous. 

Greed Is defined here as per the quantum of buying. 

Are we buying disproportionately vis-à-vis our liquidity-size and our risk-profile?

Yes?

Greedy.

No?

Not greedy.

How will we know the answer without any doubt in our mind that we have the correct answer to this question, since it is vital to our learning curve to answer this question correctly?

The answer will make itself felt.

Are we able to sit optimally even if markets crash another double-digit percentage from here?

50% from here?

No? Greedy. We have bought in a manner that doesn’t gel with our risk-profile. Our liquidity is exhausting, and focus shifts from bargains to panic. Ensuing tension amidst further fall will very probably cause us to commit a grave blunder, with this happening very probably at the bottom of the market. We are poised to lose in the markets like this. 

Yes? Not greedy. We have bought and continue to buy as per our risk-profile. We will win…

…in the markets.

The secret ingredient that locks in great prices and continues to do so as the market keeps falling, is called quantum-control as per the tolerance level of our risk-profile towards further fall. This secret ingredient ensures that liquidity outlasts a longish fall, keeping our focus on the bargains and not on the panic. This secret ingredient provides for the basic mechanism of our small entry quantum strategy.

 

Small Shoots to Big Trees

What do I see around myself?

Lots of small shoots. 

Wherever I look, there are small shoots. 

Does this make me happy?

You bet. 

Why?

Why not?

I mean, you don’t see any trees. 

So?

You’ve been at it for a while.

So?

All you’re seeing is shoots. Does that satisfy you? None of your efforts is a big tree in all this while.

That’s a very narrow-minded, greedy and fast-buck remark. 

Explain. 

For each of the shoots I see around me, twenty efforts have died their death. However, one shoot managed to entrench itself. This one shoot is firm, and goes very deep into the ground. It’s roots have become very strong. It is now ready for the world and has decided to show itself over the ground.  Over the next many, many years, with my meticulous nurturing, this very shoot shall grow up into a mammoth tree with unprecedented positive consequences.

I see. And, you’re saying that you see many such shoots around yourself?

Yes, many many.

Wow.

Yeah, i’ve been busy. I’ve tried and discarded many things. What remained didn’t want to leave me. It got planted and grew roots. Now that the shoots are growing, they are mostly on auto-pilot. Some need tending to once a day, some once a week.

Does that give you empty spaces in between?

Yes.

How do you fill these empty spaces?

I do, and I don’t.

Meaning?

Unless something new refuses to leave me, I don’t wish to plant another tree.

Why?

I’m happy enough tending to what I have.

So you’ve reached the…what’s that called?

Sweet spot?

Yes, you’ve reached the sweet spot. But nobody knows about you. You’re not famous or anything.

That’s why the spot is sweet.

Meaning?

Nobody disturbs my privacy. I can go where I choose. Do what I want. I don’t need to share my time with anyone if I don’t want to. There are no compulsions imposed upon me. 

Do you think you will be famous one day?

When these shoots grow into big trees, that might happen.

Do you want it to happen?

I want my trees to grow. Not sure today about fame. It kills personal life. I like my life and its pace.

Any regrets?

Sometimes, I get lonely. It’s the nature of the path. Despite family and a decent social life, loneliness is still there. Applied finance requires a lot of alone-time. 

How do you deal with that?

I start tending to a different shoot. Financial. Non-financial. Recreational. Creative. Gap gets bridged, and then the loneliness is gone. 

Nath on Equity : have stuff – will talk

Behind Equity, there’s 41). human capital. 

It’s human capital that keeps 42). adjusting equity for inflation.

43). No other asset-class quotes on an inflation-adjusted basis. 

That’s good news for you, because 44). equity takes care of the number one wealth-eater (inflation) for you. 

All world equity ever quoted, whether currently existing or not, has 45). returned 6% per annum compounded, adjusted for inflation. 

46). All equity ever quoted that still exists has yielded 11% per annum compounded, adjusted for inflation.

Equity selected with good due diligence, common-sense and adherence to basic rules listed here and in previous articles is 47). well-capable of yielding 15%+ per annum compounded, adjusted for inflation. 

However, equity is 48). a battle of nerves, at times. 

This asset-class is 49). more about creating long-term wealth. 

It can be used, though, to 50). generate income through trading. 

51). Trading, however, is burdened with more taxation, commission-generation and sheer tension. 

Trading equity 52). eats up your day. 

Investing in equity 53). gives you enough room to pursue many other activities during your day. 

Trading strategies are 54). diametrically opposite to investing strategies. 

55). It takes market-players the longest time to digest and fully comprehend 54).

For long-term players, 56). up-side is unlimited. This is a vital fact. 

Also, 57). downside is limited to input. Factor in good DD, and that very probably won’t even go half-way. 

58). Thus, 56). and 57). make for a very lucrative reward : risk ratio. 

Equity needs courage, to 59). enter when there’s blood on the streets. 

It also needs detachment, to 60). either exit when required for monetary reasons, or when everyone else is getting ultra-greedy and bidding the underlying up no-end. 

Nath on Equity – Some more DooDats 

Yawn, the story goes on… 

Let’s 21). not think about our folio at night. 

We’re also 22). only going to connect to the market on a need-to basis, no more. 

If there’s a 23). doubt, wait. 

24). Clarify doubt. If it goes away, proceed with market action. If not, discard action. 

Don’t spread 25). too wide. 75+ stocks means you’re running a mutual fund. 

Don’t spread 26). too thin either. Just 5 stocks in the folio means that risk is not adequately spread out. Choose your magic number, one that you’re comfortable with. 

Once this number is crossed, 27). start discarding the worst performer upon every new addition. 

28). Rarely look at folio performance. Only do so to fine-tune folio. 

Don’t give 29). tips. Don’t ask for them either. 

You are you. 30). Don’t compare your folio to another. 

Due diligence will require 31). brass tacks. Don’t be afraid to plunge into annual reports and balance sheets. 

32). Read between the lines. 

Look 33). how much the promoters personally earn annually from the underlying . Some promoters take home an unjustified number. That’s precisely the underlying to avoid. Avoid a greedy promoter as if you were avoiding disease. 

Is 34). zero-debt really zero-debt?  Look closely. 

Are the 35). promoters shareholder-friendly? Do they regularly create value for the shareholder? 

Are 36). strong reserves present? 

Are the 37). promoters capable of eating up these instead of using them to create value? 

Is the 38). underlying liquid enough to function on a daily basis? Look at the basic ratios. 

Is any 39). wheeling-dealing going on with exceptional items and what have you? 

40). Is the company likely to be around in ten years time? 

Yeah, things in the equity world need to be thorough. 

We’re getting there. 

🙂 

Understanding and Assimilating the Fear-Greed Paradox

Holy moly, what are we talking about?

Let’s say you’ve done your homework.

You’ve identified your long-term stock.

Fundamentals are in place. Management is investor-friendly. No serious debt issues. Earnings are good.

Valuation is not right.

You wait.

How long?

Till the price is right.

What happens if that doesn’t happen.

You don’t pull the trigger. It’s difficult, but you just don’t pull.

Let’s say the price is becoming right.

You are looking for an extra margin of safety.

You are waiting to pounce. How long?

What’s your indicator?

Your gut?

Many things have been said about the gut.

It does feel fear.

Look for that fear.

Scrip is near a very low support, but holding. You are afraid that this last support might break and that the scrip might go into free-fall. Look for that fear. There goes your buying opportunity, you are probably saying. Intraday, support is broken. You are now sure it’s gone. Look for that feeling. Intraday, scrip comes back. Closes over support. Large volume. This chronology is your buy signal. You pick up a large chunk. Scrip doesn’t look back.

You don’t have to go through this rigmarole. You don’t have to bottom-pick. This exercise is for those who want that extra margin of safety.

Now invert the situation.

You’re sitting on a multibagger.

Lately, you’re not agreeing with the company’s business plans. You want out. Best time for you to exit would be now, sure. But, scrip is in no resistance zone, and is going up and up and up. What do you do?

Look for greed within yourself, when you start saying “Wow, this is going to be the next 100-bagger!” Look for the moment during this phenomenal rise when you’re getting attached to the scrip and don’t want to get rid of it, despite having concluded that you don’t agree with the vision of the promoters. Look for the time you start going “My Precious!”

Sell.

This chronology is your intrinsic sell signal.

Sure, radical.

I agree.

Sure, I’m combining trading techniques to fine-tune my investing.

I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.

I’ve seen from their heights.

It’s time I start contributing.

The Thin Line

Have you met the thin line…

…  between ambition and greed?

You see it. You want to cross it without wanting to cross it.

What stops you?

A deadly sin is… deadly. If you’re sensitive enough, you do fear the effects of a deadly sin.

Greed can ruin. It has the capacity to upset an apple-cart.

Sometimes you want something that extra much.

Ambition turns into over-ambition.

You get your something.

You’re a go-getter.

You become over-confident.

You forget your basics.

Next few times around, you cross the thin line repeatedly. The high is addictive. Soon, you’re crossing…

… without even knowing.

Yeah, the vicious cycle outlined above has made you insensitive. You’ve stepped over, don’t even know it, and on you’re going. You’re blinded by greed.

It’s not happened overnight. First the thin line beckoned you to come back. Your over-ambition spurred you on a few steps more. A few more steps wouldn’t harm, right?

Wrong.

You’re not sensitive anymore. You’ve lost normal vision. You’re greedy for your goal. You’re not sticking to your basic tenets. You’re not playing safe anymore. You’ve started to even play with your safety moat, in order to achieve an even bigger goal.

You’ve set yourself up to fall… big.

If you do, I hope for two things.

First up, I hope you don’t fall too big, and that you can get up again.

Second, I hope that this fall is your last one, and that it has made you sensitive again.

Sensitive?

Towards what?

Yeah, sensitive towards the thin line.

Speed of Rise vs Speed of Fall

Specifically, equity markets have this one repetitive characteristic.

Their average speed of rising is lesser than their average speed of falling. Much lesser, I would say. 

Why?

Falling has to do with selling pressure being more than buying pressure. Selling pressure is connected to fear. Add caution to fear, and one has already sold out. 

Rise has to do with buying pressure being more than selling pressure. Buying pressure is connected to optimism. As markets keep nudging higher, slowly, optimism turns into euphoria, with a hint of caution. This caution slows the speed of rising, till greed takes over in the last stage of the rise, and one fails to see any caution anymore. At this time, the speed of rising is the highest, but is still lesser than the speed of falling at the nadir. Why?

What is the prevalent situation at a nadir? There’s blood. People are running for their lives. They take action before asking questions, and before looking here or there. 

Many times, you come across someone holding a stock which he or she has inherited from a parent. This someone comes to you with the ubiquitous query – what to do, sell it now? You look at the chart. Whoahhhh! You see the buy price, one and a half decades ago. You look at the current level. You calculate the profit. Along the time axis of the chart, you also see that the stock fell back to its buy price or below in a market crash, all within a month and a half. After this, the stock has recouped its losses of the crash, and is showing a healthy profit again, six years after the crash. During the crash, how long did it take the stock to fall below the buy price of one and a half decades ago? A month and a half. Holy moly!

That’s the equity playground for you. 

It’s directly connected to human emotions. 

Anything can happen on this playground, so keep your eyes and ears open, and…

… be prepared. 

A Chronology of Exuberance

The biggest learning that the marketplace imparts is about human emotions.

Yeah, Mrs. Market brings you face to face with fear, greed, exuberance, courage, strength, arrogance … you name it.

You can actually see an emotion developing, real-time.

Today, I’d like to talk about the chronology of exuberance.

In the marketplace, I’ve come face to face with exuberance, and I’ve seen it developing from scratch.

When markets go up, eventually, fear turns into exuberance, which, in turn, drives the markets even higher.

What is the root of this emotion?

The ball game of exuberance starts to roll when analysts come out with a straight face and recommend stocks where the valuations have already crossed conservative long-term entry levels. As far as the analysts are concerned, they are just doing their job. They are paid to recommend stocks, round the year. When overall valuations are high, they still have to churn out stock recommendations. Thus, analysts start recommending stocks that are over-valued.

Now comes the warp.

At some stage, the non-discerning public starts to treat these recommendations as unfailing cash-generating  opportunities. Greed makes the public forget about safety. People want a piece of the pie. With such thoughts, the public jumps into the market, driving it higher.

For a while, things go good. People make money. Anil, who hadn’t even heard of stocks before, is suddenly raking in a quick 50Gs on a stock recommendation made by his tobacco-seller. Veena raked in a cool 1L by buying the hottest stock being discussed in her kitty party. Things are rolling. Nothing can go wrong, just yet.

Thousands of Anils and Veenas make another 5 to 6 rocking buys and sells each. With every subsequent buy, their capacity increases more and more. Finally, they make a big and exuberant leap of faith.

There is almost always a catalyst in the markets at such a time, when thousands make a big and exuberant leap of faith into the markets, like a really hot IPO or something (remember the Reliance Power IPO?).

Yeah, people go in big. The general consensus at such a time is that equity is an evergreen cash-cow. A long bull run can do this to one’s thinking. One’s thinking can become warped, and one ceases to see one’s limits. One starts to feel that the party will always go on.

Now comes the balloon-deflating pin-prick in the form of some bad news. It can be a scandal, or a series of bad results, or some political swing, or what have you. A deflating market can collapse very fast, so fast, that 99%+ players don’t have time to react. These players then rely on (hopeful) exuberance, which reassures them that nothing can go wrong, and that things will soon be back to normal, and that their earnings spree has just taken a breather. Everything deserves a breather, they argue, and stay invested, instead of cutting their currently small losses, which are soon going to become big losses, very, very big losses.

The markets don’t come back, for a long, long time.

Slowly, exuberance starts dying, and is replaced by fear.

Fear is at its height at the bottom of the markets, where maximum number of participants cash out, taking very large hits.

Exuberance is now officially dead, for a very long time, till, one day, there’s a brand new set of market participants who’ve never seen the whole cycle before, supported by existing participants who’ve not learnt their lessons from a past market-cycle. With this calibre of participation, markets become ripe for the re-entry of exuberance.

Wiser participants, however, are alert, and are able to recognize old wine packaged in a new bottle. They start reacting as per their designated strategies for exactly this kind of scenario. The best strategy is to trade the markets up, as far as they go. Then, you can always trade them down. Who’s stopping you? Shorting them without any signals of weakness is wrong, though. Just an opinion; you decide what’s wrong or right for you. The thing with exuberance is, that it can exercise itself for a while, a very long while – longer than you can stay solvent, if you have decided to short the markets in a big way without seeing signs of weakness.

At market peaks, i.e at over-exuberant levels, long-term portfolios can be reviewed, and junk can be discarded. What is junk? That, which at prevailing market price is totally, totally overvalued – that is junk.

Formulate your own strategy to deal with exuberance.

First learn to recognize it.

Then learn to deal with it.

For success as a trader, and also as an investor, you will not be able to circumvent dealing with exuberance.

Best of luck!

How To Nip A Ponzi In The Bud

Mirror Mirror on the wall…

Who’s most prone of them all?

As in, most prone to Ponzis…

Frankly, I think it is us gullible Indians.

Everyday, there’s some report of a Ponzi scheme being busted, with thousands already duped.

Charles Ponzi’s is a case of the tip of the iceberg – maximum recognition came posthumously. If Charlie would have received a cut every time his scheme was used by mankind, he would probably have become the richest man in the world. Unfortunately for him, he popped it before reaping the full rewards of his crookedness.

What Charlie did leave behind was a legacy. Yeah, Charlie did an Elvis, meaning that many have tried to emulate Charles Ponzi since he departed. Maybe I’ve gotten the chronology wrong, but you know what I mean…

Chances are, a Ponzi will eventually cross your path sooner or later. More sooner than later.

How do you recognize a Ponzi? Yeah, that’s the first step here – identification.

A Ponzi will talk big – he or she will flash. There will be a small track record to back up what is being said, and this will almost be blown into your face, after you’ve been dazzled by the Ponzi’s fancy car, expensive clothes and gold pen. The Ponzi will be a good orator, and his words will have a hypnotic effect on you (ward this off with full strength). The Ponzi will show off, making you feel awkward. You will feel like being “as successful” as what is being projected before you, right there, right then. When all these symptoms match, and such feelings well up inside of you, you are, with very high probability, talking to a Ponzi, who is trying to suck you in with a promise of stupendously high returns.

After you have identified the Ponzi, the next step is to not get sucked in. This is going to take all your self-control. Remember, the grass is not greener elsewhere. Take charge of your emotions. You’ve identified a Ponzi, man, that’s big. Now you need to follow through and see to it that a minimum number of people come to harm.

Hear the Ponzi out. Don’t react. In fact, don’t say a word. Don’t commit a penny. Keep reminding yourself, that you have it in you to succeed. You don’t need the Ponzi’s help to get good returns on your money. You certainly don’t want to lose all your money. With that thought in mind, block the Ponzi and his promises out. Leave politely and inconspicuously.

After you’ve left securely, without having committed a penny and without having left your details with the Ponzi, you now need to sound the alarm. Tell all your friends of the lurking danger. Forewarn them, so that no one you know gets sucked in. Ask everyone to spread the word. The whole town needs to know within no time.

Identify – Control – Alarm – this is a three step programme to nip the Ponzi In the bud – try it out, it works!

Cheers! 🙂

Going Legit in the Times of Robber Vodka

A good, clean, healthy and tension-free life – don’t you want that for your children and families?

Right, people, go legit.

It is possible, despite the Robber Vodkas, the Call Muddies and the Rama Lundgren Rajus of our times.

The first step is going white.

Go white, people. Declare your assets, pay your taxes, just sheer refuse to deal in black money as much as you can, and for heaven’s sake, start cutting out unwanted people dealing in black from your lives.

Second step – avoid people wearing whites. 98%+ of male folk dressed in whites in this country are either inactively or actively politically connected. In the process, you might pass up on the 2% genuinely good ones in whites, but you’ll have avoided all the ones you want to avoid. Political connect in India will not allow you to go legit. People hook up with politicians for favours, and / or because they feel that in their hour of need, their political clout will save them. Did you know, that for the one favour, your political connection will make you do ten illegit things in reciprocation, stuff you’d never dream of doing normally. Ask yourself. Is the trade-off really worth it? No, right?

Then, avoid dealing with people who use body-guards. I mean, use your common-sense. There’s no reason to shun a benevolent, well-known corporate honcho with or without body-guards, like Anand Mahindra for example. You’ll learn to recognize shady honchos. There’s that feel about them, that mafioso vicious vibe. If you can sense that vibe in a honcho, don’t deal with that person. Forget about the profit you’re losing out on, and look at the level of tension and complication you’re avoiding.

Don’t deal with people promising stupendous returns. Nip the Ponzis in the bud. Dealing with a Ponzi will eventually land you in court, to get your money out . Believe me, you don’t want our super-efficient judicial system messing up your life, if you can help it.

Be firm while dealing with any government officer. The government officer will only start to misbehave if there is any weakness from your side. Remember, a government officer is supposed to serve the nation. His or her salary is paid from the taxes you dish out. If your dealing is clean, the official could harass you for refusing to bribe, but that’s about it. Take the harassment, but keep coming back till your work is done. We need to stop bribing. Then, and only then will government officers eventually stop expecting us to bribe.

Right, we’ve pretty much cut ourselves off from a lot of people and things, so where does this leave us?

Don’t worry, we are not alone.

There are like-minded people around, and we need to make these like-minded people a part of our lives. Yeah, and we can lead good, healthy lives with such people surrounding us.

Also, don’t for a moment think we can’t do anything for our country, just because we’ve nixed the political linkage. Private opportunities come along everyday, to help people and society. If you want to still make a difference, grab these opportunities. Poor people come to you for medical aid. Help them. You can contribute privately to social-welfare. Many private citizens are running clean NGOs. As the name suggests, these NGOs have no government involvement, and are less likely to be corrupt. Funds donated to clean NGOs will very likely reach disaster areas on time and in full.

You can make a difference, all by yourself. You don’t need a corrupt government to make a 20-odd% difference for you per unit of currency you trust them with, as tax or whatever. Yeah, only about that %age gets converted into welfare; the rest is nibbled up along the way.

Make a difference – all by yourself.

What are you waiting for?

Clean up your act, go legit.

It’s not going to cut you off from any good, clean and healthy action.

Trust me on this.

Isn’t This Other Party Getting Too Loud?

We in India have decided to go for gold after the Olympics.

I mean, there’s a whole parallel party going on in gold.

What’s with gold?

Can it tackle inflation?

No.

Is there any human capital behind it?

No.

Meaning, gold has no brains of its own, right?

Correct.

Is there a storage risk associated with gold?

Yes.

Storage volume?

Yes.

Transport inconvenience?

Yes.

Price at an all time high?

Yes, at least for us in India. We’d be fools to consult the USD vs time chart for gold. For us, the INR vs time chart is the more valid one for gold, because we pay for gold in INR.

Getting unaffordable?

Yes.

No parameter to judge its price by, like a price to earning ratio for example?

No.

Then how am I comfortable with gold, you ask?

Right, I’m not.

Can I elaborate, is that what you are requesting?

Sure, it’s exorbitance knocks out its value as a hedge. A hedge is supposed to balance and stabilize a portfolio. Gold’s current level is in a trading zone. It is not functioning as an investor’s hedge anymore.

Why?

Because from a huge height, things can fall big. Law of gravity. And gold’s fallen big before. It doesn’t need to begin it’s fall immediately, just because it is too high. That alone is not a valid reason for a big fall, but the moment you couple the height with factors like improvement in world economics, turnaround in equities (if these factors occur) etc., then the height becomes a reason for a big fall. Something that can fall very big knocks out stability and peace of mind from an investor’s portfolio. The investor needs to bring these conditions back into the portfolio by redefining and redesigning the portfolio’s dynamics.

How?

By selling the gold, for example, amongst other things.

What’s a good time to sell?

Well, Diwali’s a trigger.

Right.

Then, there are round numbers, like 35k.

What about 40k?

Are you not getting greedy?

Yeah – but what about 40k?

Nothing about 40k. Let 35k come first. I like it. It’s round. It’s got a mid-section, as in the 5. It’s a trigger, the more valid one, as of now.

Fine, anything else?

Keep looking at interest rates and equities. Any fall in the former coupled with a turnaround in the latter spells the start of a down-cycle in gold.

Is that it?

That’s a lot, don’t you think?

I was wondering if you were missing anything?

No, I just want to forget about gold max by Diwali, and focus on equities.

Why’s that?

There are much bigger gains to be had in equities. History has shown us that time and again. Plus, there is human capital behind equities. Human capital helps fight inflation. What more do you want? Meanwhile, gold is going to go back to its mean, as soon as a sense of security returns, whenever it does.

And what is gold’s mean?

A 1 % return per annum, adjusted for inflation, as seen over the last 100 years.

That’s it?

Yeah.

And what about equities?

If you take all equities, incuding companies that don’t exist anymore, this category has returned 6% per annum over the last 100 years, adjusted for inflation.

And what if one leaves out loser companies, including those that don’t exist anymore.

Then, equity has returned anything between 12 -15% per annum over the last 100 years, adjusted for inflation.

Wow!

Yeah, isn’t it?

What Exactly is a Decent Trade?

A decent trade should yield you money, right?

Not necessarily so.

Am I crazy?

No.

So why am I saying this?

Am I not in the business to be in the green?

Of course I am, so let’s delve a little deeper.

As is slowly becoming clear to you, Mrs. Market is a schizophrenic. Her behaviour is mostly looney, and more often that not, she traverses an unexpected trajectory.

In the business of trading, there lie before you a set of circumstances, and your trading decisions are based upon these.

Thus, you outline your trade.

You plan the entry.

You plan the exit.

You define the reward : risk ratio.

You draw up a trade management plan, as outlined by your system. You preplan your response to all possible movements of Mrs. Market.

Can you do more?

No.

Can you predict Mrs. Market’s future behaviour?

No.

You have an idea about what she might do, based upon past behaviour, but does that make her future path certain?

No.

So that’s it, you enter a trade offering a high reward : risk ratio, based upon information from the past and a probabilistic idea about the future. A high reward : risk means that if there is a payout, it will be high in comparison to the loss you might bear if the trade goes against you. Something like 2 : 1 (possible profit : possible loss), or at least more than 1 : 1.

So what’s going to make your trade decent?

Just stick to your systematic plan, and you’ll have traded well.

Notice, no talk of any money here.

We’ve only spoken of sticking to our system-outlined trading plan.

We are not focusing on money. We are focusing on trading well.

Money is a side-effect to decent trading.

Trade decently, do the right thing, and money will follow as a side-effect, seen over the long run.

If your trade-management plan says you are cutting the trade below point X, and if point X is pierced by Mrs. M as she moves against you, well, the right thing to do would be to cut the trade.

So what if the trade didn’t yield you money?

It was a trade well executed, AS PER YOUR SYSTEM-OUTLINED TRADING PLAN.

What would have made this trade an indecent one would be if you hadn’t cut the trade below point X, irrespective of where Mrs. M went after that.

Why would the trade then be “bad”?

Because you didn’t follow your system’s advice.

You second-guessed yourself.

That means that you don’t have faith in your trade-management abilities, and / or that you succumbed to your emotions. You begun to hope that Mrs. M would start to move your way after piercing point X during her move against your trade direction.

If you did follow your system, you actually didn’t let any hope enter the equation.

Decent.

You had faith in your system, and did not second-guess yourself.

Very decent.

Such faith in one’s system is absolutely essential, and you’ll realize that as you start to scale up in trade-size.

Let’s look at the other part of your trade-management plan.

Let’s say that you decided that if Mrs. M moved in your directon, then you would stay in the trade till you saw the scrip giving at least one sign that it was stagnating. Only then would you book profits, upon such a signal from Mrs. M.

Assume then, that after entry there’s a spike in your direction, and you are in the money.

What do you do now?

Do you get greedy, forget about your trade-management plan, and book the trade? Would such a money-yielding trade be considered decent?

No.

Firstly, you got greedy.

Indecent.

Then, you forgot about your system-outlined trading plan.

Very indecent.

So what if you made money?

Sticking to your system’s advice would have given you the chance to make more, perhaps much more.

It is difficult enough to pinpoint a scrip which is about to explode.

Then, when you land such a scrip, the last thing that you want to be doing to yourself is nipping the explosion in the bud.

You nipped potential profits, even if you took a portion home.

Very, very indecent.

There you have it, people.

Use your common-sense, and, trade decently.

Mentally Speaking

The trader’s biggest enemy is…

…his or her own mind.

The good news is, that one’s mind can be trained … to become one’s friend.

Between these two sentences lies a path.

Some never make it.

For some, this path is arduous.

Other, more disciplined ones make it through.

However, that’s not the end.

Once there, one needs to stay there.

Emotions get in the way.

Fear. Greed. Hubris. Hope. Impatience. Insecurity. Despair …

… you got the drift.

Knock them out, people. Once in the market, stamp all emotion out of your (market) life.

Listen to your system. First make your system.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical one, or a fundamental one, or whether it is techno-fundamental, or for that matter funda-technological.

It is your system.

You have spent time putting it together.

You have lost money recognizing its pitfalls, and have tweaked these pitfalls away after they were recognized by you.

Since it has reaped you rewards, you have begun to trust it.

Stay with the trust. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you. It likes to.

Once your trusted system identifies a setup, take it. Period.

Your mind will suddenly switch on. What if this, and what if that?

Ignore.

Only use the mind’s intellect portion to perfect your system. That’s the friendly part for you. Together with it, you construct a system that is capable of identifying setup after setup, from one properly executable trade to another.

You see a setup, and you take it. No ifs, no buts, no what-ifs.

Similary, when your system identifies a stop or a target, and when this is hit, you are out of the trade. Period.

No procrastination. No waiting. No fear. No hoping. No greed.

No mind …

… from entry to trade management to exit.

Switch your mind back on when you have wound up your market activities for the day.

Switch your mind on amidst family. It’ll be fresh.

That’s the path between the two sentences at the top.

Here’s wishing that it’s an easy one for you.

Blowing up Big

Derivatives are to be traded with stops. Period.

Stops allow you to get out when the loss is small.

Common sense?

Apparently not.

Who has common sense these days?

Also, the human being has embraced leverage as if it were like taking the daily shower. Bankers and high-profile brokers have free flowing and uncontrolled access to humongous amounts of leverage.

Apart from that, the human being is greedy. There’s nothing as tempting as making quick and big bucks.

Combine humongous amounts of leverage with large amounts of greed and brew this mix together with lack of common sense. That’s the recipe for blowing up big.

Every now and then, a banker or a high-profile broker blows up big, and in the process, at times, brings down the brokerage or the bank in question. In the current case at hand, UBS won’t be going bust, but its credibility has taken a sizable hit.

Bankers are to finance what doctors are to medicine. Where doctors manage physical and perhaps mental health, bankers are supposed to manage financial health. Bankers are taught how to manage risk. Something’s going wrong. Either the teaching is faulty, or the world’s banking systems are faulty. I think both are faulty. There exists a huge lack of awareness about the definition of risk, let alone its management.

Trained professionals lose respect when one of them blows up big. Such an event brings dark disrepute to the whole industry. Most or all of the good work to restore faith in the banking industry thus gets nullified to zilch.

A doctor or an engineer is expected to adhere to basics. I mean, the basics must be guaranteed before one allows a surgeon to perform surgery upon oneself. A surgeon must wash hands, and not leave surgical instruments in the body before stitching up. Similarly, an construction engineer must guarantee the water-tightness or perfection of a foundation before proceeding further with the project.

Similarly, a banker who trades is expected to apply stops. He or she is expected to manage risk by the implementation of position-sizing and by controlling levels of leverage and greed. Responsibility towards society must reflect in his or her actions. A banker needs to realize that he or she is a role model.

All this doesn’t seem to be happening, because every few years, someone from the financial industry blows up big, causing havoc and collateral damage.

Where does that leave you?

I believe that should make your position very clear. You need to manage your assets ON YOUR OWN. Getting a banker into the picture to manage them for you exposes your assets to additional and unnecessary stress cum risk.

In today’s day and age, the face of the financial industry has changed. If you want to manage your own assets, nothing can stop you. There exist wide-spread systems to manage your assets, right from your laptop. All you need to do is plunge in and put in about one hour a day to study this area. Then, with time, you can create your own management network, fully on your laptop.

Your assets are yours. You are extra careful with them. You minimize their risk. That’s an automatic given. Not the case when a third party manages them for you. Commissions and kick-backs blind the third party. Your interests become secondary. Second- or third-rate investments are proposed and implemented, because of your lack of interest, or lack of time, or both.

Do you really want all that? No, right?

So come one, take the plunge. Manage your stuff on your own. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, and it will definitely teach you a lot, simultaneously building up confidence inside of you. Go ahead, you can do it.

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.

Defining one’s Dragons and Kissing them Goodbye

The final impediments between you and successful trading are your dragons.

Define them, and kiss them goodbye.

As a trader, your workplace is the Zone. We’ve spoken about the Zone before. The Zone is not a physical workplace. It is a mind-space where your nervous system tunes into the market, and starts moving with its rhythm, so much so, that when the market turns, you turn with it. It’s like a flock of birds turning in mid-flight. Nobody cares who turned first. Bottom-line is that the flock turned. In the Zone, you become one with the market. If the market turns, it takes you with it. It’s called connection.

Dragons keep your system from getting into the Zone.

There’s the dragon of ill-health. The other day I was running a fever and forgot my wallet, keys etc. etc. in my friend’s car. When have I ever in my life forgotten my wallet, like, anywhere? See? Ill-health makes you commit critical blunders. It’s the real world, people. Ill-health happens. So when this dragon appears, don’t initiate a fresh trade. If you’ve got any open positions, just play them according to the rules you defined when your system was not diseased, i.e. when you were in the Zone and initiated the positions. You have to understand this: the dragon of ill-health knocks you out of the Zone.

Then there’s the powerful and magnetic media-dragon. See, first there’s the market. Then there are people who report about the market, with all their biases and their opinions. As a trader, are you about to listen to the media dragon’s second- or third-hand opinion about the market? Or would you much rather build a first-hand opinion by connecting to the market yourself? Though the answer to this question is rhetorical, the magnetism of the media-dragon is so powerful that even the strongest of traders gets sucked into it. What’s to be done? OK, indulge in media, but tell yourself that this is your time-off, and that you are indulging / amusing yourself. Don’t take any media report at face-value, because there are vested interests. By the time news arrives in print, the market has already factored it in the price long back. Basically, you need to try hard to not let the media dragon bias you against your trading strategy which you formulated while connected in the Zone.

We move on to the dragon of emotions. This one can knock you out of the Zone in the flash of a second, without you even knowing it. That’s why it’s so dangerous. Other dragons take time to knock you out, they build up to it. This one’s effect is instantaneous. Balance, balance, where art thou? As a trader, balance is your biggest friend. Balance keeps this dragon away. If it still manages to surface, balance keeps it under control till it goes away. As a trader, one has to learn to balance oneself; am working on this myself. Perhaps you could teach me a trick or two here.

Lastly, today, I’ll speak about a fourth dragon. It’s called the dragon of indiscipline. It’s connected to the dragon of emotions, but is important enough to get dragon-status. When the dragon of indiscipline strikes, one initiates disproportionately large-sized positions because of greed, or one cuts perfectly profitable positions because of fear. Or, one fails to initiate a normal-sized position because of fear, even after seeing a perfect setup. The learning curve of a trader forces him or her towards defined discipline. Discipline demands from the trader to always open positions that are proportionately sized to the portfolio size. Furthermore, if a position turns profitable, it should only be cut by the market itself, when a trailing stop is hit. Then, no matter what, if a perfect setup is identified, a normal-sized position needs to be initiated. To the trader, that’s the definition of discipline. And, the dragon of indiscipline causes the trader to act otherwise. Want to deal with this one? Here’s a trick. When the dragon of emotions has appeared, ultimately you will realize it. When you do, just repeat the magic words “I am NOT going to allow the dragon of emotions to summon his ally called the dragon of indiscipline!” At this stage, you need to remember: 1). No opening of disproportionately large-sized positions, 2). No manual cutting of perfectly profitable trades and 3). No let-up in the opening of a normal-sized position once a perfect setup has been identified. That’s all I know about this one.

Maybe some other day we’ll take about more dragons! Till then, good luck taming those you have identified!

The Towering Value of Decisive Action

Decisive action can’t just come outta nowhere.

There has to be a build-up to it, a kinda revving up of engines and stuff.

Point is, this category of action generates a lot of force, and is required to do away with situations that cause panic. As in not let a situation become panic-causing to you. As in the current situation. As in the Dow falling 512 points last night. Will they have a name for it, Black Thursday perhaps? I don’t think so. Because I don’t think we’re done just yet. Situation might get blacker.

Back in December 2007, there were those who were taking decisive action, i.e. they were booking profits. These were people who had been taught by the market to do so. Unfortunately, I didn’t belong to this category at that time. On the contrary, I was busy topping up my portfolio with more investments at the time.

Mayhem in the market should teach you for the next time. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you.

By the fall of 2008, the new market players of the millenium had gone through with their first piece of decisive action – an oath to never be in a situation again that causes them to panic or to spend another sleepless night. The events of the first nine months of 2008 were more that enough to drive them to this.

An important part of peace in the market is hedging. Serious players chose Gold as their hedge, and started building up large positions in Gold. The world around them was screaming “how could they?” Gold was already touching a high back then. They possessed the spine to take this decisive action, because 2008 had taught them to hedge. That’s how they could.

Many worked their way towards zero US exposure. When the cracks in the Euro appeared in 2009-2010, they worked their way towards zero Europe exposure. People around them were screaming that the USD would continue forever as the world currency, and that Europe was under-valued and thus a screaming buy. All to no avail. These decisive players had started to mistrust Alan Greenspan from the moment he started urging his people to take loans against their homes and to put the borrowed money in the market. For me, the icing on the cake or the snapping moment was when Ben Bernanke had the cheek to announce more stimulus one day after the “debt deal”. That’s when I gave up on the US market. Very late, I admit. Yeah, yeah, I’m a real slow learner.

Then, serious new players started to buy on lows. And they got some big-time lows, especially the ones of October 2008 and March 2009. The world around them was screaming “how could they?” and that “we weren’t done yet” and that “economies would get bleaker”. They had the courage to buy. The market had taught them to.

And, finally, they started succumbing lesser and lesser to greed. They would finally book profits. They learnt to sit on cash for long periods of time. They learnt not to listen to tips. They learnt to have their own market outlook and to be self-reliant as far as the chalking of their own path was concerned. They decoupled themselves from their bankers and their market advisors. They got tech-savvy to a point when they could control their entire market operation from their laptops. Basically, they took control.

And, they slept peacefully last night.

Investing in the Times of Pseudo-Mathematics

First, there was Mathematics.

Slowly, Physics started expressing itself in the language of Mathematics with great success. Chemistry and Biology followed suit.

The subject of Economics was feeling left out. Its proponents wanted the world to start recognizing their line of study as a natural science. So they started expressing their research results in the language of Mathematics too.

Thousands of research papers later, it was pointed out that what mathematical Economics was describing was an ideal world without any anomalies factored in.

The high priests of Economics reacted by churning out a barrage of research papers which factored in all kinds of anomalies in an effort to describe the real world.

Where there’s money, there’s emotion. The average human being is emotionally coupled to money.

Either Economics didn’t bother to factor in the anomaly called emotion, or it couldn’t find the corresponding matrix in which it could fit human emotions like greed and fear.

And Economics started getting it wrong in the real world, big time. The Long-Term Capital Management Fund (run by Economics Nobel laureates as per their pansy and sedantry office-table cum computer-programmed understanding of finance) collapsed in 1998, with billions of investor dollars evaporating and the world’s financial system coming to a grinding halt but just about managing to keep its head above water. It was a close brush with comprehensive disaster.

The human being forgets.

The last leg of the surge in dotcoms in 1999 and the first quarter of 2000 did just that. It made people forget their investing follies.

What people did remember though was the high of the surge. Investors wanted that feeling again. They wanted to make a killing again. Greed never dies.

And Economics rose to the occasion. This time it was not only pseudo, but it had gotten dirty. Its proponents were not researchers anymore, they were investment bankers, who had hired researchers to develop investment products based on complex pseudo-mathematical models that would lure the public.

Enter CDOs.

For just a few percentage points more of interest payout, investors worldwide were willing to buy this toxic debt with no underlying and a shady payout source. People got fooled by the marketing, with ratings agencies joining the bandwagon of crookedness and giving a AAA rating to the poisonous products in question.

All along, the Fed (with the blessing of the White House) had been encouraging citizens to “tap their home equity”, i.e. to take loans against their homes and then to invest the funds in the market. (The Fed creates bubbles, that’s what its real job is). And the Fed, the White House, the leading investment banks, the ratings agencies and the toxic researchers were all joint at the hip, a very powerful conglomerate creating financial weather.

So, from 2003 to 2007, there was liquidity in the world’s financial system, and a lot of good money was invested in CDOs. Nobody really understood these products properly, except for the researchers who came up with them. Common sense would have said that something with no base or underlying will eventually collapse as the load on top increases. And there was no dearth of load, because the same investment banks that sold the CDOs to the public were busy shorting those very CDOs (!!!!!), with Goldman Sachs taking the lead. So a collapse is exactly what happened.

This time around, the now pseudo and very, very dirty economics (almost)finished off the world’s financial system as it stood. It was revived from death through frantic financial-mathematical jugglery and a non-stop note-printing-press, with the Fed looking desperately to bury the damage by creating the next bubble which would lure good money from new investors in other parts of the world which were less affected for whatever reason.

That’s where we stand now. Certain portions of the world’s finance system are still on the respirator. Portions are off it, and are trying to act as if nothing happened, shamelessly getting back to their old tricks again.

I get calls reguarly from Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, StanChart and other investment banks. The only reason why Goldman hasn’t called is probably because my networth is below their cold-call limit. Anyways, it doesn’t matter who let the dogs out. Point is, they are out. And they are trying to sell you swaps, structures, forwards, principal protected products, what-have-yous, you name it. I remain polite, but tell them in no uncertain terms to lay off.

As a thumb rule, I don’t invest in products I don’t understand.

As another thumb rule, I don’t even invest in products which I might eventually understand after making the required effort.

As the mother of all thumb rules, I only invest in products that I understand effortlessly.

That’s the learning I got in the 2000s, and I’m happy to share it with you.

Time after Time

I know, I know, the title of this blogpost is also a hit-song by Cyndi Lauper from the ’80s. As a kid and entering my teens, a rainbow-coloured Cyndi made an impression.

So, as fragile Miss Lauper with her multi-coloured hair was crooning the song to the top of the pops, the world was coming to terms with the aftermaths of the Iran hostage crisis, the Falklands war etc. etc.

Cyndi didn’t know it at the time, but the track “Time after Time” would go on to become a huge, huge hit, appearing in the sound-tracks of many movies and basically becoming an all-time song.

World makets recovered to the dotcom boom of the 90s. Investors were making the mistake of greed, again, time after time. Scrips with no earnings were selling for hundreds of times the book-value.

Bubbles burst. That’s what bubbles do. In the ensuing mayhem and the fear that engulfed investors, the share prices of capital-gains generating zero-debt companies with regularly increasing dividends and impeccable managements fell drastically too. That’s what fear does, time after time.

As time passes, investors forget their old mistakes. A horde of newbies joins the fray, ready to make the same mistakes of human nature, again, time after time.

Cyndi’s was a love song. It had nothing to do with finance cycles.

It’s title is so compelling though. And, of course, I just love the song.