My investment advice this Diwali – stick to these basics

I was quite happy to receive several requests as to what investments should be made this Diwali. This has encouraged me to write the current post. Note that, investment is an ongoing process and not for a particular day. It is, therefore, important to have the basic concepts of investment in place first.

Without further ado, here are my 10 commandants of investment life:-

  1. Insurance is not an investment and it is best to steer clear of products that combine the two in some manner such as ULIP. You definitely need insurance, treat it as an expense incurred annually.
  2. Use goal based investing only to have an idea of the overall amounts needed in different times. Once you know this, invest in the 3 portfolios of Debt, MF and stocks. There is absolutely no need to map separate portfolios for each goal, it is a waste and also harmful.
  3. Your endeavor should be to invest as much as possible, after you have taken care of the lifestyle that you desire and can afford. Do not be constrained by your goal amounts, more money is never a problem as you can use it for a variety of good purposes.
  4. You can afford to invest in asset classes such as Real Estate, Commodities, Forex only if you have the requisite knowledge and can handle the required transaction logistics smoothly.
  5. In normal circumstances, PF and PPF should be adequate for Debt, MF portfolio should cater to all goals except retirement ( which it does partly ) and all other surplus amount should go into direct stocks. In case you are uncomfortable about stocks then you can put the money into MF.
  6. Buy your own home to stay in, if you are in a stable job and are likely to be in the same location. If not then renting may be a better option. When you near retirement, it is important to have your own home.
  7. Redemption for a goal – use stocks if you are having windfall gains in them, use MF if your XIRR from them are reasonably good and use Debt if both of these are not true and the market is going through a bad patch when you want to redeem.
  8. Withdrawal in retirement – make sure you use debt first unless equity markets are really on steroids for the year in question. In general, let the equity investments grow as long as possible.
  9. Ideally in retirement, you should have an arrangement for tax free passive income in the first 10 years. This can be achieved through PPF withdrawals, Tax free bonds, Dividend income etc. For next 10 years look at MF redemption or selling stocks depending on the market situation. For the third decade stocks are the best option.
  10. Longevity of life that you plan for depends on several factors and only you can decide for yourself. However, whatever your figure is, your plan should not see your corpus come to zero value at that time. For example, if you plan for 85 years, make sure you still have a reasonable corpus for another 5 years or so, just to be on the safe side.

I have not explained my rationale for some of these investment commandants, if you are interested in understanding that go through my blog for posts relating to all of these points.

Are you following these in your own investments? If not, you need to align yourself to these basic principles so that you are able to build a robust portfolio over time.

Wishing all readers a very happy and successful Diwali and Samvat 2074 where you will make considerable progress in your goal of achieving financial independence.

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My current stock portfolio – Top 5 by value

While most investors may be going through the MF route to buy equity as an asset class, there is a lot of interest in the stock portfolios of seemingly successful investors. This is amply demonstrated by the numerous requests I get for stock tips and readers wanting to know about my portfolio. I had written on this earlier but with the passage of time a few things have changed. So here is a list of my top 5 holdings.

The first in the list is Maruti Suzuki and some observations are below.

  • My motivation for buying the stock was it’s prominent place in the Auto sector along with Tata Motors as Indian auto companies.
  • My first purchase was in 2007 June and the last in October 2009.
  • The stock has not seen corporate action in terms of bonus or splits.
  • It has normally been a good dividend paying company and in the last 2 years the dividends have been 500 % and 700 %
  • In terms of potential, this is clearly one of the best examples of an Indian company which has dominated locally and started it’s global journey now. I think it is quite possible for the stock to double over the next 4-5 years.
  • My investment in the stock is now at an average price of 678 Rs and it is about 6% of my portfolio value at CMP.
  • I do not have any real plans to sell the stock, now or in the near future.

The second one in the top 5 list is TVS Motors and some observations are below.

  • My motivation for buying the stock was it’s prominent place in the Two wheeler sector, which is an important one for our economy.
  • My entire purchases for this stock was in the calendar year 2006.
  • The stock declared a bonus in 2010 which doubled my shares held.
  • It has normally been a good dividend paying company at around 60-80 % but last year it increased the dividends to a whopping 250 %.
  • In terms of potential, this is clearly one of the best examples of an Indian company catering to a growing local demand. I think it is quite possible for the stock to double over the next 4-5 years.
  • My investment in the stock is now at an average price of 50 Rs and it is about 6% of my portfolio value at CMP.
  • I do not have any real plans to sell the stock, now or in the near future.

The third in the list is Tata Motors and some observations are below.

  • My motivation for buying the stock was it’s prominent place in the Auto sector along with Maruti as Indian auto companies.
  • My first purchase was in 2007 February and the last in January 2009.
  • The stock has seen a lot of corporate action in terms of bonus earlier but I only witnessed a split in 2011.
  • It has normally been a good dividend paying company at 100 % but in the past 2 years this has come down considerably.
  • In terms of potential, this is clearly one of the best examples of an Indian company which has gone global successfully. I think it is quite possible for the stock to double over the next 2-3 years.
  • My investment in the stock is now at an average price of 109 Rs and it is about 5% of my portfolio value at CMP.
  • I do not have any real plans to sell the stock, now or in the near future.

The fourth one in the top 5 list is Kansai Nerolac and some observations are below.

  • My motivation for buying the stock was it’s prominent place in the paints sector, which is an important one for our economy.
  • My first purchase was in 2008 January and the last in January 2009.
  • The stock has declared a bonus in 2010 which doubled my shares holding.
  • It has normally been a good dividend paying company at around 100 % and in 2017 this was increased to 250 %.
  • In terms of potential, this is clearly one of the best examples of an Indian company catering to a growing local demand. I think it is quite possible for the stock to double over the next 4-5 years.
  • My investment in the stock is now at an average price of 29 Rs and it is about 5% of my portfolio value at CMP.
  • I do not have any real plans to sell the stock, now or in the near future.

The final one in the top 5 list is M & M and some observations are below.

  • My motivation for buying the stock was it’s prominent place in the commercial vehicles sector, which is an important one for our economy.
  • My first purchase was in 2007 March and the last in January 2009.
  • The stock has seen a split in 2010 when the face value was reduced to 5 from 10.
  • It has normally been a good dividend paying company at around 200 % and more.
  • In terms of potential, this is clearly one of the best examples of an Indian company catering to a growing local demand. I think it is quite possible for the stock to double over the next 4-5 years.
  • My investment in the stock is now at an average price of 285 Rs and it is about 4% of my portfolio value at CMP.
  • I do not have any real plans to sell the stock, now or in the near future.

As you will see from here, investing in good companies and holding them for a long period of time has really worked for me here. There are some other holdings I have that may be of interest to my readers. I will share it in a future post.

Should you go for close ended equity NFO?

Over the last few years and especially in 2017 many of the Fund houses have come up with a slew of close ended NFO’s. These come with a variety of themes and associated terminology. For example ICICI calls them Value Fund series, Sundaram calls them Micro cap series and Axis calls them Equity advantage series. In this post let us look at why these are in vogue now, what are the pros and cons and finally whether it is a good idea to invest in them.

The first issue is relatively simple to answer : new products get developed based on the likelihood of their success. With a lot of retail and institutional buyers pumping in money, there is always a demand for newer types of funds to invest in. For fund houses, it is an opportunity to have a specific charter which may not be possible to fulfil through their regular funds. For example, one of the ICICI value series funds only wanted to invest in Pharma and IT sectors as these were beaten down significantly over the last six months or so. Now this could be done in one of their existing funds too but for a fund manager to churn the portfolio by selling stocks that are doing well is not always an easy decision to take. Using fresh money in taking such calls is relatively simple. The trend started by end 2014 or so with ICICI and has now percolated to several others.

What are the pros and cons of such funds? Well, for one the mandates here have a lot more clarity compared to a vanilla large cap or mid cap fund. The fact that it is close ended, normally for 3 years, means that the fund manager has time at his disposal to take the calls he wants to take. On the flip side you will not have access to your money for 3 years and this is a problem unless you can definitely do without it for this time. A greater problem may be your inability to shift in case you are not happy with the performance. From my viewpoint, I do not see both these issues as a serious one. Firstly, you should be investing in equity for a much longer term than 3 years. Secondly, the Fund manager is way more qualified to deal with short term performance issues.

Let me now give some details of an investment that I made in one such fund. While the experience may not be repeated for all funds, it does offer certain insights:-

  • I purchased ICICI Prudential Value Fund series 2 on 6/12/2013. Invested amount was 2 lacs in the Dividend option.
  • The idea was to get some regular income as I planned to go for my consultancy practice sometime in 2014.
  • Though it was a 3 year fund, it has now been rolled over and will mature on 31/12/2018.
  • So far total dividends have amounted to 1.6 lacs
  • Current value of the fund is nearly 2.5 lacs

I think it can be said quite safely that this worked out quite well. In fact, I have invested in several follow up NFO from ICICI. Apart from ICICI I have also tried out Axis, Birla Sunlife, Sundaram and UTI for close ended funds. From a personal perspective it works well for me as I get tax free income and also growth from it.

You should be investing in these funds under the following situations:-

  • You have some income requirement every year. Instead of doing FD you can go for close ended funds with dividend option. Note that the dividend is not guaranteed.
  • You have a goal after 3-4 years. This is ideal for such situations. However, in such a case choose the Growth option.
  • You have come into some money and do not want to decide on allocation for 2-3 years as you may need the money then. Go for the growth option here too.
  • Make sure you understand the mandate and therefore the associated risk profile. A micro cap series from Sundaram will obviously be more risky as compared to the Value fund series of ICICI. However, the rewards will vary in a similar trend too.

If you are interested ICICI Value fund Series 18 is open for subscription now. 

Want to build your own stock portfolio? Here’s how

I understand that getting started in stocks is not an easy thing with so many experts giving a lot of conflicting advice to you. Some will tell you that you have no hopes of building a good portfolio unless you can understand all kinds of ratios and read Balance sheets like a CA does, others will tell you that going for direct stocks is akin to a horse race where anything you bet on is almost certainly going to lose. Yet others will chide you for thinking anything beyond Mutual funds. After all they are experts and invest only in MF with all kinds of complex strategies, who are you to even think otherwise?

While all of the above has very obvious counters, read my post on Why you must be in direct equity to satisfy yourself on the importance of being in stocks. Building a long term portfolio of direct stocks does take a lot of understanding of the economy, the industry and the business. You can get these only with experience and there is really no magic potion to make you an expert overnight. There is however, a way to get started on building a portfolio of stocks, while you gain this knowledge and experience over time. Is there a guarantee that you will not lose money if you follow my suggestion? Unfortunately not, but the chances of your losing money are indeed very slim.

Without further ado, let me give you the simple steps to what you need to do from scratch:-

  1. Choose the 5 sectors – Auto, Pharma, Banks, IT and Telecom. You can add other sectors at a later date.
  2. From each sector choose 2 market leaders. You can do it by their Market caps or the PE ratios. Honestly, it does not matter a great deal as to which method you are using as long as you are consistent in your approach.
  3. For people focused on names look at DRL, Cadilla, Lupin etc in Pharma. Tata Motors, Maruti, TVS Motors, M & M in Auto etc. SBI, ICICI, HDFC Bank in banks. TCS, HCL Tech, Infosys, Wipro in IT. Bharti, Idea in Telecom.
  4. Decide on a comfortable amount that you can spend every quarter on stocks related investment. Set price triggers based on 200 DMA of the stock. For example, if the 200 DMA of a stock is 3000 and the current market price is 3200 then set the first price trigger at 3000 or just below it.
  5. Stick to this discipline and never go beyond 20 % of your quarterly money in one go. You are in no hurry, wait for the stock price to drop. In the next 6 months there will be many ups and downs. Buy only on downs, let the ups go by without bothering too much.
  6. In a quarter there are bound to be many more bad days than 5, you just need to be patient.
  7. Remember you are building a long term portfolio, so even if you miscalculate and buy at a higher price it does not matter too much. In 10 years the markets will be far higher than 9000 on the Nifty.
  8. Keep adding to each stock regularly, do not start chasing other stocks that seem to be doing better.
  9. Increase your quarterly allocation based on your surplus availability and your comfort level.
  10. Stick to this for 2 years, by then you will have enough knowledge to get to the next level of risk.

Stock investment is like swimming, you will not do it by reading how not to do it. Get started with it and you will see how things work out at a portfolio level – remember, it will never work out for all stocks that you invest in. Also, next time someone advises you on how to pick stocks, ask him about his portfolio and how successful he has been in his own stock portfolio performance. Trust only advisers who put their money where their mouth is.

I will do other more involved posts on stock picking but this one is good enough for all new investors to get started.

In current markets you must follow asset allocation

One of the main reasons stock market and other bubbles get created is that we all love good times and good stories. It gives us an emotional kick to see that a stock that we hold has gone up by 10 % in a couple of trading sessions and the MF portfolio we hold has been clocking impressive gains over the last few months. In our heart of hearts and also in our rational minds we do know that the party will end, sooner rather than later, but it is far more exciting to believe that it somehow will not.

We all understand asset allocation at a fundamental level so I am not going into details. However, in simple terms for most portfolios of investors, the following need to be kept in mind when we are looking at asset allocation:-

  • Assuming you have 2 main asset classes Debt and Equity, decide on an asset allocation for yourself. 
  • In my view you must have at least 35% in Debt. This is fairly easy once you take your PF account money into consideration.
  • Periodically review to see if the allocation has got skewed by more than 5 %. In such cases sell from the higher asset and buy into the lower one.
  • For example, right now due to the run up in the markets your equity allocation may be 72% and debt 28 %. Sell off some equity and put it into a debt product such as Liquid fund etc. This provides your partial hedge against a market downturn.
  • What to sell? Again, look at stocks or MF which have run up the most and use your judgement as to which looks like the best bet.

What is my take on the current situation? I feel that there is a little more steam left in the markets yet, the Nifty may well reach 10300 levels by next month. However, beyond that there is every likelihood of a correction to 9500 levels and below.I do not believe that we will really see a crash in the Indian markets in the near future.

Based on the above premise take a serious look at your asset allocation this week and next. It is tough to sell something which is doing so well but you are really protecting some gains and limiting your future losses by doing so. Many people may tell you that you should simply hold and that the gains will again come back in the future. However, that is speculative and asset allocation is a way better strategy which is also a proven one.

I am sure you have never done it in the case of your MF portfolio built up through SIP – one more reason why the way SIP is done and administered, leaves a real lot to be desired.

A dispassionate look on demonetisation

Now that the dust and din have settled on the actual amount of cash returned to the banks on the demonetisation initiative, there are clearly two different camps that have emerged. The government and supporting voices are insistent that the drive has been a success and will have great long term benefits for the economy and country. The dissenters question the move and say that the data now proves beyond any shade of doubt that the move was completely ill advised.

Let us look at this from a fundamental perspective to understand what has really happened, why it has happened and what is the likely fallout. To begin with the objective of demonetisation was to unearth the huge amounts of cash that was being used in an unaccounted manner in our economy. It is important to understand that the proportion of cash in the black or parallel economy is a small percentage, nearly 6 %. The bulk of it is in real estate and other assets. However, this cash keeps working as the lubricant for deals in real estate, film industry and other areas where regulations are weak at best and non existent at worst. Thus, the amount of cash is ever increasing and more importantly untraceable. When the government went for demonetisation, the hope clearly was that some of this unaccounted money will not find it’s way back into the banking system as people will be worried to account for it.

What has happened in reality and why? Well, now we know for certain that the amount of money not returned into the banking system is only 16000 crores. Even though the government had not officially named a figure, it was widely expected to be much higher around 3 lac crores. I think some of the reasons are as follows:-

  • A lot of people managed to use the bank accounts of known people to deposit money. For example, I personally know a few who have done this in the accounts of people who worked for them.
  • While it was a great initiative to open the Jan Dhan accounts, I wish there was some deposit limits set to them based on the economic condition of the account holder. Many of these accounts were unfortunately used for parking black money with a promise of paying a percentage to the account holder.
  • The great Indian ingenuity to circumvent rules was in full display during November and December of 2016. An entire industry sprang up to take your old notes and give back 70-80 % of equivalent new notes. Unfortunately, instead of declaring their money and paying taxes on it, many Indians chose to go by these shady routes.
  • In the initial days there was panic and there were even stories of sackful of 1000 Re notes being abandoned etc. However, it soon dawned on people that even if they could not use others accounts or middlemen, it would simply make sense to claim it as current earning and deposit it in their own accounts.
  • The above was possible as the follow up from IT authorities were not thought to be very efficient in their follow up. Many CA’s also advised people to deposit their money and figure out how to handle tax notices etc at a later date.
  • I know of a Doctor who had 15 lacs of black money and he simply generated current year invoices to show it as current year income. As most people went about this way, the amount of money collected from the amnesty scheme was well below expectation again.

Let us now look at the impact of demonetisation on the economy as a whole. It needs to be understood that the unorganised sector got very badly hit by this move. Cash was the only mode of transaction there and sudden unavailability of it almost shut down entire industries in several parts of the country. Several workers in these industries were suddenly left without jobs and these were the section of people who could not afford to be out of work even for a short while. Yes, over the next two months most of the jobs were back but the short term misery inflicted on these people, cannot and should not be forgotten. The organised sector was more fortunate but here too there was a distinct slow down in business and demand.

Why was this not reflected in the GDP numbers of Jan 2017? Well, for one the timing of the demonetisation was chosen very well. A lot of demand and business got executed in the October period as it was festive season in India. Normally there is a lull in commercial activities post Diwali anyway. The data from the unorganised sector anyway takes a long time to find it’s way into the statistics. So the impression of the 7.9 % growth despite demonetisation was clearly a false one, as latter events were to prove. However, this should really not be seen as a problem as most well informed people did understand that the GDP will suffer by 1-2 % in the short run. I am surprised at the 5.7 % number but had been quite prepared to see something to the tune of 6.5 % for the last quarter.

The other area which has been actively promoted by the Government with the Prime minister himself being the champion is digital transactions. It is true to say that in the initial days there was a spurt in these, mainly due to the fact that cash was simply not available. The aggressive marketing of the payment companies and the Indian inclination for good deals saw a surge in these payments. However, with the cash flows having resumed, the transaction growth in these areas is becoming muted. Also, this was at best a byproduct, for the government to say that this was one of the main aims of the exercise really smacks of opportunism, if not hypocrisy.

With all this said, are there any long lasting gains from this drive then? Yes, there definitely is and only the open minded will be able to see the obvious. We now have all cash in the banking system and in a manner that can now be traced. For example, a Real estate transaction can still have some cash component BUT now the IT authorities know the money trail. This is of significant advantage and will now help IT people to follow up on any suspicious transactions. Yes, this will take time, given the paucity of resources but it is sure process though slow at times. The regulation on cash spending is a good follow up measure and this again helps in tracing the money trail. Also, the fact that cash has come back does not mean it has been accepted as accounted income. If you have a sum of 10 lacs in your bank account deposited last year, you will still need to account for it.

So while the overall impact in the short run may be poor, the long term benefits of a cleaner economy that is far more tax compliant will definitely be there. Other measures such as clamping down on benami properties and getting GST to be effective will also help in this regard. The problem is with the government trying to get mileage out of it politically and hence shifting the stands every now and then.

Demonetisation was a bitter pill to swallow for many of the citizens and for people affected adversely the taste lingers. It will however, usher in a completely new country as long as things are followed to their logical conclusion, without fear or favour.

MF portfolio realignment – my plan

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know my 3 portfolio strategy for investment by now. I have portfolios in Debt, Stocks and MF. In the initial part of my working life I invested in mostly debt, the mid part was largely used to build up the stock portfolio and 2008 onward till now it has been largely MF. Of course, once I decided about giving up my regular corporate career in 2012, I boosted my debt portfolio significantly.

Over the years I have bought several MF schemes, initially with one time investments, thereafter with SIP and now back to investing at the right times. I have therefore collected a large number of MF schemes and in several of these the amounts invested are not very significant. The ones where I have done SIP obviously have some decent amounts, but even here there are several funds as my portfolio had changed over my 7 years of SIP.

In the past whenever the markets have gone up significantly, I have thought about cleaning up my MF portfolio. Somehow or the other it has never happened and I am stuck with a multitude of MF schemes, most of which I do not really want to keep. This weekend, I took a look at my MF portfolio after a long time and these were my observations.

  • I am currently investing in 4 MF schemes which are as follows. My plan is to continue investing in these for the future, at least till I have active income to do so:-
    • ICICI Focused Blue chip fund
    • ICICI Value Discovery Fund
    • HDFC Mid cap opportunities Fund
    • DSP BR Mid and small cap Fund
  • There are some other funds where I have significant investments but have dropped now. I will be keeping these for now but may want to sell them off during any annual review that I undertake. Future investments in these are unlikely:-
    • HDFC Top 200 Fund
    • IDFC Premier Equity Fund
    • Birla SunLife Frontline Equity Fund
    • DSP BR Equity Fund
    • Sundaram Select Mid cap Fund
    • Franklin India Blue Chip Fund
    • UTI Dividend yield Fund
  • There are some Close ended funds such as the ICICI Value Series Funds. I had invested in these as they give regular dividends which is useful to me. I will either continue with them or shift to other similar funds. To give readers an idea, ICICI Value Series 2 has given an XIRR of 30 % plus in the 3 year investment period.
  • Everything else, I want to get red of ASAP.

How do I plan to go about it? I have a feeling that next few weeks may be the best chance if Nifty once again goes to 10000 etc. Once the quarterly results  are through and the global geopolitical situation worsens, our markets are very likely to down to 9500 or even below that on the Nifty. Once I sell all my disposable MF, I will just be in cash and wait for the right opportunity.

What will I be buying with the cash I get? Well, one option is to invest in some of the stocks I had outlined in the earlier post. I am sure that if I buy these at Nifty levels of 9500 I will definitely see significant returns over the next 3 years etc. Another option will be to space out the stocks and invest in my 4 MF’s .

Unless the NIfty shows a rising trend due to a strong quarterly results, I am finally ready to pull the trigger on this. Even if it keeps rising, I will still sell when it reaches 10200, as I do not believe that is a value at which the Nifty can sustain itself.