Active equity investing must be the new paradigm

For a long time investors have been told worldwide and especially so in India that it was good to keep investing in equity regularly without worrying about the ups and sowns of the markets. I must say that most of the people who started investing after 2008 had been quite benefited by the same too. The markets generally went up over the years and the MF schemes largely did well, at least till 2017 or so. However, as the last few traumatic months have taught us, investors cannot trust the passive mode of investing any longer.

Let us understand the issue with MF portfolios in light of what happened this year. I will try to illustrate my point with 5 year and 3 year returns of some of the more popular MF schemes :-

  • ABSL Frontline Equity has 3 years return of 1.5 % and 5 years return of 5.3 %
  • HDFC Top 100 has 3 years return of 1.3 % and 5 years return of 4.7 %
  • ICICI Value Discovery has 3.4 % for 3 years and 4.4 % for 5 years

Note that these were the apple’s eye of the finiancial planners 5 years back and they pushed these schemes for most people. These have lost favor now but most of you who are having investments in MF over 7 years or so will be having them. Obviously these have not worked out too well when the average PPF returns were more than 8 % in the corresponding period and even today’s lowly FD rates are more than 5.5 %.

Some people may start wondering whether equity is worth it at all or not but that will be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. What we really need is active investment in equity, the passive investment model of keeping on investing in an SIP mode and having blind trust obviously does not work. Some of the elements of active investing will need to be as follows :-

  • Do not have a SIP mechanism like the one you have now. Invest regularly every year or even every month BUT vary your purchases of units based on the market state. This is something I have recommended in the blog for a long time and you can read some of my older posts as to how this can be done.
  • If you are investing for a particular goal in your SIP portfolio, have a hybrid fund or a pure debt product such as PPF linked to the goal. Whenever you have a high market gain, redeem some money from your SIP portfolio and put it into the hybrid fund or PPF. This step protects your gain and serves as a hedge against you having to distress sell your SIP portfolio, should the markets tank and your goal is at hand.
  • Review your SIP portfolio annually and be ruthless about weeding out the non performing MF schemes. 

What about the Stock portfolio then, if you do have one? My belief is you should only get into a stock portfolio if you understand it reasonably well, are willing to learn and can afford to spend time on it. The passive mode of buying some good stocks and forgetting about them will not really work. For every exciting story you read about on the internet, there are hundreds of failures that never get talked about. A stock portfolio will be a great thing to have for people who can manage it actively. If you are one of them go ahead, there will be risks associated but the rewards are great too.

One may ask whether it is possible to do active investing with a full time career and other family responsibilities. If you are finding it tough then engage a financial planner BUT explain to him clearly as to how you want things to be handled. Do not agree to the passive mode of investing, what happened in 2008 and 2020 may well happen again.

On a personal note, I am happy to say that I am starting 2 HELP engagements with this week and both people have been long term readers of my blog 🙂 People interested in knowing more about HELP can search for the posts in the blog. I am looking to sign up 3 more people in August, so write to me at if you are interested.

How the financial planners got it wrong for you?

Over the last one month I have got several messages from readers of this blog and people I know otherwise as to how their financial plan have gone totally wrong just in the space of a few trading sessions. Most people are shell shocked and are wondering how the basic strategy of SIP which was seemingly invincible has shattered so completely. While I agree that the current sell off is something no one could possibly have anticipated, the seeds of such a risky financial planning was sown much earlier through the SIP route.

The last time the stock markets in India went for a roller coaster ride was in the years 2008 through 2010 but not too many of the current investors were investing then. The whole idea of financial planning through SIP was started in full force after the 2008 January market crash. Investment in MF through SIP was touted as a big thing for planning your finances in order to meet long term goals of individuals. In the initial days SIP was promoted by many financial planners as a reverse EMI, only something that helped you build a financial asset as opposed to a home etc. The reason it became a huge success was the secular bull run that our markets had till very recently. Yes, there were many times when short term corrections were there but these were seen as opportunities to invest more in the markets.

Once the markets kept rising after 2010, the early adaptors of SIP saw great gains on their early investments and word of mouth advertisement along with the proliferation of MF agents with aggressive sales tactics ensured that it became the default choice of all the people coming into the workforce. Over the years the myth got propagated that SIP was almost like an investment in a bank FD only with a return of 12 % or more !! The investors lost sight of the risks that are part and parcel of every market. This was almost like an accident waiting to happen and it did, only the scale of it was swift and brutal. The plan of the financial planners was quite a good one, insomuch as investment in equity as an asset class for the long term is quite inevitable in a high inflation economy that we are. The error of judgement on their part is to get overly greedy and recommend that almost all investible surplus be put into equity. Investors not only kept increasing their SIP amounts but some also went into direct equity without knowing a great deal about the market and not having enough time to do adequate research.

The situation could have had a much better outcome had asset allocation been followed properly and people had 40 % of their assets in various debt instruments. Sadly, PPF and other small savings schemes were seen as stodgy and boring and even if some investors did go for debt, their choices were types such as the Credit risk funds etc which had their own problems too. The overall impact today is that the XIRR of a 10 year SIP is lower than those of PPF returns. Yes, this will become better over a period of time but a lot of the gains over the last few years have now been frittered away.

A lot of people who are readers of the blog have wanted me to advice them as to what they should do now? I am happy to answer any specific queries that you have, feel free to send it to me here or in the Facebook group. Some of you have also wanted to know if I can provide my HELP services to them. As I have said before, I do this only for a few people but in the current situation I am happy to take on a few more people. You can read about HELP program here and understand about the work I have done so far here. The people wanting to interact with me can mail me at

Watch out this space for my next posts which will contain more action plans as to how you can deal with your personal finance issues now.

Where should you be putting your money in 2020?

To begin with let me wish all my readers a very happy and prosperous 2020. I wish this year is a good one for you in your life as well as the financial space. Though I have not written much lately, I saw that yesterday’s post was my 500th one in the blog and that gave me a lot of satisfaction, especially as many readers have told me from time to time that they have found several of my posts quite helpful in their financial journey.

So what does 2020 have in store for us? At a fundamental level one has to realize that the situation in India is a study in contrasts right now. We have a government seemingly under siege but yet acting as though they are in a hurry to get contentious issues pushed through, an opposition that was in disarray but have now got a fresh lease of life due to the controversial decisions of the government, stock markets at a lifetime high yet several stocks are languishing rather badly, big plans on investments in infrastructure and other areas but employment situation and IIP/GDP numbers are poor. In very simple terms we are poised for great growth as a country but the risks that are associated with such growth possibilities are also substantial. The good thing is 2020 will give us a very clear direction as to which way we are going and that will set th tone for the decade.

Where should you be putting your money in 2020? This can be answered depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist about the India story. For a long time now the stock markets have been pining to see earning growth for companies and this year will be a make or break year in that regard. Corporate governance and banking regulations have been in the news for all the wrong reasons and the current steps taken for getting these corrected will also come to fruition this year. At the present point in time both debt and equity markets do not inspire a great deal of confidence, real estate is good only in pockets and that is not a good idea for most investors, commodities have their own risk and though Gold has shown good performance it is not a mainline investment choice. So this is the situation you must navigate through to bring your financial ship ashore. Let us see what are the basic strategies you can have in the year, depending on which stage of life you are. I am only discussing strategies here, will do a separate post on product types that you can invest in soon.

  • For people in their twenties who have just joined the workforce and are yet to have responsibilities of family etc, this is the time to take risks. You need to understand the long term benefits of equity investing and put a fair bit of your money there. Do not get into direct stocks unless you are interested in the markets and have time for it. There are several MF schemes that have good performance and portfolio, choose a set of them and invest through SIP. At the same time you should open a PPF account or an NPS account, depending on your inclination. The PF account of the workplace is there by default and you need to keep it going at full contribution. You can look at the idea of buying a house if you are likely to stay in a place for 5 years or so, do not do it otherwise.
  • For people in their thirties who have been working for 8-10 years, family responsibilities would have kicked in, they are likely to be married with 1 or 2 children. Much of the investment choices will be as above with two important differences. Firstly, with the MF SIPs having run for some time now, you need to institute an annual review in order to weed out the non-performers. Secondly, based on the goals coming up in the next decade, plan your debt portfolio in such a way that it acts as a hedge against equity doing badly for a few years. This will also be a good time to buy a house if you will get to stay there for some years.
  • For people in their forties, the chldren would have grown up and either in high school or getting ready for college. While the investment pattern remains the same, redeeming the correct investments for the goals is critical. Normally these will be from your MF SIPs but if the markets have done poorly 2-3 years prior to your goal year then you must look at alternatives. Try to use your Debt portfolio or look at other options such as educational loan etc.
  • For people in their fifties, the children are in college or have graduated from there. Given that you are now in an FI state and may be retiring soon, it is important to create a passive income stream that takes care of your regular expenses. Keep your equity MF portfolio going you need it for beating inflation over the long retirement years.However, you must have easy access to the next 5 years expenditure at all times without having to do a distress sell in equity.
  • For people in their sixties and above continue with the above strategy and keep the equity portfolio going for as long as you can.

People wanting to contact me with any questions or for HELP can write to me at

Some crystal ball gazing for 2020

Given the lackadaisical performance of our markets in 2019, a lot of people who are connected with it directly or indirectly are hoping for 2020 to be a much better year. Let me try and do some crystal ball gazing to speculate how the year might pan out. 

To begin with, it is important to understand that the global situation is really facing a lot of headwinds in economic terms and the cutrrent events unfolding are unlikely to change this any time soon. A lot of the global growth depends on countries such as US, China, Japan etc and the current context in this is not reassuring at all. In US, the impending impeachment of Trump is likely to cause a lot of friction and instability, the US-China trade talks are at best a patchwork, demand situation in any of these countries is also a cause for worry. The US stock markets however, are doing quite well compared to many others and this has caused money to flow into them. This really is a double whammy – countries such as India suffer from the negative situation in the US in terms of sentiment and also get impacted adversely as there is less FII money available. On top of these issues such as buying oil from Iran, the situation in Kashmir has caused a certain amount of cooling off between India and US which affects exports considerably.

For India though, the domestic situation is a far greater concern as compared to the international one. The implicit assumption last year was that a victory of the BJP led NDA will act as a tonic for the beleaguered markets and things would go well from there on. In practice the aggressive posturing by the BJP on a variety of issues, their inability to form the government in Maharashtra, loss in Jharkhand, continuing slide of the economy in terms of the IIP and GDP numbers have managed to create an uncertain situation and as we all know the markets do not like uncertainty. BJP presented 2 budgets in 2019 and both lacked direction and were completely unimaginative as far as growth was concerned. Yes, the current Finance minister did try and correct this by taking some measures when the market slide was unabated, and this has helped in recovery of the headline indices. In my opinion though this was too little and definitely too late.

Some of you may ask as to whether I am being unduly negative when the markets are at their life time highs. The point is the NIFTY and Sensex numbers are due to money being pumped into a few companies. The broader markets have remained pretty much where they were earlier and stocks like Yes Bank been beaten down so badly on price is an indication of lack of investor confidence. I see two real issues connected to each other in a very direct way. Firstly consumer confidence is at the lowest for a long time now and secondly this has resulted in consumption not picking up. A direct result is the earning growth of companies is muted and companies are reluctant to invest, even when they now have some unexpected extra money due to the cortprate tax cuts. Finally for all those who are saying that our indices should cause a cheer or two, look at the following data point. In 12 years from 2008 to 2020 January, NIFTY has gone from 6000 to 12000 levels. That is an annual return of 6 % and your money in a bank FD would have earned as much, definitely a lot more in instruments such as PPF.

All right, enough of the doom and gloom then, let us look forward. In terms of politics, though the BJP is well entrenched in the centre, they are losing the states and an united opposition poses a significant challenge in these elections. This may well cause the BJP to adopt more populist measures at the cost of fiscal prudence and this will have long term negative effects for the economy. In the short run though measures such as income tax cuts, reversal or reduction of LTCG taxes, lowered petrol prices will definitely help boost consumer confidence and hopefully also help in kickstarting the consumption demand. I see this happening in the second quarter of 2020 and the markets may well anticipate this and start rising in the early part of 2020 post the budget. If the cycle of events play out as expected and corporate earning growth is a reality finally, the market growth will also be sustained. I think this is possible if things are handled well from here on.

So finally for the predictions then – I think Nifty will be in the range of 12000 to 12500 till the budget and may well scale 13000 by June or so. From then the paths can be both choppy and uncertain – there is a possibility of reaching 14000 by December if all goes well but a more likely figure will be 13600 or so. However, if things go wrong it is quite easy to see Nifty back in the sub 13000 range, may be even lower than 12500. I think the first scenario will hold and am hoping for it too 🙂

What will be the impact on the investments and what should be the choices in 2020? Let me try and do a post on this tomorrow.

2019 has been a listless year for personal finance

From time to time I get a lot of requests from my faithful readers on writing more posts and unfortunately in this year i could not really bring myself to do so. One part of the reason was that a lot of things were keeping me busy but the more important reason was the listless nature of the markets and the general situation in the personal finance space, where conventional wisdom was turned on its head.

To be fair 2019 begun rather promisingly as it was felt the Indian economy was close to turning the corner and there were great visions of the markets really taking off should the BJP led NDA won the general elections. As we now know, the first of these happened but not the second one. The markets welcomed the emphatic BJP/NDA win but were very soon shocked with what the new Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman brought to the table in her first budget. It belied all expectations and started a free fall of the markets that was completely unexpected. This was aided by other bad news on the NPA and Banking front, defaults in the Debt fund space, international headwinds in the form of US China trade issues and, most importantly, the quarter by quarter poor IIP and GDP data. Towards the end of the year, even political and social stability had taken a real hit with BJP unable to form the government in Maharashtra despite a win and losing Jharkhand badly, along with the nationwide CAA protests.

Some of you might be asking as to if I am being unduly critical of the situation given that Sensex and Nifty are at their lifetime highs now. In order to understand the situation fully, look at the following :-

  • How have your SIP investments in Equity MF been performing over the last few years? The growth in the markets have been muted over the past few years and this has put serious strain on the financial plans of most people, for the long term goals. Most people and planners assume an overall annual return of 12 % over 15 years or so and that is nowhere near happening.
  • Due to defaults by companies on loans etc, Debt products have also come under serious strain. In several cases the FMP payouts were not done properly and reduced rates have not been expectedly beneficial to Debt funds too. 
  • Though the headline NIFTY numbers look good but that is due to a few companies doing well in terms of their prices. Look at a stock like Yes Bank and you will get a far truer reflection of the market risks involved today in investing. 
  • The real problem is of course in the mid cap and small cap space where many stocks have been beaten out of shape and will take a long time to recover, some will not recover at all. Most investors who had bet on these categories of MF for their long term goals will really need to rejig their plans now and look at other options.
  • In summary, both equity and debt asset classes are in a not so promising space, the economic indicators are hardly buzzing, the interim measures taken by the government such as corporate tax cuts also have not worked exactly as the investors had hoped they would.

So as 2019 draws to a close, what are the lessons investors can draw from it? It will, of course, depend on which stage of life you are, but some generic conclusions for such stages can be arrived it. A snapshot of possible strategies is given below :-

  • If you are in your twenties and starting off then do not worry too much about the present context, you have time on your side. However, keep your debt portfolio going with PF and possibly PPF or SSY.
  • For people in their thirties a clear action will be to look at their SIP portfolios and do a thorough review. Weed out the medium term non performers and focus more on large cap and diversified funds. Pure mid cap and small cap funds are best avoided unless they have high pedigree and are showing good trends in NAV. If your goals are due in the next 5-7 years you must create an alternate source for it.
  • For people in their forties look at increasing your SIP allocation in order to align with your retirement goals. The SIP returns have been far lower than planned for, so you need to invest more to make up for it. Some of your goals will be on you soon so you must have alternate plans, not redeem your SIPs especially those of mid cap and small cap funds. Have a solid debt allocation so that you can fall back on it as needed.
  • For people in their fifties, do not increase your SIP allocation even if your returns are lower than expected. You need to invest in Debt so as to give more time to your equity investments. Create a fund that will take care of your expenses 5 years after retirement and hopefully help your equity based SIPs to recover.
  • For people in their sixties, return from Debt investments is a major issue. Put as much money you can in SCSS and VVY schemes, use your PPF intelligently and once again let your equity grow as much as you can let it.

As an individual who has attained Financial independence, I am not immune to the market performance, if anything I am more affected by it. In the next post, which I plan to write tomorrow, I will explain my personal situation as envisaged by a recent audit that I carried out.

Wishing all my readers and their families a very happy and prosperous 2020.

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.

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.

Stock ideas for potential gains this Diwali

Now that the markets seem to have stabilised a little over the last 2 weeks, there is a return of investor interest in terms of making new Diwali investments. The Muharat trading is traditionally supposed to be a good omen for the rest of the year and with so many stocks being battered down in 2018, there are quite a few opportunities in terms of investing in some that will potentially give good returns in next few months.

I have been going over a lot of expert picks and have also gone over a lot of data recently, to come up with a few stock names that make a lot of sense to invest in. These look good from both a technical and a fundamental standpoint and most can give a return of 6 – 10 % in the coming months. With our markets being hostage to liquidity as well as political news in election season, the risks cannot be disregarded altogether, but life has to go on and these picks are more likely to do well than many others.

So without further ado, here are my suggestions of stocks along with their target prices :-

  • Hindalco with a target price of 258
  • HDFC with a target price of 1910
  • Sterlite Tech with a target price of 390
  • Raymond with a target price of 790
  • CEAT Tyres with a target price of 1260
  • Vedanta with a target price of 235
  • IB Real Estate with a target price of 99
  • HDFC Standard Life with a target price of 430
  • Hero Motocorp with a target price of 3200
  • Intense Technologies with a target price of 75

You will need to do a bit of reading and fact finding on these stocks, mainly in terms of their Q2 results before you take the plunge. As always, buy on dips and in small lots when you are building up the portfolio. Look at this portfolio as a means of making some money between this Diwali and the next ( or well before that ). For long term portfolio building, the considerations are very different and you can read my posts on the secondary portfolio I am currently building.

Wishing all my readers and their families a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

Current markets – how have they impacted your financial plans?

As the market situation continues to tumble from bad to worse, many investors who were confident of the long term market story are also getting the jitters. While I do think that personally the current fall is not much of an issue as I do not need to take money out of equity for the next 10 years, I can well understand that it may not be the case for many others. Over a small period of 1 month there has been a serious destruction of wealth for many retail investors and it may indeed take a long time for them to recover it.

Why is the situation different for retail investors today, when such ups and downs have always been part of the markets? Over the last few years the market returns have been good and this made the long term returns look rather optimistic. Many people who started investing in MF though the SIP route, were sucked into believing that a double digit market return over the long run was a given and even 15 % returns over a long term is quite possible. A lot of financial planning for important goals in life were done on this basis and is therefore now a problem in most cases.

Let us look at the Sensex returns over the different time periods till September 27th 2018. This data is from HDFC MF site and the returns if anything are actually much poorer now after the carnage of last week. All returns are in percentages.

  • 15 year return on the Sensex is 12.96
  • 10 year return on the Sensex is 14.18
  • 7 year return on the Sensex is 12.99
  • 5 year return on the Sensex is 11.40

To understand the real impact of the market fall, look at the reduction in your portfolio value for the equity portion. For me the reduction has been to the tune of 15 % and I do have a considerable equity portfolio, so even in absolute terms the drop is huge. I had suffered a similar experience in 2008, only the size of my portfolio was much smaller then. I would imagine that for most people investing through SIP in the last 7-10 years, the drop in portfolio value would be between 12 and 18 %.

Is this a passing phase? In other words, will the wealth that you have seemingly lost today come back? Yes, it will as the markets will recover over a period of time, the key question being when. However, this takes a serious toll on your portfolio as the growth goals you had assumed in your financial planning may undergo a serious change now. The extent of the impact is based on how long do you have till your goals and what types of goals these are. While, it will be difficult to address all possible situations, I will try to give some pointers to different categories of people.

If your goals are still a fair distance away, say at least 7 years or more you need to try the following:-

  1. Rejig your financial plan if you had taken 15 % or greater CAGR for equity growth. I would go fairly conservative and 12 % will be the maximum figure.
  2. Check your asset allocation now. For people with significant goals coming up in the next decade make sure that you have at least 40 % in Debt instruments.
  3. Your financial plan must be such that your goals can be met through debt instruments if that becomes necessary.
  4. Look at the possibility of targeted one time investments in MF, based on market situations. SIP does not really work well in a secular bull market and some of the current portfolio losses are a proof of that.

On the other hand if your goals are in the next couple of years, here is what you should be doing:-

  1. In case your goal was financial independence or early retirement, accept the fact that It will probably take more time than what you thought. Continue the current activities you are engaged in for earning active income till you reach a point where such a goal can be actualized.
  2. If your goal is mainly consumption oriented, that is you want to purchase an asset like a car/home or go on a vacation etc. you need to consider postponing the goal. Do not try to get this done by taking more loans than what you can afford, this will reduce your investment capability in a market where you do need to invest.
  3. For other goals that cannot be postponed, such as child’s college admission etc try to mobilize money from your debt portfolio to meet the current required cash flows. In case you cannot do that consider taking an Education loan with the understanding that you will pay it back quickly.
  4. If you do not have a significant debt portfolio start building it by transferring money from sources other than equity to this – for example if any insurance or ULIP policy is maturing then put the proceeds in some debt fund.

In general, the only immunity that you can have in a falling market is your ability of not needing money from your equity portfolio till the time the markets have had a sufficient chance to recover.I have no idea of how much time this will take but in my portfolio I can even wait for 10-15 years if need be, before I touch it for redemption.

I am happy to see many people have got started out here. Also, become a part of my Facebook group Market Musings where a lot more is discussed on the general market situation and also individual stocks.

Interested readers may pls follow my blog on email by clicking on the relevant button on the right hand panel. I will shortly be stopping the practice of posting the links in different Facebook groups. Following the blog will ensure you get intimated whenever there is a new post.

PPF versus ELSS is a false comparison

As most of the readers of this blog know, I have been a great fan of PPF over a long time now. Apart from the obvious EEE benefits that it brings to the table, I use PPF as a great foundation to my portfolio. Once it had crossed the 15 year period with a substantial corpus, the benefits of compounding are visibly evident every year and it is a great hedge against any forced distress sale of my equity assets in the event of a market crash.

PPF has been in the news last week as the interest rates for Small Savings Schemes were increased for the next quarter. While this was always on the cards, many investors were skeptical as to whether the government will actually do it. In this case, I think the government was somewhat forced to do it as there are many other reasons why the policy rates need to be hiked. Be that as it may, the reality is that PPF and other schemes will have fluctuating rates over the next decade or so. I see the rates being at a median of 8.5 % with a spread of 0.7 % either way, depending on the situation.

As usual, there were a lot of articles in blogs and postings in Facebook and WhatsApp groups as to whether one should invest in PPF or ELSS for 80 C benefits. This is a very old debate but as the blog has a lot of new readers this year, let me try and address it once more. Firstly, the comparison by itself makes no sense. People are comparing on returns and then coming to the conclusion that ELSS will make you a great deal richer if you invest for 10 years etc. As the English proverb says you cannot compare Apples with Oranges for they are very different fruits in every manner. PPF is a classical debt product and has compounding as the basic benefit, even though the rate of returns will be conservative. ELSS is an Equity product with inherent risk and volatility, having the potential of high returns over a long term duration. This essentially means that their presence in your investment plans must be for very different reasons – just because they both qualify for 80 C exemptions they cannot be compared directly.

Secondly, it makes great sense to invest in both even if it means you exhaust your 80 C limits. If you are having a PF account and cover about 1 lac through it then look at investing the rest 50 K in PPF. I am assuming here that you can invest in equity separately and, if so, look at other MF schemes for your equity investments. There is no need to invest in ELSS just for the 80 C exemptions. Of course, If you do not have surplus after 80 C investments then try to divide your investments between PPF and ELSS. In my opinion even investors who have a PF account must open a PPF account. You can decide on the investment amount based on your context.

Thirdly, some people compare the lock in period of 3 years versus 15 years and so on. Again the comparison is baseless for we are comparing products from two very different asset classes. In any event, for most investors, these are long term investments for future goals and they do not really want to redeem these investments in the next 3 years etc. In fact, the 15 year lock in period of PPF can be seen as an advantage here as you will be having a long term debt product where you can invest every year.

Fourthly, let me give you an example on the returns front, so that people understand the basic difference between the two products :-

  • Assume that an investor has 50 lacs in a PPF account today and he also has 50 lacs in a MF portfolio. He has built this over the last 15 years or so.
  • Let us take the current PPF rate of 8 % and Equity returns at 12 %.
  • In 9 years time PPF will be 1 crore and Equity MF portfolio will be 1.38 crores. After paying taxes on Capital gains for MF, it will be about 1.34 crores.
  • However, let us just assume that in the 7th year the MF portfolio tanks by 15 % as there is a market crash. In the 8th year there is no increase and in the 9th year it again tanks by 10 %. This is not unusual, can happen very easily with equities.
  • In this case, the equity MF portfolio will be at 76 lacs by the end of 9th year.

The point is, equity as an asset class has both volatility and risk as it’s characteristic and the investor needs to understand this. In the above example, if you had a goal of 1 crore in 9 years then PPF will get you there. Equity MF can also get you there handsomely with a big surplus BUT there is a risk that you may not reach your goal too. This is the most important reason for investing in debt products such as PPF. They prevent you from redeeming your equity portfolio at the wrong time due to your needing money for one of your life goals.

So there you have it – next time an expert tells you to junk PPF and put all your money into ELSS, explain to him why that is a bad idea. As I said, you do not need equity or debt investments, both should be part of your portfolio. In fact, PPF is a must have investment and you can have any MF schemes based on your preference, it does not have to be ELSS.