What’s your Answer to Dictatorial Legislature?

Cyprus almost bust…

Money from savings accounts being used to pay off debt…

Five European nations going down the same road…

US economy managing to function for now, but without any security moat (they’ve used up all their moats)…

Our own fiscal deficit at dangerous levels…

Scams in every dustbin…

Mid- & small-caps have already bled badly…

Let’s not even talk about micro-caps…

Large-caps have just started to fall big…

Just how far could this go?

Let’s just say that it’s not inconceivable to think… that this could go far.

Large-caps have a long way to fall. I’m not saying they will fall. All I’m saying is that the safety nets are way below.

I see one big, big net at PE 9, and another large one at PE 12. Getting to either will mean bloodshed.

Inflation figures are not helping.

In a last-ditch attempt to get reelected, the government recently announced a budget for which it’ll need to borrow through its nose.

Oops, I forgot, it doesn’t have a nose.

The whole world is aware about work-culture ground-truths in India.

Things are out of control, and this could go far, unless a miracle occurs and Mr. Modi gets elected. Before such an eventuality, though, things could go far.

When large-caps fall, everything else falls further.

How prepared are you?

Hats off to those with zero exposure.

Those with exposure have hopefully bought with large margins of safety.

Those who are bleeding need a plan B.

In fact, a plan B should have been formulated during good times.

Anyways, how prepared is one for a Cyprus-scenario, where dictatorial last-minute legislature allows the government to whack money from savings accounts?

In future, you might need to find a solution for loose cash in savings accounts. It needs to be kept in a form where government doesn’t have access to it.

As of now, what’s serving the purpose is an online mutual fund platform, through which loose cash can be moved and parked into liquid mutual fund schemes. For government to exercise full control over mutual fund money, it’ll probably need to be more than a bankruptcy scenario.

That’s just for now. Adaptability is the name of the game. It’s always good to be aware of one’s plans B, C & D.

Advertisements

Stock-Picking for Dummies – Welcome to the Triangle of Safety

Growth is not uniform – it is hap-hazard.

We need to accept this anomaly. It is a signature of the times we live in.

Growth happens in spurts, at unexpected times, in unexpected sectors.

What our economic studies do is that they pinpoint a large area where growth is happening. That’s all.

Inside that area – you got it – growth is hap-hazard.

To take advantage of growth, one can do many things. One such activity is to pick stocks.

For some, stock-picking is a science. For others. it is an art. Another part of the stock-picking population believes that it is a combination of both. There are people who write PhD theses on the subject, or even reference manuals. One can delve into the subject, and take it to the nth-level. On the other hand, one can (safely) approach the subject casually, using just one indicator (for example the price to earnings ratio [PE]) to pick stocks. Question is, how do we approach this topic in a safe cum lucrative manner in today’s times, especially when we are newbies, or dummies?

Before we plunge into the stock-picking formula for dummies that I’m just about to delineate, let me clarify that it’s absolutely normal to be a dummy at some stage and some field in life. There is nothing humiliating about it. Albert Einstein wasn’t at his Nobel-winning best in his early schooldays. It is rumoured that he lost a large chunk of his 1921 Nobel Prize money in the crash of ’29. Abraham Lincoln had huge problems getting elected, and lost several elections before finally becoming president of the US. Did Bill Gates complete college? Did Sachin Tendulkar finish school? Weren’t some of Steve Jobs’ other launches total losses? What about Sir Issac Newton? Didn’t I read somewhere that he lost really big in the markets, and subsequently prohibited anyone from mentioning the markets in his presence? On a personal note, I flunked a Physical Chemistry exam in college, and if you read some of my initial posts at Traderji.com, when I’d just entered the markets, you would realize what a dummy I was at investing. At that stage, I even thought that the National Stock Exchange was in Delhi!

Thing is, people – we don’t have to remain dummies. The human brain is the most sophisticated super-computer known to mankind. All of us are easily able to rise above the dummy stage in topics of our choice.

Enough said. If you’ve identified yourself as a dummy stock-picker, read on. Even if you are not a dummy stock-picker, please still read on. Words can be very powerful. You don’t know which word, phrase or sentence might trigger off what kind of catharsis inside of you. So please, read on.

We are going to take three vital pieces of information about a stock, and are going to imagine that these three pieces of information form a triangle. We are going to call this triangle the triangle of safety. At all given times, we want to remain inside this triangle. When we are inside the triangle, we can consider ourselves (relatively) safe. The moment we find ourselves outside the triangle, we are going to try and get back in. If we can’t, then the picked stock needs to go. Once it exits our portfolio, we look for another stock that functions from within the triangle of safety.

The first vital stat that we are going to work with is – you guessed it – the ubiquitous price to earnings ratio, or the PE ratio. If we’re buying into a stock, the PE ratio needs to be well under the sector average. Period. Let’s say that we’ve bought into a stock, and after a while the price increases, or the earnings decrease. Both these events will cause the PE ratio to rise, perhaps to a level where it is then above sector average. We are now positioned outside of our triangle of safety with regards to the stock. We’re happy with a price rise, because that gives us a profit. What we won’t be happy with is an earnings decrease. Earnings now need to increase to lower the PE ratio to well below sector average, and back into the triangle. If this doesn’t happen for a few quarters, we get rid of the stock, because it is delaying its entry back into our safety zone. We are not comfortable outside of our safety zone for too long, and we thus boot the stock out of our portfolio.

The second vital stat that we are going to work with is the debt to equity ratio (DER). We want to pick stocks that are poised to take maximum advantage of growth, whenever it happens. If a company’s debt is manageable, then interest payouts don’t wipe off a chunk of the profits, and the same profits can get directly translated into earnings per share. We want to pick companies that are able to keep their total debt at a manageable level, so that whenever growth occurs, the company is able to benefit from it fully. We would like the DER to be smaller than 1.0. Personally, I like to pick stocks where it is smaller than 0.5. In the bargain, I do lose out on some outperformers, since they have a higher DER than the level I maximally want to see in a stock. You can decide for yourself whether you want to function closer to 0.5 or to 1.0. Sometimes, we pick a stock, and all goes well for a while, and then suddenly the management decides to borrow big. The DER shoots up to outside of our triangle of safety. What is the management saying? By when are they going to repay their debt? Is it a matter of 4 to 6 quarters? Can you wait outside your safety zone for that long? If you can, then you need to see the DER most definitely decreasing after the stipulated period. If it doesn’t, for example because the company’s gone in for a debt-restructuring, then we can no longer bear to exist outside our triangle of safety any more, and we boot the stock out of our portfolio. If, on the other hand, the management stays true to its word, and manages to reduce the DER to below 1.0 (or 0.5) within the stipulated period, simultaneously pushing us back into our safety zone, well, then, we remain invested in the stock, provided that our two other vital stats are inside the triangle too.

The third vital stat that we are going to work with is the dividend yield (DY). We want to pick companies that pay out a dividend yield that is more than 2% per annum. Willingness to share substantial profits with the shareholder – that is a trait we want to see in the management we’re buying into. Let’s say we’ve picked a stock, and that in the first year the management pays out 3% per annum as dividend. In the second year, we are surprised to see no dividends coming our way, and the financial year ends with the stock yielding a paltry 0.5% as dividend. Well, then, we give the stock another year to get its DY back to 2% plus. If it does, putting us back into our triangle of safety, we stay invested, provided the other two vital stats are also positioned inside our safety zone. If the DY is not getting back to above 2%, we need to seriously have a look as to why the management is sharing less profits with the shareholders. If we don’t see excessive value being created for the shareholder in lieu of the missing dividend payout, we need to exit the stock, because we are getting uncomfortable outside our safety zone.

When we go about picking a stock for the long term as newbies, we want to buy into managements that are benevolent and shareholder-friendly, and perhaps a little risk-averse / conservative too. Managements that like to play on their own money practise this conservatism we are looking for. Let’s say that the company we are invested in hits a heavy growth phase. If there’s no debt to service, then it’ll grow much more than if there is debt to service. Do you see what’s happening here? Our vital stat number 2 is automatically making us buy into risk-averse managements heading companies that are poised to take maximum advantage of growth, whenever it occurs. We are also automatically buying into managements with largesse. Our third vital stat is ensuring that. This stat insinuates, that if the management creates extra value, a proportional extra value will be shared with the shareholder. That is exactly the kind of management we want – benevolent and shareholder-friendly. Our first vital stat ensures that we pick up the company at a time when others are ignoring the value at hand. Discovery has not happened yet, and when it does, the share price shall zoom. We are getting in well before discovery happens, because we buy when the PE is well below sector average.

Another point you need to take away from all this is the automation of our stop-loss. When we are outside our safety zone, our eyes are peeled. We are looking for signs that will confirm to us that we are poised to re-enter our triangle of safety. If these signs are not coming for a time-frame that is not bearable, we sell the stock. If we’ve sold at a loss, then this is an automatic stop-loss mechanism. Also, please note, that no matter how much profit we are making in a stock – if the stock still manages to stay within our triangle of safety, we don’t sell it. Thus, our system allows us to even capture multibaggers – safely. One more thing – we don’t need to bother with targets here either. If our heavily in-the-money stock doesn’t come back into our safety zone within our stipulated and bearable time-frame, we book full profits in that stock.

PHEW!

There we have it – the triangle of safety – a connection of the dots between our troika PE…DER…DY.

As you move beyond the dummy stage, you can discard this simplistic formula, and use something that suits your level of evolution in the field.

Till then, your triangle of safety will keep you safe. You might even make good money.

PE details are available in financial newspapers. DER and DY can be found on all leading equity websites, for all stocks that are listed.

Here’s wishing you peaceful and lucrative investing in 2013 and always!

Be safe! Money will follow! 🙂

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.

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.