Has your MF investment worked out?

To begin with, my apologies to all my readers, many of who have enquired of me as to why I was not writing in my blog, for my long absence from the blog. It was caused by a random occurrence of several factors – a couple of trips abroad, some mentoring work for B school students, my son’s starting of his professional career, my parents visiting Hyderabad etc. Let us see whether I am able to keep up this new resolution !!

Let me take up something which a lot of people have been asking me for much of this year. Has it been beneficial to invest in Equity MF over the years? Many people had started the MF investments through SIP, being lured or convinced by agents or advisors, thinking that an annualized return of 12-15 % on an average was a given. Yes, it was understood that equity as an asset class will be having the ups and downs, but over the long run it was kind of given to undestand your money will double every 6 years. A lot of financial planning for most people have been based on this premise over the last 10 years and it is a good time to take stock of how things have panned out.

As I have been dealing with equity for nearly a quarter of a century now, I probably have a lot of knowledge and experience to speak somewhat definiteively of this. In January 2008, Nifty scaled 6000 for the first time before the now famous crash of that year. Even if we assume that Nifty will reach 12000 in January 2020 ( a fairly tall order some may say, though I am hopeful), it would have only doubled in 12 years. This is a return of only 6 % as opposed to the 12 % that most investors have been sold into. Even if you looked at a supposedly stodgy product such as PPF, you would have earned nearly 8 %. More importantly, if you had planned some goal for 15 years in 2010, you are now probably faced with the prospect of being way short of your goal. This is fine if you have 20 plus years of your career left but for people in their 40’s and 50’s this is a fairly tough situation. People who are interested in financial independence and looking at doing different things will now need to re-evaluate their options.

Does this mean that the MF investment has been wrong? Not at all – equity as an asset class is really the only sensible way to beat inflation in a country like India and MF is a good vehicle for this. Also, though Nifty returns are only 6 % annually, most of us invested in well managed active funds and these returns are somewhat better, though nowhere near the 12-15 % that were touted without any real sense. With the changes in MF categories by SEBI, it may also make more sense to stick to funds that invest in the top 150 or 200 companies, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. Finally, do not put all your eggs in one basket, invest in fixed income products and other instruments that can serve as a hedge and provide you stable returns even if unglamorous.

The above is all very fine for people starting now but what of people who have been investing for long and have now not got enough in their kitty for their goals? They will definitely need to work out different strategies – I will take up one case study from a person who wanted some advice from me recently.

Bottom line – MF investments are good for your financial life but you need to do these by being more aware of it as compared to before. The old method of deciding on a SIP amount and letting it be in the auto mode will not work any more.

Earning money through value – A personal perspective

What with one thing or the other, I have been totally irregular with my blog this year and have been almost absent for the last two months or so. Part of it is due to my busy schedule in a variety of things and the rest is linked to my life situation. There are however, several ideas I have which can be converted into significant and meaningful blog posts and let me try and do it more often from now on.

In the last post I had written about how money actually comes to you or anyone from other people and you need to provide value in order to earn money. That blog post had a very good readership and several readers commented on it. Let me try and expand this more on the current post. I will take my own example and this should help readers get into my thought process. Some of this was not evident to me as I went through life but experience leads to knowledge and wisdom, so I have a very clear perspective on how things transpired for me in life as I went along.

For people who know about me I an from a middle class family based out of Durgapur in West Bengal. My father worked in SAIL and we had a fairly comfortable existence with a family of 5 , though not a luxurious one. Education was always a priority and I was a good student completing my schooling from St. Xavier’s school, going on to get a BE degree in Computer Science & Engineering from Jadavpur university, ending up with an MBA from IIM Calcutta. Like most people, I was creating some intrinsic value through all this education in the hope that there will be companies who will give me jobs based on their needs of such value. I did have 7 such jobs when I graduated from my Engineering but decided not to take up any as I had got admission into IIMC. On my graduation from IIMC I received 2 job offers from HCL and Wipro, deciding to join the former.

Over the next two decades, life was a roller coaster ride on both the personal and the professional front and I lived through it enjoying it immensely. On the personal front getting married to my wife Lipi, births of my two children and their growing up, moving from Delhi to Chennai and now Hyderabad, travel and vacations all made life enriching. On the professional front progress was hectic as I was part of management in just 4 years and progressed swiftly to top management cadre in another 4 years time. My first CEO role was in 12 years time and I worked for another 15 years in similar Executive positions. The knowledge, skills and expertise I was able to gain through my initial education and later on through my experience and performance in the various job roles helped me in securing these positions and earn a certain amount of money.

After 27 years of corporate life, I realized that doing what I did for 15 years at CXO level was taking its toll on me. I was still pretty good at what I did but I did not enjoy it any more. I also wanted to add value to more people rather than restricting myself to just one company as the CEO etc. I also wanted more time to myself for pursuing the many interests that I had. While I had always been able to maintain a very decent work-life balance, when one gets to 50 there is a clear feeling of time passing by rather quickly. I therefore quit the regular corporate grind and started a Management Consultancy practice where I worked with SME companies in the IT/ITES areas to help them formulate and implement growth strategies. Here again my corporate experience as CXO provided the value that such companies were looking at and they were prepared to pay for it. This mode also gave me enough time to follow my interests and passions.

Over the years I had been very interested in personal finance, stock markets and investments in general. This helped me in organizing my finances in such a manner that I was truly financially independent. In real terms it means I do not really need an active income to maintain my lifestyle but can fund it from whatever assets I currently have. As I wanted to share my experiences and knowledge with others, I started this blog in 2015 and it has been a pretty successful one. A lot of people saw value in it and reached out to me for helping them with their financial planning. Though I do not do this professionally I am happy to do it for people who approach me.

Training on a variety of topics including high end management area has been a long standing interest of mine. I developed a framework on Strategy planning and Execution courtesy my being CXO of so many companies and currently offer workshops in these to companies for bringing about change in the way their management people think and act. There has also been an abiding interest in Education over the years, B school education being at the center stage of it. I have been mentoring people for B school admissions informally for the last 5 years and have started to do it formally this year. Food, travel, sports and performing arts are the other interests i have.

So if I am looking to earn money out of all my knowledge, skills, expertise and interests how can I do it in tangible terms? Look out for the next post as this one has got rather long. I promise the wait this time will be a much shorter one.

Building an equity MF portfolio in new FY

Much as I would like to write regularly for the blog, of late I find it difficult to get the time to do so. In the last 3 months I have been rather busy mentoring B school aspirants and very recently went on a vacation to Phuket for a week. The blog remains close to my heart though and in this new FY I will make a renewed attempt to be regular in writing.

I get a lot of reader queries on how to create an ideal long term portfolio of equity MF schemes. There have been several posts written on this and you can search the blog to read those up. However, fund performances and the market dynamics keep changing, so it will make sense to revisit that now. With the new SEBI classification of MF categories it is easier to build a portfolio now. You can have a set of choices in each category and then select one from each to get your 4-5 funds. I have given a choice of a few funds in different categories below and any selection of these will result in creation of a robust, long term portfolio of equity MF. These are all well known funds that have been recommended by several analysts and I have done my own fact finding about these too, so I can suggest them with complete confidence.

Here are the MF scheme suggestions in the different categories :-

  • Large cap funds
    • HDFC Top 100
    • ABSL Front Line Equity
    • ICICI Blue Chip
  • Multi cap funds
    • Franklin India Equity
    • Mirae Asset India Equity
    • Kotak Standard Multi cap
  • Mid cap funds
    • Franklin Prima fund
    • DSP Mid cap fund
  • Small cap funds
    • DSP small cap fund
    • HDFC small cap
  • ELSS funds
    • Axis Long term equity
    • Franklin India Tax shield

If you want you can add an international fund to this mix but that is only required for sophisticated investors. Most of you can simply select funds from the categories here and build a portfolio where you can invest for the long term. Some pointers for this :-

  • If your risk appetite is low and you are disagreeable to market volatility then you may want to stick to only large cap and multi cap category, with a small investment in mid caps. Avoid small cap funds in this case.
  • If you believe in the India growth story and are looking at the long term for your portfolio then have a mix of all categories with sufficient allocation to mid cap and small cap funds.
  • If you are well off and looking at this portfolio to have high growth with tolerable risks then put most money in mid cap and small cap funds. There will be a lot of volatility but over the next 15-20 years you will be able to get good benefits.

What about the likely returns from these fund categories and where should we invest for fixed income then? I will cover these in other posts, hopefully soon !!

Where does money come from?

I have not been writing the blog for a while, as I have got busy into doing something quite different which I will explain later. It has been great to be contacted by many readers who have expressed their wishes to see my write more. Let me start off by writing something which has intrigued me for long.

All of us are interested in making money to varying degrees, some more some less. It is a basic reality that we need money to do a myriad of things that we either need or want to do. One obvious question that often pops up is this – where does money come from? Now one may give answers such as work, business, jobs, services etc that does not really cover the intrinsic answer. Understanding of this is central to earning money, yet many of us are unable to get this basic concept right. So without much ado, and giving credit to all the people who have thought of this prior to me, let me state this profound concept – Money comes from other people.

Now many of you may be thinking as to why this is profound and whether this works at all? Let us test this out by looking at different ways in which we can earn some money:-

  • I made some money recently when I managed to sell Yes Bank stocks after waiting for a long time. Not that I made a killing or something, but the little money I made was only because there were some people willing to buy the stock at my asking price. 
  • At present I am a Management consultant and do workshops for different companies in the areas of Strategy formulation, Leadership, Effectiveness in Sales etc. The money I earn from these workshops essentially come from the companies that are run by other people – Executives, Management etc
  • For most people who are in a regular job, as I was for 27 years, the source of income is the Salary at the end of the month. This again comes from the company or, if you really want to stretch it, from the customers of the company.
  • Look at any service provider, big or small and you will be able to conclude that they earn money which comes from other people. If I buy 2 packets of milk every morning then the milk supplier gets money from me. Same is the case with anything else that I and countless other people buy  every day.

Now that we have established the basic principle that money indeed comes from other people, let us see why this is important for us to understand. As all of us know, there is a big brouhaha in our country today about jobs or the lack of it. However, the reality of India is that the informal sector has always been much greater in numbers as well as revenues as compared to the formal sector. In reality the informal sector understands very well that money comes from other people and they design and sell products and services that other people will be willing to pay for. If you are part of the startup ecosystem, you will know the fixation with revenue models where you want to ask what and how much will the consumers pay for. If you have something of value to other people then they will pay money to get it from you. At the end of the day, money is simply an exchange mechanism. 

The other reason this is important is the helplessness many educated and capable people feel when they are not in a regular corporate job for whatever reason. I have seen some friends search desperately for a job and taking up ones which are well below their own capacities just so they can be earning some money. Several women who are home makers go through their entire life without doing something productive as they are not clear as to what they can do. The situation is definitely changing a little today with work from home options and possibility of several small scale entrepreneurial options but there is a lot more that can be done.

So, if you are in a situation that you are wondering what to do in order to earn some money, whether to get started or to supplement your current income, think of the following :-

  • Look at options around you where the opportunities are there for providing your services in an already existing framework. Examples can be many, but a few are :-
    • Buy a car and make it available to Uber/Ola either by driving yourself or through a driver.
    • If you are financially knowledgeable then associate with companies as an adviser to help sell their offerings.
    • If you can provide services such as Graphic designing, Software development, Website development etc get connected to some networks and offer your services as a freelancer.
  • Create opportunities for any small business based on what value you can offer to people which they will be able to pay for. This can be in the area of knowledge such as Tuition, Consultancy and Advisory services in a variety of areas. It can also be in the areas of small home based businesses. I know of many people who are cooking dishes and selling these in their building complex.
  • If you are thinking that you do not have much value to contribute as all you have done is a job for a long time, that is simply not true. Use your imagination a little to think of how you can be of value to others. It will not be difficult to figure out at least 5 ways for each person. Yes, all the 5 may not be practically feasible from a point of making money but a few of these will be.

I hope a lot of readers will find this useful and will venture out to look at new avenues of utilizing their latent capabilities and therefore making money from other people in a positive way. For those still not convinced, I will be sharing some personal experiences in the next post which, I hope, will be an eye opener for many of you.

The transience of life

When I was in class X at St Xavier’s School, Durgapur we were taught the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar as part of our ICSE curriculum. I consider it the best work of the Bard and it is full of memorable quotes that had made an indelible impression in my formative mind. The part I best liked was the one where Caesar’s wife, Calphurnia, is beseeching Caesar to avoid venturing out that day, citing the several omens that had occurred. Caesar’s response to it is an all time classic :-

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, 

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

I do not wish to be morbid but it is a given that all of us will die, some earlier than others and some later. Given that this is an essential truth, it will seem logical that all of us should try to add value to our own lives and that of others while we do live. However, it is really not so for most people. Many of us are obsessed with some facets of life and hold ourselves back from enjoying life fully. Once common fallacy is that we need to be focused on financial responsibility and therefore cannot indulge in some of the things that will greatly add value to our lives. The sad part is that life, as you know it, may well be over tomorrow morning. Let me give you some examples, which brought home this truth to me powerfully over the last one year :-

  • In a get together of our school friends, I was shocked to learn that many of their parents, who I knew very well while in school, have passed away. I felt rather fortunate that my parents are still there and in reasonably good health.
  • When I shifted from Delhi to Chennai a Recruitment consultant had helped me find the job in Sify. Got to know last November that he had passed away, he was only 55.
  • In our school we were a batch of 70 and this has already seen 4 deaths.
  • Look around yourself and you will see examples of people passing away suddenly and unexpectedly.

Death and taxes, it is said, are the only certainties in life and in the Indian context the former is the unique certainty. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to do worthwhile things in life in an early part, give yourself time and money in the end and finally find time for things you genuinely enjoy. I have tried to do this to a large extent in my own life, though I do not claim to have all the answers. A suggested blue print could be this :-

  • Focus on building your knowledge and skills through education in the early part of your life. However, if you enjoy sports or any other hobbies and are reasonably good at it then you must take it up. Find time for it, can always be done.
  • While making a living is important, do not get into believing that work is your life as that will be a very sad way to view it. Strike a balance – you work to earn money so that you are able to do things you genuinely enjoy doing. It could be reading books, watching plays, acting in group theater or traveling.
  • Children do need to focus on education but do not make them one track people, there is a lot more to life than school marks and college grades. Spend time with them to understand  their potential and try to develop the same. As parents our responsibilities should be to enjoy our time with the children when they are young, they do grow up very fast and will go away long before you want them to.
  • Unless you have a venture of your own or are really passionate about a profession, try to organize your finances in such a manner that you are financially independent by 45 or 50. This will give you enough time to do the things you love and enjoy while you are still physically fit. If you do a job till you are 60 then you will have very little energy to do other things in the rest of your life.
  • While it is impossible to get a general blueprint for everyone, for most in modern India who want to get professional qualifications and work thereafter, follow this :-
    • Focus on Education, sports and hobbies till you are 22 or 24 depending on what qualifications you go for. This is the time to build skills and value to yourself.
    • Focus on your career for at least 4-6 years before you think of marriage.
    • Between 28 and 48-52 focus on your career and your family life simultaneously, making sure you have a rich life as a professional and as a person.
    • If you do things right then by this time your children will be in college and you will be financially independent. Once this happens, you can figure out how you want to spend your next few years.
    • At this time arrange your finances in such a manner that you can live comfortably without having to depend on any active income.

Living life well is important as it is the only one we have. Making it useful for others will make it worthwhile, but we first need to take care of ourselves and our families before we can think of others. As such the earlier we can get to financial independence the more chances we will have of being of use to others.

You may want to read several other posts in this blog to understand how you can achieve the above.

 

My cash flows and investment plans in 2019

The start of a new year is always full of excitement and hope. There are new opportunities to explore and you hope for a lot of significant events to take place in the year, irrespective of what may ha e happened in the earlier one. In my previous posts I had outlined how 2018 was a fairly poor one both for my own active income generation as well as for the markets. In this post let me talk about my plans for 2019.

One must always start with the cash flow outlook for the year. Fortunately, with both my children becoming financially independent of me now, courtesy their careers, my major head of cash outflow is gone now. Currently their college education fees are all done and even though Ronju may get into a B school sometime in the future, we can always look at it through Education loans. On the flip side our expenses on travel are ever increasing due to the number of trips as well as the way we travel. Last year we had 2 vacations outside India, 2 full vacations in India as well as several shorter trips for leisure or family issues. 2019 looks similar as we already have a planned visit to Phuket in March. Our children are fortunately staying with us now though that may change through the middle of the year. Based on all these I am looking at cash outflow in these terms :-

  • Regular household expenditure likely to be in the range of 6 lacs
  • Travel expenses can be estimated at 3.5 lacs to be on the safe side.
  • Family support will be in the region of 2 lacs.
  • Rent for our Hyderabad apartment is around 3.5 lacs.
  • So overall cash flows required will be in the range of 15 lacs

Against these the cash inflows I am expecting in 2019 are as follows :-

  • Interest from Tax free bonds, InvIT funds and POMIS will be about 4 lacs
  • Dividends from Stocks and Equity MF schemes will be about 4 lacs
  • Capital gains from FMP redemption will be about 3 lacs
  • Rental income from our Chennai apartment  will be about 3.6 lacs
  • Income from Debt funds and stock trading will be about 1 lac

The above looks good but what if the markets continue to do badly and the dividends dry up? Well, as a backup plan I have the PPF accounts of both me and my wife. At present it earns about 5 lacs in interest per year and I can dip into it if needed. Another way could be to redeem some of my Debt MF schemes, to the extent I need the money. A final option will be to sell some stock that is doing really well but I do not feel this will be needed.

What about investments then? Well, in my present stage of life I am not looking at too much investment obviously. Even then, I had started a secondary stock portfolio in 2018 and have invested about 7 lacs in it so far. My idea is to let this portfolio grow and also do selective trading in it, something I have wanted to do for a long time. I do not want to do this on my primary stock portfolio where the plan is to have it for the really long term. Based on all of these the new investments I plan to do in 2019 are as follows :-

  • 3 lacs in the two PPF accounts that we have.
  • Put all FMP redemption money in Hybrid funds – this will be about 10 lacs in the year 2019. Part of this may also be used in my secondary stock portfolio.
  • Build the Secondary stock portfolio to at least 10 lacs by putting in a minimum of 3 lacs in this year.
  • Look at any interesting NFO themes as they become available.
  • Keep adding to my Primary stock portfolio based on available money.

Where will the money for this come from? Well, what ever income I have from my Consultancy services will all be invested in above avenues as my passive income is adequate to take care of my cash flow needs.

So things look rather good right now, hoping that the markets will recover this year !!

My year end investment audit for 2018

Every year I try to take stock of my life and my finances on the last day of the year. It serves two major purposes – firstly, it shows me where I am and what do I need to do in order to get to my desired state and secondly, it gives me an idea as to whether I am doing the right things by my money. 

Any way we look at it, 2018 was a bad year from a financial or investment viewpoint. In the beginning it had not appeared so, especially after the stellar 2017 we had for our markets. January was a good month, corporate earning was looking like turning the corner and politics was largely stable, BJP having won Gujarat despite some hiccups. It was unfortunately to go wrong very soon, the first blow being the equity taxation in the budget. This has been talked about in every budget over the past few years but the markets clearly did not think it would actually happen. Once it did a domino effect of bad news and sentiment followed which has damaged equity portfolios through the year. I will not go into a detailed commentary here but crude oil prices, withdrawal of FII money, BJP losing Karnataka and then the Hindi heartland states, corporate earning being rather flat all played a role to ensure that our markets did very poorly. Even when there was some recovery, it was seen only in the large cap stocks, the mid caps and the small caps have been battered out of shape.

The news was not much better on the Debt front either. The ILFS fiasco affected several debt funds poorly and the returns for this year will be well below par. Short term accrual funds, normally considered the safest bets, also had fairly bad cuts. Redemption from debt funds was sustained over the year and the fund houses were saved by the continuing SIP inflow into equity MF schemes. So, while it was good to see that the Indian retail investor had gained some financial maturity, from a portfolio return perspective there were hardly any financial instruments that you could rely on.

With this backdrop, let us see how my investments have done in 2018 :-

  • My direct stock portfolio suffered in a big way early on, recovered somewhat in July/August period and then went down after that. The large cap stocks are not doing badly now but the mid cap and small caps have tanked quite a bit. On the whole the portfolio would have hardly made any returns after adjusting for inflation, I suspect there may be some losses too.
  • Similarly my Equity MF portfolio has suffered too, more in the mid cap and small cap space while holding on in the large cap space.
  • Thankfully, since both of these portfolios are long term, they are still doing well in the overall sense. Also, given the fact that I do not really have any need to redeem any of my investments, I can wait and hope for things to turn around.
  • The markets and stocks tanking also presented a buying opportunity. I have started a secondary portfolio of stocks which I want to run for 10 years. My plan is to invest about 10 lacs in it and so far I have done about 7 lacs. There are some posts in my blog on this and you can go through those for more details.
  • I do have a few open ended debt funds and they have not done well. During the year some of my FMP schemes had matured and I invested the principal amounts into hybrid schemes such as Balanced funds and Equity Savings funds.
  • My fixed income instruments were the savior for 2018. The Tax free bonds, InvIT funds, PPF, POMIS performed as expected and generated the expected cash flows.
  • With the rise of the US Dollar, I sold off some Dollars that I had over the years. I used this money to kick start my secondary stock portfolio.
  • I also received the maturity proceeds of an old LIC policy and this was also used in my secondary stock portfolio.

So what is the overall verdict? This was a year of bad returns and high expenditure due to our travels which included trips to Bali and Mauritius. As I said in yesterday’s post my active income was also not as expected. Despite all of these issues, my cash flows were comfortable and I was even able to invest in a secondary stock portfolio. This gives me the confidence that my asset base is capable of supporting my financial independent state with some leeway. Hopefully next year will get better and the asset base will increase to an even more comfortable state.

What are my cash flow plans for 2019 and how will I plan to invest next year? These will be the subjects of my next 2 posts.

Wishing all my readers a very happy and successful 2019.