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Thursday 11 June 2020

The Journey to be a Full-Time Investor

Since I turned into a full-time investor, I keep getting a lot of questions on how, when and what to do to quit a salaried job. I don’t have a prescription. But I can share what I thought and did. I hope it helps.

#1 – Not running away from your job
The most important determinant for leaving my full time job was to have a passion that I wanted to follow. If there is nothing to run towards, I figured that the day to day life would become very boring after the initial few days or weeks, even if I had enough money to sit and do nothing. A meaningful occupation or passion is the most important factor for deciding to call it quits.

Luckily for me, investing is my passion. It is something I would do even if I did not make any money from it.

#2 – Make sure your family is onboard with your decision
Leaving a professional career was not easy. It took me 2 years to convince my family that it is not an end of the world if I did not get up in the morning and go to a corporate job. Since, I come from a very typical middle class Bengali family, with practically all extended family members working as professionals or in corporate jobs, there supposedly was a “social” problem if I had no job! My family members were worried about simple things like what would they say if relatives asked what I did for a living.

The most critical aspect, in my experience, was the uncertainty of not having the month-end sms announcing your salary credit! That is something which is not very easy to get over. That leads me to my next point.

#3 – Make sure you get your basic expenses covered from fixed income
This was something that my friend Aveek Mitra told me a few years back. He said if I was planning to be a full time investor it is important to make sure that my investing capital is never ever required for my monthly expenses and that I should be able to run the household expenses from fixed deposits.

I strictly adhered to this. And this made the decision to quit all the more easy. Because it does not really matter at the end of the month if your salary is coming from a company you work for or from a bank FD you have.

This also helped in eliminating the uncertainty of leaving a job that I was accustomed to for nearly two decades.

I understand that this criteria makes it very difficult to consider quitting because it necessitates a fairly large corpus to be put aside for fixed deposits. Unfortunately, quitting a job, in Indian context is more or less a permanent decision. It is very difficult to be able to find a job after a couple of years in case it’s required by financial exigencies. Best to be conservative than to be repent it.

Of course, if you have a spouse who can contribute to covering part of the monthly expenses, then you are in a considerably better situation.

#4 – Think about what you will do with your time
Being a fulltime investor sounds very cool and sexy. But it’s not. It is a lonely pursuit. Unless you love sitting and reading for hours every day, it is very easy to get bored very easily. It is best if you do not work from home. I have found working from home as a full time investor to be very difficult. My family thinks I don’t do anything and keep interrupting!! This wasn’t the case when I was working in my job. Have a network on friends who are also full time investors who you can speak to during the day because most of your other friends or family will be occupied in their own jobs and businesses. It is also important to have a hobby for time-diversification. As long as you are working, investing was possibly your hobby. But once your job is done with, you need something else to fall back on to divert your mind and relax.

#5 – Build a daily routine and be disciplined
Once you are a full time investor, you need to have a routine which you follow. Else you run the risk of slowly falling into chaotic stupor. I, for example, break up my work day into 2-3 big blocks of 1-2 hours each. I spend reading (books, magazines, articles, blogs), listening to concalls or videos or podcasts, stock specific work, moderation work and going through threads in ValuePickr, researching quant ideas etc. I will take each of these and put them on my calendar for each day.

#6 – Enjoy the journey
This is perhaps the most important and most overlooked. Unless you enjoy the process of investing and love the learning process, just running after the returns will be very boring and unrewarding. Only if you love what you are doing and feel energized every day, will it really be all worthwhile.


Abhishek Basumallick is the Head of the equity advisory www.intelsense.in for long term wealth creation and a pure quant focused newsletter at www.quantamental.in. Nothing in the article should be construed as investment advice. Please do your own due diligence before investing.

Thursday 4 June 2020

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week.

I especially try to not post Corona related articles as that is all one gets to read in all traditional media.


If you like the collection this consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate.

Systems Thinking - a deep dive (Must Read!!)
Systems thinking is holistic; it attempts to derive understanding of parts from the behavior and properties of wholes, rather than derive the behavior and properties of wholes from those of their parts. Disciplines are taken by science to represent different parts of the reality we experience. In effect, science assumes that reality is structured and organized in the same way universities are.

This is a double error. First, disciplines do not constitute different parts of reality; they are different aspects of reality, different points of view. Any part of reality can be viewed from any of these aspects. The whole can be understood only by viewing it from all the perspectives simultaneously.

Second, the separation of our different points of view encourages looking for solutions to problems with the same point of view from which the problem was formulated.



100,000 year old extinct bird come back

The Aldabra white-throated rail bird was declared extinct, a victim of rising sea levels almost 100,000 years ago.

However, the flightless brown bird has recently been spotted – leaving scientists scratching their heads as to how – and why – the species has come back to life.

According to research in the Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, the re-incarnated Aldabra bird is a product of ‘iterative evolution’. That’s when old genes thought to have died out re-emerge at a different point in time.

While iterative evolution has previously occurred in species such as turtles, it has never been seen in the realm of birds.

“We know of no other example in the rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently,” said paleobiologist David Martill, in a statement.

“Only on the Aldabra, which has the oldest palaentological record of any oceanic island within the Indian Ocean region, is fossil evidence available that demonstrates the effects of changing sea levels on extinction and recolonization events.”



The rise and rise of TikTok

TikTok has become the best way to create and consume short videos on mobile. It rode the wave of AirPods and audio memes to over 1 billion DAU’s (Daily Active Users), and is likely worth ~$200 billion. This would make it not only the world’s most valuable "startup” but one of the world’s most valuable companies, period.



Journey to take back control of your info on the internet

Deciding to delete your information online is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out where to start.

For many, the obvious answer would be focusing on consumer-facing services such as Facebook and Google, where we willingly -- if not always consciously -- hand over data about ourselves on a daily basis.



Take a few deep breaths

He started small by taking three deep breaths each time he sat down at his desk.  He found it helped him relax. After three breaths became a habit, he expanded to a few minutes a day. He found he was more patient, calmer, more in the moment. Now he does 30 minutes a day. It restores his perspective while enabling him to take a fresh look at a question or problem and come up with new solutions. Deep breathing exercises have been part of yoga practices for thousands of years, but recent research done at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital document the positive impact deep breathing has on your body’s ability to deal with stress.


Saturday 23 May 2020

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week.

I especially try to not post Corona related articles as that is all one gets to read in all traditional media.


Expand your mind

No, my worry is that, especially now that you’re out of college, you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff.

The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.



Branded face masks coming!

Disney is selling cloth face masks featuring Anna and Elsa, Woody and Buzz Lightyear and Baby Yoda, among other characters. Sports leagues like the NBA and NFL are also selling licensed face masks with team logos.

One startup, MaskClub.com, even offers a monthly subscription service that launched in early April for reusable cloth face masks featuring a few thousand licensed designs such as Betty Boop, NASA and images from iconic TV hits like Beverly Hills 90210.



Is medicine good for us?

Problems arise because of a few structural features of medicine. A prominent one is the profit incentive. The pharmaceutical industry is extremely profitable, and the fantastic financial gains to be made from selling drugs create incentives to engage in some of the practices above. Another prominent feature of medicine is the hope and the expectation of patients that medicine can help them, coupled with the training of physicians to actively intervene, by screening, prescribing, referring or cutting. Another feature is the wildly complex causal basis of many diseases, which hampers the effectiveness of interventions on those diseases – taking antibiotics for a simple bacterial infection is one thing, but taking antidepressants for depression is entirely different.



Do less to achieve more

We’ve been taught that if we want more — money, achievement, vitality, joy, peace of mind — we need to do more, to add more to our ever-growing to-do list. But what if we’ve been taught wrong? What if the answer to getting more of what we want isn’t addition at all, but subtraction?

As it turns out, evidence supports that if we want to ramp up our productivity and happiness, we should actually be doing less.

We need to identify what not to do. But this determination can’t be random.



Tech for tomorrow

A reasonably detailed, yet high-level view of the changes happening in the tech world.



If you like the collection this consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Friday 15 May 2020

Weekend Reading

Here come the Bots

Miquela, the digital avatar and music artist created by an L.A.-based entertainment company has signed as CAA’s first virtual client.

Miquela, aka “Lil Miquela,” launched on Instagram in April 2016 without explanation — and today she has 2.2 million followers, plus almost 550,000 on TikTok. The freckle-faced, CGI-generated teen robot is the invention of startup Brud, which positions her as a “Gen Z tastemaker” and has inked brand partnerships for Miquela with companies including Samsung, Prada, Calvin Klein and YouTube.

CAA said it will work with Miquela (pronounced “mih-KAY-lah”) in all areas, including TV, film, and brand strategy and commercial endorsements, raising the prospect of a movie or show featuring the character.



Buffett says, "I don't know"

Between the lines of “You can bet on America” were warnings not to be overconfident in predicting what the future might hold.

His positivity, even during difficult economic moments, always radiated with a clear sense of certainty. After all, he is known as the Oracle of Omaha.

That’s why it was unsettling on Saturday to hear him repeatedly say “I don’t know.” He was careful to say the markets would improve in the long term — though his time frame for certainty was decades, not months or not even necessarily years from now.

He said the $137 billion he had on hand “isn’t all that huge when you think about worst-case possibilities.” Let that seep in. He added: “We don’t prepare ourselves for a single problem, we prepare ourselves for problems that sometimes create their own momentum.” That’s coming from the same man who once famously said, “Every decade or so, dark clouds will fill the economic skies, and they will briefly rain gold. When downpours of that sort occur, it’s imperative that we rush outdoors carrying washtubs, not teaspoons.”



Reinventing the supply chain to optimise security

Industrial machine producers, of the kind that make a huge contribution to the German economy, have begun shifting priorities from making the supply chain as cheap as possible to making it as secure as possible.

When it comes to the use of robotics in industrial production, Germany is among the world leaders, behind such countries as Singapore and South Korea. Even mid-sized companies like Arburg are increasingly embracing them. They can be used around the clock, they don't get sick and they don't have to go on vacation. They also don't have to stay 1.5 meters away from each other in times of pandemic. In short, they make it possible for production to continue in Germany.



China is starting to face a backlash from Europe

If 2019 was the year when Europeans began having serious doubts about Beijing’s geopolitical intentions, 2020 may go down in history as the moment they turned against China in defiance. The EU’s diplomatic service assembled a report on the disinformation campaigns being waged by China and that other usual suspect, Russia. China promptly made a bad situation worse, leaning on the publication’s authors to tone it down. At this, members of the European Parliament took even more umbrage and demanded assurances that the EU will not self-censor under Chinese pressure.

Even before the pandemic, Europeans were becoming disappointed by the one-sided nature of these “partnerships,” both economically and politically. China’s largest trading partner in Europe, Germany, has also put up its guard after several Chinese companies took stakes in German technology firms ranging from a robot maker to a power company. Last year, Berlin tightened the rules on such sensitive acquisitions. The EU followed suit, with a common investment-screening approach taking effect this year. Meant to preserve Europe’s technological and industrial autonomy, it implicitly aims to keep China at bay.



A short history of who owns the roads - cars or pedestrians?

"In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers' job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them," says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. "But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it's your fault if you get hit."

One of the keys to this shift was the creation of the crime of jaywalking. Here's a history of how that happened.

This was also part of the final strategy: shame. In getting pedestrians to follow traffic laws, "the ridicule of their fellow citizens is far more effective than any other means which might be adopted," said E.B. Lefferts, the head of the Automobile Club of Southern California in the 1920s. Norton likens the resulting campaign to the anti-drug messaging of the '80s and '90s, in which drug use was portrayed as not only dangerous but stupid.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Thoughts on Markets

Tussle between Bulls and Bears

Currently, there is a boxing match going on between liquidity & low-interest rates on one hand and business and economic uncertainty on the other. In March, round one had gone to uncertainty and in April, in round two, liquidity won. So, right now, round wise we are 1-1 but uncertainty had struck heavier blows and has more points (the market is down more than up)! 

Just to understand the liquidity situation, let’s look at what is happening around the world.
  • US: $5 trillion stimulus package announced. Roughly, 25% of GDP.
  • UK: GBP 500 billion stimulus package announced. Roughly, 25% of GDP.
  • Eurozone: Euro 3.2 trillion stimulus package announced. Roughly, 24% of GDP.
  • US: Yen 108 trillion stimulus package announced. Roughly, 20% of GDP.
So, both sides are strong and it is not very clear who will win the next few rounds. 

The central banks globally are using their 2008 playbook and have jumped in very quickly to the rescue. That is why even Warren Buffett is sitting holding his 130+ billion dollars of cash. But no one is calling to offer him great deals that he got in 2008 because the guys who need the cash have now got it from the central banks in some roundabout way.

Compare this with what the Indian government and RBI has done for the industry – practically nothing. And unless some significant measures come in, India is going to have to pay for the consequences for a long time. 

The Way Forward

I am of the opinion after speaking to a large number of business owners over the last few weeks that the next 1-1.5 years will be extremely tough. The level of uncertainty is only going to go down as and when a vaccine is found and is delivered to the masses and is effective in preventing a further outbreak. Till then we are going to be wary of the circumstances. The more the duration of the lockdown goes on and the more social distancing norms gets mainstreamed, the more persistent behaviour changes are likely to be. The scars of this event will be there for a fairly long period in my opinion.

The urban salaried and business class are likely to be badly affected with reduced income from salaries or businesses. This is likely to have a negative impact on discretionary spending. So, sectors like real estate, both residential and commercial; 4 wheelers, luxury items, leisure travel are likely to be hit much longer than people are currently factoring in. 

Another area of concern for me is how the startup space will play out. The “thin-air” valuation model is likely to come under severe scrutiny and make way for more profitable and cashflow oriented business models. The concern is that in the last few years, the bulk of incremental jobs in India, especially at the lower end of the spectrum, has come from these “non-profitable” enterprises (the likes of Oyo, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Uber, Flipkart, Amazon, Paytm etc). Impact to such businesses would mean a chain reaction and lead to joblessness. 

Civil Distress

History tells us that severe economic contractions most of the time lead to social unrest, civil wars and even full-scale wars between countries. I am not suggesting we would have it this time around, but we need to be aware of such an outcome. Already social tensions have started rising and with more duress in daily life, it is likely to escalate. The government does have a significant role to play in this through various social schemes. 

Silver Lining

Some areas which give me comfort is that a very large section of Indians depends on agriculture and that has been the least impacted in the crisis. With, hopefully, a good monsoon, we should be able to see rural demand coming back.

Another silver lining is the reset in labour laws that states are now resorting to. Times of crisis such as these are great opportunities for policy reset which is particularly difficult to get done during normal times. Labour and land reforms are the two most critical issues that have been holding back Indian industry and any progress on these should be welcomed. 

In times like this, it is better to remain cautious. There are 3 positions an investor can take in the market at any time – i) be a buyer, ii) be a seller and iii) wait outside. 

Now seems a good time to be waiting outside.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week.

Signalling as a service: A super article
Most of our everyday actions can be traced back to some form of signalling or status-seeking. Our brains deliberately hide this fact from us and others (self-deception).
eBooks have never caught up with paper books despite being more convenient. On the contrary, physical book sales have remained stable (and in some markets even increased) in recent years. Interestingly though, people spend less time reading them. Their value seems to stem from lying around the house to impress visitors (see also coffee table books) – a benefit digital books simply can’t offer.

The hidden agenda in reporting and the secret to reading critically
The secret to reading critically? Ask yourself this:
Why am I reading this article NOW?
Just do that. You’re not saying that the article is a lie. You’re not saying that the article isn’t important. You’re saying that there is a metagame at play here with the author and the sources of that article. You’re saying that you are aware of that metagame and you’re going to take that into account before deciding your behaviour in reaction to that article.
Who are the Writers of the World-As-It-Is? They are Republicans. They are Democrats. They are central bankers. They are pundits. They are politicians. They are oligarchs. They are in every nation on Earth. They have ONE thing in common. They’re Writing for their own political and economic advantage. And they’re really, really good at shaping our behaviours with their words.
It’s never been more important to read critically and think critically. Not because you’re a nihilist or you believe in nothing. But because you believe in yourself. Because you’re smart enough and wise enough to make up your own damn mind.

Why is Xerox (or others) making hand sanitizer?
Xerox is going to soon start manufacturing hand sanitizer. It's also getting into the ventilator business. Earlier this month, a partnership with a technology firm was announced that will help Xerox manufacture a specific type of ventilator and monitor for hospitals and emergency response units.
If you asked their executives a year ago if they planned to get into the hand sanitizer or ventilator business, they would react as if you'd lost your mind. But now these businesses might turn out to be potential longer-term revenue streams. Who knows?
Hand sanitizer might be the foundation of a new strategy to make and sell other office-related supplies that could be positioned to dovetail nicely with Xerox's workplace offerings. The manufacture of ventilators will certainly keep the company’s workforce engaged and thinking during these slower times, and who knows what new techniques for making office equipment will be discovered while in the process of making hospital equipment? And hey … with Xerox’s existing infrastructure, maybe manufacturing ventilators is more profitable than manufacturing printers. This could be an entirely new venture. Again, who knows?

What drives private markets in India - growth or alpha?
The growth we computed as the return in the financial performance of the investee company from the time of entry to the time of exit. We determined Alpha by calculating the difference between overall IRR and Growth. This represented the PE/VC fund’s ability to invest at a valuation multiple lower than that at which it could exit from the investee company.
Since private transactions incorporate something of a discount for lack of marketability (DLOM), our initial hypothesis was that Alpha’s contribution to IRR would be substantial. Instead, we found Growth accounted for 31.3% and Alpha just 5.1% per year of IRR (Total IRR = [(1+ growth%) * (1+alpha%) -1].
So to return to the question posed in our title, our analysis of PE/VC backed Indian IPOs since 1 January 2015 gives a clear answer. Funds generated the vast majority of the 38% average IRR because they invested in high-growth companies in their early years.
Growth, not Alpha, then is the key driver of PE/VC returns in India.

The new digital currency in China
China will begin trialling payments in its new digital currency in four major cities from next week. In recent months, China’s central bank has stepped up its development of the e-RMB, which is set to be the first digital currency operated by a major economy. State-media outlet China Daily said it had been formally adopted into the cities’ monetary systems, with some government employees and public servants to receive their salaries in the digital currency from May.