Debt returns going south poses a great challenge for investors

2018 has indeed been a rather sad year for equity related investments. The indices by themselves have given poor returns, the broader markets have under-performed more significantly and select stocks have really tanked in a brutal manner. However, people investing in equity for a long time, such as me, can take this in their stride knowing that a good year in 2019 or after can redress this to some extent. 

There is however, another issue which many of us miss badly. Not only have equity returns plummeted, Debt returns have gone south too. Let us look at some data for the best performing funds in different categories to first understand the factual context :-

  • For long term Debt funds the best one year returns are between 2.6 % and 3.5 %.
  • For same category 3 year returns are between 6.5 % and 7.1 %. Returns for 5 years range between 7.9 % and 9.1 %.
  • For short term Debt funds the best one year returns are between 5.9 % and 6.2 %.
  • For same category 3 year returns are between 7.3 % and 7.6 %. Returns for 5 years range between 8.4 % and 8.7 %.

So what does this mean in real terms to an investor who has parked some of his money in Debt funds as part of his asset allocation? Firstly, while the 5 year returns still look good for the best performing Debt funds, these will now start to get impacted by the poor current performance. Secondly, if you are parking your money for 2-3 years then Long term Debt funds are a really bad idea, you might as well keep your money in FD or Post office. Thirdly, if you are looking at some regular income and had assumed you will get 8 % every year, you really need to rethink your strategy.

How dramatic has been the change over the last 5 years or so? Let me illustrate this by a personal example. As many of you know, I have substantial investments in FMP type of products as I like the relative stability they bring to expected returns. As and when they get redeemed, I reinvest the Principal and use the capital gains for my regular expenses in my current FI state. Now look at the following data :-

  • Recently there was a redemption of an FMP – ICICI Capital protection plan, where I had invested 2 lacs. This was a 5 year plan.
  • Yesterday I received 3.21 lacs for it and the XIRR was 9.93 % over the 5 year period.
  • An exactly similar scheme I had invested in December 2016 now has an XIRR of 5.26 % only.

It will be obvious from the above that the first investment suited my situation perfectly and the second is really not doing so. As I had said earlier, dramatic recovery from this 5.26 % XIRR is unlikely. At best I can hope for is 6 % or so and this will hardly be very worthwhile, given the lock-in period of 3 years plus.

So the question remains as to where should one put his or her money? More specifically for me, where should I put my 2 lacs now? Actually, it is about 3 lacs as I do not really need the capital gains amount for my regular expenditure. 

I will try to address this in the next post.

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How has my first Mutual fund investment performed?

Over the last week, I have been taking a closer look at some investments I have done in my early days as an investor and trying to see how they have worked out. While readers will know by now that I started investing in stocks since 1990, my foray into the Mutual fund world was only in the year 2001. This was after we had shifted to Chennai in 1998 and, despite having 2 young kids with high expenses, happily found that we had quite a bit of invest-able surplus every month, thanks to a strategic job change that had resulted in a pretty decent take home compensation.

When we were approached by a Financial adviser who wanted us to invest in equity through the vehicle of MF, it seemed a natural progression from my investments in stocks. To start with we wanted to look at a large cap fund and see how things worked out for a while. The choice of Franklin Blue Chip fund was a logical one among the schemes that were in vogue then. We started off with a 10000 Rs investment in February 2001 and over the next 12 months this investment went to 50000 Rs. The NAV of the scheme was around 10 Rs only during those days, courtesy the markets having tanked due to the Harshad Mehta scam and we got 4722 units for our investment. With one thing and another I did not keep up with my investments in this after January 2002 – our focus shifted to buying an apartment in Chennai, we started a stock portfolio in a meaningful way and my professional life got busy. When we did start our MF investments again in 2008, the MF universe had changed quite a bit and there were many schemes on offer. 

So the long and the short of the story is that I have had the investment in FT Blue chip fund for nearly 17 years now. This makes it an ideal investment candidate to check if equity investments in the long run have really worked. We had invested in the dividend option  and the fund has declared a dividend unfailingly every year since 2002. Some basic data on the fund performance is as follows :-

  • Dividends over the year have added up to 2.85 lacs
  • Current value of my units in this scheme is 1.83 lacs
  • As I said earlier, our investment between Feb 2001 and Jan 2002 was 50000 Rs
  • From the FT site, I can see that this translates to an XIRR of 30 % plus.

Without getting into any discussions of relative performance etc, one can see quite easily from the above that the investment has done rather well. Though future projections are fraught with risks, this should encourage all investors to invest in MF schemes for the long term. The expectations should not center around the XIRR here, but even with an 18 % XIRR your investment will grow 16 fold in 16 years, which is remarkable.

Was a dividend option a good idea? Yes, for us it was as it enabled us to spend on some things during the years when money supply was tight, despite my high income, due to our buying the Chennai apartment and trying to pay it off quickly. I also have a feeling that taking some money off the scheme has worked well in the bad years of the market. This has to be corroborated by data and I will do a separate post on that soon.

The bottom line though is this – investment in MF is a very viable option in the Indian markets for the long term. If you have time on your side, start this now. In fact, any investor with more than 10 years till he needs the money must do so.

Good schooling is the best investment you can make for your children

Readers of this blog would have probably noticed that I often hold a contrarian position to normally accepted views. This remains true in the case of children’s education. While most people will tell you to be conservative on the schooling part and invest the available money for their college, which is very likely to be expensive, I hold the view that schooling is really the most important part of a child’s education. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to get a great school which does not charge you much then, nothing like it. However, if that is not the case then go ahead and spend what is required.

Not that all schools that do not charge a bomb are necessarily bad – I know of several well run Kendriya Vidyalaya and other government schools that provide excellent education. My own children studied in a low profile neighborhood private school in Chennai when we were there and it was a pretty good school too. However, with the kind of competition that the current and next generation of children will have to face, it is becoming imperative that they are put in a school which not only gives them a good holistic education, but also prepares them to be well rounded personalities capable of taking on the global stage. A few years back, knowing good English would have been considered enough to get along well in life. Nowadays you need to be smart, articulate, well groomed, preferably knowing a foreign language and having a couple of serious hobbies. All these of course are in addition to the fact that you need to do rather well in studies. After all, the good colleges in Delhi will not even allow you to apply if you do not score above 95 % in your 12th Boards.

I do not want to come across as an elitist here but the fact of life is most of the Government schools and the lower profile private ones, while providing great basic education at times, are simply not equipped to take care of the kind of personality development that is required to make our children successful in the future. The schools that do have such resources and bandwidth will obviously need to charge more for their ability to do such stuff. I am not really talking about the slew of schools that term themselves as international schools, but the good Public schools that are available today in every major city in India. They will cost a fair bit today – I did a quick estimate with a friend and saw that for his two children, who are in classes 2nd and 9th, the average monthly expenditure is about 25000. If you add other non-school related expenses, the cost of education per child probably comes to 2 lacs per year.

This is very different from what I spent on my children when we were in Chennai – the annual education related expenses there used to be to the tune of about 70000 for both of them. On the flip side, the school only gave opportunities for extra-curricular activities to students who were clearly good to begin with. My daughter, who is good at public speaking got to represent the school almost regularly from the beginning. My son, on the other hand, was somewhat of an introvert and the school made little or no attempt to develop these skills in him. Of course, with about 50 people in each section the teachers would also have a herculean task, hence it must have been easier to promote people who were good to start with.

When we shifted to Hyderabad my wife and I were keen to put them in a good public school. This was made difficult by the fact we were shifting mid session in December. Fortunately, there were 2 vacancies in the respective classes in one of the reputed public schools there. Though reluctant at first the Principal asked them to take a test by seeing their earlier results  ( both were toppers with hardly ever getting less than 95 in any subject ). Their performance in the tests and my agreeing to fork out about 2 lacs for admission and related expenditure got them into the school. Once there, my daughter continued to do well as usual and topped the school both in her 10th and 12th Boards. She went on to Study Engineering from BITS and was a topper there, secured a placement in Accenture, joined XLRI in their BM program after a superlative performance in XAT, did rather well there as one of the top students and has now started her corporate career in a Consulting organization.

The transformation in my son was remarkable. He was always good in academics, but the attention that he received in terms of other activities developed him greatly in sports and other pursuits. So much so, that he started singing once in a while in the school assembly. His communication skills and general smartness also underwent a good deal of change. When he was in 12th he sat for the NDA exam and got through SSB to secure an all India rank of 20th in the merit list. A lot of the credit will go to him but I do not think that unless he joined his school in Hyderabad, he would have excelled in this way. Of course, he also got into IIM Indore IPM program which has only 60 open seats and BITS, so he was in a dilemma. Finally he joined BITS and is doing a dual degree in Msc Maths and BE Computer Science. Right now he is in his final year and doing an internship with a company in Hyderabad. He has plans to start in a suitable job by middle of next year.

In my own case, though I have studied Engineering and MBA from two of the best institutes in India ( Jadavpur university and IIM Calcutta ), I strongly believe my robust foundation built through St Xavier’s school has really helped me to achieve whatever I have achieved in my life. A good school does much more than producing a good student who will do well in the board exams. It actually develops people and makes them capable of handling whatever life has to throw at them. It also produces better citizens with the right kind of attitude to take the country forward in more ways than one.

For readers who have heard from others that all schools are the same – do not believe an iota of it. There are many good schools but not all schools are good. Also, while exorbitant fees do not a good school make, it is a reality that to provide good facilities, infrastructure and teaching quality, such schools will need to charge high fees. My recommendation to all parents who are looking to admit their children to school next year – go ahead and identify a good school and admit them there, even if it costs more than what you thought is reasonable. Of course, you need to be able to afford it.

It can very well turn out to be the best decision that you will ever make for your child.

Financial Independence at 41 – A reader query

India is truly a land of great contrasts. On one hand we keep hearing about difficulty in getting jobs and job losses in a variety of sectors. On the other hand we see people just coming out of colleges getting salaries that their parents did not get even when they retired. The vast majority are forced to work till very late in their lives, yet we have some who plan to retire at a relatively early age. In this post I wanted to share about a reader who wanted to check with me as to whether he could retire at 41.

This person, let us call him Ravi, is atypical in many ways. He is currently employed and is 27 years old. Even at this young age he is clear that he would like to pursue his passion seriously when he is 41. So much so, that he is unwilling to get married and start a family, which he feels will hinder him from achieving his goals. His parents are also self sufficient and have even contributed to his NPS till he got started in his job. The objective of giving this background is simple – I want readers to understand that not all of us can look at this plan, most of us have families and will need a whole lot more to run our lives as well as to retire.

With that proviso, let us look at Ravi’s current situation :-

  • His current NPS balance is 9 lacs. We will assume he keeps it at this and lets it grow at a rate of 10 % every year. He will have 34 lacs in 14 years time.
  • His monthly surplus is 60000 Rs today. We will assume it stays at this level for 6 years and then goes up to 90000 for the rest of the period.
  • We will assume that his Equity to Debt allocation is 60:40. So for first 6 years he will invest 40000 per month. This will lead to 1.7 crores in 14 years at 12 % return annually.
  • For next 8 years he will invest 58000 in equity every month. The extra 18000 for 8 years will add up to 29 lacs at 12 % rate of return.
  • For the debt allocation, these figures will be 62 lacs and 16 lacs at 8 % annual return.
  • Ravi’s total corpus when he is 41 years will therefore be 3.12 crores.

Let us now look at how much Ravi will be needing :-

  • As he lives in a smaller town his current expenses are only 25000 Rs per month or 3 lacs annually.
  • At 41 we can assume this to be in the region of 7 lacs annually.
  • Let us assume Ravi will live for another 45 years from 41. At a conservative level his corpus should be 45 x 7 lacs or 3.15 crores.
  • How should he deploy his money so as to get a passive income of 7 lacs annually? In this case as he has enough money, so keeping it in any instrument which matches inflation will suffice. However, as a good financial practice he should deploy his money as suggested in some of my blog posts earlier.

So, Ravi can retire at 41 which is great for him. What works for him is lesser responsibilities and ability to invest a lot at an early age. His parents have also contributed to his NPS which adds up. People with wife and children will find it really hard to retire at 41. However, something like 50 is still quite possible.

I will be happy to receive and answer any queries that the blog readers may have.

 

Build a long term portfolio through focus on sectors

In some of my blog posts I have covered the topic of building a portfolio for a new investor. While there are many ways to do this, building a long term robust portfolio is best done through sectoral focus. This has several advantages and one should keep these in mind while building the portfolio. Firstly, investing in a few important sectors will ensure that your portfolio is a representative one and reflects the indices in some manner. Secondly, a combination of such stocks will act as a natural hedge against any serious downfall in the markets. Thirdly, it will be easy to review and change such a portfolio as you are having both the industry and company dimension to look at.

Which will be the sectors to put in money now? Given the economy and demography of India, anything which is related to the domestic infrastructure building or domestic consumption will be great areas to bet on. Remember, you are building a portfolio for the long run, it does not matter if it tanks by 20 % in the present year. The important thing is to identify good companies in the sector – these must have good market presence and asset base to ensure longevity in a positive manner. Avoid flashy companies where results go all over the place and which are in high debt.

For people starting off here is a set of sectors and some suggested companies in them :-

  • Financial sector (Banks)
    • Large private bank – choose between HDFC Bank / ICICI / Kotak / IndusInd
    • Large PSU bank – SBI / PNB
    • Smaller private banks – Yes Bank / Federal Bank / RBL
  • Housing Finance companies
    • LIC Housing Finance / HDFC
    • Indiabulls Housing Finance
  • Cement / Paint companies
    • ACC / Ultratech 
    • Heidelberg / Ambuja
    • Kansai Nerolac / Asian Paints / Berger Paints
  • Auto companies
    • TVS Motors / HeroMotocorp
    • Maruti / M & M
  • Pharma companies
    • Cipla / Lupin / DRL
    • Shilpa Medicare
    • Ajanta / Granules / Aurobindo
  • FMCG
    • Marico / Dabur
    • HUL / ITC
  • Engineering
    • L & T
    • BHEL / BEML
  • IT Services
    • Infosys / TCS
    • Hexaware / KPIT / Mindtree

Avoid Telecom companies and also any other businesses which are cyclical in nature like Sugar and other agro based ones.

Once you have the above framework, all you need to do is to get a low cost Demat account where you can buy stocks without paying high brokerage or annual charges. Based on how much money you have, decide on a quarterly allocation of funds and start buying based on the right time. Remember, you always buy in small lots and check the DMA figures to make sure there is some basic logic to the price. Also, do not go overboard on the number of stocks. You should buy from each of the above but not more than 2/3 from each of them.

Let me give a typical portfolio created out of this strategy :-

  • HDFC Bank
  • SBI
  • Federal Bank
  • Indiabulls Housing Finance
  • Kansai Nerolac
  • Ultratech Cement
  • TVS Motors
  • Maruti
  • Cipla
  • Shipa Medicare
  • Marico
  • ITC
  • L & T
  • BEML
  • Infosys
  • Mindtree

These 16 stocks should be a good one to go with, though you can definitely change some as per your personal preferences. For example, you can replace Maruti by M & M and Mindtree by Hexaware and ITC by HUL and the basic nature of the portfolio will not be altered. Try to have only about 16-20 stocks as with any more you will be spreading the portfolio too thin. In any case, you will review the portfolio once every year and can replace some stocks if you are not happy with their performance.

What should be the investment in this portfolio. It can be anything really but I think you need to invest about 25-50 K in every stock for it to be meaningful. Ideally you should build up this portfolio between now and 2019 end. So we are talking about 4-8 lacs over the next 15 months. If you do not have these resources, you can still build a portfolio with above logic but lesser number of stocks. Put in 1-2 lacs in about 4-8 stocks to start with and you can keep adding more as and when you get money available.

Now to the million Dollar question – how will this portfolio perform in the long run? Well, though it is difficult to predict equity performance over any duration, for 10 years it becomes a little easier. At a conservative estimate this portfolio, with a thorough annual review and change, should deliver at least 15 % annual growth. So a 8 lac portfolio will become about 32 lacs in 10 years. You can therefore assume a multiple of 4 to your invested amount. 

This is a great time to build a portfolio by investing in good stocks. If you have a goal in 10 years time of 40 lacs, just build a portfolio of 10 lacs with these stocks and let the markets do the rest. If you are just starting off and can invest only 2 lacs over the next year then do so – maybe in 10 years you can buy a car of your choice.

I hope to see you getting started today so that you reap the benefits in 2019 !!

College education of children – A personal perspective

May and November are those times of the year when all parents of college going children have to figure out ways and means of arranging the fees for the upcoming semester, term or year in college, as the case may be. I have been in this situation for 6 plus years now and am likely to be in it for a few years more, given that I have two children.

Let me give a brief background for new readers here. My daughter Rinki had graduated from BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus with BE in ENI in June 2016. After her graduation in 2016, she had joined XLRI for their BM program and has now completed her course there. She has started her corporate career a few months back and is fortunately living with us in Hyderabad. My son Ronju is in the final year of  a 5 year dual degree course from BITS Pilani, Goa campus in Msc Maths and BE Computer Science. He will graduate in 2019 from there. As part of his course, he needs to do 2 paid internships in his final 2 semesters and is in the first one of them right now. If you are interested in knowing more about the overall costs and how I arranged for the funds etc, you can read up several posts available in the blog under “Education” category.

In this post I particularly wanted to discuss about the overall costs of a college degree in BITS and the inflationary nature within the course. Unlike some colleges, which give you a total figure for the 4 or 5 year course when you join, BITS only talks of the first year costs and then increases it every year. They have been transparent to say that the fees can increase by up to 15 % a year and, more often than not, it actually increases by that much. Let me take the component of the Tuition fee and see how it increased during the time Rinki was in college :-

  • In her first year 2012-2013, Tuition fee was 70000 per semester or 1.4 lacs in the year.
  • In 2013-2014, it was 78000 per semester or 1.56 lacs for the year.
  • In 2014-2015, it was 89000 per semester or 1.78 lacs for the year.
  • In 2015-2016, it was 101000 per semester or 2.02 lacs for the year.

Now apart from these there were Admission fees, hostel fees, mess fees, personal expenses, travel, practice school fees etc. From my notes I can see that the total expenses for her college degree was approximately 12 lacs.

At XLRI the overall costs are in the range of 24 lacs and you can add another 2 lacs or so for travel etc. Therefore her total Education costs in college is about 38 lacs.

For my son Ronju the last 2 years of Rinki will be common. Beyond this the fees for the other 3 years are as follows:-

  • in 2016-2017, it was 1.13 lacs per semester or 2.26 lacs for the year.
  • In 2017-2018, it is 1.30 lacs per semester or 2.60 lacs for the year.
  • in 2018-2019 it will be 1.59 lacs per semester or 3.18 lacs for the year.

Therefore for Ronju’s graduation the overall costs will be in the range of 20 lacs or so. I have not thought about his PG yet, as he is not sure whether he wants to do one. However if it is from a good B school, it will be in the range of 28-30 lacs. Assuming this to be the case, his total costs of college education will be in the range of 50 lacs or so.

From the above data you will be getting a pretty good picture of the educational inflation too. In 5 years the tuition fees has increased from 1.4 lacs to 3 lacs. The other costs have also increased and as you can see, a 4 year course for BITS starting today will easily cost more than 22 lacs or so, all things considered. Just the Tuition fees will be 18 lacs or so.

How will this look if your child is starting college after 15 years? Well, at an inflation of 15 % the tuition fees alone will be 1.8 crores. I know this sounds fantastic, but remember just 10 years back the Tuition fees of BITS was 50000 a year and it has gone up more than 5 times.

I am happy to spend this amount on giving a good education to my children as it is going to be a huge competitive differentiating aspect. In fact, this is borne out by what they are currently doing. At ages 24 and 21, they are financially independent of me and are pursuing a career of their choice. However, I was able to help them in doing so as I prepared for the same in terms of my planning. Even then the inflation was surprisingly high and I had to rejig some of my plans.

You need to work on your plans right now and put them in place.

Building a stock portfolio with expert recommendations

The past few months have been very interesting ones for the Indian markets. Most people will agree that the valuations of a large number of stocks were stretched and unsustainable, so the correction, though brutal, have had the benefits of bringing down the markets to levels where one can look at investing. The mid cap and the small cap space may well witness more pains, even though the large caps seem to have stabilised for now. The quarterly results were largely good, though not spectacular, and with the festive season falling in Q3 it can be expected that the current quarter results will be good. Is this the time to build a portfolio for the future then?

In my opinion, if you do not have a stock portfolio now, it is a good time to start building one. Several stocks are available at attractive prices and present a great opportunity of handsome gains between this Diwali and the next. The important thing is to pick the right stocks so that the portfolio is a high performance one. In this regard it is best to go with professional recommendations, even though you must do your due diligence to ensure you are comfortable with the stock in your portfolio and are broadly aware of the risks that are associated with the stock.

I have been following a lot of recommendations over the last 2 weeks and have come up with this selection from different experts, both from Fund houses and brokerage houses:-

  • Birla Cable
  • Engineers India
  • Escorts
  • Federal Bank
  • Heidelberg Cement
  • Hindustan Oil Exploration 
  • Himadri Speciality Chemicals
  • ICICI Bank
  • L & T Finance Holdings 
  • NALCO
  • NBCC
  • Petronet LNG
  • Sonata Soft
  • South Indian Bank

You can start investing in these with the basic rules in place – buy in small lots, stagger your purchases, be aware of important events such as state election results, be in cash to take advantage of sudden market changes etc. If you have 5 lacs plus to invest, you can look at the next 4-5 months to put your money in. With a lower amount, look at the next 2-3 months and invest in fewer stocks, not the whole lot.

A disclaimer here will be in order – I have a few of these stocks and am actively considering the option of adding the rest to my secondary portfolio between now and end of the year.