What about Daddy Cool? 

Boney M sang this blockbuster hit in the ’70s.

I’m sure you’ve heard it, because it’s still the rage. 

he’s crazy like a fool – what about daddy cool? 

Who’s Daddy Cool? 

You tell me. 

Is it you, in a cool cucumber moment, slow to respond to stimulus, devoid of anger, master of your situation in a kinda non-bossy, non-micro-managing (cool) way? 

And what of Mr. Hyde’s Dr. Jekyll nature? 

We’re talking about your “like a fool” moment.

Just for your information, winning behaviour is often termed foolish by the crowd. 

Contrarian investing is one such example. 

Successful derivative trading is another. 

To cap it, let’s not even talk about private equity in real-estate. 

Did someone mention high-yield structured-debt? 

There are many examples of “foolish” behaviour. 

These same examples earn very well. 

So… 

… how do we do it? 

We maintain our cool. 

We keep all basics going, as they are. 

With a small portion of our surplus, we take calculated risks, in a controlled environment. 

Sure, these risks will appear foolish to someone on the outside. 

However, our controlled environment has installed riders for our safety. 

A balance-sheet might be stressed, but not stressed enough for bankruptcy. 

A lock-in might be ultra-short. 

A stop-loss might be in place. 

Collateral might be up to 4x.

There might be a highly reputed Trustee in between. 

What have you.

Have your Daddy Cool fool-moments. 

Take some calculated risks with small portions of your surplus. 

These should give your portfolios an extra-boost. 

The Market Aha Moment

What is an Aha moment?

Any ideas?

Simple. It’s when you go “Aha, so that’s what it’s like!”

Or “Aha, so that’s what it’s supposed to be!”

You’ve understood something big. Finally. You see light. That’s an Aha moment. 

The human being likes to be happy. 

Professional happiness adds to our well-being. 

To be professionally happy, you need to be doing something during which you forget about time. 

What is this something for you?

Wait for your Aha moment. 

Let’s assume you’ve decided upon a profession in the markets. The next question is… which market?

Which market draws you out fully? Which market consumes you? In which market do you perform the best? In which market are you happy?

Why isn’t your Aha moment coming here too?

Well, Aha moments aren’t for free. You have to struggle for them. 

Start trying out different markets. 

See what gives you a kick.

See where you have a natural flair.

See what lingers.

Discard what you can’t stand.

Hit and try.

Try everything if you must.

Eventually, something will speak to you.

You’ll want to be in one particular market, perhaps two.  

It’ll be your calling. 

Aha. 

I’ll tell you how it went with me. 

I started with Equity. 

Fluked a few. Made some money. Bet bigger. Thought I was good. Won some more. Bet really big. Lost huge. Thought to myself – no more Equity. 

Then came Gold and Silver. Did ok. Found it boring. No more Gold and silver. 

Tried Private equity. Did ok. Boring. 

Arbitrage. Boring. But, an avenue for parking.  

Real estate. Corrupt.

Commodities…didn’t get a kick. The delivery option always loomed over my head. What if I forgot to square off?

Stock futures. Got hammered. No more. 

Foreign stocks. Time difference killed my evenings. Out. 

Foreign mutual funds. Expense ratios were sky-high. Slugged it out for a while, but then finished it off. Lost. 

Structures – broke even, then won a bit. Got bored. 

Debentures. Only do short term ones, to park funds. No kicks. Debt is boring by default.

Mutual funds. Yeah, well, did my fair bit of them. Did excite me, since they were connected to Equity. As of now, there’s just light MF activity. 

Stock options. Lost a bit, but didn’t actually get hammered. Gave me a bit of a kick. Well, it was Equity related, so no wonder. Started interfering with my second Equity stint. I let options go. 

Second Equity stint. Did ok…ok…ok…lost a bit, won a bit, was enjoying it, when suddenly…came Forex. 

Forex…whoaahh…I loved it. Swept me away. Technology, charting, skill-set, I wanted to be here. Aha. Huge leverage, though. Risk. This had to be my second game, not my first. Yeah, safety first, always. Alright, what would be my first game? Yeah, what would be my bulk game? 

Equity of course. I understood it and enjoyed it. I’d done ok. Had leant lessons. Knew how to handle it. Infrastructure was in place. Aha. Nailed it in the third attempt.

So and thus, I found my games upon my Aha moments. That’s where I am. Don’t plan to do anything else.

When’s your Aha moment coming?

Work towards it. 

And What’s so Special about Forex?

Imagine in your mind …

… the freedom to trade exactly like you want to.

Is there any market in the world which allows you complete freedom?

Equity? Naehhh. Lots of issues. Liquidity. Closes late-afternoon, leaving you hanging till the next open, unless you’re day-trading. Who wants to watch the terminal all day? Next open is without your stop. Then there’s rigging. Syndicates. Inside info. Tips. Equity comes with lot of baggage. I still like it, and am in it. It doesn’t give me complete freedom, though. I live with what I get, because equity does give me is a kick.

Debt market? A little boring, perhaps. Lock-ins.

Commodities? You wanna take delivery? What if you forget to square-off a contract? Will you be buying the kilo of Gold? Ha, ha, ha…

Arbitrage? Glued to screen all day. No like. Same goes for any other form of day-trading.

Mutual Funds. Issues. Fees. Sometimes, lock-ins. MFs can’t hold on to investments if investors want to cash out. Similarly, MFs can’t exit properly if investors want to hang on. And, you know how the public is. It wants to enter at the peak and cash out at the bottom. 

Private Equity? Do you like black boxes? You drive your car? Do you know how it functions? You still drive it, right? So why can’t you play PE? Some can. Those who are uncomfortable with black boxes can’t. 

CDOs? @#$!*()_&&%##@.

Real Estate? Hassles. Slimy market. Sleaze. Black money. Government officials. Bribery. No like.

Venture Cap? Extreme due diligence required. Visits. Traveling. The need to dig very deep. Deep pockets. Extreme risk. No. 

Forex? 24 hr market. Order feed is good till cancelled. Stops don’t vanish over weekends. Stops can be pin-pointedly defined, and you can even get them to move up or down with the underlying, in tandem or in spurts. You can feed in profit-booking mechanisms too, and that too pin-pointedly. You watch about 10-11 currency pairs; you can watch more if you want to. 10-11 is good, though. You can watch 4, or even 2 or 1, up to you. Platforms are stupendous, versatile, malleable, and absolutely free of charge. You can trade off the chart. Liquidity? So much liquidity, that you’ll redefine the word. No rigging – market’s just too large. The large numbers make natural algorithms like Fibonacci work. Technicals? Man, paradise for technicals. Spreads? So wafer thin, that you barely lose anything on commissions. Oh, btw, spreads are treated as commissions in forex; there’s no other commission. Money management? As defined as you want it to be. Magnitude? As small or as large as you want to play? Comfort? You make your morning tea, sip it, open your platform, feed in orders with trigger-entry, stop and limit, and then forget about the forex market for the rest of the day, or till you want to see what’s happening. Yeah, comfort. Challenge? You’re playing with the biggest institutions in the world. What could be more challenging? I could go on. You’re getting the gist. 

Yeah.

Forex is a very special market. 

Also, the forex market is absolutely accessible to you, online. 

If you decide to enter it one day, play on a practice account till you feel you’re ready for a real account. 

If and when you do start with a real account, for heaven’s sake start with a micro account, where 1 pip is equal to 0.1 USD. 

🙂

 

 

 

Remember The Frog Who Lived in a Well?

Paramhans Yogananda once spoke of a frog who lived in a well. 

You see, this frog was visited by his cousin from the ocean, who invited him back to the ocean. Till that point in time, the well-froggy thought his well-world was the ultimate. When the well-froggy entered the ocean, his head exploded. 

Today, I feel like the well-froggy. 

Yeah, I’ve become serious about forex. I’m going to specialize in it. 

I’m already specialised in Indian equities, and am going to seal it off with this second area of specialization.

That’s after a controlled head-explosion, of course. 

Coming from the world of equity, forex feels like a borderless and unlimited party. It also feels very, very special.

Everything’s so enormous. So streamlined. So quality. 24×5. Volume. Paperless. Non-slippage. Pinnacle of technicals and fundamentals. Unparalleled and breaking newsfeed, if you want it … … …

I’m feeling blessed. This line is for me. I can feel it’s challenge. I think I’m cut out for it. I think I’m going to love it.

It’s taken ten years in finance to find this calling. 

I’ve tried everything that finance has to offer. Equity, bonds, derivatives, bullion / metals, commodities, currencies versus the INR, ULIPs, Arbitrage, mutual funds, real-estate, debt, private equity …….., you name it. 

Only pure equity has given me that kick till now. Of course I’m not going to throw it away. I’ll be in pure equity for life. 

And now, yeah, it’s forex on the world stage. 

And look how nature is responding.

It’s already directed me to a mentor. A lot of my thinking is changing. Till today, I’ve done good with just my common-sense in the world of finance. I suppose forex is a bit trickier than that, and that one needs a good mentor in the beginning. 

Wow! A world-class mentor in forex, when one is starting out with the nitty-gritty! That’s a big one!

I’m going to give it back. This blog’s a give-back too. I’m not going to be stopping any word-flow, I can promise you that. 

Cheers!

🙂

 

Financial Academia and the Street – A Comprehensive Disconnect

1994 AD.

My friends in the Physics Department of the University of Konstanz, Germany, were busy trying to increase the number of holes on a silicon strip.

This was nanotech research in its advanced stage.

Nanotech saw successful implementation in the real world, though the explosion is yet to come. Nevertheless, the key words here are successful implementation.

Successful implementation on the street is only possible when a research model is practical.

Financial academia time and again delivers impractical models and is then surprised when they meet with failure on the street.

Let’s take the case of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund. Nobel laureates ran it. They did not incorporate the possibility of a sovereign debt default in their model. So sure were they of themselves, that they went on to buy billions of dollars worth of derivatives, leveraging themselves to the hilt. Their total leverage in the end stood at 250:1. The sovereign debt default by the Russian government in 1998 triggered the LTCM fund to go belly up, and with it disappeared the life-savings of thousands of trusting investors. The ripple effects of this disaster almost knocked the world’s financial system off its platform. Talk about disconnect.

Currently, we are seeing the effects of another disconnect in action.

The Euro was conceived on the basis of hundreds of PhD theses and tons of post-doctoral research. What the researchers couldn’t possibly incorporate in their models were some basic human and emotional facts.

For starters, let’s try the Greeks. They like to retire early and work lesser than their Eurozone colleagues. Their bankers are gullible and not too street-smart, and have made some really bad bets.

Italians like to take short-cuts. They like to over-price and under-cut.

Germans like to go the whole hog. They are punctual and more environment-conscious. They do not like subsidizing those who don’t work for it.

French farmers want to sell their milk for its proper price. They and the majority of their nation dislikes subsidizing others who might not deserve subsidy.

One could go on. The list is endless.

How does one incorporate such realistic “human” stuff in mathematical models?

One can’t.

Mathematics doesn’t possess the language to reflect such human and emotional factors.

So what do these theses contain, upon which the Euro has been built. Other, disconnected stuff, no realistic, street-related emotional / human factors of value.

What we’re seeing is real disconnect in action. Financial academia is way out of its depth on the European street or for that matter on any other street. It should lay off from the street so that further disasters are prevented.

Let’s hope and pray that the Euro-chapter does not meet with a harmful end.

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.

Pieces of the Pie

When profits are made, everybody involved wants a piece of the pie.

That’s ok, human nature.

And what’s wrong in distributing profits proportional to efforts?

Well, it’s not an ideal world. In today’s real world, investment banks have started billing clients for research and have used the money for prostitution and other recreation instead (see the docufilm “Inside Job”).

Your private equity executive will travel business or first class. He or she will stay in the executive suite. Hmmm, borderline, but still bearable if the fund generates an above market-average profit for you.

What’s unbearable is the high-roller life exhibited by disgraced Lehman ex CEO Fuld for example. You know, as in fool the public, eat their pie, and pull out personal funds before the ship sinks with an overload of public stake. Inexcusable behaviour. Deserving of extremely deterring punishment.

If a listed company regularly raises its dividend and generates steady capital gains for its share-holders, I frankly couldn’t care less if the CEO zips around in a company jet, pitches his tent in the presidential suite and orders in from the most expensive restaurant in town.

On the other hand, I do take serious exception to above behaviour on company expense if the company dishes out a meagre dividend and generates no capital gains. If I’m invested in such a company by mistake, with above CEO behaviour, I’d seriously look to exit at the next opportunity. If I see the CEO downsizing on lifestyle and if I still believe in the prospects of the company, I might still stay invested, but first I want to see some humility in the CEO’s living habits.

An exit is an ultimate thumbs-down a long-term investor can give to a loser CEO and his listed company. If a business is not generating profits and the management is living it up, such a business deserves the boot from its investors.

The Dark Side of Private Equity

Greed is the investor’s nemesis.

I’ve been guilty of greed at times.

Luck has been on my side, and I’ve been saved from losing money. I’d like to tell you about it.

In my experiences with private equity over the last four years, the one thing that stood out was the pitch of each scheme proposed. The average pitch just sucked one in by describing a world that would appear utopic to somebody in a balanced frame of mind. When greed sets in, balance and common sense go out the window. One gets taken in by the pitch, and without doing any due diligence, one is willing to bet the farm.

The private equity teams of today have a tool up their sleeve that creates pressure on the investor, and leaves little time for due diligence. It’s called the time-window. Most schemes are proposed to the investor with a very short time-window. Either the investor is in within the window, or he or she can sit out. Lesson learnt: if one’s due diligence is taking longer than the time-window, then the scheme can go out the window rather than putting one’s hard-earned money on the line.

One of the worst starts a newbie investor can make is a good one. This happened to me as a newbie private equity investor. I got involved with the Milestone group in the middle of the financial crisis, and I invested in their REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts). These people were honest, and the investments have yielded steady quarterly dividends since, apart from the property appreciation. I started thinking private equity was the holy grail, and that all forthcoming institutions and schemes would be like Milestone.

Big mistake. When Edelweiss knocked on my door with an 8 year lock-in real-estate scheme, I was lapping it up. One thing kept going around in my mind – the 8 year cycle they were trying to make me believe in. Wasn’t convincing, but I wanted the profits they were promising. Before signing on, it occured to me to do at least some due diligence. I insisted on a conference call with the management. During the concall, I became aware of one wrongful disclosure. The pitch had spoken of a large sum of money from overseas, already invested in the scheme. In the concall, it became apparent that these funds were tentative and had not arrived yet.

A wrongful disclosure is a big alarm bell for me. I have programmed myself in such a way that when I come across wrongful disclosure during due diligence, I axe the investment. Luckily, the mind was not totally taken in, and I stuck to this rule.

Then came Unitech. Second generation real-estate magnate. Big money. Big leverage. In a joint venture with CIG, Unitech was redeveloping the slums of Mumbai, we were told in the pitch. Each slum-dweller would be relocated with ample compensation, we were told. The scheme had a multi-page disclaimer protecting the promoters against anything and everything. Alone that should have been an alarm bell. Of course I wasn’t thinking straight when I signed the documents.

In the next few months this scheme got a few investors interested, but its corpus wasn’t enough for the first leg of investments planned. Then, Adarsh exploded. I’m talking about the Adarsh real-estate scam. CIG / Unitech could not find a single new investor for their scheme. Everyone was scared of real-estate. Then there was another explosion: the 2G scam. Sanjay Chandra, CEO of Unitech, was one of the prime accused. What would happen to my money? Was it gone?

I got together with my bankers, and for more than a month, we steam-rolled the CIG / Unitech office in Delhi with emails and phone-calls, asking for the money to be returned with interest, since the scheme had not gotten off the ground. Luck was on our side, and after a thorough documentation process from their end, I received my entire amount with interest, one day before Sanjay Chandra was sent to jail.

Moral of the story: double your due diligence when you feel greed setting in. Don’t get taken in by fancy pitches. Don’t get pressurized into time-windows. Tackle the dark-side of private equity with a clear mind and full focus.

And what’s so cool about Private Equity?

-> that it’s private, i.e. for example no masses prevalent that can dump stock to make a company sink.

-> that the underlying is not quoted on a stock market, so you are definitely not following your investment on a day to day basis, but only on a quarter to quarter basis.

-> that each deal is scanned and studied thoroughly, and its price negotiated extensively.

-> that deal exclusivity also leads to price exclusivity.

-> that deal anonymity leads to an unrealistically low Price/Earnings multiple at purchase.

-> that deal transformation and resale at IPO level can translate into huge Price/Earnings ratio differentials – in other words, when the public is allowed to purchase a company on the stock market that has been nurtured by a Private Equity house that has brought it to IPO level, the Private Equity house makes a killing, because it dumps all its shares on to the public in the first 2 days as the IPO opens.

-> that the high management fee, at least till now in India, buys quality professionalism that investigates and seals your investments for you. As of now, there’s less riff-raff in this field in India. Here’s my rating amongst the companies I have dealt with:

1). Milestone Capital – excellent corporate governance, sound real-estate deals, foraying into education and healthcare – the best.
2). ICICI Venture – a very close second. Happy with them. Good appreciation of 65% of deals.
3). Franklin Templeton Private Equity – good, a little slow, but steady.
4). Cinema Capital – ok, nothing unusual till now.
5). Edelweiss – avoid, lack of disclosure.

-> that for another 2-3 years, entry will still be exclusive, and after that the entry barriers will be too low to make the returns being generated currently.

-> that the inflow of foreign funds to India currently is still very small, and can grow exponentially if conditions here keep improving. And what are the bulk of these funds looking for? Private equity holdings.