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In today’s volatile environment which largely stems from economic uncertainties from global markets, be it the Yuan devaluation some time back or Brazil being downgraded to junk or the September Fed meet on which everyone had an eye which resulted in no rate hike at the moment. The thing which most investors lose focus on is something that is called as long term investment perspective. By investing for the long term one will not try to time the market. Nobody can. We all know the simple rule of investment – buy at low and sell at high but invariably we tend to do it the other way round.

While focusing on short term we tend to buy stocks which have all the positive news around it and little do we realize the half of the time that news has already been priced in. If we focus on the short term our investments are bound to react to events in the short term both positive and negative. Whereas if we focus on the long term the returns will be impacted less by volatility and more by the performance of the investment instrument.

As per tax laws holding stocks beyond one year is categorized as long term but when it comes to investment an investment horizon of 3 – 4 years or more can be considered as long term. On the other hand when it comes to real estate it is far beyond that. Gold is another asset class but again it depends in which form it is held, whether in physical form as ornaments or in the form of ETFs.

Historical data also shows SENSEX had jumped 250% from April 1991 to March 1992 on the back of Harshad Mehta scam. He took crores of rupees from the banking system and pumped it in the market. The scam came to light when the State Bank of India reported a shortfall in government securities. That led to an investigation which later showed that Mehta had manipulated around Rs 3,500 crore in the system. On August 6, 1992, after the scam was exposed, the markets crashed by 72 percent leading to one of the biggest fall and a bearish phase that lasted for two years.

Similarly, from April 1999 to March 2000 SENSEX rallied 35% on the back of improving macroeconomic scenario – improved GDP numbers from growth in manufacturing, infrastructure and construction sector, falling inflation, healthy forex reserves and good industrial production numbers as against the year before and also the technology bubble was engulfing the rest of the world.

Again SENSEX fell 27% in March 2001 when the Ketan Parekh scam took place. A chartered accountant by training, Parekh came from a family of brokers, which helped him create a trading ring of his own. Be it investment firms, mostly controlled by promoters of listed companies, overseas corporate bodies or cooperative banks, all were ready to hand the money to Parekh, which he used to rig up stock prices by making his interest apparent.

Again in Feb 2008 SENSEX corrected by 8% approx on the day Reliance power Ltd. got listed. It closed 17% below its cost. Sensex witnessed a fall of approx 36% from 2008 to 2009 on the back of US Subprime crisis.

Following that there was a sharp pull back in equities between March 2009 to November 2010 led by global (Quantitative Easing announcement by US) and domestic (general elections) news flow. Putting all the pieces together the message to take away is that events will keep on happening but if one keeps a long term investment horizon it will be a safer bet.

The two main factors to consider before taking an investment decision for one self are ability and willingness. It is very important to know the difference between the two. Willingness is more about the attitude towards risk irrespective of the financial ability to do so. Ability on the other hand is financial capacity to bear the risk. It depends on income of the individual, his savings and expense pattern. It depends on the amount of money which one can keep aside purely for investment and not dip into it time and again for personal needs and can hold on to it even if they are not doing good at a particular point in time.

But again the point to note here is that if a particular investment is consistently a poor performer, one should plan an exit from the same and reinvest it in another suitable option. If one is not very good at deciding which stock to invest in and what the best time to do so is, then there are professionally managed mutual funds with different investment objectives from which one can choose.

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With literally thousands of stocksbonds and mutual funds to choose from, picking the right investments can confuse even the most seasoned investor. However, starting to build a portfolio with which mutual fund or stock to buy might be the wrong approach. Instead, you should start by deciding what mix of assets in your portfolio you want to hold – this is referred to as your asset allocation. You should consider an asset allocation strategy based on your

  • Time horizon: Asset allocation will depend on how long can you hold on to that particular asset and whether you need it for a particular goal. If you need any of your assets for let’s say a down payment for your house which is due next year, then probably holding debt/fixed income oriented instruments is an option you should consider. Examples of debt include Bank or Corporate Fixed Deposits, short term bond funds, short term bonds and ultra short term or liquid Funds. On the other hand if you have a long term goal like retirement, you can allocate a large portion to equity oriented instruments and lesser towards fixed income oriented instruments. As you move closer to the goal, you can keep reducing the equity portion while increasing the debt component.
  • Risk tolerance: This is different for each one of us. An individual should have a realistic understanding of his or her ability and willingness to stomach large swings in the value of his or her investments. Risk tolerance will depend on age of an individual – middle aged individuals generally tend to be more risk tolerant, as they may have more capital available for investing and have longer term goals.

 

In a volatile market scenario like the one we are witnessing now, and have also witnessed in the past, asset allocation becomes all the more important. The table below shows Sensex High and low on various dates. It also shows percentage fall from high. As you can see , the 1 year returns are as high as 105.9% from April 2003, but are also accompanied by a negative 1 year return to the tune of -31% from January 2008 during the US subprime crisis. Thus, had someone invested all of their money in equity prior to 2008 without a proper asset allocation in place, he would have incurred high losses in 2008. If someone would have invested keeping their goals, time to goals, risk tolerance, savings and expense pattern in mind, they could have held on to their existing investments while strategically rebalancing their portfolio as against panic selling and booking losses. The situation that we are facing now in 2015 around the Greece bankruptcy crisis and Chinese slow down have also resulted in Indian markets correcting significantly. The fall might look attractive to a lot of investors, and they might start buying irrespective of the asset allocation they might have charted for themselves. In our opinion, such events will come and go, and it will always be a challenge for investors to know how much further they could fall. Therefore instead of trying to time the market or haphazardly investing in what looks attractive,e one should go by ones pre defined asset allocation, because what looks attractive today may lose its sheen tomorrow.

Table 1 : SENSEX fall history

UntitledSource: Bloomberg, Reliance Mutual Fund

Historically, broad asset classes move in relation to each other are fairly consistently (for eg., when stocks are up, bonds tend to be down and vice versa). In diversifying the allocation across asset classes, you can potentially create a portfolio with investments that do not all move in the same direction when the market changes. However, if you only spread investments only by industry (eg. automobiles vs. pharmaceuticals), they are all in the same asset class (i.e., all in equities) and respond similarly to market changes. You are therefore open to much greater market risk. Asset allocation helps keep volatility in check.

Ultimately, there is no one standardized solution for allocating your assets. Individual investors require individual solutions. Asset allocation is not a one-time event , it’s a life-long process of progression and fine-tuning. Empirical data shows that it pays to be diversified across asset classes.

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The cost of education is increasing at a rate faster than normal inflation. Do you have enough for your child’s education? Are you aware of the best options for doing so? Do you have to sacrifice your other goals for achieving your child’s education? Read the article by Vishal and do comment how you are planning your child’s education.image-0001

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Go – reach for the skies

When I was growing up, life was quite simple. Most children were bunched into three categories – aspiring doctors, aspiring engineers and others. I remember a blockbuster Bollywood movie a couple of years ago, where the father picks up his new born and gleefully says ”My son will be an engineer.” Times have changed, and as a part of building financial plans now, we meet a whole set of parents who very happily state that have no idea what their kids will be when they grow up, they will be happy with whatever they do, and they want to provide for it.

So what should be your financial plan as a parent if you really want your child to follow his or her heart? For example, if one’s child wants to do a professional education in India or overseas, how can a parent prepare himself financially to support the child’s dream without compromising on other financial goals like retirement, etc. Most parents are aware of children’s education plans, education loans, etc. However, the element of planning gets missed out very often.

 Step 1: Define the current cost:

Get a fair estimation cost for the professional program that you would like to plan for. This is hard, especially if you do not know which program to plan for as these would vary depending on choice of country, type of program, duration of program. Do remember to take all costs into consideration and not only tuition fees. You may be forced to plan for a higher amount, due to not knowing which program will finally be chosen

Step 2: Estimate the corpus required:

Considering that education inflation in both India and overseas tends to be higher than regular consumer price inflation, you would need to factor in the inflated cost of education by the time you need the corpus. To give you a perspective, a domestic education costing Rs 10 lakhs today would cost close to Rs 32 lakhs after 12 years at an inflation rate of 10% pa. Similarly, an overseas education costing USD 100000 today ie approximately 60 lakhs, would cost in excess of Rs 1.2 crores after 12 years at an inflation rate of 6%p.a..

Step 3: Systematically save monthly or annually:

Break up the target corpus into a monthly or yearly saving goal, so that it can be easily measured. For example, at a rate of return of 12% p.a., one would need to save approx Rs 10000 per month and Rs 38000 per month to achieve the goal of planning for the domestic and international corpus respectively.

Step 4: Choose the appropriate vehicle:

The vehicle to use to reach the targeted corpus would be a function of the amount of money that you can put away. For example, if you can invest only Rs 8,000 per month to save towards the domestic education goal, you will need to target a higher rate of return on the portfolio. Therefore, you will need to use products that have a large equity exposure.

Step 5: Monitor progress:

It is critical to monitor progress annually to ensure that the assumptions made and the actual output are in line, to avoid any nasty surprises at the finish line.

Help your children reach for the sky.. bit by bit.

 Vishal Dhawan is a financial planner by profession and founder of Plan Ahead Wealth Advisors Pvt. Ltd. He can be reached at vishal.dhawan@planahead.in

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India equity markets celebrated Diwali in style, with the Nifty regaining the 8,000 mark and the Sensex moving above 27000.

There was plenty of positive news flow from India like the Government announcing a series of policy reforms including diesel deregulation, gas price hikes and e-auction of the cancelled coal blocks. The victory of the BJP in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana too buoyed sentiments.

Equity:

Nifty increased by 1.02% whereas CNX Midcap increased by 1.44% during the month.

The Price to Equity ratios continues to show that equity market valuations are above 20 Year average and it is therefore critical to see earnings pick up to justify current valuations . Early signs show that it is starting to happen as you can from the chart below on both PAT and EBITDA margins for Nifty companies:

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Source: Motilal Oswal Research, 2014

In the graph below it is very clear that investment growth has picked up recently in India compared to some of the other emerging markets (like Brazil, Russia and Mexico), but needs to rise further for economic growth to improve structurally.

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Source: Morgan Stanley Research, October 2014

Global economic growth woes continued – the IMF downgraded its economic outlook on the globe due to weaker than expected global activity in the first half of 2014, along with ongoing Middle East tensions, the Ukrainian and Russian standoff, along with the Hong kong political unrest. The new epidemic disease Ebola is also a big concern in U.S, African and European countries. News from Europe also continues to be challenging. The US ended its bond buying program but maintained its stances on keeping interest rates low for a considerable period, in line with market expectations. Whilst it is very tempting to move to a 100% domestic portfolio in this environment, we continue to recommend to have at least 10% of the portfolio invested globally for the purpose of global diversification, as well as act as a hedge against currency risk.

With projections of GDP growth of 5.5 percent in FY 2014–15 and 6.5 percent in the following year, Q2 2014 GDP growth came at 5.7%, above the consensus expectations. We believe that the Indian economy is on the cusp of a growth uptrend and this will contribute to growth in corporate earnings as we have shown in our charts above in this article and hence will justify strong performance of Indian equities, especially with oil and commodity prices coming off. However, it is critical to keep you asset allocation intact.

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Source: MSCI, Credit Suisse, I/B/E/S, FactSet, J.P. Morgan Economics, J.P. Morgan Asset Management “Guide to the Markets – Asia.”

Fixed Income

CPI inflation eased to a series-low 6.5% in September 2014 from  7.8% in August 2014 in year-on-year (y-o-y) terms and Core-CPI inflation (excluding food, beverages & tobacco and fuel & light) declined significantly to a series-low of 5.9% in September 2014 from 6.9% in August 2014 (refer chart below)

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Source: CSO, ICRA Research

Inflation related to fuel & light moderated to 3.5% in September 2014 from 4.2% in August 2014 in y-o-y terms. Softening of prices of various commodities including crude oil and domestic fuel prices would benefit the CPI trajectory in the near term and hence we continue to expect the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) January 2015 target of restricting CPI inflation below 8.0% to be achieved.

Nevertheless, the probability of a Repo rate cut in 2014-15 remains low, as the RBI is likely to continue to focus on containing inflationary expectations to improve the likelihood of restricting CPI inflation below the January 2016 target of 6.0%.

The below chart shows the Interest rate differentials between US and India:

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Source: Axis Mutual Fund

There is a fear that higher US rates will draw FII money away from India. This is not borne out by history. During 2004-06 even with rate hikes money continued to flow into India from FIIs. Secondly, back in 2004 at the start of the cycle, US rates were at 1% and Indian rates were at 4.5% implying a 350 bps differential. By the end of the Fed rate hikes, the rates were respectively 5.25% and 6.50% implying a differential of just 125 bps. In contrast currently the US is close to zero (officially the overnight target is 0 to 0.25%), while RBI is at 8%, a differential of nearly 800 bps.

Hence, we recommend having the fixed income portion of the portfolio comprising of both accrual and duration strategies where accrual strategies will lock into current high interest rates and duration strategies will start benefitting once the interest rates start coming off over the next 12-24 months.

Gold:

Demand for Gold has seen a rebound in recent days in India and China. India celebrated Diwali, the biggest gold buying festival  which boosted physical demand for the yellow metal on support of low prices. Meanwhile, a surge in Gold imports pushed up the India’s trade deficit for September to $14.25 billion of which Gold imports accounts for $3.75 billion. This raises questions on whether there can be some quantitative restrictions or higher import duties put on gold , to bring down the demand. Hence, allocating only a smaller portion of your portfolio in Gold continues to be a prudent strategy.

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“Seek not greater wealth, but simpler pleasure; not higher fortune, but deeper felicity.”

It will be 100 years next year since the return of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from South Africa, and the start of the freedom movement in India. Whilst the story of his Experiments with Truth is well known, a lot of his principles have great value today in everyday life, and also when applied to your investment portfolio. Here are few of our favorites:

Faith & Patience: According to Gandhiji, one should have complete faith in himself in order to achieve something in life. Faith is also largely associated with patience. He famously said –  ‘If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.’ For someone investing in equities, patience is the key. Stock markets are not a place where one should enter to make quick money, but should stay invested for the long term to get the best out of it.

Learning from your errors: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” – M K Gandhi.So if you are doing something, in all possibility you will fail or make mistakes. But the beauty of mistakes is that we get to learn from them. While investing also you will make mistakes, you will take wrong decisions, but without getting discouraged about your past fallacies you should follow a properly laid down path of action and reach your goals. Seek professional help if necessary and learn from your mistakes.

Discipline: Discipline is a virtue which applies everywhere and in all streams. If you are following a disciplined investment strategy, you would not only be able to achieve your goals but also be able to experience what is called financial well being for you and your family.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow: We live in a world where everything is uncertain. Therefore, making provisions for unforeseen events is a necessity. Plan for contingencies, have a will, and always ensure that you have enough insurance so that you and your loved ones are not left in the lurch due to a serious illness or in your absence.

Live in the present: It is often observed that we ponder too much about our past losses and worry about our future. Trials and tribulations are a part of our lives. Instead of cursing your past and losing sleep over your future, you should invest for a better future by clearly articulating your goals and then working towards them, so that you lead a serene financial life.

Adhere to your values: There might be many instances when an investor is tempted by greed of short term returns or fear of the unknown. Targeted Asset Allocation should be the guiding light for all your investment related decisions as it is arrived at after optimizing an investor’s risk tolerance, goals and investment time frame.

Rebalancing is the Key: One of Gandhiji’s quotes goes – ‘It is Ego we cannot forgo. But what ego does is parts us from our own selves, our loved ones.’ It is a deviation from what we should be doing. Similarly, when our portfolio deviates from its original desired level of target asset allocation, we should make requisite changes. We should rebalance the portfolio at regular intervals and make it adhere to its values.

Some of these values and principles are applicable and guide us in all walks of life. Same is the case with Gandhiji’s principles, simple yet applicable to each and every thing. Follow these simple principles to lead a more efficient and fulfilling financial life.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.

 

 

 

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For the uninitiated, the Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean lying between Africa and Asia. Thanks to the announcements of the Federal Reserve in the US late last night, and Ben Bernanke’s very clear commentary of how he expects the Federal Reserve to run its monetary policy over the next 18 months or so, the Red Sea shifted to financial markets today.

From equity markets to currencies to bond markets, there was a sea of red across the screens in markets today, be they emerging markets or developed markets. Whilst it is widely believed that market participants hate uncertainty, it seemed that they hate certainty even more. The statement and timetable from the Fed essentially covered two items

1. A tapering off of fresh buying of securities from the current level of USD 85 billion per month that they are at currently starting from later this year. Most analysts seem to expect that to be around September 2013.

2. A gradual end to all buying of securities which could happen by mid 2014.

Of course, this is provided that unemployment in the US gets lower and inflation starts to rise. There is now an expectation that interest rates in the US start to move up from end 2014, early 2015.

Whilst none of this was unexpected, the clarity seemed to have upset market participants, who wanted to run to the safety of the US dollar and US treasuries.

Whilst this reaction could well continue for a while longer as different constituents look at these events through their own prisms and risk comes off, and also move further to US treasuries where yields become more attractive, past experience indicates that events of these kind, though negative in the short term, create opportunities for investors to rebalance their portfolios, both amongst asset classes and within asset classes.

Over the last thirty years, yields on US treasuries have moved up substantially multiple times. In over two thirds of these instances, this has resulted in gains for equities as well,  especially in Asia. Such events provide entry opportunities to add exposure to equities.

It would be interesting to look at this from a historical perspective. Over the last thirty years, yields on US treasuries have moved up substantially multiple times. In over two thirds of these instances, this has resulted in gains for equities as well, especially in Asia. Thus, investors need to look at opportunities provided by events of this kind to add exposure to emerging market equities, especially as valuations are reasonable. For example, Indian markets currently quote at a trailing price to book of 2.7 against a historical average of 3.6. Ditto with forward price earning ratios, which are currently at about 14 times, against a historical average of 16 times. With most investors already underweight on Indian equities in their portfolios, we think this is a good time to start buying. In addition, cooling oil and gold prices could be great for the Current Account Deficit that has everyone in India so worried today, providing a further kicker to equities.

Other parts of Asia also seem to have similar valuation opportunities, with a very large part of Asia quoting at a significant discount to long term averages on both PE and PB parameters. Whilst buying equities is always fraught with downside risks over short periods of time, buying at reasonable valuations has always played out well over the long term. Building a diversified portfolio across emerging market equities is recommended, even though it may be tempting due to a home bias, to run a 100% domestic equities portfolio for Indian investors. Investors can also look at equities in markets like the US where a recovery could kick start a virtuous cycle, driven by corporate sitting on cash rich balance sheets, at higher levels than ever before.

On the fixed income side, with the Indian rupee under pressure due to the strength of the US dollar, and inflation likely to reemerge, interest rate cuts could get slower and less predictable, making it important that investors use a combination of both duration strategies like income and dynamic funds, as well as accrual strategies like short term bond  funds, and deposits in their portfolio. In case they were overweight duration strategies, they need to rebalance.

Gold hit a two and a half year low, and whilst it could be tempting for investors to add further to their portfolio, the significant exposure that most Indian portfolios already have to gold through a combination of jewelry and investments, would make it difficult to recommend further exposure.

Whilst it is very tempting to stay out of financial markets at this stage and come back later, market timing simply does not seem to work. So stay invested and keep investing. Of course this assumes you’re in it for the long term.

Ultimately, if you go to North India in summer, you know its going to be very hot. You don’t panic because the temperature has gone above 45 degrees Celsius.

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