The one factor that keeps us evolving.

Adapt or get left behind. Seems to be the Mantra of the times.

The management of money has seen some big game-changers over the last few decades. We want to speak about them today.

In the ’90s, Bill Gates wrote about business at the speed of thought. We’re kinda there, you know. Let’s say you have an idea. From idea to framework, it’s mostly about a few button-clicks, with the web being full of idea-realizing resources. See, we’re already discussing the biggest game-changer, which is the flow of information. Today, we live in a sea of information. It’s yours to tap. Delivered to you on a platter. Such information flow changes everything, from lead-time to middle-men. Best part is, almost all of the information available is free!

Then there’s technology. Cutting-edge software, everywhere. Now, there’s even a software to smoothly organize your contract notes and calculate profit or loss, and taxes due. It’ll give you the appropriate print-out, whichever way you want it. You don’t need to hire an accountant to audit your market play. You just click the contract note and the software extracts all relevant information from it, organizing it beautifully. Actually, that’s nothing. Market-play software is what we should be speaking about. Cut to the movie “A Good Year”. Just picture Russell Crowe motivating his “lab-rats” to go for the kill and short an underlying, only to short-cover a few points below. The technical software follow-up of the underlying’s price on the wall-panels is the image embedded in my mind, as the price gets beaten down, and then starts to rise again.

Market software allows you to run scans too. A common exercise I do at the beginning of a trading day is to narrow down the 4,537 active stocks on the BSE and the NSE to about 10 tradable ones. I do this with 2 back to back scans. Each scan takes a minute. Then, I study the charts of the tradable stocks and select two or three to follow. That’s another 5 minutes. Putting on trigger buys or sells for these stocks takes 2 minutes. So, assuming that a trade gets triggered in the first minute, I have arrived from scratch to active trade in 10 bare minutes, with no prior market preparation. That’s what technology can do for you, and more. Software is expensive. It’s mostly a one-time cost with a life-time of benefit. Worth it. The management of money is a business, and each business needs initial investment.

Numbers have changed the game. Volumes have grown for many underlying entities that were illiquid earlier. When volumes are healthy, the bid-ask spread is very tradable. Thus, today, you can choose to trade in almost any avenue of your choice and you are almost certainly going to get a liquid trade.

Our attitudes and lifestyles have changed too. Today, we want more. No one is satisfied with mediocricity or being average. We have tasted the fruit that’s to be had, and are willing to get there at any cost, because we are hungry. Luxurious lifestyles lure us to rush into the game, which we play with everything we’ve got, because as I said, we’ve tasted the fruit, and we want more. Our approach has made the stakes go up. We need to adapt to the high stakes with proper risk-management.

It’s never been easier to access funds, even if you don’t have them. Leverage is the order of the day. Of course that changes the game, leading to higher volumes and increasing the frequency of trading. We need to keep debt-levels under control. It’s never been easier to go bust. Just takes a few button-clicks and a few missed stops. The leverage levels take care of the rest.

Game-changers will keep coming our way. As long as we keep adapting and evolving, our game will not only survive, but also blossom.

An Elliott-Wave Cross-Section through a Crowd Build-Up

At first, there’s smart money.

Behind this white-collared term are pioneering investors who believe in thorough research, and who are willing to take risks.

Smart money goes into an underlying, and the price of this underlying moves up. Wave 1.

At the sidelines, there are those who have been stuck in this underlying. As the price moves above their entry level, they begin to off-load. There’s a small correction. Wave 2.

By now, news of the smart money has perforated through the markets. Where is it moving? What did it pick up? Who is behind it? Thus, more investors following news or fundamentals (or both) enter. The price moves past the very recent short-term high of Wave 1, accompanied by a surge in volume.

This is picked up on the charts by those following technicals, who enter too. By now, there are analysts speaking in the media about the turn-around in company so and so, and a large chunk of people following the media do the honours by entering. Wave 3 is under way.

Technical trend-followers latch on, and soon, we are at the meat of Wave 3, i.e. the middle off the trend.

Analysts on the media then speak about buying on dips. All dips are cut short by a surge of entrants seeking to be part of the crowd.

The first feelings of missing the bus register. The pangs of these cause more people to enter.

Meanwhile, the short community has been getting active. Large short positions have been in place for a while, and they are bleeding. Eventually, the short community throws in the towel, and there’s massive short-covering, causing a further surge in price.

Short-covering is sensed by gauging buying pressure despite very high price levels. It is the ideal time for smart money to exit. That’s exactly what it does, without any dip in the price of the underlying whatsoever.

Short-covering is over. Smart money starts boasting about its returns of X% in Y days, openly, at parties, in the media, everywhere. This causes pangs of jealousy and intense feelings of missing the bus in those still left out. Some enter, throwing caution to the wind.

The price has reached a level at which no one has the guts to enter. Demand dries up. With no buying pressure, the price dips automatically. Bargain hunters emerge, and so do shorters. The shorters sell to the bargain hunters right through a sizable dip. This dip happens so fast, that most of the crowd still remains trapped. Wave 3 has ended, and we are now looking at the correcting Wave 4 in progress.

At this stage, technical analysts start advising reentry upon Fibonacci correction levels. Position traders buying upon dips with margin of safety enter, and so does the second-last chunk of those feeling they’d missed the bus. The price edges up to the peak of Wave 3 and past it. That’s the trigger for technical traders to enter.

We now see a mini-repeat of Wave 3. This is called Wave 5. Once Wave 5 crosses its meat, the last chunk of those still feeling they’d missed the bus makes a grand entry with a sharp spike in the price. These are your Uncle Georges, Aunt Marthas and Mr. Cools who know nothing about the underlying. They cannot discern a price to earnings ratio from an orangutan. They desperately want to be a part of the action, since everyone is, at whatever the price. And these are the very people that traders sell to as they exit. With that, the crowd is at its peak, and so is the price. There are no more buyers.

What’s now required is a pin-prick to burst the bubble. It can be bad news in the media, the emergence of a scandal, a negative earnings report, anything.

The rest, they say, is History.

Both Sides of the Coin

What’s your personal style of investing, UDN?

Well, if you must know, and now that you ask, I like putting my money on the line when the underlying has hit an all-time high.

Um, isn’t that risky, a huge gamble, actually?

Well, what isn’t risky in life? Marriage is a gamble. So is business. And the farmer gambles on the weather when he sows his seeds.

You could invest in a more cautious fashion, like buying on a dip, you know.

Sonny, you asked about my personal style of investing, not the crowd’s personal style of investing. I’ve fine-tuned my personal style as per the threshold level of my personal risk-appetite, and risk-appetite is something one discovers after being in the market for a while, and after making mistakes and learning from them.

Fine. And what’s so good about investing at an all-time high?

Good, now you are asking some right questions. Ok, investing in something which has broken out and hit an all-time high, albeit risky, comes with a few advantages. First and foremost, there’s no resistance from top, i.e. there are no old sellers waiting to sell as the underlying heads higher and higher. This means that there is nobody stuck at these new levels waiting to off-load. There can be bouts of profit-booking of course, but a real resistance level doesn’t exist as yet, because the underlying has never entered these areas before.

Then, as the nay-sayers grow, and the crowd joins them to short-sell the underlying, there can be bouts of short-covering if the underlying’s climb is not stopped decisively by the bouts of short-selling. Any short-covering propels the underlying’s price even higher.

Before you go on, why is all this better than buying on a dip?

Oh, so you want to look at both sides of the coin, do you? Not bad, you learn fast. Well, buying on a dip offers a margin of safety to the investor, no doubt about that. Nevertheless, the main point is that a dip is happening. Supply is high, demand is less. The underlying’s price is falling as per the demand and supply equation. What’s to tell you that the fall will convert into a rise very soon? Nothing. Nothing at all. For all you know, the underlying might continue to fall another 20%, or 30, or 40 for that matter. It’s a fall, remember? People are off-loading. When something falls, professionals off-load huge chunks to the crowds waiting to buy on dips. If the dip persists, the crowd gets stuck at a particular entry level.

Not the case in the all-time high scenario. Here, there is demand, and supply can barely meet it. Something makes the underlying very interesting. Then, as the story spreads, demand grows, making the price surge further. Add to this short-covering – further surges. Interesting, right? You just need to make sure that your entry is done and over with soon after the all-time high is broken, and not later.

And what if you get burnt? I mean, what if the price doesn’t rise any further after the all-time high, but dips nefariously?

Well, one does get burnt quite often in the world of investing. Fear will make one freeze. I’ve devised a set of rules for this strategy, and then I just go ahead with the strategy, no second-guessing. No risk, no gain.

And what are your rules?

Firstly, I only put that money on the line which I don’t need for at least a few years. Then, I don’t put more than 10 % of my networth in any single underlying entity. Also, after entry, I don’t budge on the position for a few years. I only enter stories which have the potential to unfold over several years. And I only close the position when the reason for entry doesn’t exist anymore, irrespective of profit or loss. Over the long run, this works for me.

It can’t be that simple.

It’s not. I’ve come to these personal conclusions after making many, many blunders, and after losing a lot of money. This knowledge can’t be bought in a bookshop, nor can it be learnt in a university. It can only be learnt by doing, and by putting real money on the line.

Well, I’d much rather still buy on a dip.

Go ahead, a few people are making money while buying on dips. But they wait for the real big dips. They’ve got one big quality that qualifies them for this strategy, and separates them from the crowd. It’s called patience. Prime example is Warren Buffett.

Who’s the prime example of your strategy?

Fellow called Jesse Livermore.