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Showing posts with label Views and Opinions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Views and Opinions. Show all posts

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Using leverage in a bull-market

In a bull market, a lot of people get enticed to use leverage to enhance their portfolio returns. Leverage comes in many forms, loans using existing stock as collateral, top-ups on home loans and using them to buy stocks, punting on stock futures etc. 

“Unquestionably, some people have become very rich through the use of borrowed money. However, that’s also been a way to get very poor. When leverage works, it magnifies your gains. Your spouse thinks you’re clever, and your neighbours get envious.
But leverage is addictive. Once having profited from its wonders, very few people retreat to more conservative practices. And as well learned in third grade – and some relearned in 2008 – any series of positive numbers, however impressive the numbers may be, evaporates when multiplied by a single zero. History tells us that leverage all too often produces zeroes, even when it is employed by very smart people.” - Warren Buffett, Berkshire Annual Report, 2010
In this context, let me recount the story of Rick Guerin - Buffett's contemporary and acknowledged by him as "Superinvestor of Grahamville". Guerin lost significantly and dropped out of the investment landscape after the steep crash of 1974 when he received margin calls because he was highly levered. He had to liquidate some of his best investments including Berkshire Hathaway stock. Today, everyone knows of Buffett and Munger but hardly anyone has heard of Guerin. (In fact, to be honest I was also not aware of Guerin's history before reading about it in one of Mohnish Pabrai's interviews).

As Buffett said in the quote above some people can become rich but in an alternate history (Taleb's definition) of events can become a pauper. So, keep away from leverage.

Monday 22 September 2014

Don't Build Noah's Ark

We have been witnessing a very strong market sentiment that started with the run up to the general elections and then continued with the once-in-thirty-years win of a single majority by any political party in India. With a pro-reform mindset, the BJP government led by Narendra Modi has promised "acche din" to the people.

I have been bullish on the Indian market since last year and believe that this is just the beginning of a bull market in India. And it has a long way to go. I hear a lot of market players talking about steep corrections in the near future. As long as there is such healthy scepticism in the market, there is unlikely to be any major reversal. Also, intermediate corrections are healthy in a bull market and usually gives the opportunity to investors to get into good stocks of their choice.

A bull-market brings with its in-built  challenges for investors. Sell side analysts and brokerages start aggressively pushing their stock recommendations. Investors get such "multibagger ideas" daily in the inbox, whatsapp, facebook and other such groups & forums. Suddenly, "investment experts" come out of the woodwork and start making recommendations and touting up their "fantastic past records". And people get lured by the easy gains in the market and start "collecting" stocks. Their portfolio starts looking like what I call the Noah's Ark - having two of everything!! Stop. Think. And then only buy those companies which as an investor you are comfortable with; those stocks which are within your circle of competence.

And always remember sometimes the existing stocks in your portfolio and are as good (if not better) than the latest hot stock you are pursuing. So, focus on businesses, moderate return expectations (most errors occur when people try to chase incrementally higher returns) and cut out the noise.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

No News Worth Noting (For The Markets)

The last few months have been fairly uneventful in the equity markets. During the last 3 months (Feb 14th - May 14th), Sensex has been more or less flat. It was about 19,500 in Feb middle and is close to 19,700 today. In between, it went down to 18200 and up to about 20100. But, you would not believe that if you were clued into the pink papers or the "pink" channels - CNBC, NDTV Profit, ET Now etc. They would make you believe that the world changes with every breaking news!!

Corporate results are being announced and they are mixed. The economy is in a bad shape so it is unjustified to expect that companies would do exceedingly well in this kind of an environment. US economy is limping back very slowly, unlike it's stock market, which is galloping away. Europe continues to be in unknown economic territory.

Back home two interesting events took place:
1) Karnataka election results came out and Congress thumped the incumbent BJP
2) The much touted Food Security Bill was not passed in Parliament as it was not functioning amidst the plethora of scam revelations.

And here goes my comments on these two interesting events:
I read in a newspaper article that after 1980, no party which wins the Karnataka state elections has ever won the elections in the center. So, I am not sure if winning Karnataka was such a good thing for the Congress ;-)

On a more serious note, does this give a sense that the polity will not tolerate corruption as the media wants us to believe? Or is there local factors which loom large in the minds of people which decide the electoral successes of political parties. The answer to that would probably come in 2014.

As for the Food Security Bill (FSB), in my opinion, it is one of independent India's most shameful proposals of legislation. The noble objective of feeding the hungry is being used as an election gimmick without any consideration to how it will be implemented. If the government was so keen on this, it could try to prop up the derelict PDS system. It would not try to do that, as it knows it is not possible to effectively identify and reach the real poor, so it is trying to gather popular votes by announcing a scheme which it very well knows cannot be implemented.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Want to be a better investor? Chuck your online portfolio

There are many things which you can do to evolve as better investors. Multidisciplinary learning, reading annual reports, deep knowledge in some business areas, asset allocation, position sizing, concentration vs diversification, portfolio management etc. In this post, I want to share one area which subtly pushes you to becoming a better investor.

These days nearly everyone maintains an online portfolio. These portfolios provide real-time (or delayed by a few minutes) portfolio value. It maintains your buy price, number of stocks, current market price and total current market price of holding.

Now let me come to why you should NOT maintain an online portfolio. It is important to know and understand what action we are taking based on the information I possess. Having an online portfolio does not help in taking any action. For example, if the market value of your portfolio rises 0.5% on a day, do you start thinking that "Wow, I am 0.5% richer, let me sell all my holdings!!". You don't. You mostly stare blankly at the computer/mobile/tablet screen and feel happy (if the portfolio is up), sad (if it is down), very happy (if it is up more than the index) or very sad (if it is down more than the index). So, if you don't really do anything productive with your online portfolio, isn't it time to question why you need it in the first place?

Here are some distinct benefits of NOT having an online portfolio:
  • You don't waste time on tracking prices on a daily (or hourly) basis
  • You actually do something productive with your time (like reading annual reports, sector reports or getting your day-job completed)
  • Your time horizon for investing increases as you are not on a minute-by-minute tracking mode
  • You maintain an offline (paper or simple spreadsheet) and update the prices once-a-quarter (or more infrequently if you like). Simple fact of having to look up individual prices will deter you from updating frequently!!
  • You will limit the number of stocks in your portfolio from 100s to a much lower number if you have to track prices manually!!
This is one easy way to inculcate a good investing practice. (Apart from stopping to listen to the chatteratti on CNBC). Try it and see if it works for you.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Concentration or diversification - For a midcap or smallcap portfolio

I was talking to a friend. Like me he invests typically in midcap and smallcap stocks. The interesting fact he mentioned was that invests only in 4-5 stocks at a time. That is, he has about 20-25% in each stock of his portfolio. His argument was that Buffet and Munger continue to advocate high concentration in stocks and also followed their own advice and had a large concentrated portfolio. I think he is taking on unnecessary wipeout risk.

My friend is like me, a purely small retail investor and makes investment decisions based on publicly available information with no recourse to management. I agree that Buffet and Munger advice a concentrated portfolio, but only if you understand the businesses very well. For a purely external investor it is very difficult to understand a small or mid sized business so well that they can bet a very large portion of their networth on it. Also, it is important to understand that for mid and small cap investing it is likely that some of your picks will go wrong. And when it happens stock prices can go down 80-90%. It is important to diversify adequately to ensure that you don't get wiped out when, inevitably, some of your picks go bad. I think it is important to have around 10-15 stocks in your portfolio and preferably not all from the same industry sector!

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Counter-thought - A process

Most of us do not think of how or why our investments can fail. While buying, we either look at the fundamentals or consider technical charts or do a mix of both and then buy. However, we are sometimes fooled as something that we may not have considered in our analysis takes place and our investment goes down in value. For this it is critical to have, what I term, as Counter-thought.

In counter-thought, you do a sort of crystal ball gazing and think that you are one year from now and your investment has turned you a loss. Now looking back you have to point out the reasons why it did not work out as you had planned or hoped it would. Looked at it from this perspective, it is much easier to figure out the major risks that can result in a loss. For example, if you are buying a company based on its ability to rent out its real estate (e.g. Nesco), then one loss-case can be a natural disaster like earthquake/flood/fire which destroys the primary asset. Another one can be a overall slump in industrial and trade fairs and reduction of demand. If you sit down with a pen & paper (notepad on a computer would do just fine as well), then you can chalk out multiple similar scenarios.

Once you have these items in your investment risk list, you can categorize them based on probability of occurrence and its possible impact. Again, taking the same example, a natural calamity at the primary convention center for Nesco is a very remote probability event but with extremely high impact (i.e. its effect is potentially catastrophic for the company).

So, before you put in your money in a stock next time, do spend a bit of time on counter-thought.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Buy insurance for your portfolio

This is that time of the year when most salaried employees start thinking about tax saving and inevitably one of the first things that people think of is insurance. It is probably our conditioning that we buy LIC (and these days from private insurers) policies without blinking much of an eyelid. 
What exactly is a life insurance policy? It is nothing but a put option on your earning power. Basically, it protects your family from the loss of your earnings if and when you are no longer there. Simple.

However, a lot of stock investors do not think of buying similar "insurance" policies for their portfolios. I call these stock insurance policies "catastrophe insurance". No, they are not sold by LIC or other such insurance companies. They are traded on stock exchange in the form of PUT and CALL options. 

One way of buying such an insurance is to buy out-of-the-money PUT options of the index for a long duration. For example, if you buy a 4000 or 3900 PUT option for the month of February or March now, you are sort of covering a part of your losses in case the markets tanks. This typically makes sense for people who have very large equity portfolios. You pay a low/moderate premium to get some peace of mind. The way the markets are poised right now, I think it would be a prudent thing to do.

Monday 26 September 2011

Crisis of Confidence

It is so interesting to see investors oscillating between optimism and pessimism within a span of a few months. A few months ago, everything was fine. US was getting out of recession, although slowly. And small insignificant countries like Greece had some issues with their debt. Now, the reverse seems to be true. US is already in a recession (double dip, with ketchup, if I may add!!), as commented by George Soros and Euro is near disintegration!!

I, as a Munger devotee, think that a "Lollapalooza Effect" is happening here. There are too many negative external stimuli happening together. This is probably making it difficult for people make sense of the market. The major negative external stimuli at this point in time are:
  • US recession (single dip, double dip, who knows!!)
  • S&P downgrade of US debt
  • Eurozone crisis and possible default by Greece
  • Slowdown in emerging markets (India, China, Brazil the whole lot)
  • Policy paralysis in India
  • Rise in interest rates in the India
  • Continued inflation
People are not able to understand the implications of all these individual events are are running scared of possible worst case scenarios for all of them.

I think that the whole issue can be boiled down to a small phrase - "Crisis of Confidence". There is a lack of confidence in the political leaders throughout the world. Americans don't have confidence in their leaders to get to a solution without printing dollars or crippling the economy. Europeans don't have confidence that their leaders can sit together and thrash out an agreement to really do something. Indians have never really had confidence in their leaders post-independence, so nothing really has changed. But, this current UPA-II is fighting hard to be the worst government of all time - a government which does not govern!!

I think what will happen now is that the political class will start to get their act together. They have their back to their respective walls right now. In India, I am hopeful that some policy reforms may be announced along with some market friendly announcements to boost investor confidence. 

Till then, buckle up. The ride is going to get rougher.

Friday 16 September 2011

Guru Speak: Seth Klarman interviewed by Jason Zweig

I have been a great admirer of Seth Klarman since the time I read his book "Margin of Safety". recently, I came across a transcript of an interview that Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal conducted in May 2010. Here are some of the important snippets from the interview.

JZ: What went wrong in 2008, and how did so many Value Investors get hammered?
SK: Value investing doesn’t work all the time, you need to expect periods of underperformance.  In the Pre 08 period, the world was valued on an invisible LBO Model.  Stocks were not allowed to get cheap because of an underlying expected LBO bid.  But when the model got fragmented, the template no longer made sense.  So in order to do well, equity minded investors needed to be more agile in 07/08 and have an opinion on subprime mortgages and the ripple effect.  Bank stocks looked cheap unless you thought their capital would be destroyed.  Also the modern day pressure to be fully invested and on short term performance didn’t help.

JZ: In 1932, Benjamin Graham wrote in Forbes, “Those with the enterprise lack the money and those with the money lack the enterprise to buy stocks when they are cheap.” How did you have the courage, was it easy to step up and buy in the fall of 2008?
SK: “Yes, it was easy.” The critical thing to understand is that securities are not pieces of paper that fluctuate in price tick by tick, instead they are in fact claims on earnings or assets of businesses. If you have conviction in your analysis, you will hold and buy more.  So what do we do to give us conviction? 
1.) Find compelling bargains, not slight bargains. 
2.) Test everything with sensitivity analysis.  
3.) Prepare to be wrong.  
It’s not courage, it’s arrogance, when you buy something, you’re saying you’re smarter than everyone else.  We realize we have lots of smart competition and temper our arrogance with
humility to realize that many things could go wrong.  Our own confidence matters, and we’re highly disciplined buyers and sellers to avoid round trips and take advantage of short term sell offs. Courage is a function of process.

JZ: In Margin of Safety, you were critical of Indexing, is that still the case?
SK: There is no perfect answer.  Yes, I still believe indexing is a horrible idea.  Stocks trade up when they’re added to the index so the index investor is paying up.  I’m more likely to buy the companies kicked out of the index.  For the average person, however, they don’t do enough research to own individual stocks.  The idea of owning stocks for the long run is a disservice to investors, because many of the people are not there for the long run.  Many got out in 2008 when they should have been buying, because the entry point matters most.

JZ: In Margin of Safety, you said commodities were not investments since they do not
produce cash flows, one possible exception being gold.  Do you still feel this way?

SK: I haven’t changed my mind, but that statement was in reference to rare stamps, or fine art, etc.   Valuing collectibles based on a future sale to a greater fool is speculating.  There is no way to analyze what it will be worth in the future.  Land is complicated because it will be valuable to future buyers and it can have cash flows. Gold has been thought of as a store of value but it is just a commodity and therefore it is a speculation.  I own gold because I want exposure to a devaluation of all paper monies.

JZ: Everyone says it’s never the analyst’s fault, but often they don’t stick to this when something goes wrong. How do you screen for Intellectual Honesty in your hiring process?
SK: We ask about their biggest mistake, which doesn’t have to be investing related. But if you say your biggest mistake is wearing mis-matched socks one day, then that’s likely not being intellectually honest.  We ask ethical questions, ask them how they’d respond in morally ambiguous situations, we want to see that they realize conflicts can exist.  We want people who fit in.  One key thing is idea fluency, if I present a thesis I want people to immediately come up with 10 places to look to exploit it, I don’t want them sitting at their desk thinking, “hmm, where should I look?"

JZ: What about the individual investors whose sell orders went off at $0.01? {This question was in relation to computer-based short selling.}
SK: Never use market orders. You’re not a seller at the market, the market changes
too fast.

JZ: Can you define a Value Stock and what is your average holding period?
SK: As for a Holding Period, we buy expecting to hold a bond to maturity and a stock forever.  Now we may turn over quicker if there’s rapid appreciation and the return from the current price doesn’t seem to compensate for the risks anymore.  There’s no such thing as a Value Company.  Price is all that matters. At some price, an asset is a buy, at another it’s a hold, and at another it’s a sell.

JZ: Any Book Recommendations (besides Margin of Safety and Security Analysis, of

SK: Read as much as you can about the markets, economy, and financial history. Never stop reading.  Specific book recommendations include "The Intelligent Investor", Greenblatt’s "You Can Be A Stock Market Genius", Whitman’s "Aggressive Conservative Investor", Anything from Jim Grant (he’s a great thinker, even if his predictions may not turn out right), Roger Lowenstein has not written a bad book, anything from him. Also Michael Lewis, who also hasn’t written a bad book either, but specifically "MoneyBall" which will go down as a definitive book on investing.  Also "Too Big to Fail" is good.
JZ: I’ll add "How to Lie with Statistics".

Thursday 15 September 2011

GuruSpeak: George Soros on Euro

The legendary investor George Soroshas some radical views on the Euro and Euro zone.

Angela Merkel then declared that the guarantee should be exercised by each European state individually, not by the European Union or the eurozone acting as a whole. This sowed the seeds of the euro crisis because it revealed and activated a hidden weakness in the construction of the euro: the lack of a common treasury. The crisis itself erupted more than a year later, in 2010.

... at present in the eurozone one of these authorities, the common treasury, has yet to be brought into existence. This requires a political process involving a number of sovereign states. That is what has made the problem so severe.

The outlines of the missing ingredient, namely a common treasury, are beginning to emerge. They are to be found in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)—agreed on by twenty-seven member states of the EU in May 2010—and its successor, after 2013, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). But the EFSF is not adequately capitalized and its functions are not adequately defined. It is supposed to provide a safety net for the eurozone as a whole, but in practice it has been tailored to finance the rescue packages for three small countries: Greece, Portugal, and Ireland; it is not large enough to support bigger countries like Spain or Italy. Nor was it originally meant to deal with the problems of the banking system, although its scope has subsequently been extended to include banks as well as sovereign states. Its biggest shortcoming is that it is purely a fund-raising mechanism; the authority to spend the money is left with the governments of the member countries. This renders the EFSF useless in responding to a crisis; it has to await instructions from the member countries.
The seeds of the next crisis have already been sown by the way the authorities responded to the last crisis. They accepted the principle that countries receiving assistance should not have to pay punitive interest rates and they set up the EFSF as a fund-raising mechanism for this purpose. Had this principle been accepted in the first place, the Greek crisis would not have grown so severe.

These two deficiencies—no concessional rates for Italy or Spain and no preparation for a possible default and defection from the eurozone by Greece—have cast a heavy shadow of doubt both on the government bonds of other deficit countries and on the banking system of the eurozone, which is loaded with those bonds.

In any case the current intervention has to be limited in scope because the capacity of the EFSF to extend help is virtually exhausted by the rescue operations already in progress in Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.

In these circumstances an orderly default and temporary withdrawal from the eurozone may be preferable to a drawn-out agony. But no preparations have been made. A disorderly default could precipitate a meltdown similar to the one that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, but this time one of the authorities that would be needed to contain it is missing.

It appears that the authorities have reached the end of the road with their policy of “kicking the can down the road.” Even if a catastrophe can be avoided, one thing is certain: the pressure to reduce deficits will push the eurozone into prolonged recession. This will have incalculable political consequences. The euro crisis could endanger the political cohesion of the European Union.

To resolve a crisis in which the impossible becomes possible it is necessary to think about the unthinkable. To start with, it is imperative to prepare for the possibility of default and defection from the eurozone in the case of Greece, Portugal, and perhaps Ireland. To prevent a financial meltdown, four sets of measures would have to be taken. First, bank deposits have to be protected. If a euro deposited in a Greek bank would be lost to the depositor, a euro deposited in an Italian bank would then be worth less than one in a German or Dutch bank and there would be a run on the banks of other deficit countries. Second, some banks in the defaulting countries have to be kept functioning in order to keep the economy from breaking down. Third, the European banking system would have to be recapitalized and put under European, as distinct from national, supervision. Fourth, the government bonds of the other deficit countries would have to be protected from contagion. The last two requirements would apply even if no country defaults.

You can read the full article here:

Thursday 7 July 2011

[Guest Post] Capital Allocation in a Portfolio

This post is from Prabhakar Kudva (http://investment-in-sight.blogspot.com). 

Capital allocation is probably one of the most important aspects of investing. Every time I need to decide how much capital to allocate to a particular company i use the following steps:

Step 0: Identify the companies whose business dynamics you understand reasonably well - either because its inherently a simple business and/or because you've spent time and energy to understand what factors affect a particular business' performance. This is basically your universe of companies.

Step 1: Predict the approximate EPS (a range,may be) one year down the line.If you are unable to predict the EPS with a reasonable degree of accuracy then it means two things:
a) This is a complex business where profits depend on a number of totally unpredictable factors.Its better to remove such companies from your universe/sample space.
b) You don't understand the business well enough.Read more about the business.Do some scuttlebutt.This is a learner's game.If you spend time understanding simple businesses, their sources of profit and external factors that affect business, eventually you'll be able to estimate the one year forward EPS with a reasonable degree of success.

Step 2: See if there is a possibility of a PE re-rating. Or will the PE remain the same. Or may be the PE will be de-rated? Estimate what the PE might be based on your projections in Step 1.Remember to be conservative.In most cases assume PE will remain the same or there'll be a slight re-rating(if expected profit growth in step 1 is out of the ordinary).If you think there's going to be a de-rating you know what to do.

Step 3: Now you have an approximate PE and an approximate EPS range. Arrive at your target price.

Step 4: Now based on the CMP and target price - check what the expected return is.

Step 5: Repeat steps 1 to 5 for all companies in your universe (step 0). Compare the expected returns arrived in step 4. For example if you have three companies A,B,C and the return expectations are 40%,25% and 10% respectively you should invest:
a. 40/(40+25+10) = 54% in company A
b. 25/(40+25+10) = 33% in company B
c. 10/(40+25+10) = 13% in company C

a. Ofcourse this is not exact science.Every year that you repeat this exercise,learn from your mistakes, learn new things about your business you'll get better at predicting the EPS of the businesses you understand and hence better at capital allocation.
b. I use just one year because I feel predicting more than one year ahead for ANY business is futile. The business environment and the capital market that we operate in is way too dynamic to talk about the 'really long term'.So we take one year at a time.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Portfolio Construction: How many stocks should I have in my portfolio?

The first question that I had was on the number of stocks I should be holding in my portfolio. Typically, investors are mostly over-diversified. Some, on the other hand, in trying to be contrarions, hold very few stocks. Both have their merits and demerits. Having an over-diversified portfolio dilutes the overall returns whereas a highly concentrated portfolio increases downside risk.

So, why do we need to diversify in the first place? We all know that all great wealth was created by concentrated holdings. Bill Gates has his whole networth in Microsoft. Ditto Dhirubhai Ambani. So, why not do the same thing? Well, the issue here is that we are not insiders or promoters of the companies we own stocks in. We don't have a handle on how the company is being run and don't "really" know the inner details that is required to have a great level of conviction.

There is also another factor. Although, concentration (in the right company) can bring huge rewards, it can also destroy great wealth. Think of the Modis and the Bangurs of India. They would probably have done better if they diversified their wealth in other ventures (maybe invested in the Reliance IPO!!!) than put all their money in their own companies.

So, diversification is important from a wealth-preservation perspective. And also because our level of conviction of a company's performance is never 100%. There are risks involved in investing. There are various types of risk involved, main ones being:-
  • Individual business risk - the conpanu you invest in goes bankrupt (Enron, Satyam etc)
  • Sector/industry risk - the industry declines (VCR, Walkman, Pager etc)
  • Market risk - the stock market crashes (1929 US, 2008 Worldwide)
  • Personal risk - you need money urgently for some unforeseen expenses
Equity diversification, actually mitigates the first two risks. It cannot really do anything about the last two. For those, you need to have a proper asset allocation in place. That is a topic for another post.

So, how much is enough. Charlie Munger, one of my gurus, had at one time only four stocks in his portfolio and was very comfortable with them. Others have somewhere between 10-25. Peter Lynch, also one my gurus, on the other hand had more than 1200 stocks in his Magellan fund!! But all of them, and other great investors, have said that having a portfolio of between 10-20 stocks is optimum for an individual investor. I prefer to have about 10 stocks in my core portfolio. And some more where I am either building up my positions or dwindling down. So, I personally try to stick to the 10-15 stock range. That is more so, because, I have seen beyond that I am not able to track the news flow in the companies I am invested in.

Another reason I try to stick to the range is that if I already have say 15 stocks and I get a great new idea, I would be forced to think about which one to replace. This, sort of, helps in moving out holdings where my conviction is lower than the new idea that I have.

Questions on constructing a portfolio

When I first seriously thought about building an investment portfolio, I had a lot of questions that came to my mind. What I wanted was to build a portfolio that would help me build a sizable capital over a period of time. The plan was that I would add to the portfolio periodically and build up positions. The time-frame that I had (and still have) was around 15 years.

The questions at the top of my mind were:
  1. How many stocks should the portfolio hold?
  2. What is the maximum percentage that a single stock should be within the portfolio? 
  3. When should I sell? Should I have target prices?
  4. How much cash should be there in the portfolio?
  5. Should I have stop losses?
I though that answering these questions were very important to be prepared for building a log term portfolio. I will try to take you through my thoughts on each of these questions on subsequent posts.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Fundamentalists Vs Chartists: Stick to your knitting

There are fierce debates on the efficacy of both technical and fundamental analysis. "Fundamentalists" snigger at "chartists" with comments such as "I have never seen a rich technical analyst in my life" or "How can one look at squiggles on charts to understand the valuation of a company". Chartists on the other hand say that fundamentalists have no idea of market movements and often change their BUY/SELL call too late (after the maximum damage is done in case of a fall in prices).

Let us take a quick look at what these two lines of analysis are. Fundamental analysis is looking at the company's published financial results, understanding its business model, competitive environment, economic headwind and tailwinds to ascertain a fair value for its publicly traded shares. This type is further sub-divided into two major categories - bottom-up and top-down analysts. Bottom-up analysts are those who look at the company's details and then decide on whether to invest or not. Top-down analysts, on the other hand, are those who start by analyzing  the economy, sectors supposed to perform well and from their drill down on good companies to invest in.

Extraordinary proponents of fundamental analysis are Warren Buffet, Peter Lynch, Walter Schloss, Phil Fisher, David Dremen and Seth Klarman among others.

Technical Analysis is when analysts look at the charts of price and volume of a stock of a security and try to establish a pattern. Their belief is that all news and views are already discounted in the stock price. So, just by studying price patterns (along with their volumes) effective predictions can be made of future prices. It is comparatively more difficult to find really famous and successful technical analysts. It is important to realize that all successful speculators are/were not technical analysts (this is a common misconception that many have - that all traders/speculators follow technical analysis, which is definitely not the case).

I am probably more of a "fundamentalist" than a chartist, but that is probably because of lack of expertise in the latter field. The issue is that both technical and fundamental analysis try to predict the future through varying means. And, at times, both will be wrong. It is very important to realize this and to learn one or the other (or both) forms of analysis. Use what works best for you. Whatever analysis you use, make sure its your own. That way you will have conviction and is the only way to make sustainable wealth in the markets.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Goodbye to 2010. Getting Ready for 2011

Its that time of the year when you sit back and take stock. Of the year gone by and plan ahead for the one that is to come. 2010 was in a way a great year. The Indian stock market nearly scaled back to previous all-time highs before giving up some of its gains to catch its breath.

International financial news was dominated by the PIGS (no not the animal variety, but the countries of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). The domestic economies were on the verge of imploding for these countries. They are still not out of the woods, the problems are now known (atleast I hope so!!) and steps are being taken to bring their economies back on track.

Throughout the year we saw tension between US and China on the currency front. Going by past record, that is one problem that is not going to be sorted out any time soon.

The commodity cycle seems to have reversed in the last 12 months. A lot of commodities including rubber, copper, zinc, steel, gold and silver scaled new highs or are tantalizingly close to their old highs. This may continue and oil may also join the party. The consumption boom in India and China is not going away anytime soon, so commodity prices in my opinion will remain in an upswing in the future.

2010 was an interesting year overall. I am sure 2011 will bring in its own share of ups and downs. It promises to be an interesting year for me as I formally start my portfolio management initiative.

Wishing all a great year ahead :-)

Happy New Year.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Profit from Mr. Market

Recently, Mr. Market seems to be in a bad mood. He is coming and offering ridiculous prices for some good mid cap and small cap companies. The reason he is angry is that some brokers allegedly were trying to rig prices for some companies without or without the management's approval.

The initial reaction for most people when they see Mr. Market behaving like this is to take the price offered and run for cover with their hard-earned money. It is understandable as stock prices for some of the "named" companies have fallen by 40-50% in the last few days. Now, as retail investors we need to understand what is happening around us and why we have invested in the first place. If our time horizon is for the long term (I don't know why it should be otherwise for investing in equities), then these mood swings of Mr.Market is a fantastic opportunity to pick up good, solid businesses in the mid cap and small cap space. Question is can they go lower? Sure they can. But neither you nor I have the faintest idea what will happen tomorrow. So, instead of wasting precious time and effort in trying to predict tomorrow, it is better to be focused on the stock price. If you think you are seeing value in a business, then go ahead and start buying. And follow my golden rule. NEVER BUY OR SELL IN ONE GO. Always stagger your buying or selling.

Happy Investing.