Nath on Trading – III – Meat in the Middle

41). If it’s high, it could go higher.

42). If it’s low, it could go lower.

43). Market forces tire the trader.

44). Engulfment in loss and loss-freeze suck one out.

45). That’s exactly why we’re not going to let that happen. You know how. (Hint : stops).

46). Trade selection is the least of one’s problems. It’s no biggie.

47). Trade management separates winners from losers.

48). Proper trade exits are the icing on the cake.

49). Longs exiting in a rising market – hmmm – really?

50). Shorts exiting in a falling market – hmmm – really?

51). What’s that other fellow trading? Who cares?

52). How’s that other fellow doing? You got it. Who cares?

53). The only entity stopping you from outperformance – is you.

54). All your demons – are in you.

55). They’ll slowly come out, over the years, one by one, or some now, some later. Hopefully sooner than later.

56). Let them emerge, show their antics, and disappear forever. Make sure you bid them goodbye.

57). That’s why, you’re trading small, right, till your demons have emerged, created havoc, and then disappeared, forever?

58). You’ll feel it from inside, when it’s the right time to scale up. Develop this dialogue with yourself. A clear voice emerging from within can carry great advice.

59). Sure, you’re looking at trade signals, and sticking to trade rules. However, the voice from within is the net resultant per saldo vector of your entire trading experience. It carries weight.

60). Mostly, it doesn’t come. Clear the way for this voice to make itself heard when you need to listen to what it has to say. Trading, at first, is a bunch of rules. Later, trading becomes an art.

Frozen

Frozen? 

It’s ok. 

Breathe. 

You need to acknowledge that you’re frozen. 

Without that, the next step won’t come. 

It’s normal to freeze sometimes. Just acknowledge it. Then learn. 

For example, I acknowledge that I’m currently frozen wrt to the USDINR short trade. Missed entry. Next opportunity to enter never developed for me, and the underlying is currently in free fall. Don’t have the guts to short it at this level. Yeah, I’m frozen all right.

However, the fact that I’m acknowledging it opens up the learning window. 

Why did I miss entry?

I know why I froze. Fear. What I need to understand is why I allowed a situation to develop that would lead to fear. 

Ok. 

Was running super busy. 

Neglected the underlying. 

Kept postponing entry… 

… till free-fall started. 

It’s good to be busy. 

Hmmm, so this can happen again. 

How do I stop this from happening again? 

If I ID a setup, I need to take it. 

No second-guessing. 

What about strategy? 

Meaning, am I going with a short strategy for USDINR? Or am I keeping the window open for a long strategy?

See, that’s it.

Keeping short and long windows open makes me second-guess all the time. 

So can I go in one-direction wrt USDINR all the time? 

What speaks for it? 

Underlying is falling from a height. Good. 

Short only means no second-guessing. You just go short, period. 

Stoploss will save ruin. 

Not nipping profits in the bud will amass fortunes. 

Can the underlying keep falling over the next few years? 

Why not? Modi’s looking set for 2019. 

Hmmm, so a short only strategy has a lot going for itself. 

There’s more. Future month contracts are quoted at a premium. The premium evaporates over the current month. This move is in your favour if you’re short. 

Ok, enough. 

Yeah, there’s enough on the table to warrant a short only strategy for USDINR. 

SEE? 

Learning process. 

Why did it happen?

Because I acknowledged that I had frozen. 

Now, my strategy is more fine-tuned and I’m probably less prone to second-guessing. 

You need to pull off such stuff when you freeze. 

Use the freeze to evolve. 

Dynamics of a Long-Long System

What if your system doesn’t allow you to second-guess yourself?

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful situation?

And you’d be right there, in the middle of it all.

What would such a system look like?

Right, it would only go one way.

Long-long. “A-la-la-la-la-long”, to quote Inner Circle!

Why aren’t we talking about a short-short system?

Theoretically, we could. Theoretically, everything is possible.

Well, a short-short system would have no limits on your potential loss, if the trade went against you. That’s the fundametal problem I have against a short-short system, without even having gone into the whole leverage discussion.

You could bring the stop argument.

Fine.

Just take a deep breath.

Think clearly.

Take a look at the average price-speeds of both directions, long and short.

The average price-speed in the short direction is far higher. Price-jumps are greater. The probability of your stop getting high-jumped over is much higher in the short direction. Frankly, that doesn’t work for me.

Also, which market allows you to set an overnight stop, barring the international forex market?. None that I know of, at least in India. No stops overnight means potential exposure to a large drawdown upon next market-opening, and here I’d like to be in a long-situation, because loss is capped.

Therefore, when we’re discussing a system that doesn’t allow us to second-guess ourselves, I will only discuss a long-long system.

What does long-long mean?

Yeah, we’re talking about a system, where you’re looking for long trades all the time. You don’t look for trades to go short in-between. There’s no shorting in the equation whatsoever. The moment you start thinking about shorting, you start second-guessing your long-approach.

What does that mean for someone applying such a system?

It means that the whole world might be crumbling apart, and one is still looking for long-trades. Yes, one could take some hits here. One just needs to make sure, that one’s consecutive drawdown doesn’t exceed a bearable level. Also, as losses might pile up, one position-sizes one’s way through. The concept ot position-sizing has been pioneered and elucidated by Dr. Van K. Tharp @ www.iitm.com.

It also means that when your underlyings start to run, you’ll be piling up winning trade upon winning trade.

The thing is, nobody knows when what is going to run. If you’ve taken all second-guessing out of your equation, you’re aligning yourself with the correct direction once things start to run. Going the other way now would mean further losses.

Then, it further means that if you lock in a big winner in a running market, your paper profits can now be used to harness even greater profits in the same trade. Such big winners provide a big boost to your trading corpus, and, in my opinion, are the difference between winning and losing in the markets. One needs to keep oneself aligned correctly when such opportunities come along. A long-long system will keep you aligned, no matter what.

You could argue about dry spells.

In any dry spell, or when markets are tanking, there are still underlyings that are going up. You just have to identify them. Today, such identification is not difficult at all.

For such identification, you need market software, a data feed, and an algorithm which defines what you are looking for. Your software then scans the entire breadth of the market you’re in to try and find what you’re looking for, and opens corresponding charts for you for underlyings that are still going up, or where there is buying interest, buying pressure, unusual increment in volume or what have you.

Don’t let the word algorithm scare you. You don’t have to learn a new programming language to put an algorithm together. Common-sense is enough. You know what you’re looking for. Let’s say what you’re looking for involves volume and price. You look inside your market software. Then you couple two algorithms together into a new algorithm which defines what you are looking for. You see, a typical market software like Metastock already uses algorithms for volume moving average, price etc., and these are visible to you. Just copy-paste and make a new algorithm that suits your purpose.

Lastly for today, decouple yourself from the market during trading hours, except when you’re feeding in the trade. Analyze your current trades when the market is closed. Intuitively, you will probably feel that your decisions during off-market hours will be better than when you’re coupled to a live market. Find out for yourself. More on this some other day.

Where to, Mr. Nath?

Last month, I scrapped my market-play system.

Happens.

Systems are made to be scrapped later.

One can always come up with a new system.

I love working on a new system.

It’s challenging.

What I want to talk to you about is why I scrapped my last system.

I found four accounting frauds, as I did my market research, all online.

You see, my last system worked well with honest accounting.

It had no answer to accounting frauds.

Also, I got disillusioned.

Are we a nation of frauds?

How does one deal with a nation of frauds?

More importantly, how does one play such a nation?

Does one invest in it? Or, does one sheer trade it?

Questions, questions and more questions. These encircle my mind as I work to put my new system together.

I am in no hurry to come up with an answer. A country like India deserves a befitting answer, and that it will get, even if the sky comes down on me while I put my system together.

Slowly, I started to think. How many systems had I scrapped before?

Hmmm, four or five, give or take one or two.

I have an uncompromising market rule of going fully liquid when I scrap a system.

Full liquidity is a tension-tree state. It allows one to think freely and in an unbiased manner. Being invested during volatility impedes one’s ability to think clearly and put a new system together.

Ok, so what answer would my new system have towards fraud?

All along, it was very clear to me that future market activity would be in India itself. Where else does one get such volatility? I am learning to embrace volatility. It is the trader’s best friend.

Right, so, what’s the answer to fraud?

Trading oriented market play – good. Not much investing, really. First thoughts that come to mind.

Buying above supports. Selling below resistances. Only buying above highs in rare cases, and trailing such buys with strict stops. Similarly , only selling below lows in even rarer cases, and again, trailing such sells with strict stops.

Trading light at all times.

Fully deploying the bulk of one’s corpus into secure market avenues like bonds and arbitrage. You see, bonds in India are not toxic. Well, not yet, and with hawks like the RBI and SEBI watching over us, it might take a while before they turn toxic. If and when they do start turning toxic, we’ll be getting out of them, there’s no doubt about that. Till they’re clean, we want their excellent returns, especially as interest rates head downwards. In India, one can get out of bond mutual funds within 24 hrs, with a penalty of a maximum of 1 % of the amount invested. Bearable. The top bond funds have yielded about 13 – 15% over the last 12 months. So, that 1% penalty is fully digestible, believe me.

With the bulk of one’s returns coming from secure avenues, small amounts can be traded. Trade entries are to be made when the odds are really in one’s favour. When risk is high, entry is to be refrained from. A pure and simple answer to fraud? Yes!

You see, after a certain drop, the price has discounted all fraud and then some. That’s one’s entry price for the long side. On the short side, after a phenomenal rise, there comes a price which no amount of goodness in a company can justify and then some. That’s the price we short the company at.

Of course it’s all easier said than done, but at least one thing’s sorted. My outlook has changed. Earlier, I used to fearlessly buy above highs and short below lows. I am going to be more cautious about that now. With fraud in the equation, I want the odds in my favour at all times.

These are the thoughts going on in my mind just now. Talking about them helps them get organized.

You don’t have to listen to my stuff.

I’m quite happy talking to the wall.

Once these words leave me, there’s more space in my system – a kind of a vacuum.

A vacuum attracts flow from elsewhere.

What kind of a flow will my vacuum attract?

Answers will flow in from the ether.

Answers to my burning questions.

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!

And How Are You This 20k?

20k’s knocking on our sensory index.

How are you feeling, this 20k?

I remember my trading screen, the first time 20k came. Lots of blue till it came, and when it came, the screen just turned into a sea of red.

Sell orders hit their auto-triggers, as if it were raining sell orders along with cats and dogs.

What is it about round numbers?

Why do they engulf us in their roundness?

I don’t think I am making a mistake in stating that the first person to recognize the significance of round numbers in the game was Jesse Livermore, the legendary trader. Jesse developed a round number strategy that he pulled off repeatedly, with enormous success. It is because of Jesse Livermore that a trader takes round numbers … seriously.

So, what is it about the roundness of 20k?

Plain and simple. The 0s engulf the 2. You don’t see the 2 anymore, and the 0s scare you. Or, they might excite you. Round numbers make the human being emotional.

Big question for me, to understand my own mindset – how am I reacting to 20k?

I would like to share my reaction with you, because it could help you understand your own reaction.

Also, writing about it makes me understand my own reaction better. Thoughts get assimilated.

Yeah, it’s not all social service here, there’s some selfish element involved too.

Besides, I have a bit of a guilty conscience about the amount of research the internet allows me to do, free of cost. I mean, I can get into the skin of any listed company with a few button-clicks. All this writing – is a give-back. You’ll get your calling soon enough. Nature will tell you where you need to give back. When that happens, don’t hold back – give freely. It’s a million dollar feeling!

Back to the topic.

I’ve seen 20k twice before, I think, perhaps thrice. Oh right, between late September and December ’10, it came, was broken, then it came back, to be again broken on the downside, all within a few months.

The aftermath of the first time I saw it (in November ’07) hammered me, though, and taught me my biggest market lessons. I’m glad all this happened in my early market years, because one doesn’t normally recover from huge hammerings at an advanced stage in one’s market career.

The second / third time I saw 20k, I was profiting from it to a small extent. A vague kind of strategy was developing in my mind, and I was trying all kinds of new trading ideas so as to formulate a general strategy for big round numbers.

This morning, I saw 20k for the fourth time, for a few minutes.

By now, I was on auto-pilot.

A human being will have emotions. A successful market player will know how to deal with these emotions.

I bifurcated my emotions into two streams.

One was the fear stream.

The other was the exuberance stream.

The former helped me decide my future investment strategy.

The latter helped me decide my future trading strategy.

In my opinion, a good investment strategy in times of market exuberance would be to not look for fresh investments anymore. This morning, I decided to stop looking for fresh investments, till further notice.

Sometimes, when you’re not looking for an investment, you might still chance upon a company that sparks your investment interest.

If that happened, I would still scrutinize such a company very, very thoroughly, before going ahead. After all, these were times of exuberance.

Yeah, fresh investments would be on the backburner till margins of safety were restored.

Now let’s speak about the exuberance stream.

Market looked ripe for trading. Fresh market activity would take the shape of trading.

Trading is far more active an activity, when compared to investing. We’ve spoken a lot about the difference between trading and investing, in previous posts. Investors enter the market when stocks are undervalued, because the general market is unable to see their intrinsic value. Traders take centre-stage when stocks are overvalued, because the general market is repeatedly attributing more and more value to stocks, much more than should be there. Traders ride the market up, and then short it to ride it down.

Yeah, till further notice, I would be spending my energies trading. After a while, I would re-evaluate market conditions.

That’s what I thought to myself this morning.

Can We Please Get This One Basic Thing Right? (Part II)

Now that we’ve laid the foundation, we need to build on it.

The most important aspect of investing is the entry. For a trader, entry is the least important aspect of the trade.

An investor enters after a thorough study. That’s the one and only time the investor is calling the shots regarding the investment. The right entry point needs to be waited for. After entry, the investor is no longer in control. Therefore, the entry must be right, if the investor is required to sit for long. If the entry is not right, then one will not be able to sit quietly, and will jump up and down, to eventually exit at a huge loss.

The trader can even take potshots at the morning newspaper, and enter the scrip hit by a dart at current market price (cmp). There’s a 50:50 chance of the scrip going up or down. If, after entry, the trade is managed properly, the trader will make money in the long run. A loss will need to be nipped in the bud. A profit will be allowed to grow into a larger profit. Once the target is met, the trader will not just exit slam-bam-boom, but will keep raising the stop as the scrip soars higher, and will eventually want the market to throw him or her out of the trade. If the scrip is sizzling, and closes above the stop, the trader will be happy that the market has allowed him or her to remain in the trade, because chances are very high that the scrip will open up with a gap the next morning. Then the trader will take the median of the gap for example as a stop, and will continue to raise this stop, should the scrip go even higher. Eventually, the correcting scrip will throw the trader out of the trade. One or two big winning trades like this one will give the trader a fat cushion for future trades. Now, the trader will position-size. He or she will again take his or her dart, and will select the next scrip. The amount traded will be more, because the trader is winning, and because the pre-decided stop percentage level now amounts to a larger sum. The trader’s position will be sized as per his or her trading networth. So, you see here how unimportant entry is for trading, when one compares it to trade management and exit.

For the investor, there’s no investment management in the interim period between entry and exit, unless the investor goes for a staggered entry or exit. That again falls under entry and exit, so let’s not speak about interim investment management at all. If anything, the investor needs to manage him or herself. The market is not to be followed real-time. One’s investment-threshold should be low enough so as to not have the portfolio on one’s mind all day. You got the gist. Also, exit happens when no value is seen. The investor just loses interest. He or she just tells his or her broker to sell the ABC or XYZ stake entirely. Frankly, that’s not right. Proper exits are what the trader does, and the investor can learn a trick or two here. Then, again, the investor would be following the market real-time in the process, and will get into the trader’s mind-set, and that would be dangerous for the rest of the portfolio. On second thoughts, it’s ok for the true investor to just go in for an ad-hoc exit.

You see, the investor likes it straight-forward. A scrip will be bought, and then sold for a profit, years later. That’s how a typical investment should unfold.

The trader, on the other hand, likes to think in a warped manner. He or she has no problems selling first and buying later. It’s called shorting followed by short-covering. The market can be shorted with specific instruments, like futures, or options. In seasoned markets, one can even borrow common stock and short it, while one pays interest on the borrowed stock to the person it was borrowed from. Yeah, many traders like to go in for all these weird-seeming permutations and combinations in their market-play.

A person who trades and invests runs the danger of confusing one for the other and ruining both. We’ve spoken about how proper segregation avoids confusion. Another piece of advice is to specialize in one and do the other for kicks. Specializing in both will require a good amount of mind-control, and one will be running a higher risk of ruining both games. At the same time, doing both will give you a good taste of both fields, so that you don’t keep yearning for that activity which you aren’t doing.

You see, sometimes the trader has it good, and sometimes, the investor is king.

When there’s a bull-run, the fully invested investor is the envy of all traders. Mr. Trader Golightly has gone light all his life, and now that the market has shot up, he is crying because he’s hardly got anything in the market, and is scared to enter at such high levels.

During a bear-market, Mr. Investor Heavypants wishes he were Mr.Trader Golightly. Heavy’s large and heavy portfolio has been bludgeoned, whereas Lightly’s money-market fund is burgeoning from his winnings through shorting the market. Lightly doesn’t hold a single stock, parties every night, and sleeps till late. Upon waking up, he shorts a 100 lots of the sensory index, and covers in the early evening to rake in a solid profit.

When Mrs. Market goes nowhere in the middle, Lightly gets stopped out again and again, and loses small amounts on many trades. He’s frustrated, and wishes he were Mr. Heavypants, who entered much lower, when margin of safety was there, and whose winning positions allow him to stay invested without him having to bother about his portfolio.

Such are the two worlds of trading and investing, and I wish for you that you understand what you are doing.

When you trade, you TRADE. The rules of trading need to apply to your actions.

When you invest, you INVEST. The rules of investing need to apply to your actions.

Intermingling and confusion will burn you.

Either burn and learn, or read this post and the last one.

Choice is yours.

Cheers.  🙂

Coin-Flipping in the Marketplace

Are you good at darts?

Actually, I’m not.

I’ve even removed all darts from our home. Hazard. Children might hurt themselves. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m paranoid. Tell me something new.

Well, just in case you fancy playing darts, here’s a market exercise for your consideration.

Take a newspaper section, and pin it on the wall.

I know, I know, you’d love to take pot shots at your favourite corrupt politician’s picture. Please feel free to do so, let out all your venom. When you’re done, we can resume with the market exercise.

Now substitute whatever picture you’re shooting darts at with the equity portion of your newspaper’s market segment.

Take a dart. Shoot.

You hit some stock or the other. Let’s say you hit XLME Systems.

Now take a coin. Flip it.

Go long XLME Systems if you flip heads. Short it if you flip tails.

You have a 50:50 chance of choosing the correct trade direction here.

This is still a winning system, if you manage your trades with common-sense.

Cut your losers short, quite short, yeah, nip them in the bud. Let your winners ride for as long as you’re comfortable.

These two sentences will turn your little darts cum coin exercise into a winning market system.

Try out a 100 such trades, coupled with proper, common-sensical trade management. You’ll see that you are in the money.

Now, whoever turns towards me and starts to talk about trading systems, well, that person needs to be very crystal clear about one thing.

He or she needn’t bother discussing any trading system with worse results than the above-described trading system.

I mean, come on, people, here’s nature, already presenting something to us which doesn’t require any formal education, just an average ability to aim, fire, flip, trade, and manage with common-sense. This small and natural system is enough to keep us in the money.

So, if we want to spend any time discussing trading systems with an edge, we need to be sure that these systems are functioning at beyond 50:50. At par or below is a waste of time.

Good trading systems with a market-edge function at 60:40.

In the Zone, you maneuver your evolving edge to function at 70:30 and beyond.

Frankly, you don’t need more. You don’t need to function at 80:20 or 90:10. Life at 70:30 is good enough to yield you a fortune.

Getting to 70:30 is not as difficult as it sounds. First, get to a 60:40 trading system. Out of every 100 trades, get the trade direction of 60 right. Comes, takes a bit, but comes eventually.

Now you’ve got your good trading system with a decent edge, it’s working at 60:40, what next? How do you extract that extra edge.

Well, tweak. Adapt. Fine-tune. Till your edge becomes that something extra.

Still want more?

If yes, the game becomes a story about you. How disciplined are you? Are you with the markets regularly, as a matter of routine? Are you with the flow? Can you sense the next move? Are you slipping into the Zone? Can you stay in the Zone for long periods? Once you slip out, can you get back into the Zone soon?

The answers to these questions lead you to 70:30 and beyond.

This is Getting Murky

Have you actually seen China’s account books?

Has anyone, for that matter?

How does the US pay for its imports from China?

With treasury-note IOUs?

Are Chinese GDP numbers doctored?

If yes, for how many years have the Chinese cooked their books?

How many more bailouts is Greece going to require?

Isn’t the amount of financial maneuvering increasing from bailout to bailout?

It feels as if real debt is being made to “go away” synthetically.

Things are getting murky in the financial world.

When that happens, the stage is set for tricky synthetic products to be offered.

It’s time to go on high alert.

You see, for the longest time, banks in the “developed” world have not been clocking actual business growth. However, their balance sheets are growing on the basis of trading profits. In almost all cases, the “float” is not increasing significantly from clients’ savings, or from new business. Instead it is increasing from good trading.

However, trading can go wrong for a bank. All that is required is one rogue trader. Blow-ups keep happening. For banks, good trading is at best a bonus. It is not something solid and everlasting to fall back on for eternity.

Well, that’s what most or all “developed” international banks are doing. They are relying on their international trading operations to see them through these times. (((Compare this to an emerging market like India, where an HDFC Bank generates 30%+ QoQ growth, for the last 8 quarters and counting, on the basis of actual business profits from new accounts, savings and fresh real money that increases the float))).

While the scenario lasts, what kind of synthetic products can one expect from the plastic composers of financial products?

And we are going to get something plasticky soon, since “developed” international banks have gotten into the groove of trading, and since trading is their ultimate bread and butter now.

So what’s it gonna be?

The conceivers of plastic in the ’80s still had a conscience. For example, Michael Milken’s “Junk Bonds” still had actual underlying companies to the investment. That the companies were ailing, and could probably go bust, was a different issue. In lieu of that, junk bonds were giving returns that beat the cr#p out of inflation twice over, and then some. Though investors knew that these underlying companies were ailing, greed closed their eyes, as crowds lapped up the product. We know how the story ended.

In the ’90s, anything with the flavour of IT ran like an Usain Bolt. The conceivers of plastic products here were tech enterpreneurs, coupled with bankers that pushed through their IPOs. One had a lot of shady dotcoms with zero or minus balance-sheets clocking huge IPOs, apart from being driven up to dizzy heights by greedy public, from where their fall began.

By the ’00s, whatever 2 pennies of conscience that remained were now out the window. Products like CDOs did the rounds. These had no actual underlying entity, like a bond or a debenture. They were totally synthetic, mathematical products, assembled by bundling together toxic debt. The investment bankers that conceived these products knew that the debt was toxic, and were cleverly holding the other end of the line, i.e. they sold these products to their clients as AAA, and then shorted these very products, knowing that they were bound to go down in value because of their toxic contents.

We are well into the ’10s.

What’s it gonna be?

I think it’s probably going to be a “Structure”.

There is going to be an underlying. The world is wary about “no underlyings”.

The catch is going to come from the quality of the underlying, as in when it’s ailing badly and the world thinks otherwise (in the ’80s, the junk value of the underlying was no secret. Here, it probably will be).

Where is the product going to be unleashed?

Emerging markets. That’s where money has moved to. Also, investors there are not as savvy, since they’ve not been properly hit.

Why is the time ripe?

Interest rates are kinda peaking. Investors have gotten used to sitting back and raking in 10%+ returns, doing nothing. When interest rates start to move down, that would be the stage for the unleashing of the product in question.

Lazy, spoilt investors would probably lap up such products offering something like 13%+ returns, with “certified” AAA underlying entities to the investment.

So watch out. Don’t be lazy or greedy. As and when interest rates start to move down, move your money into appropriate products that are not shady and that have safe underlyings. From knowledge, not from hearsay.

Be very selective about who you let in to give investment advice. Even someone you trust could be pushed by his or her employer institution to aggressively sell you something synthetic with a shady underlying.

Be very, very careful. Do your due diligence.

Don’t get into the wrong product, specifically one with a lock-in.

Game-Changers

Change.

The one factor that keeps us evolving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What U Gonna Do When They Come For U?

“Bad Boys Bad Boys, what u gonna do…

what u gonna do…

… when they come for you?”

Lots of bad boys floating around.

They make a beeline for an underlying, for example Gold. Hike up its price. Entice you to enter at a peak. They cash out. You, the slow poke, are left high and dry.

Then the bad boys gang up and short the underlying simultaneously. Price tanks. From one day to the next, you are sitting on a large loss. You get out, disgusted.

Don’t make yourself vulnerable to such bad boys. Get your strategy right.

Buy at strategic points. If you are buying at dips, do so at pinpointed levels, like Fibonacci ones. You can also buy when a resistance is broken. Or, you can buy when a high is taken out with volume. Don’t buy above that. Meaning to say, that’s the vulnerability cut off. After that, you expose yourself to the bad boys, because you don’t have any margin of safety after that point. Through your actions, you activate bad boy zone.

On the short side, go short at strategic points in a rally. That’s where margin of safety is maximum. You can also short when a support is broken. Or, you may go short when a low is taken out with volume. Below that is bad boy zone.

At times, the human being likes the thrill of being in bad boy zone. Got me there, I like it too. Only sometimes. In bad boy territory, you need to be light. Don’t carry too much cash in your pockets when they come for you. In bad boy territory, do options. Options are your best friends here.

The advantage of operating in bad boy territory is that every now and then, there’s a jackpot for the taking. There’s no telling how far bad boys take an underlying in a particular direction. Where there’s risk, there’s reward. Out of ten option trades you put on, at least two or three should hit the pot if your research is good. That’s all you need.

In bad boy territory, the only position you want to be in is about showing the jackpot in the one hand and the finger from the other. By default, your losses must be small here, and they are, because you are doing options. Period. With that, you’ve shown the necessary aggression that is required in this territory, and you’ve also shown proper backfoot (defence) strategy. That is winning behaviour in bad boy territory. That’s the language understood by bad boys, telling them to lay off. Now, even if they try to come for you, they’ll not get you. Ever.

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.

On Turning a ULIP into a TULIP

In sixteen hundred and something, the world went bananas about tulips. What ensued was an enormous boom in the tulip market, with species selling for thousands of gilders, and with futures quoted for shoots which were planted or even about to be planted. Murders were commited, all for tulips. Nobody knew this at the peak of the mania, but a virus had hit the tulip plantation industry, resulting in tulip species emerging in all kinds of exotic colour combinations, which were so intriguing, that it led to the mania. Now this virus was a one time thing, it didn’t happen after that. So, as the exotic species and their shoots died, it became apparent to the market that there would be no more exotic specie supply, and a bust followed. Fortunes got wiped out. Suicides resulted. Nevertheless, a tulip remains what it is, a serene flower, adding harmony to the environment, currently fairly priced.

Now what’s a ULIP, or a Unit-Linked Insurance Policy? As the name suggests, it’s an insurance policy, which is linked to units (of equity / debt). When I entered the world of investing, my office got swamped with ULIP salesmen, and I invariably ended up buying 4 ULIPs from various companies because of the excellent sales pitch, and because I didn’t know any better. The killer and sealing remark in the sales pitch was that what form of investment could not be confiscated by any authority, were one to land in trouble or jail? The answer – an insurance policy. And what better an insurance policy than one that is linked to the markets?

Each ULIP has a lock-in, typically 3 – 4 years. So there I was, locked-in with products I knew nothing much about. Hmmmm ULIP – sounded like tulip. I thought to myself – “What if I can find a way to get maximum benefit from these ULIPs? I’m stuck with them anyways.” And my mission statement became – “I’m gonna turn these ULIPs into tulips.” Later, when I had succeeded in this, I even concocted a new name for them, i.e. TUrbo cum Leveraged Insurance Products or TULIPs.

As I set about doing research on ULIPs, all the negatives came up first. Apart from the fee structure being irritating, each premium had a huge additional deduction to go with it. One ended up investing only 80 – 85% of what one paid as premium. The rest went to the insurance authorities. After all, they would charge for an insurance cover. Then, the salespeople held all my passwords in their hands, as per the power of attorney I had signed while investing. They switched in and out of equity at all the wrong times, and my investments were taking a hammering. Then, while switching, one could only catch the end of the day NAV etc. etc. etc.

Slowly, I invited each salesperson for tea in the office. This was much before the financial meltdown, and the merchant banker / investment sales agent was still king, whereby the investor was starved for new investment products. After boosting up their egos, I pulled each login ID and password out of their clutches, and immediately went online to effect a password change. OK, I was no longer under their control.

I noticed that switching between equity and debt was free of cost. What if I switched 50 times a year, not that I was going to, but what if I did? Free 24 times, Rs. 100 per switch after that. Hmmmm. Any direct equity investment would have resulted in brokerage generation, and in ULIPs, there was no brokerage generation. The fund house put up the money for whatever brokerage was generated by ULIP clients. They were probably their own brokers, so they didn’t end up losing much anyways. So, how much was I saving on brokerage per switch. Typically, 0.75% of the total investment if I looked at a complete buy and sell transaction, i.e. switch in to equity and switch out of equity. So, how much money would I save in brokerage if I switched a corpus of Rs. 1 million 50 times over? Rs. 3,75,000/-. Hmmm, sizable. A trader with a high turnover didn’t need to trade directly, he could do it through ULIPs. And the trader would be in and out of the market with one click, there was no need to sell or buy 20 or more different scrips. Still, one would only get the end of the day NAV. The bottom-line was that the trader would save huge amounts on brokerage with this kind of turbo ULIP switching.

What further made this avenue attractive for the trader was the fact that ULIPs did not require one to pay any short-term capital gains tax because of the lock-in. Wow. This was big. So, If I made a million on a million in less than one year, I got to keep all of it, and would not have to part with 15% as short-term capital gains tax. Such tax-saving leverages the portfolio, because one invests the tax-saving back into the market, and future gains are compounded owing to a larger initial investment corpus. In fact, the brokerage saving component was adding to this leverage too in the same way.

So there I was. I had put my investment philosphy regarding ULIPs together, and had actually turned them into TUrbo cum Leveraged Insurance Products, or TULIPs. After recovering my losses and gaining some, I soon got bored, and when the lock-ins ended, I got rid of the TULIPs.

What remains with me today is that this was my first victory in the world of investing, a feeling of harmony that never fails to energize me, just as the mere thought of a field of colourful tulips would energize / harmonize the mind

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.

The Pros and Cons of Digging for Gold – a just-like-that guide for the lay-person

For starters, many have not been part of the rally in gold. And, many of these many secretly wish that they were. People want to ride a winner. It’s human nature. Before these individuals wager their life-savings on what is being touted as a winner, they need to understand the how-to and the flip-side portion. Investing is as much about human nature and psychology as it is about salting one’s money away. So, people, win half the battle of investing by attuning your investing style to fit your personality and risk-profile. One doesn’t define one’s risk profile, one discovers it over time. Anything that gives one a sleepless night is outside of one’s risk appetite. Don’t put any money in any such product. And, of course, you are not selling your family silver to get your portfolio going, nor are you putting your daughter’s education money on the line. You invest funds that are extra, i.e. funds that you don’t need over x amount of time, and you decide what this x is. Investing is about you, it’s not about fund managers or financial institutions.

Many like to see their gold in physical form. It’s like when you have a girl-friend. You want her physically around you, and not as some long-distance vibration in the ether. The flip-side is, that there is storage risk (gold, not girl-friend, silly). Gold can get stolen, pal. Also, at the time of purchase, there is contamination risk. If you buy coins, you pay about 20% premium for craftsmanship, which you totally lose out on when you try and sell the coins. And there’s tension when there’s gold lying around, just as there’s tension when there’s a girl-friend lying around…

For those who have the ability to connect to long-distance vibrations in the ether, holding gold in non-physical form is a beautiful option. No contamination risk at time of purchase. No storage risk at the end of the investor. It’s just that there’s no gold to hold onto, just a paper-certificate. If that’s ok with you, go ahead and buy into a gold ETF (exchange traded fund). In India, these are still quite illiquid, so there’s a huge bid-ask difference while buying and again while selling, causing massive slippage on both transactions, so for Indians, this is not a good option. On the plus side, the gold units are puchased in demat form and rest in your demat account until you decide to sell them, just like equity, and what’s more, you can transact online, giving you full power over your investment. Also, the unitary size is of half gram gold, so each unit is very affordable. Over time, as this avenue catches on, the illiquidity will go away. There’s a small management fee of about 1% per annum that’s deducted to compensate for storage of the actual gold and to insure it. A remote flip-side could be that if the fund-house promoting the investment is shady, they could hold spurious metal, and if a scam ensues and the fund-house goes under…….actually this has never happened, so let’s not talk about it. In an ETF investment like this, there is no leverage. If gold gains some, your investment gains a corresponding some. If gold loses some, you lose some. A 1:1 win-loss correlation to gold.

There’s another avenue which offers indirect leverage while investing in gold. We’re talking about gold mutual funds. These buy equity of gold mining companies. When gold moves x units in either direction, the NAV of such a fund moves x + y in the same direction, because the underlying gold mining companies have a huge inventory of gold in their corpus, and are also hugely hedged into the future. I’ve actually seen such an NAV jump 60% when gold had moved up 35%. Careful, same goes for the down-side. Leverage is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, if there’s a mad rush for gold, gold mining companies are going to be quoting off the charts on the upside because of this leveraged correlation. For those who are comfortable with leverage, this is a great option. In India, selling one’s gold mutual fund holding for profit within 1 year of investing can result in a 30% short-term capital gains tax though for this asset class, since the underlying assets are held overseas.

And then there are some who’d prefer to buy equity of specific gold-mining companies, not a whole mutual fund. Here, one needs to differentiate between companies holding mines which yield gold, and companies holding mines where gold has not yet been discovered or where operations will need lots of infrastructure to actually yield gold, but this is not an area for the lay-person, so let’s leave it at that.

Well, happy investing, and you’ll also need to identify whether you are comfortable putting your money on the line when an asset class is at an all-time high, or whether you prefer to wait for a dip. But that’s another discussion, for another time and another place. Bye 🙂