IUCS – Investing Under Controlled Stress

Let’s assume there are funds waiting to be invested. 

In what form do you keep them?

Free?

Bound?

What?

Investors have the luxury of time. Traders don’t. 

I’m really telling you, an investor’s funds need not be kept in free form. 

Traders need to pounce, not investors. 

If you don’t need to pounce, don’t keep your funds in free form. 

Keep them bound. Semi-bound. Let’s call it stressed. Keep them stressed. Stress that is under your control. 

What are we talking about?

Also, why are we talking about whatever we are talking about?

Free funds are open to whims and fancies. 

Whose? 

Yours. Your bankers’. Anyone’s, who has an eye on the funds. 

Plush with free funds, you take liberties. Your defences are down. You are liable to make mistakes, perhaps big ones. 

Bound funds, on the other hand, are subject to activation barriers before release. 

You think twice before releasing them, or perhaps thrice, if the locking is tight. You win precious time. During the extra time, you can well scrap an investment with a faulty premise, or you can discover hidden agendas or angles which cause you not to follow through. You get saved because of controlled stress. 

Furthermore, bound funds don’t reflect on your banker’s system as funds waiting to be invested. He or she won’t bother you or incite you to make a mistake. You’ve knocked him or her out of the equation. Bravo!

Controlled stress can be of different degrees. When funds are irreversibly locked-in, then we cannot talk of control anymore. Anything below that is under our control with varying levels of effectivity. The stronger the (reversible) lock-in, the harder you’ll think about the new investment, because the activation barrier for making funds free again to invest is large. 

Let’s not get too carried away. We can just make simple fixed deposits. These are completely within our control. You can break them with a letter to the bank manager. The activation barrier to free them is relatively small. However, you do think twice before freeing them. The’ve disappeared from your banker’s horizon. They’ve also disappeared from any online fraudster’s horizon, who was perhaps looking to clean you out. 

Also, actually, you don’t really need to break these fixed deposits to get into a new investment, since breaking goes with a small interest-penalty. If you’ve got fresh funds coming in at a later date, but wish to invest now, you can borrow against a fixed deposit. This will again make you stop and think, because borrowing comes with a cost, i.e. interest. You will only get into the fresh investment if you really, really have to / want to. You will discard any half-baked investment idea. It’s still worth it, despite the interest. You might find this a bit crazy, bit I like to do it like this. For me, the biggest win here is that I am not breaking a former structure. Add to this the extra safety. Plus the extra thinking-time to ward-off bad investments. Add everything up, and you might also think that the borrowing cost is peanuts when compared to the benefits. Don’t forget, since you’ve got fresh funds coming in soon, you’ll soon be releasing the fixed deposits you are borrowing against from their overdraft mode. This is a meta-game strategy. 

Yeah, keep investible funds in fixed deposits. It is really as simple as that. 

The best things in life are really very simple. 

Complication and sophistication are facades used by humans to hide their mediocrity.

A successful person does not need to hide his or her simplicity. 

Simplicity is one of the biggest precursors to mega-success. 

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Can We Please Get This One Basic Thing Right?

Pop-quiz, people – how many of us know the basic difference between investing and trading?

The logical follow-up question would be – why is it so important that one is aware of this difference?

When you buy into deep value cheaply, you are investing. Your idea is to sell high, after everyone else discovers the value which you saw, and acted upon, before everyone.

When you’re not getting deep value, and you still buy – high – you are trading. Your idea is to sell even higher, to the next idiot standing, and to get out before becoming the last pig holding the red-hot scrip, which would by now have become so hot, that no one else would want to take it off you.

The above two paras need to be understood thoroughly.

Why?

So that you don’t get confused while managing a long-term portfolio. Many of us actually start trading with it. Mistake.

Also, so that you don’t start treating your trades as investments. Even bigger mistake.

You see, investing and trading both involve diametrically opposite strategies. What’s good for the goose is poison for the gander. And vice-versa.

For example, while trading, you do not average down. Period. Averaging down in a trade is like committing hara-kiri. What if the scrip goes down further? How big a notional loss will you sit upon, as a trader? Don’t ignore the mental tension being caused. The thumb rule is, that a scrip can refuse to turn in your direction longer than you can remain solvent, so if you’re leveraged, get the hell out even faster. If you’re not leveraged, still get the hell out and put the money pulled out into a new trade. Have some stamina left for the new trade. Don’t subject yourself to anguish by sitting on a huge notional loss. Just move to the next trade. Something or the other will move in your direction.

On the other hand, a seasoned investor has no problems averaging down. He or she has researched his or her scrip well, is seeing  deep-value as clearly as anything, is acting with long-term conviction, and is following a staggered buying strategy. If on the second, third or fourth buy the stock is available cheaper, the seasoned investor will feel that he or she is getting the stock at an even bigger discount, and will go for it.

Then, you invest with money you don’t need for the next two to three years. If you don’t have funds to spare for so long, you don’t invest …

… but nobody’s going to stop you from trading with funds you don’t need for the next two to three months. Of course you’re trading with a strict stop-loss with a clear-cut numerical value. Furthermore, you’ve also set your bail-out level. If your total loss exceeds a certain percentage, you’re absolutely gonna stop trading for the next two to three months, and are probably gonna get an extra part-time job to earn back the lost funds, so that your financial planning for the coming months doesn’t go awry. Yeah, while trading, you’ve got your worst-case strategies sorted out.

The investor doesn’t look at a stop-loss number. He or she is happy if he or she continues to see deep-value, or even value. When the investor fails to see value, it’s like a bail-out signal, and the investor exits. For example, Mr. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala continues to see growth-based value in Titan Industries at 42 times earnings, and Titan constitutes about 30% of his billion dollar portfolio. On the other hand, Mr. Warren Buffett could well decide to dump Goldman Sachs at 11 – 12 times earnings if he were to consider it over-valued.

Then there’s taxes.

In India, short-term capital gains tax amounts to 15%  of the profits. Losses can be carried forward for eight years, and within that time, they must be written off against profits. As a trader, if you buy stock and then sell it within one year, you must pay short term capital gains tax. Investors have it good here. Long-term capital gains tax is nil (!!). Also, all the dividends you receive are tax-free for you.

Of course we are not going to forget brokerage.

Traders are brokerage-generating dynamos. Investors hardly take a hit here.

What about the paper-work?

An active trader generates lots of paper-work, which means head-aches for the accountant. Of course the accountant must be hired and paid for, and is not going to suffer the headaches for free.

Investing involves much lesser action, and its paper-work can easily be managed on your own, without any head-aches.

Lastly, we come to frame of mind.

Sheer activity knocks the wind out of the average trader. He or she has problems enjoying other portions of life, because stamina is invariably low. Tomorrow is another trading day, and one needs to prepare for it. Mind is full of tension. Sleep is bad. These are some of the pitfalls that the trader has to iron out of his or her life. It is very possible to do so. One can trade and lead a happy family life. This status is not easy to achieve, though, and involves mental training and discipline.

The average investor who is heavily invested can barely sleep too, during a market down-turn. The mind constantly wanders towards the mayhem being inflicted upon the portfolio. An investor needs to learn to buy with margin of safety, which makes sitting possible. An investor needs to learn to sit. The investor should not be more heavily invested than his or her sleep-threshold. The investor’s portfolio should not be on the investor’s mind all day. It is ideal if the investor does not follow the market in real-time. One can be heavily invested and still lead a happy family life, even during a market down-turn, if one has bought with safety and has even saved buying power for such cheaper times. This status is not easy to achieve either. To have cash when cash is king – that’s the name of the game.

I’m not saying that investing is better than trading, or that trading is better than investing.

Discover what’s good for you.

Many do both. I certainly do both.

If you want to do both, make sure you have segregated portfolios.

Your software should be in a position to make you look at only your trading stocks, or only your investing stocks at one time, in one snapshot. You don’t even need separate holding accounts; your desktop software can sort out the segregation for you.

That’s all it takes to do both – proper segregation – on your computer and in your mind.

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! 🙂

Only the Lonely

You are unique.

Are we still debating this?

No, right?

If we are, then sit yourself down.

Alone.

Reflect.

Please see how you are… unique, and that you are… unique.

Moving on, what does that mean for you?

Specifically, what does it mean for your market strategy?

A newbie starts off with very generalized market strategies.

What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander types.

Ones that treat donkeys and horses alike, to literally translate from Hindi.

Slowly but surely, you realize that you don’t want donkey treatment anymore. Mrs. Market has kicked you around and converted you from a donkey into an intelligent market player.

An intelligent market player requires a fine-tuned, risk-profile specific strategy.

That’s where you either step in or you don’t.

Choice is, as they say, now yours.

Do you want to continue with generalized, text-book level donkey strategies, or do you want to spiral up to the level of exclusive strategy tailoring and fine-tuning.

People who approach the market as a secondary or tertiary activity don’t generally spiral up. Most of them are unhappy with their returns, but since they already have primary (and probably successful) professions going for themselves, they choose to remain where they are as far as the markets are concerned, and they don’t aspire to rise any higher.

You see, they don’t have the time to take this spiral plunge.

Now it’s decision time for you, buddy.

Do you wish to remain at the average donkey level all your life as far as the markets are concerned? If not, read on.

You need to spend some alone-time, as long as it takes.

Go over all your market activity till date.

Develop a feel for your risk-taking ability.

What bothers you? What do you like? What kind of a “line” are you capable of stomaching? For how long? How do you react to a loss? To a profit? Are you emotionally stable? Can you remain stable for long? How long? What gets you on tilt? Once you make a rule for yourself, are you able to follow it? Or, do you keep second-guessing yourself? What kind on income are you looking for from the markets? Have you learnt to sit on cash? Can you stay invested for long periods? Can you let your profits run? Do you respect your stop? Do you know what a stop is? Do you know how to manage a trade? Have you fully understood basic money-management? After what level of income do you start functioning smoothly?

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Ask yourself these and many more such questions.

Let the answers come from within.

Listen to those answers.

Understand who you are.

Then, devise a unique and fine-tuned market strategy for yourself.

Keep working on this strategy, fine-tuning it till it is in tandem with your unique self.

At that point, it will become a successful strategy, and will yield above-average results.

Being above-average in the markets is a winning scenario.

Is This Blood?

When there’s blood on the streets, that’s when you should go out and invest.

That’s an ancient proverb.

The 64 million dollar question is, IS THIS BLOOD?

I’m going to focus on India, because that’s my playground.

So ICICI Bank breached the 700 mark, did it? The 2009 low was around 250 bucks. At 700, it’s not blood. True, the banking sector is down. However, we are nowhere near blood levels. State Bank of India might have fallen around 50 % this year, but it’s still double the price of its 5 year low.

The Sensex shows an average price to earnings ratio of around 14. Remember 2008 and 2009? Average PE of about 9? Well, in my opinion, those are blood levels. These aren’t.

True, the mid-cap segment has taken a hammering. Let’s take Sintex Industries. At 75 levels, this stock has fallen big. Nevertheless, it’s still double the price of it’s 2009 low. At 98 rupees, Jain Irrigation has really fallen too. The PE ratio has come down from 35+ to around 14, and this looks attractive. Even Sintex’s sub-5 PE ratio looks very attractive, also because the company is aggressively pursuing water-purification and “green-innovation”. Agreed, attraction to invest is present, especially in the mid-cap arena, where you’re likely to find quality in management too, as opposed to the small-cap area, where this is less likely. However, to say that there’s overall mayhem here would be going too far.

The BSE small-cap index has halved since late 2010, but is again at double the 2009 low. Many small-cap stocks are bleeding badly, though. Most small-caps haven’t proven their pedigree yet. Thus, people are letting them bleed.

Then there are stocks like Karuturi Global and KS Oils, that have been hammered down to penny-stock levels. One has problems getting into such stocks, because the underlying story can be shady. With penny stocks, there’s always the danger of oblivion, i.e. they might cease to exist down the line. Such stocks need to be traded at best, with small amounts and for the short-term. In their present conditions, they are not investment-grade stocks.

The picture that emerges is that there are selective attractive bets being offered by Mrs. Market. There are good investments to be made for long-term investors, if you possess patience and holding-power. I’m short on patience, so I like to trade India. That should not deter you. If you are a long-termer, and have what it takes, well, then you are a long-termer. And this market is offering you some good bets, so be very selective and go for it, but don’t bet the farm, since we’re not seeing all-out blood on the street yet.