2018 in perspective – life and finances

What with one thing and another, I have not written any blog post for quite a while now. At such times, when I feel lazy to pen down something, it is invariably the responses from the readers that gets me going again. Human ego is an amazing thing and just the feeling there are enough people to read your post is itself quite gratifying in many ways!!

2018 has been a very interesting year and I was looking at it in different perspectives in the last week. As I have written in several of my blog posts, one must look at life events and lifestyle choices in a holistic manner and plan for them – finance is a way to support these events and choices, so it necessarily plays a supporting role and not a determining one. In simpler words, availability of money and investing for the same is important but the key issue is what you are needing it for. It is this need for money that is unique to each individual, yet we often disregard this fundamental aspect. Viewed in this context, it makes sense to review the major life situations first and then look at the finances next.

To begin with, professionally the year was not really a very satisfying one for me. I had begun an assignment with an SME company under certain understanding but the owner of the company did not stick to his part of the deal. While I am sure these things happen from time to time, it was a first for me and to that extent a disappointing experience. A good learning will be to choose engagements more carefully next year. In terms of the venture idea I have been toying with, I did manage to get some ideas formulated and it is in a good spot to move ahead now, lot to be done next year. Overall though, both in terms of the activities and active income generation the year was not as good as I had hoped it would be.

On the personal front however, a lot of good things happened in 2018 and it was probably one of the best years for our family. At our stage in life a lot gets defined by how well the children are doing and this year both of them have excelled in their careers. My daughter Rinki completed her MBA from XLRI and has joined a company of her choice, where she is doing rather well. My son Ronju is in his last internship as part of his course work in BITS and he has already got a job offer. In effect, both of them are financially independent and do not need my financial support any longer. As a family, we were also staying together after a long time as both my children worked in Hyderabad for the past few months. 

Travel has been a constant theme for both Lipi and me, this year was no different. We started off with a trip to Khajuraho in February, went to Goa for a week in March with our children, visited Purulia in West Bengal for two short trips, had a family vacation to Bali in May, celebrated our silver anniversary with a Mauritius trip in September and wound up the year with an absolutely delightful trip to MP in December. As you can well imagine, all of this were rather expensive and my travel budget shot through the roof. Be that as it may, all the travel was great fun and I will do it again if I get half the chance !!

On that note, let me transition to my finances for the year. Despite my relative shortfall in active income, the cushion I had with my passive income was good enough for all my expenditure. The bulk of my cash inflows came from the below sources :-

  • Interest from Tax free bonds, InvIT funds and POMIS.
  • Dividends from Stocks and Equity Mutual funds.
  • Capital Gains made through maturity of FMP schemes.
  • Maturity proceeds of an LIC policy.
  • Rental income from my Chennai apartment.

Of course, there were other passive income such as from PPF and Debt funds but I have just let them grow as usual. Unless absolutely needed I do not want to utilize any of these for the next decade or so. For this year my passive income from part of my portfolio was enough to take care of my expenses with enhanced travel and even let me do some new investments in a secondary portfolio of stocks.

So far so good then, but what about the 2019 plans and beyond? Well, let me write about it in my next post.

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Society, Economy, Politics -how will markets react now ?

India of 2018 is a very interesting case study of contradictions in many ways. We have a government that was taken to be long term, at least till 2024, but with the election results this week it is clearly under siege. We have an opposition buoyed and flush with the recent electoral success but pulling in too many directions that may militate against it mounting an effective challenge. We are the fastest growing large economy in the world but our GDP growth rate is again under pressure. With so many things happening in the society, economy and politics, how are our markets likely to react?

Let us take society first – it is easy to see that we live in deeply divided times. The fault lines between different parts of our society is very clear. In terms of religion, the division is wide among Hindus and Muslims with both feeling they are hard done by. The non decision by the courts on the Ram temple issue has clearly caused a deeper divide and is like a festering wound that is now taking a heavy toll on communal harmony. The cow slaughter issue is central to a lot of disharmony and is not being handled properly by the governments. People today lack faith in law and order and are increasing taking the law into their own hands as evidenced by the spate of lynchings across the country, the latest being the sad death of a policeman. Religion is only one side of the coin though, caste is the other. Even today the dalits are treated atrociously in India and that is a great shame. As they get better educated and relatively improve their economic state, they are becoming more assertive, obviously to the chagrin of the upper castes. In general the society is also high on aspiration, education and jobs being the prime drivers. Sadly there is a clear disconnect between them and a lot of educated youth are not finding any avenues to use that education. Changes must be brought through an entrepreneurial revolution but even with government financing the success here is mixed as yet. This is leading to increased demand of more and more reservations, which obviously is not a solution. The societal disparities are also staggering and while the overall per-capita income and living standards rise have reduced poverty, the difference in how the various classes of society lives is mind boggling. All of these create a society in constant tension, reflected by so many unsavory incidents we get to hear of almost daily.

Coming to the economy, agrarian distress is definitely a cause for great concern. A lot of people even today depend on agriculture in our country and the reality is it is virtually impossible to make a living out of it, unless things are changed drastically. Elimination of middlemen and focusing on streamlining of the supply chain is the need of the hour but the vested interests are way too strong for it to get done easily. The focus therefore wrongly shifts to loan waivers which is akin to applying balm when you really need surgery. GST has been a much needed tax reform but the implications of it are that people need to pay taxes honestly after declaring their incomes – again something that most Indians are wont to do. It has to be accepted now that demonetization had a lot of short term pain for the economy and people, it unfortunately was also not followed up properly to get the tax windfall that was quite possible to achieve. Our GDP growth could easily have hit 8 % but for this step and the country is paying a heavy price for it. The tax system has really had no reforms other than the GST and compliance, though improved, have not really led to any game changing tax collection buoyancy. Finally, corporate earnings are still languishing and do not enthuse the markets. So if you had to evaluate the overall economy over the last 4 years, you will probably see a lot of long term initiatives but no great short term performance.

What of politics then? Well, about a year back BJP pretty much ruled most of India and it was a foregone conclusion that they will come back to power in 2019. However, the scene has changed rather dramatically in the last few months culminating in the Congress win of 3 states. BJP or NDA might still come back to power but it will be a tough battle and one they may well lose too. In democracy that is not an issue but the two opposing sides are so bitterly opposed to each other that any change of government will create a fair bit of upheaval throughout the country. Turbulent times ahead as the opposition will seek to hammer home the advantage they have got and BJP will try to take initiatives to win back the goodwill of people.

How will the markets take in all this? To begin with the markets have taken the BJP losses rather well as they were probably factored in. Over the last year the indices have not really gone anywhere, the mid caps and the small caps having taken the biggest hits. FII participation has been lukewarm at best and looks to continue in the same vein with other markets looking more attractive than India. SIP money coming in regularly into the markets courtesy retail participation has been a saving grace for the markets this year and this may well continue. As I see it the markets will take a pause for now and Nifty will be range bound between 10400 and 10800, maybe touching 11000 on the upper end. By the time we get into the budget exercise the markets will react one way or the other. BJP will be forced to take populist measures and this may cause markets to react negatively. My sense is that Nifty can get down to 9500 or so at the lower end and is unlikely to cross 11000 at the upper end. This will hold true till May, unless the budget is significantly positive for corporate India. The other aspect is of course the annual results and earning growth which is unlikely to be very enthusing. Beyond the May 2019 elections, markets will rise as long as there is a stable government.

So what should you do about your investments then? I will write about it in the next post.

 

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.

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 !!