Wealth-Generators often go Contrarian

You knew that too, right? 

Sure. 

Going contrarian is a buzz-phrase. 

We hear it again and again…

… till we begin to start thinking… 

… that we know what it means. 

Well, try going contrarian. 

Yeah, try actually doing it. 

You’ll see what I mean. 

It’s real hard. 

Going against the crowd takes all the strength you might have… 

… and then some. 

Most humans aren’t able to go contrarian. 

Most humans aren’t wealthy. 

When there’s blood on the streets, there’s no telling how much more there will be. 

Under such conditions, the contrarian investor lets go of his or her hard-earned money into an investment, knowing perfectly well that the Street might even value the investment tomorrow at a huge discount to today’s price.

That’s ok too, says he or she.

Why?

Because homework’s been done.

Underlying is strong.

Debt-free.

Management is stellar.

Balance-sheet is robust.

Projections are paramount.

That the world is pricing the investment wrongly is a problem with its vision.

Underlying is not going under. With above credentials, this alone matters.

Times change. Vision of the majority changes. Investor makes a killing. Cashes out some, principal and what have you. Leaves lots of free-standing shares… forever… or till parameters change.

Wealth-generators repeat this behaviour-pattern many times in their lives.

They’re not afraid of going against the grain.

They know otherwise.

Also, the money they use has been freed up.

Its being out of action for a long time is not going to change their lives even a bit.

They will have the last laugh.

Wealth is the reward of going contrarian. 

Anyone up for a Quereinstieg?

Yeah, another German word.

And it’s loaded. 

I love the German language for it’s ability to combine words so that they can deliver a fistful!

So, what does it mean?

Quer means at an angle

Einstieg means entry

If you bang with something head-on, you’re likely to rebound. 

If you chisel into something at an angle with great force, you are likely to enter that something. 

That’s the logic. 

And it works. 

Albert Schweitzer, was it?

The multiply famous nobel-laureate who proposed and demonstrated Quereinstieg into fluency with a foreign language?

The formula was, for weeks in a row, to read texts, delve into media, the whole works, all in the foreign language, without really understanding what’s happening at first, and then getting a hold of the language’s structure through Sprachgefuehl, or feeling for language

Within a month or so, one would be speaking the language. One’s skills would be enough to get by on the streets. Works. 

Sprachgefuehl in action is a prime example of Quereinstieg

These are fast times. 

Almost the whole day, one is multitasking. 

And then, something new comes along. 

A new problem. 

One has to find a solution fast. 

There is no time to start from scratch. 

All other matters must be pulled along. Many people’s daily lives and routines hang upon you pulling your load. 

So, where does that leave you?

Cut to Quereinstieg.

You delve into the new matter, fast, at an angle, without bothering how you’ll fare.

You keep all your faculties open.

Your senses are on high alert.

You use your common-sense.

You learn from the play.

As you keep playing, on and on, you master technique.

The matter is not a problem anymore.

You incorporate the new asset into your repertoire as you attack your daily routine with renewed vigour and an arsenal boasting your latest Quereinstieg conquest. 

Action Oblique Inaction Upon Field-Proof

You.

Field.

In.

No theorizing.

Just get into the field.

Act upon field-proof.

Or, don’t act…

… upon field-proof.

That’s just about it.

There’s a time for theory.

It’s to tune your mind.

Learn the ropes.

Baby-steps.

Away from the field.

So you’re yet safe.

Fine.

That stage gets over.

The onus is on you.

Real world is different.

It’s not like theory.

If it were, everyone following theory would be a billionaire.

Today’s professors don’t even put their own money on the line.

If you don’t get a feel for the LINE, your paper-knowledge has no value whatsoever.

On the field, LINE is big. Very big. You have to handle the line well. Otherwise, your money’s gone.

So, gauge the field.

What proof are you observing?

Is it compelling you to act?

Yes?

Act. Forgot about everything else.

Is it compelling you to sit still?

Yes?

Don’t act. Sit still. Forget about everything else.

Carve your own dazzling destiny.

🙂

Pain is Pain

Pain is pain.

Can you see it?

I know you can see yours.

Thanks for reconfirming.

Can you see the pain of others, by the way?

Does it register?

Do you walk by?

Who are you… or… what are you?

Decide which question applies to you.

For example, do you see the pain of that earthworm writhing in the sun?

It rains. Coupla earthworms come out, only to be met by scorching sun. They writhe. Do you pick them up with a twig and install them in a wet muddy patch? Do you ignore them? Do you even notice them?

Finance is not too different.

It rains on your plans.

You writhe.

If your overall strategy has not been adequate, you can even perish due to your predicament.

Do you expect help?

Well, who doesn’t?

Only, you are that earthworm now. You are in pain.

Pain is pain.

The earthworm feels it, and so do you.

However, the earthworm is not able to do much. It will probably perish.

You, however, are human capital.

Stop writhing.

Prove you prowess as being superior in performance when compared to an earthworm, or perhaps to a donkey.

Stand up.

Clear your head.

Analyze the situation.

Pain dulls.

You’ve got to push through, and come out of it.

Once you’re up, and through, as in out of your predicament, well, don’t make the same mistake again. You’ll make other ones, sure, we all make other ones, but let’s not repeat the same one.

Safe investing.

🙂

So, … … , When’s Judgement Day?

The “fiscal cliff” thingie has come and gone…

Gone?

People, nothing’s gone.

If something is ailing, it needs to heal, right?

What is required for healing?

Remedial medicine, and time.

Let’s say we take the medicine out of the equation.

Now, what’s left is time.

Would the ailing entity heal, given lots of time, but no medicine?

If disease is not so widespread, and can be expunged over time, then yes, there would be healing, provided all disease-instigating factors are abstained from.

Hey, what exactly are we talking about?

It is no secret that most first-world economies are ailing.

Specifically, the US economy was supposed to be injected with healing measures, which were to take effect from the 1st of Jan., ’13. Financial healing would have meant austerity and a more subdued lifestyle. None of that seems to be happening now. The healing process has been deferred to another time in the future, or so it seems.

You see, people, no one wants austerity. The consumption story must go on…

So now, since the medicine’s been taken out of the equation, is there going to be any healing?

No. Disease-instigating lifestyles are still being followed. Savings are low. Debt with the objective of consumption is still high. How can there be any healing?

Under the circumstances, there can’t.

So, what’re we building up to?

We’re all clear about the fact that consumption makes the world go round. What is the hub of the world’s consumption story? The US. That part of the world which does save, and where there is real growth, well, that part rushes to be a part of the consumption story. It produces cheaply, to sell where there’s consumption, and it sells there expensively. Yeah, like this, healthy economies get dragged into an equation with ailing economies. Soon, the entanglement is so deep, that there’s no turning back for the healthy economy. It catches part of the ailment from the diseased economy. Slowly, non-performing assets of banks in such healthy economies start to grow. The disease is spreading.

Hold on, stay with me, we’re not there yet. Yeah, what are we building up to?

Healthy economies take time to get fully diseased. Here, savings are big, domestic manufacturing is on the rise, and there a healthy demographic dividend too. Buffers galore, the immune system of a healthy economy tries to fight the contagion for the longest time. As entanglement increases, though, buffers deplete, and health staggers. Non-performing assets of banks grow to disturbing levels.

That’s what we are looking out for, when we are invested in a healthy economy which has just started to ail. Needless to say, we pulled out our funds from all ailing economies long back. Our funds are definitely not going back to economies which refuse to take medicine, i.e. which don’t want to be healed. Now, the million dollar question is …

… what’s to be done with our funds in a healthy economy which has just started to become diseased due to unavoidable contagion?

Nothing for now. Watch your investments grow. Eventually, since no one is doing enough to stop the damage and the spread, big-time ailment signs will invariably appear in the currently “healthy” economy, signs that appeared a while back in currently ailing economies. Savings will be disappearing, manufacturing will start to go down, and bad-debt will increase. Define your own threshold level, and go into cash once this is crossed. You might not need to take such a step for many years in a row. Then again, you might need to take such a step sooner than you think, because the ailing mother-consumer economy is capable of pulling everyone down with it, if and when it collapses. And it just stopped taking its medicine…

Let’s get back to your funds. In the scenario that you’ve gone into cash because you weren’t confident about the economy you were invested in, well, what then?

Option 1 is to look for an emerging economy that gains your confidence, and to invest your funds there.

Not everyone is comfortable investing abroad. What if you want to remain in your own economy, which you have now classified as diseased. There’s good news for you. Even in a diseased economy, there are pockets of health. You need to become a part of such pockets, just after a bust. So, remain in cash after a high and till after a bust. Then, when there’s blood on the streets, put your money into companies with zero-debt, a healthy dividend-payout record and a sound, diligent and honest management. Yeah, at a time like that, Equity is an instrument of choice that, over time, will pull your funds out of the gloom and doom.

You’ve put your funds with honest and diligent human capital. The human capital element alone will fight the circumstances, and will rise above them. Then, you’ve entered at throwaway prices, when there was blood on the streets. Congrats, you’ve just set yourself up for huge profit-multiples in the future. And, the companies you’ve put your money with, well, every now and then, they shower a dividend upon you. This is your option 2. Just to share with you, this is my option of choice. I like being near my funds. This way, I can observe them more closely, and manage them properly. I suffer from a case of out of sight, out of mind, as far as funds are concerned. Besides, when funds are overseas, time-differences turn one’s life upside down. This is just a personal choice. You need to take your own decision.

At times like this, bonds are not an option, because many companies can cease to exist in the mayhem, taking your investment principal out with them.

Bullion will give a return as long as there is uncertainty and chaos. Let there be prolonged stability, and you’ll see bullion tanking. Yeah, bullion could be option 3 at such a time. You’ll need to pull out when you see signs of prolonged stability approaching, though.

One can use a bust to pick up cheap real-estate in prime localities. Option 4.

You see, you’ve got options as long as you’re sitting on cash. Thus, first, learn to sit on cash.

Before that, learn to come into cash when you see widespread signs of disease.

Best part is, widespread disease will be accompanied by a big boom before the bust, so you’ll have time to go into cash, and will be ready to pick up quality bargains.

You don’t really care when judgement day is, because your investment strategy has already prepared you for it. You know what to do, and are not afraid. If and when it does come, you are going to take full advantage of it.

Bring it on.

Finding the “Switch-Off” Button

Gadgets have a switch-off button, right?

Whatever for, have you ever wondered?

Do we have one too?

If we do, is it clearly marked, i.e. is it easy to find?

If we do, and if it isn’t clearly market, where and how can we find it?

Why is it essential to find it?

What if we don’t have a switch-off button?

First, let’s observe the Master. Sherlock Holmes. Master at the art of switching off.

Observe Holmes when the next obvious lead will take a day to obtain. Since the case is going nowhere, Holmes will take the day off. He will play his violin, trip on some coke to study its effects on mind and body (he’s Holmes), go to the art gallery, or what have you. The case at hand has gone into oblivion. Attenuated. What happens when it is time to pursue the case again? Holmes switches on. He is fresh. Alert. The switching-off really helped.

Remember the “attenuate” button on your car’s stereo?

Why do you think it is there?

So you can take that call without getting disturbed by the music. The music is still there, but upon pressing this button, it becomes really soft. So soft, that you don’t get affected by it. You conduct your business on the phone, and then press this button again, and the music comes back on in its full glory.

Same goes for the markets.

Once you are in a trade, market-forces are connected to you.

If you cannot attenuate them during off-market hours, you can ruin your evenings, nights, weekends, health and family life

Big, big price to pay.

Not worth it, so get busy and learn to attenuate the market’s connecting force once you switch your terminal off. Rest assured, it will come blaring back at you when you switch your terminal back on, but that time between terminal off and terminal on is oh so precious. That time belongs to you, and not to Mrs. Market. Don’t allow her that extra privilege. Use that time for things that you wish to do in life. Use it for your family. Mrs. M will be getting your undivided attention during the next market session anyways. Let her be content with that. Keep her in her place.

Just as any gadget needs rest, so do you.

Sometimes, the markets go nowhere, and / or are choppy. It doesn’t pay to trade. Switch off from the markets. Take a holiday. Do something else, till conditions become better for trading.

Yes, we do have a switch-off button. It is not clearly marked. It is located in the mind. One activates it indirectly. By switching on to some other relaxing activity that has the ability to grab the mind’s interest.

Switching off is a skill, and this skill needs to be developed. We don’t necessarily come with it. Most of us need to learn it. Otherwise, we’ll become tired, erratic, irritable etc. etc., scale up to commit big blunders, and then we will eventually burn out. That’s if the Street doesn’t throw us out as paupers before a looming burn-out. Also, our family lives will have gone for a toss. Our children will remember us as dreadful parents. Yes people, we need to find the switch-off button asap, and then we need to learn to activate this button at will. Essential.

And please don’t worry about not having such a button. After all, it was the human being who put such a button into all gadgets. Well, the idea must have come from somewhere. From inside our own mind, perhaps, where our own button exists?

Recognizing and Reacting to A-Grade Tomfoolery

Air India and Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) … can you name two things these two have in common?

They’re both loss-making airlines.

Furthermore, there’s lack of will-power to make them profit-making, from the very top.

The problem with a government job is that you can’t kick the government servant out. The government servant thus enjoys complete job-safety and total lack of accountability. That’s been India’s recipe for ineffectivity and loss-making government institutions for decades. In Air India’s case, add to this massive subsidization by the government. Whenever the Maharaja can’t pay his bills, which is like every month, the government of India chips in with tax-payer money. There’s no real policy being pushed through to effectively earn something. Government servants travel free, big-time. If there’s a shortage of seats, honest, real-money paying citizens are off-loaded and left stranded to accommodate the highly evolved souls that rule our country.

Seriously, why do you still travel Air India? Because it’s cheap? Don’t you see through the tomfoolery? Are you blind? They might wake up upon sensing a complete lack of interest amongst travellers. Until that happens, and until they start performing with no ad-hoc cancellations and off-loading, travellers need to give them that wake-up call by using other airlines and by not subscribing to any money-raising gimmicks or IPOs that the company might come out with.

Cut to KFA. What’s wrong with Mr. Mallya? Unpaid pilots, unpaid fuel bills, unpaid taxes, seriously!?!

Vijay Mallya’s story is not about lack of efficiency. It’s about flamboyance. At the cost of his shareholders? Perhaps.

His liquor business is performing well. A little hand-holding through initial turbulence would have seen KFA through. One pays one’s pilots. Period. You don’t just hire scores of great pilots and buy a huge fleet of aircraft, and then stop paying your pilots. Such flamboyance is going to result in a loss-making enterprise for a few years, isn’t that common-sense? In that period, the hand-holding comes into play from the promoter’s other profit-making enterprises, right? Does that seem to have happened here? Unlikely, looking at the current status of KFA’s balance-sheet. Quarterly losses of 100 million USD and growing coupled with a burgeoning debt, Jesus Christ…

The airline industry involves a very precarious vicious-cycle. If you can avoid falling into it from the start, you are through. Prime example is Indigo Airlines.

The first signs of letting up tighten the noose one more notch. Unpaid pilots result in strikes leading to delays and cancellations. A traveller who has been bitten once decides to travel with the competition. Numbers fall. Now, fuel bills can’t be met. More problems, more delays and cancellations. Finally, you can’t pay your taxes. That’s when the tax department steps in. Headlines go ballistic. Huge bad publicity. Twitter battles. What was that? You want the same mollycoddling as Air India? You want government subsidization? Which world do you live in? Not happening!

Money needs to flow into KFA, not loaned money, but clean money, out of the parent-group’s own coffers. Any usage of KFA revenues to fund the parent-group’s activities is a strict no-no. For example, if the Kingfisher Formula 1 team or the group’s IPL Cricket team were even partly funded by KFA revenues, that would be a huge, huge red flag, given the financial condition of KFA. As of now, shareholders need to see some will-power emanating from the top to control the bleeding. The Street can even short the KFA stock down to zero if the promoter’s attitude does not change. Perhaps such an image-beating would be a wake-up call for the promoter.

Is This Blood?

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

That’s an ancient proverb.

The 64 million dollar question is, IS THIS BLOOD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the 99% See Reason

Hey 99%,

Fine, fine, #OccupyWallStreet and all…

To be honest, this needs to be more about brains than brawn. The 1% are where they are because they’ve used their devious and canniving brains to become super-rich. Now you need to use yours to first extract yourself from your debt-trap situation and then to work towards financial freedom. Something like this can only work long-term. Using brawn, you’ll probably break the law and land up in jail, simultaneously exacerbating your predicament.

The first step is to SAVE. That’s what your forefathers did. They saved. They made your country a super-power because of their SAVINGS. If you’re not in a position to save, please get yourself into such a position. There’s no way out. To attain financial freedom, you have to start saving.

Tear your credit cards into two. Don’t consume. Don’t use and throw. Use, repair and reuse. Eat less if you have to, but extract yourself from the debt-cycle at any cost. There’s no other way.

Once you’ve started to save, you’ll need to learn how to manage your savings. Don’t ask the 1% to manage them for you. Instead, learn how to manage them on your own. With that, you’ll be putting yourself into the business of money- and asset-management, and then you can truly and totally boycott the 1%. That would be a message to the 1% that could make them scramble for survival. Believe me, to survive, they’ll be forced to change their ways. They don’t understand your brawn. It just aggravates them.

There’s enough material on the web available, that’ll get you going. The best thing is, most of it is free of cost. Go for it. Learn how to manage your savings on your own and make them grow. You can start by reading this very blog.

Continuous savings, over years and years, and the intelligent and independent management of these savings – these two acts will lead you towards financial freedom. Perhaps you will be too old to fully benefit at that time, but your children will benefit.

There’s no point beating about the bush – this is a long-term pursuit. No short-term effort or remedy is going to solve it.

Do it for your children.

When Cash is King

I don’t like crowds.

The last thing I ever want to do is to conform to crowd behaviour.

That’s one goal defined.

What does this mean?

Very clearly, for starters, it means singing one’s own tune, i.e. defining one’s own path.

It also means not listening to anyone. That requires mental strength, and the power to resist. Very tough.

In life, generally, one likes to be in tandem with the Joneses. And then, smart cookies that we are, we like to go one up on the Joneses, which would be the cue for the Joneses to catch up and then overtake us. Hypothetically, this is how the Joneses and the Naths could blow up all their cash.

It doesn’t stop there. To keep up, the average citizen doesn’t think twice before leaping into debt.

Bottomline is, when cash is king, hardly anybody has cash. In fact, most people owe money at that time.

This is the age of black swans. Crisis after crisis, then a bit of recovery, then another crisis, then some recovery, followed by a mega-crisis.

When a master-blaster crisis ensues, cash becomes king. Quality stuff on the Street starts to sell so cheap, that one needs to pinch oneself to believe the selling prices. Margins of safety are unprecedented. Now’s the time one can salt away a part of one’s cash in Equity, for the long-term.

That’s if one has cash to spare. This is report card time. How have you done in your REAL investment exam? Have you learnt to sit on cash? Have you learnt to buy with margin of safety? The Street doesn’t care for your college degree, in fact, it vomits on your college degree. Your college degree has no value on the Street, it’s just a piece of paper.

Learning on the Street happens everyday, with every move, every investment, every trade, every observation. Unless and until your own money is on the line, this learning is ineffective.

Get real, wake up, so that when cash is king, you feel like an emperor!

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.

Options 1.0.3

Has your stop ever been jumped over?

Yes?

Did it make you angry?

Yes?

It might make you angrier to know that Mrs. Market couldn’t care less about you on a personal level. It’s you who has to adapt, not Mrs. Market.

So, next time you see Mrs. Market moving many points in one shot, you have a choice. Either you can choose to take the chance of having your stop jumped over in the hope of huge rewards, or you can use options as an instrument to trade.

In general, a stop getting jumped over is a non-issue with options, because you are pre-defining your maximum loss here. Your option-premium is the maximum loss you will incur on the trade. Once you’ve mentally aligned yourself with this potential maximum loss, you are actually then asking Mrs. Market to do all the jumping she wishes to do. It just doesn’t bother you anymore. You travel, do other stuff, and then take a sneak-peak at your position.

Once your position starts making money, you might decide to fine-tune your trade-management after achieving your target. If you then make sure that your trailing stop is wide-gapped, you can still relax and do other stuff. Maybe one time out of twenty, Mrs. Market will jump even your wide-gapped trailing stop. Even if she does, you are well in the money, and you do not forget to install a new stop. Also, a little while ago, you were mentally prepared to forgo your whole option-premium, so giving back a part of your profits seems a piece of cake to you.

Welcome to the world of options. We have plunged right in. I believe that the best way to learn something is to plunge right in. Gone are the days of bookish learning.

The options market in India is just about coming into its own. At any given time, there will be at least 20 scrips on the National Stock Exchange showing very high options volume for long trades, and at least 10 scrips showing heavy volume for short trades. Bottomline: you can get into a liquid trade on either side, anytime you want. The number of scrips showing this kind of liquidity is picking up. We are still very, very far away from the mature options market in the US. What can be said is that the Indian options market will offer you liquid trades, anytime, both on the long and the short side. Frankly, that’s all one needs.

On the flip side, options on commodities have yet to come to India. Also, only the current month options are adequately liquid in India. Regarding options, the Indian market is getting there. Well, as long as you get a liquid trade anytime you want, who cares if we’re not as mature as the US options market? I don’t.

Over the last few months, options have been the instruments of choice, with unfathomable volatility abounding. I was dying to have a go, but have been caught up in so much other distracting stuff, that I’ve not traded for two months now. I like sticking to my trading rules. One of them is to not trade if I’m distracted. I really stick to this one.

Those who did trade the options market over this period would have done exceptionally well, because ideal conditions persisted. Big and quick moves, like a see-saw. The scenario would look like this: Long options give quick profits, short options simultaneously becoming very cheap, especially the out of the money ones. One sells the now expensive long options (which were picked up cheap), and stocks up on the now cheap out of the money short options. The market turns around and leaps to the downside, giving quick and large profits on the short options. One sells the short options and picks up now cheap out of the money long options, again. The repeat trades according to this pattern can continue till they stop working. When they stop working, what have you lost? Just your premium on some out of the money options.

Wish I’d had the frame of mind to trade options over the last two months. But then, one can’t have everything!

Putting it all Together – The View from the Mountain-Top

Remember getting into the driver’s seat for the first time?

It all seemed so difficult. You got the brake-clutch-accelerator coordination all wrong. Proper gear changes were a far cry. There was no question of looking into the rear-view or the side-view mirrors, since you were looking straight. And the shoulder-glance – just forget about it, you said to the instructor.

Slowly, it all came together, perhaps after a 1,50,000 km behind the wheel. Now, driving is a piece of cake. It’s all there in your reflexes. It’s as if the car is connected to your brain, and is an extension of your limbs.

It took time and effort, didn’t it? And why would it be any different in the markets?

Flash-back to 1988 – high school – our Chemistry teacher Frau Boetticher used to teach us to strive for the “Ueberblick”. Roughly and applicably translated, this analogical German word means “the view from the mountain-top”. In Street lingo, the Ueberblick is about life in the Zone. Frau Boetticher used to push us to get into the Zone. She knew that then, our reflexes would take over. She passed away before our A-levels, after a very fulfilling and successful lifetime of teaching. She was the best teacher to ever have taught me.

When your reflexes make you enter a market, or exit it, or decide on the level of a stop, or a target etc. etc., you’ve managed to put it all together. Doesn’t happen overnight, though. The ball-park figure of 1,50,000 km behind the wheel changes to roughly 7 years of market experience, before one can expect to put it all together on the Street.

Where does that leave you?

As a thumb rule, money-levels at stake in the first 7 years on the Street need to be low. When you’re getting the hang of things, you just don’t bet the farm. That’s common sense, a rare commodity, so I’m underlining it for you.

On the Street, you only learn from mistakes. They are your teachers, and they prepare you to deal with Mrs. Market. No books, or professors or college will make you fit enough to tackle Mrs. Market, only mistakes will. Make mistakes in your first seven years on the Street – make big mistakes. Learn from them. Don’t make them again. Get the big blunders out of the way while the stakes are small. Round up your learning before the stakes get big.

Once your reflexes all come together, you can start risking larger sums of money, not before. Also, in today’s neon age, it’s difficult to stay in the Zone for prolonged periods of time. Something or the other manages to distract us out of the Zone, whether it is internal health or external affairs. When you feel you’re out of the Zone, just cut back your position-size. When you feel you’re back in, you can scale up your position-size again.

It’s as simple as that. Useful ideas have one characteristic in common – they are simple.

The Power of Leverage

Apart from the D-word, the Street’s got the L-word too.

This L stands for L-E-V-E-R-A-G-E.

So, how much leverage do you enjoy from your spouse?

Or, do you have any leverage on politician so-and-so?

Or, bank so-and-so or brokerage so-and-so is offering a 10:1 or a 16:1 leverage on derivatives.

Just racking up the various uses of the L-word.

In colloquial terms, the amount of leeway your spouse allows you in your marriage is called leverage. Also, the amount of dirt you have on a politician to coerce him into following your wishes – that’s called leverage too. But for now, let’s get back to the Street.

On the Street, The L-word gives the D-word its power to destroy big.

Do you remember what the D-word was? D-E-R-I-V-A-T-I-V-E-S.

A derivative is a stink normal trade without the power of leverage. When brokerages start offering you leverage like 16:1, the stink normal derivative becomes lethal. Then, small amounts of volatility can wipe out the principal put up by you. If a down-turn continues, your loss can become many times your principal. People can go bankrupt like this.

You see, for every market move, your profit or loss is the move times the leverage. On a 5% move, a 16:1 leverage can result in 80% profit or loss. Leverage works on the upside as well as the downside.

The problem arises when the player doesn’t know how to play either side. Most players don’t know.

Leverage can be used to one’s advantage only when the down-side is protected with a stop. Most people don’t use a stop while deploying leverage. That’s why they lose, and lose big.

This singular characteristic of the average market player of not knowing how to use stops results in a spiralling bomb during market down-turns. As losses pile up, selling pressure increases due to dejection or the like as the market heads even lower. What if they’d taken a 2% or a 5% or even an 8% hit when a stop was hit? They’d be out and the market could stabilize near the stop level because of lack of further selling pressure.

Leverage is something that must not be used if one doesn’t fully understand how to use it. Unfortunately, almost everyone consumes leverage as if it were a bar of Snickers. Leverage is served to customers on a platter. Even a loan, or debt on the credit card is leverage.

Leverage is the driving force of consumerism and the modern industrialized world.

Street’s got the D-word

There seems to be an X-word in every avenue of life.

The Street has its own – the D-word.

It spells D-e-r-i-v-a-t-i-v-e-s.

Whatever reasons there are for a crisis to develop become secondary at the peak of the crisis, because derivatives take over. The crisis is driven to the nth level because of massive institutional leveraging in derivatives in the direction the crisis is unfolding. Recipe for disaster.

The human instinct is to maximize profit, irrespective of any consequences. When masses start shorting the stock of a company that’s already in trouble, its stock price can well go down to zero (and lead to bankruptcy), even if the company’s mistakes are not deserving of such a price / destiny.

Similarly, when masses start going long the futures of a company’s stock, the resulting stock price overshoots fair-value in a major way. Then come along some fools and buy the scrip at an extreme over-valuation. They are the ones that get hammered.

That’s the way this game has unfolded, time and again.

Does it need to be this way for you?

No.

Firstly, as a long-term investor, don’t buy into over-valuation. Make this a thumb rule. Control your animal instinct that wants a piece of the action. Leave the action to the traders. You need to buy into under-valuation. Period.

Unfortunately, most long-term investors (myself included) miss action. Then they fool around with their long-term holdings to get some, and in the process mess up their big game.

The animal instinct in the long-term investor can be channelized and thus harnessed. One way to get action is to play the D-game. Of course with rules. The benefit can be huge. Action focuses elsewhere and doesn’t mess up your big game.

So, play the D-game if you wish, but play it small.

Secondly, be aware that you’re only doing this to take care of the action-instinct. Any profits are a bonus.

Thirdly, keep the D-game cordoned off from long-term investment strategies. No mixing, even on a sub-conscious level.

Then, take stop-losses. DO NOT ignore them.

Also, when anything is disturbing you, DO NOT play the D-game. It DOES NOT matter if you are out of the D-game for months. Remember, this is your small game. What matters is your big game.

Categorically DO NOT listen to tips.

If you are down a pre-defined level within a month, press STOP for the rest of the month.

Make your own rules for yourself. To give you some kind of a guide-line, I’ve listed some of mine above.

A D-game played with proper rules can even yield bombastic profits. 95% lose the D-game. 5% win. Derivatives are a zero-sum play-out. 5% of all players cash in on the losings of the other 95%.

So, play in a manner that you belong to the winning 5%.

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.

Anatomy of a Ponzi Scheme

Charles Ponzi came up with the brilliant idea of paying early investors dividends from the investment money put in by later investors.

It’s as simple as that, and it’s called a Ponzi scheme.

After the first few dividends, promoter disappears, having lured many investors into a fake scheme with no underlying business.

Latest famous example of a Ponzi schemer – Bernie Maddoff.

Or, if you’ve not seen Damages – Season III, that’s about a Ponzi scheme too.

So what lures the common investor into a Ponzi scheme?

Simple. It’s called greed.

What triggers the greed?

The Ponzi schemer concocts a scheme that promises a rather too lucrative return. This return does not look unrealistic, so the average investor’s alarm signals don’t go off. Nevertheless, it’s more than high enough to make the average investor’s mouth water.

And what’s normally promised is a quick return, mind you. The average investor buys smoothly into the idea of doubling his or her money fast.

Then there’s lots of advertisment. Billboards everywhere. The Ponzi schemer wants to hit the public with ads about the tremendous returns.

The sales-people who sell the scheme are glib-talkers. They are smart, wear expensive stuff, basically exuding sophistication. They want to rub it in that they’ve made it big in life.

A Ponzi scheme’s documentation generally cracks under close scrutiny. I mean, when something is being sold to you without any underlying business, all you have to do is your dose of due diligence. Just pick up the phone and start asking questions.

What works for the Ponzi schemer is human nature. The first investors (who get paid dividends from newbie investor money) start talking. Actually, they start bragging. The human being likes to show off. And, the human being hates missing the boat, even if the boatman is a disciple of Charles Ponzi.

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.

Is Silver in a Bubble?

When the chauffeur or even the doorman has an opinion, the underlying asset-class is in a bubble.

That’s my definition of a bubble.

And that’s not the case for Silver yet.

A bubble is something psychological. The mind gets twisted into believing that one’s found the holy grail. And then one can’t get enough of it.

Bill Bonner predicted in the year 2000, that Silver and Gold would be the trades of then commencing decade. What a prediction! He went on to say that in the last stages of its run, Gold would rise at the rate of 100$ an hour. You can proportionate that for Silver. That’s how a real bubble behaves. Just go back to first quarter of 2000 and observe the financial behaviour of dotcoms.

This is not a bubble yet. We are nowhere near bubble behaviour. The common households have not started selling off their household Silver. The man on the streets is not obsessed with Silver as of now. (I still look at common-man behaviour, even for Silver, because in a bubble, one forgets affordability. Apart from that, Silver can be bought by the gram).

So, where does one go from here?

Simple.

The trader keeps trading with the flow and an appropriate, risk-profile-tuned stop. For heavens sake, he or she needs to be long.

And the investor keeps buying small stakes on dips.

Nothing fancy or complicated. A simple, common-sense strategy is all that’s required.