You got a Large Amount to Invest? Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

10 minute read

You have been comfortably investing a part of your salary regularly through an SIP into few good equity funds. This works perfectly fine as the monthly investments average out the equity market ups and downs. Typically, going by history over the long run you would make decent returns mirroring the underlying growth of Indian businesses.

But we have another common occurrence, which unfortunately has not received much attention.

What if you suddenly receive a large amount of money?

Think bonus, property sale, inheritance, ESOP etc

A large amount is basically whatever is large enough for you. There are no hard and fast rules. I personally consider any amount more than 24 times i.e 2 years of my regular monthly savings as a large amount.

Now you have a problem.

How do you invest this in equities?

  1. Do you go all in and invest everything into equities in one shot – but what if the markets crash immediately after you invest – think Jan-2008.
  2. Keep it in cash (read as liquid funds) and invest the money when equity markets fall – but what if markets go up like crazy – think 2009, 2014, 2017
  3. Equally splitting your investments over a time frame (of around 6 months to 3 years) – this is a midway path where you try to average out your buying price. Again you will miss out if there is a sharp up move or the fall happens exactly after you are done staggering your investments. Imagine equally splitting your investment amount into 12 portions and investing for 1 year till Jan 2008.

Now while all the above are extreme examples, the take away for us is that irrespective of which strategy you use to invest your money, there will always be instances where you would have regretted not using the alternate strategy.

The only way out is to predict how the markets will move in the short run.

Unfortunately there has been no one who has been able to do this on a consistent basis.

“The idea that a bell rings to signal when investors should get into or out of the market is simply not credible. After nearly 50 years in this business, I do not know of anybody who has done it successfully and consistently. I don’t even know anybody who knows anybody who has done it successfully and consistently.” 
― 
John C. Bogle

Minimizing regret..

This means, throughout your life as you keep getting large amounts at different points in time, regret will also be a regular companion. It may either be regret of missing the upside or regret of participating in a downside.

If you think there is some secret parameter which will let you know what the markets are going to do in the short run and help you identify the perfect strategy, then the article ends here for you. I am not aware of any.

But if you are someone who agrees with me that the markets are too random and can’t be predicted in the short run, I have a solution for you.

It all starts with the humble acceptance that we cannot completely eliminate REGRET. 

Rather the only thing under our control, will be on how to minimize regret and live with it.

Let me explain with an example.

Case study

Assume you have got a large inflow of Rs 1cr. Your existing portfolio is around Rs 50 lakhs (entirely in equities).

Here is how you can go about adding this Rs 1 cr to your existing Rs 50 lakh portfolio.

First you need to answer the simple question:

What is the maximum short term loss you are willing to tolerate in your portfolio?

This will be the decline in portfolio value beyond which you might find it extremely difficult to stay with the existing portfolio. In other words, this is your freak-out point!

For the entire Rs 1.5 cr portfolio (Rs 1 cr new money + Rs 50 lakhs in existing portfolio), you understand that some bit of risk (read as short term declines) needs to be endured for better long term returns.

While it is definitely painful, you are willing to tolerate upto Rs 25 lakhs loss. Anything beyond that might be really hard on you.

To get an idea on how past declines have been, let us check the historical range of outcomes for different asset allocation between equity and debt over a 6 month period.

The workings have been calculated for the last 18 years with a large cap fund (Franklin India Bluechip Fund) representing equity allocation and a short term fund (IDFC Bond Fund – Short Term Plan) representing debt allocation.

The table can be interpreted as:

Over the next 6 months, there is a 95% probability that the returns from a 70% Equity + 30% Debt portfolio will be between -17% to 30%. This range describes the “comfortable zone” for the particular asset allocation. In other words, this is the normal behavior to be expected from the particular asset allocation.

It is hard to quantify 5% of the market, which can involve black swan events like housing bubble, dot com bust, war, earthquake etc. However you can control for 95% of the risk by choosing the appropriate asset allocation.

Why six months?

There has been elaborate research done by the US firm Riskalyze which concludes that 1 year is too long a period for investors to stay calm during a market fall while 3 months is too short. They have found that 6 months is the sweet spot where most of us want to take a decision on portfolio performance. In fact they have built an entire business around this concept. Do check them out.

Let me apply these ranges to your Rs 1.5 cr portfolio:

Since you had decided on a maximum tolerance of upto 25 lakhs loss, a 70% Equity: 30% Debt portfolio would be ideal for your risk tolerance.

This implies that going by history, it is normal to expect the portfolio to be anywhere between Rs 1.25 cr to Rs 2.06 cr in the next six months. In other words the outcome can range from Rs 25 lakhs loss to Rs 56 lakhs gain over the next 6 months.

While we have no clue where it would be in this range, but if it is in this range then everything is normal and it is behaving exactly as per expectation.

The Rs 1.5 cr will get split into 30% i.e Rs 45 lakhs in debt and the remaining 70% i.e Rs 1.05 cr in Equity.

Since there is no timing risk in low duration debt funds, immediately invest Rs 45 lakhs in your chosen debt funds. I prefer Ultra Short Term or Short Term Funds.

Rs 50 lakhs is already in equities. So we have to deploy the remaining Rs 55 lakhs in equity.

While we have addressed the 95% of expected normal outcomes via the asset allocation, we are yet to address the 5% probability of abnormal outcomes. These events though rare, will definitely happen at some point in time. Historically these events have occurred once every 8-10 years.

So how do we address these 5% probability events?

Enter the Asset Allocation Traffic Signals

While the short run is unpredictable, we can roughly approximate the long run returns. You can refer my earlier post here to evaluate where equity markets are in the current cycle. Based on the framework to estimate returns, you can classify the markets into three zones Green (very attractive), Yellow (average) and Red (very risky).

Green: Expected 5Y Returns above >15%

Yellow: Expected 5Y Returns between 8 to 15%

Red: Expected 5Y Returns less than <8%

If it is in the Green zone, then the odds are in our favor and it is better to invest the entire Rs 55 lakhs at one go. Choose 2-4 equity funds and invest immediately.

If it is in the Red zone, then the markets are extremely risky and the odds are not in our favor. We will invest in 2-4 Dynamic Asset Allocation Funds which auto adjust equity allocation based on various valuation parameters. We will shift this portion back to pure equities when the markets go back to Green zone.

If it is in the Yellow zone, then the markets are neither too risky nor very attractive. We will invest Rs 27.5 lakhs in 1 or 2 Dynamic Asset Allocation Funds and another 27.5 lakhs in 1 or 2 Equity Funds. We will shift the Rs 27.5 lakhs in Dynamic Asset Allocation portion back to pure equities when the markets go back to Green zone.

These valuation and earnings based asset allocation calls, to a certain extent help us manage the 5% abnormal market conditions.

Now for those of you who think this is a lot of work and complicated, worry not. I have a workaround for you.

What if we instead, gave the job of taking Asset allocation calls to an experienced veteran with 30 years of investing experience. Someone who has been running asset allocation strategies for the past 10 years and has a solid track record. Someone who has an experienced team tracking several parameters day in and day out and has established a good enough model which has worked so far.

What if I told you, all this comes free for you – if you can spend 5 minutes every month!

Wow!

Let me reveal the secret for you – ICICI Prudential Balanced Advantage Fund

This is an auto adjusting asset allocation based fund which moves its equity allocation between 30% to 80% based on a valuation model.

The fund is managed by Naren (read about him here). After a lot of trial and errors in the model between 2008-2010, the model in its true avatar was live and running from 2011.

The fund has had a solid track record since then and had basically pioneered the entire category. After seeing its success almost every AMC has launched its own version in recent times.

Source: ICICI Prudential AMC website

You can see that the equity allocation calls have worked well for the last 8 years. The best part is that, the asset allocation is disclosed every month in the factsheet (which gets published around 12th of every month).

If you don’t want to go through the hassles of building your own allocation model, then you can go with Naren’s model. Here is how..

Red: If equity allocation is between 30% to 40%

Yellow: if equity allocation is between 40% to 65%

Green: If equity allocation is between 65% to 80%

Thus by spending 5 minutes every month to check the equity allocation of ICICI Prudential Balanced Advantage Fund, you can make use of Naren’s asset allocation model.

Now doing all this doesn’t mean we will be able to perfectly time the market. This is basically a method to the madness, where using history and valuations as a guide we are trying to tilt the odds in our favor. The idea is to minimize regret and get reasonable participation in the upside while reducing the participation during downside.

Why do we need a framework like this?

The biggest risk whenever we get large amounts of money is INACTION.

We somehow get scared by the possibility of going wrong and keep postponing the investment decision.

So here is the deal.

Whenever you get a large amount of money, give yourself 2 weeks to decide on a strategy to invest. If you are not able to take a decision, then go ahead with the plan that I have suggested. If you think you have a better strategy, great, just execute it.

The key is to not get into the “freeze” mode!

Make this Large Amount Investing strategy a part of your annual discussion with your advisor. If you are on your own, then make sure you have the plan written down every year.

Summing it up:

When you get a large sum of money to invest, use the following steps

  1. Decide on the maximum extent of loss you are comfortable to take on your portfolio in the next 6 months
  2. Based on this, choose asset allocation split between equity and debt based on the 95% probability 6 month return range (refer the table)
  3. Immediately deploy the debt portion in short duration funds (Ultra Short Term or Short Term)
  4. Equity Portion will be deployed based on asset allocation signals:
    1. Green – Invest in 2-4 equity funds immediately
    2. Yellow – Invest in 2 Dynamic Asset Allocation Funds and 2 pure equity funds – portion in 2 Dynamic Asset Allocation funds will be moved to pure equity funds when market goes back to Green zone
    3. Red – 2-4 Dynamic Asset Allocation Funds – will be moved to pure equity funds when market goes back to Green zone

If you feel the strategy can be improved, or there are views that you don’t agree with or perspectives that can be added do let me know either via the comments or by mailing to me at rarun86@gmail.com

Happy investing as always!

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 article per week) or Twitter along with the 5000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

You can also check out my other articles here

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments.

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This FISH can help you save money

Recently I have noticed a strange pattern. My impulse spends have started to increase dramatically.

Almost once, every three days, I order something from Swiggy at midnight (though I have had my dinner!). There are many things that I have bought from Amazon which I hardly use. My wardrobe is expanding perennially, thanks to no-reason sales which e-commerce companies dish out almost everyday. I have a constant itch to buy some new electronic gadget – amazon stick, one plus phone, amazon echo, wireless earphones, speakers etc.

Even if I don’t have the money, I don’t feel like postponing the purchase. The credit cards have slowly started to make me think “No worries, buy now and I will pay this off next month or put it in EMI”

If you step back and think about it, this is just the beginning.

I think “saving money” will become extremely difficult going forward led by a host of factors such as

  1. Social Media
    1. Given how easy it is to peek into our friends lives, we start comparing our lifestyle and spending habits to others via social media and end up spending money to “keep up with our peers and our increased aspirations
  2. Digital Money
    1. In a behavioral concept called “Pain of paying” though the amount is the same, it feels ‘less expensive’ and “less painful” to pay with the card or digital wallets compared to cash. More money tends to be spent due to the reduced pain of paying.
  3. Easier Loans + the new world of EMIs
    1. The credit card companies, banks, the Bajaj Finances of the world etc are all after us to provide us quick loans to buy anything ranging from cars, bikes, gadgets, clothes etc
  4. Marketers
    1. Marketing is designed to convince us that we’re deficient in some way, but that we can ‘fix’ ourselves if we purchase their product
    2. The marketers have now gone to the next level, where they have started to peep into our brains to study exactly why we buy and how to manipulate them. This emerging field is called neuro-marketing.
  5. Unbelievable convenience
    1. With the advent of delivery right at our doorsteps and one-click payments from our mobiles, its become extremely convenient for us to spend more.

If it is this difficult to save in 2018, what hope do we have for 2028?

While who we are up against is scary, we still need to put up a decent fight. And here is how I am going about with it..

My first blunder ..

When I started reading on how to solve this, the solution was simple:

Whatever can be measured, can be improved

So the initial idea was to actually track my spending so that I know where I spend. Once this is clear, I can improve on it.

Now to do it manually would be a tall ask.

Thankfully, I found an amazing app called “Walnut – Expense Tracker”. It automatically picked up my spending by reading the SMS sent by my bank.

While it worked like a charm and I diligently used it for three days, the whole process was extremely boring and I had zero motivation to do this daily.

My willpower soon gave up and I stopped using the app.

Mission failure.

If you are one amongst the elite few who are extremely disciplined and have great willpower this app will work for you. I am unfortunately a part of the “rest-of-us” category.

Learning: Any behavior which requires willpower to execute, each and every time is not a viable long term strategy

So this time, I decided that I needed a strategy which is completely automated and saves me from decision making each and every day on where to spend.

Introducing the “FISH” method of saving money..

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

FISH simple stands for:

F – Fixed expenses every month
I – Investing for the long term
S – Short term savings
H – Happy to spend

Let me explain:

First your salary will come to your primary savings bank account. Then it will get split into the following buckets.

1) Fixed Expense:

All of us have certain fixed expenses every month, that we cannot avoid. For eg

  • House Rent
  • Electricity Bill
  • Fees
  • Gas
  • Grocery
  • Petrol
  • Internet Connection
  • Mobile Bill
  • DTH
  • Maid Salary etc

Approximately estimate the total fixed expenses. Add a 10% buffer. As there will inevitably be something which surprises you or you exceed in some categories.

This portion will continue to remain in your actual salary account.

2) Investing for the long term

This portion is for investing in your long term goals (early retirement, kid’s education etc). You can take the help of a simple online financial planner to estimate how much you will need to save.

If that sounds like too much work, a good thumb rule is to have atleast 20% of your monthly salary in Long Term Investments.

Set up an investment account in any of the platforms available and start an SIP (systematic investment plan) in few good equity funds.

You can refer here to see how I do this.

 3.Short term savings

This portion will cater to any reasonably large financial requirement (say >6 months salary) that you foresee in the next 5 years. You can take the help of a simple online financial planner to decide the amount to save every month.

Otherwise, a good thumb rule is to have atleast 10% of your monthly salary in Short Term Savings

This can be invested via an SIP in options such as

  1. Ultra Short Term or Short Term Funds
  2. Arbitrage Funds
  3. Equity Savings Funds

4. Happy to spend

The remaining amount is all yours to happily spend.

So just transfer this to your secondary bank account (open one if you don’t have) and start spending from this account.

Here is a pictorial snapshot of the entire process:

Do this segregation at the start of the month, once your salary is credited. Once you become comfortable, automate most of this process.

Since the fixed expenses cannot be completely automated, whenever you are spending on a fixed expense use the primary salary account debit card. For discretionary spends use the secondary savings account debit card

What if there is a sudden unplanned expense?

I usually maintain an emergency fund which is around 5-6 times my monthly expenses.

So if there is a short fall in my “Happy to spend” account, I will dip into my emergency fund and replace it later (mostly when I get a bonus).

And try not to use a credit card, as it defeats the whole strategy.

Why does this work?

1.Difficult to think about Opportunity Cost

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has an interesting observation:
Money is all about opportunity cost.

In English, it means every time you order something in Swiggy for Rs 400, you are giving up Rs 400 which could be spent on something else.

In an ideal world, we should be asking ourselves all the time ‘Is this the best possible way to spend Rs 400?’

But let’s be honest. It is hard and impractical to think about each and every spending decision this way.

Instead of worrying about if we are spending right every time, the idea is to prioritize what is important to us (entrepreneurship, early retirement, kids education etc). In this method, by first allocating some part of our salary to this priority portion via long term investing and short term savings, we are eliminating the possibility of our impulse purchases affecting our important priorities in life.

2.Better Anchoring

Earlier when I used to manage money, I always saved whatever was left at the end of the month. So whenever I decide to spend, I always anchored to the entire salary amount which was sitting on my bank account. This meant for a lot of spending, I actually didn’t worry too much as the overall balance in the salary account was still large.

The moment I switched and started to first allocate to the fixed expenses, long term investing and short term savings, it let me anchor to a lesser value in the “Happy to Spend” account. So whenever I am about to spend, my reference point is not my entire salary but only 20% of my salary (or whatever is your % of salary that goes to “Happy to Spend” account).

This goes a long way in helping us make better spending decisions as the
“Happy to Spend” amount is all that we have, to spend for the entire month.

3. Lesser no of decisions

Eventually once you automate the whole process, your no of decisions are dramatically reduced.

Long Term Investments and Short Term Savings, once it is set, you don’t need to decide what to do each and every month

Further, analyzing your spends become a breeze as all you need is to check the primary savings account for fixed expenses and secondary savings account for your other spending.

No fancy apps required. Just your bank statement!

Final Thoughts

While this method is still in evolving stage, it has worked reasonably well for me in the last 6 months. Do not let the simplicity of the method undermine its usefulness.

If you are struggling to control your spending and saving, I request you to try this simple method and let me know how it works.

As always, happy investing or rather happy saving!

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 article per week) or Twitter along with the 6000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

If in case you have any feedback or need any help regarding your investments or want me to write about something, feel free to get in touch at rarun86@gmail.com

You can also check out my other articles here

This strange ritual of Japanese rail workers can help us evaluate equity markets

A 15 minute read..

Japanese rail workers and their strange ritual..

A sleek Japanese bullet train glides noiselessly into the station. Then the strange ritual begins.

During the brief stop, the train conductor in the last carriage suddenly jumps out and starts talking to himself. He points at different parts of the train, station and comments something loud.

See this for yourself..

What in the world is he doing?

The Japanese call this technique, Shisa Kanko, a Japanese phrase meaning point with finger and call’. This is an error-prevention drill that Japanese railway employees have been using for more than 100 years.

The basic problem which the Japanese railways faced was that most of the accidents were caused due to human lapse of concentration and negligence rather than lack of knowledge.

Now, when you ask the rail worker to physically point at things and then name them out loud, he is forced to engage different senses via the brain, the eye, the hand, the mouth and the ears.

This makes him more conscious, aware and alert, thereby significantly reducing the possibility of unintended errors.

Studies have shown that this technique reduces human error by as much as 85 percent.

But aren’t we a lot more smarter and attentive?

Where is the gorilla?

Answer the questions in this video before you move one (it will just take 2 minutes)

As seen in the video above, all of us have our blind spots depending on where we have our focus.

Inevitably in an information overload world, the media has a significant say on where they want us to focus our attention.

As investors, this is not great for us as we get carried away by the news, focus on the wrong things and lose the actual big picture, leading to flawed decision making.

Better decision making starts with frameworks

Now all of us are sure of one thing – this is a bull market.

And yet another thing we are sure of – it will inevitably end someday in the future.

Historically we usually get to see 1 or 2 bear markets every 10 years. This means another 3-6 bear markets in the next 30 years.

In other words, we don’t get too many opportunities to learn how to handle bull market peaks and the bear markets that follow.

While we may read a lot on how to identify bull market peaks and behave during a bear market, nothing beats actually experiencing it and learning from it.

The good part is, we will have this opportunity soon (how soon is anyone’s guess). So, the key for us is to not let go of this great learning opportunity!

Now I honestly haven’t seen a full fledged bear market before. So while theoretically I should be fine, I am really not sure how I will actually handle a bear market.

What do we do about this?

I have a suggestion. Let us develop a framework to evaluate the risk in markets. Something via which we would get a sense of when we need to go slow on equities and when we should go all in into equities.

Now this does two things for us:

If it works, great! We have a framework which we all can use and have a far better investing experience.

If it doesn’t work, first blame me and later we can can always go back and check as to what went wrong and improve our framework

Instead of going blind into the final phase of a bull market, let us be prepared with a framework which can be evolved based on feedback.

Now let me be clear on one thing – the idea of the framework is not about precision – it’s just a disciplined way to get an approximate sense of which part of the market cycle are we in.

I may be wrong. But the idea is to quickly learn, improve the framework, and share the learnings so that everyone can benefit.

So let us check out the framework

Equity market evaluation framework

To evaluate equity markets I use the below 7 factors

  1. Valuations
  2. Earnings Growth
  3. Cycle – Credit Growth, Capacity Utilisation
  4. Sentiment
  5. Interest Rates
  6. Other Dynamic Asset Allocation Models
  7. Momentum

To ensure that we do not miss out on any of these factors, we shall use the “point and call” Japanese concept for each and every one of the above 7 factors.

The basic starting point will be to have a rough expectation of the long returns i.e 5-7 year returns.

Returns from equity = Change in earnings + Change in PE valuations + Dividend Yield

So basically predicting equity returns boils down to answering these two questions

  1. What can be the earnings growth?
  2. Will the valuations move up (increasing returns) or move down (reducing returns) or stay flat (not contributing to returns)

1.Valuation

For valuation I will stick to 3 metrics –

Primary metric

  • PE Ratio

 Secondary metric (will be used as a support to the primary metric)

  • PB Ratio
  • MCAP/GDP

PE Ratio:

To understand how valuations impact overall returns you can refer here.

As seen above, the Sensex is currently at a PE ratio of around 23.3 times which is well above (around 30% above) the long term average.

You can also clearly see that Sensex valuations have usually moved between high and low valuations and eventually revert back to the average.

So if we have a 5-7 year time frame and we are getting in now, our returns will improve over and above the earnings growth if the valuations at which we exit is above today’s valuation i.e above 23 times. If it is lower, then our returns will be lower than the earnings growth.

So how do we know the exit valuations?

Back to data as always

This is an interesting chart and hence let us take some time to understand.

I have plotted the maximum PE ratio of Sensex for each and every 2 year period since 2000 till 2018.

In other words this was the best valuation multiple you got, to exit over a two year period.

The interesting part is historically, you always got a chance to exit at a PE multiple of above 17!

Now while there is nothing sacrosanct about this number and the future might be different, it gives us a good starting point to think of exit multiples based on history.

It simply means, if history holds true, I have a high possibility of exiting atleast at a PE multiple 17 times (and higher than that if I have luck by my side).

So we can have a rule that states,
Post the 5th year (assuming your goal is 7 years away), you exit the moment PE multiple is above 17 times.

This implies your exit valuation multiple in the worst case will be 17 times. In the current context, from our starting multiple of 23.3 it is a drag of 37% or 6.5% per year from earnings growth.

If you assume average of 18 times as your exit multiple then it implies a absolute drag of 30% or 5% per year from earnings growth.

Pointing and Calling on PE Valuation: PE ratio implies a possible drag of 5-6% from earnings growth


Let us also check what the other metrics indicate

Price to Book Value

When you look at it from a Price to Book point of view, then the valuations look reasonable as they are close to their long term average.

But why this deviation between PE and PB?

PB = PE * Return On Equity

As seen from the above equation, the culprit for this difference in signals from PE and PB valuations is because of ROE. The ROE for Indian equities is extremely low at this juncture.

Source: MOSL

ROE usually tends to mean revert over time. We need to keep this context in mind while evaluating PE valuations which look expensive

Pointing and Calling on PB Valuation: PB ratio is reasonable. Low ROE leading to expensive PE valuation.


MCAP to GDP

Source: ICICI Pru Presentation

The current MCAP/GDP is close to historical average

Pointing and Calling on MCAP/GDP Valuation: MCAP/GDP indicates reasonable valuations


2.Earnings Growth

Anyone who has tracked analysts prediction for earnings growth in the last 5 years know one thing for sure – it is damn difficult to get it right.

So while I profess no superior powers to forecast, taking a longer time frame of say 5-7 years, provides us with a slightly better chance to project earnings growth. (Of course, this can be wrong. But hey, we need to start somewhere right!)

Just like we used mean reversion as our base case in valuations, we shall use mean reversion in Corporate Profits to GDP as our base case to project earnings growth for the next 5-7 years. A longer time frame means we are providing more time and hence a higher likelihood of mean reversion happening.

A lot of reports come up with corporate profits as a % of GDP. While different reports have different numbers, the overall number is very close to each other. I have taken CLSA’s data. (Source: Link)

The average corporate profits as a % of GDP since 2001 is 4.2%. Currently for FY19 it is expected to be 3.3%.

Now assuming mean reversion to around 3.5% to 4.5% and a nominal GDP growth of around 11% (6% real growth + 5% Inflation) we end up with a profit growth range of 12% to 18%.

Pointing and Calling on Earnings Growth: Profit Growth Expectation for the next 5 years: 12% to 18%

5 Year Equity Return Estimates

Applying these numbers to our original equation:

Returns from equity = Change in earnings + Change in PE valuations + Dividend Yield

Change in earnings = 12% to 18%

Change in PE valuations = -5%

Dividend Yield = 1% to 1.5%

Pointing and Calling on future equity return expectations: Approximate estimate of equity returns over the next 5 years: 8% to 14%.

Assuming an inflation of 5%, that is a real return of around 3% to 9% which is pretty decent!


3.Cycle – Credit Growth, Capacity Utilisation

Credit growth has started to pick up

Capacity Utilisation is increasing – early stages of a capex cycle

Source: ICICI Prudential Presentation

Pointing and Calling on Capacity Utilisation & Credit Growth: Earnings growth can receive support from: improving credit growth and capacity utilization (possibility of capex cycle picking up)


4. Sentiment

A good way to measure sentiment is use FII, DII and MF Flows into Indian equities.

FII Flows

Foreign investors have been structurally positive on India. So while there are short term instances where they took out money, they have always returned back. So whenever FII flows were negative, it was a great time to invest in Indian equities.

Now currently the FII flows for the last 12 months are negative!

Pointing and Calling on FII Flows: Negative FII flows usually indicate strong 2 year returns


DII Flows

DII flows have been very strong in the past few years which is also supporting the higher valuations. But a large chunk of the money came during 2017, which means for those investors the returns would be dismal (more dismal if it went to mid and small cap segment). So we need to monitor the DII flows very carefully.

It is currently supported by strong equity MF flows and SIP culture.

Source: Money Control

Pointing and Calling on DII Flows: Strong DII flows (primarily from MFs + SIP culture) were supporting higher equity valuations. However, early signs of fatigue visible. Needs to be monitored.


5.Interest Rate

  • Current Inflation
  • RBI Projection

Inflation is projected at 2.7-3.2 per cent in H2:2018-19 and 3.8-4.2 per cent in H1:2019-20, with risks tilted to the upside.

Source: RBI Monetary Policy date 05-Dec-2018

The good part is Inflation is expected to stay below 5% according to RBI. This implies lower interest rates.

Pointing and Calling on Interest Rates: Lower Inflation + Interest rates may lend support to equity valuations


6.Other Dynamic Asset Allocation Models

Pointing and Calling on other Asset Allocation Models: Majority of models indicate a not-so-positive stance on equities


7.Momentum & Trend

Absolute Momentum:
3M Return: 2%
6M Return: 0%
1Y Return : 6

Trend:
50 Day Moving Average : 2%
100 Day Moving Average : -1%
200 Day Moving Average : : 2%

Pointing and Calling on Momentum & Trend: Momentum & Trend is Positive


Putting it all together:

Phew. Now let us put all this together and make some sense

  • Valuations: PE ratio implies a possible drag of 5-6% from earnings growth
  • Earnings Growth: Corporate Profits to GDP well below historical average. Possible Mean reversion indicates 12-18% earnings growth environment
  • 5Y Equity Return Expectation: 8% to 14%
  • 5Y Equity Real return Expectations: 3% to 9%
  • Cycle – Credit Growth, Capacity Utilisation: Earnings growth to be supported by: improving credit growth and increasing capacity utilization (possibility of capex cycle picking up)
  • Sentiment: Negative FII Flows indicate strong returns in the next 2 years. High valuations were supported by strong DII Flows (primarily from mutual funds and new SIP culture). But early signs of fatigue in DII flows – needs to be monitored
  • Interest Rates: Lower Inflation + Interest rates may lend support to equity valuations
  • Other Dynamic Asset Allocation Models: All models indicate a not-so-positive stance on equities (due to higher valuations)
  • Momentum & Trend: Both are positive

We can classify markets into 4 cycles: Bust, Best, Boom, Bubble (borrowed from this interview of ICICI Prudential Sankaran Naren’s framework here)

All these indicators put together, indicate that we are not in a bubble zone. The valuations indicate that we are neither in the Best zone. While mid and small caps have seen a partial bust, overall the markets in my opinion are still in the Boom zone as the earnings growth is yet to pick up and the start of earnings growth might lead to decent returns.

So for those who are investing now different combinations of Multicap funds and Dynamic Asset Allocation funds can be a good option to build portfolios.

Given the early signs of fatigue in DII flows, I am still a little worried on going for mid and small caps directly and rather would play them through multicap funds.

This is an evolving framework and I hope to update it every 6 months. Remember I can be wrong (most often I will be). The whole idea about documenting and sharing the framework is to create discipline, to stay humble and to take feedback both from you and markets to improve this framework.

If you feel there can be areas that can be improved, views that you don’t agree with or factors that can be added do let me know either via the comments or by mailing me at rarun86@gmail.com.

Happy investing as always!

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 article per week) or Twitter along with the 5000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

If in case you have any feedback or need any help regarding your investments or want me to write about something, feel free to get in touch at rarun86@gmail.com

You can also check out my other articles here

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments.

Investing Chitra Katha: How to invest money in your 30s

This is my investing strategy..

1.Faith in equities


The real equity return was positive in every country, typically at a level of 3% to 6% per year. Equities were the best-performing asset class everywhere.

The Indian version of the same book..

2. Your faith will be regularly tested..

3.Discipline to invest regularly

Jadav created an entire forest single handedly, spreading across 1,360 acres.
The forest contains several thousand varieties of trees and has attracted elephants, rhinos, deer, wild boars, reptiles, vultures, and Royal Bengal tigers. 

A simple monthly investment in equities done consistently through market ups and downs over a long period can create a similar magic!

4.Patience

5.The power of compounding

6.Focus on 2-4 good funds

7.Choose experienced fund managers

8.Lower Costs – Choose Direct plans

9. Initial 10-15 years, financial capital is a small portion relative to future human capital => Focus on saving more and maximizing equity allocation

Asset Allocation, Market timing etc can wait till your financial capital reaches a reasonable size relative to human capital!

10.Automate the whole process

You can track the progress of the above strategy here

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 weekly newsletter) or Twitter along with the 5000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

If in case you have any feedback or need any help regarding your investments or want me to write about something, feel free to get in touch at rarun86@gmail.com

You can also check out my other articles here

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments.

A video game approach to managing money

Just like in a video game, to get better in any field, there is usually a sequence of skills and problems to be mastered/solved progressively, one level at a time.

Managing your money is no exception.

But unlike a video game, where the levels are clearly defined and you don’t move up until you clear the current level, the “levels” in personal finance are unfortunately too vague.

And here begins the confusion..

  • Is HDFC Top 200 better than Reliance Large cap?
  • Is Nifty ETF better than a large cap fund?
  • Should I directly pick stocks or stick to mutual funds?
  • What is the impact of rupee depreciation on Indian equity markets?
  • Will elections have an impact?
  • Why do debt funds suddenly give negative returns?
  • How do I exit before the top of the market?
  • Is there a way to improve my SIP?
  • Small caps vs Mid Caps vs Large Caps – which one?
  • Direct vs Regular plans?
  • Dividend vs Growth plans?
  • and the story continues..

No doubt, there are too many questions. But which one do we solve first?

Not knowing where to start and which level a question belongs to, we confuse ourselves into thinking that we need to have answers for all these problems before we actually start investing.

So we end up trying to solve each and ever problem by endlessly debating, listening to CNBC anchors, watching interviews, reading newspaper articles, blogs, asking for advice from friends and family etc.

By the end of all this intellectual exploration, we fall into two categories with regards to our money:

1. Bogged by the complexity, we completely ignore taking any sort of a decision and feel guilty
2. We continue to obsess over finding a perfect solution by arguing over minor details and don’t take action.  

Sadly, both the options yield the same results – None.

So what is the solution?

JUST START!

Yup, you heard it right. That is exactly the solution.

Now, this means we need to take a step back from all the confusing overload of jargon and information thrown at us, and just like a video game need to solve it one level at time.

As Eighty Twenty Investors, we shall first solve for the simple yet critical problems which will help us build a 80% good enough money solution. Over time we shall gradually progress and improve over and above the 80%.

No while this is an evolving thought process, if I were to personally start it over all again, this is the hierarchy I would go about to manage my money.

Level 1: Spend less than you earn = Save the remaining

When I first started my fitness journey, I deep dived into a quest of finding the best exercise routine, best protein powder, best diet, best shoe, best time to workout blah blah.

6 months later still trying to find out the best solution, I realized the problem was much more basic – I had to first solve for inculcating the habit of regularly going to the gym!

Similarly, when it comes to investing, the starting point is fairly basic and simple – if you can’t save enough, all other things don’t really matter.

Yet ironically, most of us focus on all the complex nuances of investing conveniently forgetting the starting point.

Now if you are wondering why in the world am I making such a big issue out of this. Check these two earlier articles to realize who we are up against and why incrementally saving money is going to become a huge problem..

So the first ground level problem to solve – How to save enough regularly?

Level 2: Emergency Fund

Once you are done solving for the habit of saving regularly, we come to the level 2 problem – building an emergency fund.

As we all know, emergencies are a fact of life. A sudden job loss, medical emergency, unexpected home repairs, car accident, dropping your mobile phone and the list goes on.

Saving up for an emergency fund is a simple way of acknowledging “Shit happens! Let me be prepared” 

A good starting point would be to build around 6 months of your monthly expenses in a safe, liquid and stable investment option such as

  1. Separate Savings Account
  2. Bank Fixed Deposit
  3. Liquid Fund (preferred option)

Level 3: Insure your life and family’s health

The next step is to go ahead and get

1.Health Insurance for you and your family
2.Life Insurance: Simple plain vanilla Term Cover

This is an extremely confusing exercise given the myriad of choices and features and maybe sometimes in the coming months I will do a separate post on how to choose health and term insurance.

Remember: Never ever mix your investments and insurance

The best part is all the decisions till now – emergency fund, health insurance and life insurance are usually one time decisions. Once you decide on the product, then all you have to do is to regularly pay your premiums in case of insurance and in case of an emergency fund, keep investing a small amount monthly till you reach the required savings to cover 6 month expenses.

Level 4: Simple Goal based Financial plan

The 4th level, is to create a simple goal based financial plan.

Find below the required steps:

  • List your financial goals (kid’s education, early retirement, buying a house, starting a business etc)
  • Estimate the time frame for every goal
  • Approximate the current costs
  • Adjusting for inflation calculate the future costs
  • Calculate the amount to be saved (either one time or monthly or a combination of both)

The below articles can be a good starting point on how to get this done..

  1. A simple trick to estimate your future costs in 2 minutes (Link)
  2. Create your own financial plan while you are waiting at the traffic signal (Link)
  3. See how easily you can create your own financial plan in 15 minutes (Link)

Level 5: Get short term goals (<5 years) sorted

Since the time frame is very low, it is not advisable to use long term asset classes such as equities given the significant ups and downs in the short run. Hence the idea would be to stick to a safe debt or arbitrage oriented portfolio.

Level 6: Long Term goals

Once you have solved for all the above levels, this is the final level which is simple yet not easy to master. This level has to be broken down into sub levels and solved one piece at a time

Let us check out the sub levels..

6.1.Investor Behavior

Time and again it has been observed that investment returns and investor returns are almost always different.

You earn the investment return if you invest your money and then don’t touch it. No buying, no selling, just holding.

But in reality, people rarely invest this way. They sell in fear when markets fall and buy in greed when markets move up. Most of us chase performance and invest by looking in the rear view mirror.

Source: Behaviorgap.com

This gap in investor returns vs actual investment returns is called as The Behavior Gap.

The key is for the investor not to get carried away in greed during a bull market and in fear when the markets are falling.

You can read this post to get a sense of a real life example of how greed played its part in luring investors.

  • Seat Belts, Condoms and the Indian Equity Investor (Link)

Also you can refer to these posts to understand how to handle a falling market.

  • Three ways to make sure this stock market correction is not wasted (Link)
  • If you panic during a market fall it’s not your fault. Blame it on.. (Link)
  • A guilty father who shot his own kid, ancient Greek philosophers, US Navy Seals and the art of handling a market fall (Link)
  • “What if things go wrong” Investment Plan – (Link)
  • 6 reasons why we panic during a market correction (Link)

Finally it all boils down to this..

The most important part of an investing strategy is your ability to stick with it. A subpar investing strategy that you can stick with and apply consistently will nearly always outperform a brilliant strategy you give up on. Your final investing results probably won’t be determined by whether you currently use a strategy that historically delivers an extra 50 basis points of return. What will matter is whether you had the disposition to stick with investing, however you chose to do it, through thick and thin.

Morgan Housel

6.2.Asset Allocation

Different asset classes come with different return expectations and risk (i.e how wild they fluctuate in the short run)

A quick rule of thumb for setting return expectations would be

Equity: Inflation + 5-7%
Real Estate: Inflation + 3%
Gold: Inflation + 2%
Debt Mutual Funds or FD: Inflation+1%

The choice and the mix of assets in your portfolio will have the largest influence on your long term returns.


Now typically equities are the best choice for long term allocation but the cost that you pay for higher returns is the sharp falls the asset class goes through in regular intervals. In fact a 10% fall once a year, 20%-30% fall once in couple of years and 40-50% fall atleast once a decade is unavoidable.

So depending on the extent to which you are comfortable with seeing your long term portfolio decline, decide on your equity allocation.

A rough rule of thumb would be:
Equity Allocation = The maximum near term % decline you are ok to see in your portfolio * 2

So if you are ok with upto 30% decline then go for around 60% in equities. The remaining 40% can be in debt mutual funds.

6.3. Risk Management

This is where you try to put “investment behavior” part into practice.

The philosophical question goes like this:

Should you try changing the investor or investment?

While in the “Investor Behavior” part we try and address the investor, in this section we try and evolve the investor portfolio to adapt to the behavior of the investor.

This is based on the reality that – the ability to take risk (or what is called risk tolerance) of the investor is not a constant. The recent market performance has a huge influence on the risk tolerance where usually investors become high risk takers in a bull market and low risk takers in a bear market.

Thus we need to introduce risk management. This in normal human language means – we need to actively adjust the equity allocation based on our evaluations of risks in the market (a combination of valuation, earnings growth, sentiment etc)

If you find this going over your head, no worries, just stick to simple process of re-balancing back to original asset allocation – either annually or whenever equity allocation deviates by more than 10% from the decided allocation

6.4.Geographic Allocation

Once you have decided on the asset allocation, the next decision is to decide on which countries businesses (equity) do you want to bet on. Logically, most of us will start of with our home country (India in my case).

But sometimes, there is always the rare possibility of what if it turns out to be like Japan!

Source: https://pensionpartners.com/the-nikkei-straw-man/

So while many people argue on why you shouldn’t bet on equities citing Japan’s case, but I think the actual takeaway is to diversify your equity exposure across global businesses.

6.5.Category Choice

This is where you solve the question of mutual funds vs direct stocks.

My suggestion would be to start predominantly with mutual funds and have a small portion of your portfolio to direct stocks. If you enjoy the process of stock investing, can spend time to research, then based on your evolution and performance over a 5 year period you can gradually move towards a stock based portfolio.

For the majority 95% of us, mutual funds will do the job.

  • Within mutual funds again there comes the question of: Passive vs Active
  • Within active funds comes the question of: Diversified vs Sector Funds.
  • Within diversified funds comes the question of: Large Cap vs Mid Cap vs Mutlicap

You can read my thoughts on the above topics via this article

  • What if Steve Jobs was an Indian Equity Investor (Link) .

6.6.Security Selection

In this stage, you figure out how to choose equity and debt funds from various categories.

You can refer to these posts to get a fair idea on how to go about with this

  • Selecting an equity mutual fund is a pain in the neck! Find out why? (Link)
  • What if Steve Jobs was an Indian Equity Investor (Link)
  • How do we experience good performance (Link)
  • How to select equity mutual funds the eighty twenty investor way – Part 1 (Link)
  • How to select equity mutual funds the eighty twenty investor way – Part 2 (Link)
  • How to select equity mutual funds the eighty twenty investor way – Part 3 (Link)
  • Here’s how I finally set up my investment portfolio for the next 10 years (Link)

You can also refer to these posts to pick debt funds

  • A primer for investing in debt mutual funds (Link)
  • 8 factor framework for analyzing any debt mutual fund (Link)
  • Investing Chitra Katha – Understanding the impact of modified duration on debt fund returns (Link)
  • The ultimate guide to liquid funds (Link )
  • Here’s a quick way to select Ultra Short Term Funds (Link )
  • Making sense of Short Term Debt Mutual Funds (Link)
  • Credit funds – Don’t count your returns before they hatch (Link)
  • Here’s why I don’t invest in credit funds (Link)
  • Figuring out a simple do-it-yourself framework for short term investing (Link)

Stock selection is an ocean in itself. I would suggest you start with websites such as https://www.drvijaymalik.com/ , https://www.safalniveshak.com/ etc

6.7.Cost

In Investing, You Get What You Don’t Pay For

John.C.Bogle

Globally passive investing (via ETFs) have gained significant popularity in recent times. Their pitch is simple – Buy an entire index covering all major stocks and get it at the lowest cost.

In India, while we are still some time away from active funds losing their edge, large caps is a segment where there are initial signs of passive funds giving a tough competition.

Direct vs Regular?

SEBI in 2013, introduced a new option in mutual funds – “Direct” option
to provide an option to invest in mutual fund schemes directly, without the involvement of any agent, broker or distributor as the case in “Regular” mutual fund plans.

Regular and Direct plans are just the two options of the same mutual fund scheme, run by the same fund managers who invest in the same stocks and bonds.

The only difference between the two is that in case of a regular plan your AMC or mutual fund house does pay a commission to your broker as distribution expenses or transaction fee out of your investment, whereas in case of a direct plan, no such commission is paid. Instead, in case of direct plans the commission is added to your investment balance, thereby reducing the expense ratio of your mutual fund scheme and increasing your return over the long-term.

The advantage of direct funds is that their expense ratios (the charge of the mutual funds for managing your money) is usually lower by 0.5% to 1% compared to regular plans.

So always chose a direct plan (and even if being advised by an advisor pay his fees directly which keeps both your incentives aligned)

6.8.Tax

Once you are done with all the above steps, then you can also evaluate the taxation for various investment options and choose a tax efficient vehicle to access the underlying asset class.

Summing it up..

Now the next time you are caught up in a debate of say which fund to choose, passive vs active etc, relax, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you have solved for the levels before that.

If not, get the basic ones sorted first.

Most importantly, don’t get into the never ending loop of debating the minor things in search of the perfect solution.

Solve these levels one step at a time and in a few weeks you will have your 80% solution ready. Trust me, you will be much better off than the majority who still are in search of that elusive perfect investment solution.

And anytime you catch your friends getting caught in this trap, send them this article.

As always, Happy Investing folks…

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 weekly newsletter) or Twitter along with the 5000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

If in case you have any feedback or need any help regarding your investments or want me to write about something, feel free to get in touch at rarun86@gmail.com

You can also check out my other articles here

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments.

Remember this before the next bear market arrives

In my earlier post here, I had discussed on how a “what-if-things-go-wrong” plan helps you preload your decisions and reduce the no of decisions during market fall.

Since this thought process has evolved only recently for me, I have not really got the chance to test it out as I am waiting for the next fall.

As always I have my doubts as to –

What if this is just some fancy intellectual gyaan?

Let us use history as a guide and check if this makes practical sense..

As mentioned earlier, the primary objective is to –

Reduce the number of decision points during a market fall

Let us check if our plan helps in this endeavor.

So let me time travel back by 28 years (since Nifty Index was started) and check on how many decisions I needed to take when markets started to fall.

In the above chart the orange line represents the % fall of Nifty from its previous peak value on each and every day for the last 28 years. This is called draw down chart.

But here is something that will shock you:
In the last 28 years, for 94% of the days Nifty was down from its previous peak!

That simply means I will almost, always have to go through the retrospective feeling “If only I had sold earlier..”.

Here is the killer – Along with it the decision on “Will the market go down further?” will also need to be taken on 94% of the days!

Earlier, I had always believed that markets were too volatile and decisions have to be made real time – each and every time the market went down. The decision could be anything – to reduce/exit equities, to buy more, to hold etc.

Now to put that in context, that meant in the last 28 years I would have had to make ~6482 decisions as for 6482 days out of 6893 days the Nifty draw down was negative !

Take a pause and get that number into your head – we are looking at around 7000 decisions over the next 30 years. Phew.

Ok. To take a decision for each and every minor fall is stretching it too far. Let us say, we need to take a decision only when the fall (read as fall from previous peak) is more than 10%.

Any guesses on the no of decisions?

4171 decisions in the last 28 years. That is almost 150 decisions every year!

What if its only for a fall above 20%?

Still we are left with 2734 decisions.

Now you get the gist.

Too many decisions..

The moment we start looking at each and every fall as a decision making point, it becomes extremely stressful as the near term is always uncertain and there is nothing much you can do about the how the markets should behave.

Further, the more the number of decisions we need to take, the higher is the possibility of panicking out of the market.

Deciding when to decide..

Let us check how our new approach of reducing the decision making points to 10%,20%,30%,40%,50% would have fared.

There have 19 instances in the last 28 years where, the bare minimum 10% drawdown trigger has occurred.

Out of 19 occurrences, only 3 times did the 10% drawdown actually get converted into a 50% fall. This means a 50% fall is a very rare event and in the next 30 years going by history we might see only 3-4 of them.

Similarly, only 9 out of 19 times has the 10% drawdown actually become a 20% correction. 

So the takeaway for us is that – a 10% drawdown is too common while a 50% is too rare.

So let us keep our decision making points to 20%,30% and 40% fall.

This implies in the last 28 years, our decision making points during a market fall has been dramatically reduced to 9 periods and just 20 decisions !

So our strategy of “deciding when to decide”  does make sense.

Summing it up..

Hence our “What if things go wrong plan” will have

  • 20% fall
  • 30% fall
  • 40% fall

as our decision making points..

Now we are left with the interesting second part – preloading decisions for these 3 scenarios.

How do we do that?

Hang on for the next part..

If you loved this post, do share it with your friends and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via Email (1 weekly newsletter) or Twitter along with the 5000+ awesome people. Look out for some fresh, super interesting investment insights delivered straight to your inbox.

If in case you have any feedback or need any help regarding your investments or want me to write about something, feel free to get in touch at rarun86@gmail.com

You can also check out all my other articles here

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments




A guilty father who shot his own kid, ancient Greek philosophers, US Navy Seals and the art of handling a market fall

In our last week’s post here we had explored how a small almond shaped component in our brain called the amygdala is the main culprit behind why we panic during an equity market fall.


Photo courtesy: http://www.wiredscience.com

But can the amygdala be this powerful?

Hold your breadth.

It made an innocent father kill his own child.

Source: https://classic.esquire.com/article/1995/3/1/the-right-to-bear-sorrow

Startled Father Fatally Shoots His Daughter

It was the November of 1994..

Fourteen-year-old Matilda Kaye Crabtree was hiding in a closet, playing burglar. Her father Bobby Crabtree, who didn’t know she was home, pulled open the door with gun drawn.

“She went, `Boo!’ and that scared him,” said Stacy Redding, who crouched with her friend in the closet, and then watched as Robert Crabtree fatally shot his daughter in the neck.

Kaye’s last words to her father: “I love you, Daddy.”

You know who was the real killer.

As a fear response, Bobby’s amygdala had kicked in and his body reacted way before he could be conscious of what he was doing.

While Bobby was not prosecuted as what had happened was an accident,  you can imagine the pain this father had to live with throughout his life.

The lesson for us is clear – Don’t underestimate the amygdala!

So, what if we removed the amygdala?

But hang on..not so fast

Without amygdala, the guy would never be walking again.

So doing away with the amygdala is again not an option given its ability to save us in a lot of other contexts.

We simply need to learn on how to handle amygdala and manage our fears.

Million dollar question – How do we manage our fears?

The simple yet profound answer – feeling in control.

The most powerful way we can cope with fear or anxiety is to create a feeling of control

Anything that gives us a feeling of control over our situation helps us keep our calm. But when we don’t have a feeling of control we get stressed and start panicking.

Our prefrontal cortex in the brain is where we do all the “thinking”.  As long as we feel in control, we can use it.  When we feel out of control, we lose the ability to think from our prefrontal cortex.

Amy Arnsten studies the effects of limbic system arousal on prefrontal cortex functioning.  She summarized the importance of a sense of control for the brain during an interview filmed at her lab in Yale.

“The loss of prefrontal function (the thinking part of the brain) only occurs when we feel out of control. It’s the prefrontal cortex itself that is determining if we are in control or not. Even if we have the illusion that we are in control, our cognitive functions are preserved.”

This perception of being in control is a major driver of behavior.

Your Brain at Work by David Rock

So how do we bring in a feeling of control?

Let us check other fields which have the same problem and find out how they are solving it. This will give us some valuable clues.

Think of army men, bomb squad members, firemen, emergency ward doctors etc who are trained to make good decisions in extreme high pressure situations.

Let us study the most badass amongst them..

Enter the US Navy Seals..

The US Navy seals have handled threatening missions in the world’s most dangerous spots, whether that meant jumping out of airplanes, taking down hostile ships in the open sea, or rolling prisoners in the dead of night in the mountains of Afghanistan. As a Navy SEAL, they have learned how to manage the natural impulse to panic in the face of terrifying situations.

1.Prepare and Practice

 If you are wondering on how the Navy Seals are so fearless, the simple answer is they – Train, Train, Train!

“We spend 75% of our time preparing for deployment and about 25% on the deployment.” 

“It’s not like you jump out of a plane once and then you remember how to do it forever. It’s something you’ve got to constantly revisit. When you hang out in the mountains of Afghanistan, you don’t exactly get to work on your scuba diving.”

Former SEAL Commander James Walters

The SEALs learn to handle fear by practicing all possible high pressure situations well in advance repeatedly until they feel naturally confident about it—until that unknown becomes, well, a little more known. This provides them with a sense of control and confidence.

In the SEAL teams, this is called contingency planning.

What will we do if we hit a landmine?
What will we do if we take a casualty?
What will we do if the target house looks like it’s been abandoned?

Even NASA followed a similar strategy for their astronauts to make sure that astronauts wouldn’t panic in the early space missions. They ran them through every step of the process until it became boringly familiar. This level of familiarity produced a powerful feeling of control and confidence.

Before the first launch, NASA re-created the fateful day for the astronauts over and over, step by step, hundreds of times — from what they’d have for breakfast to the ride to the airfield. Slowly, in a graded series of “exposures.” the astronauts were introduced to every sight and sound of the experience of their firing into space. They did it so many times that it became as natural and familiar as breathing.

Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Now, if you really think about it – almost everyone be it a surgeon, a fireman, a bomb squad member etc who is required to deal with decision making in high pressure situations inevitably goes through thorough preparation and training.

But when it comes to investing in equities, most of us enter completely oblivious to the power of our amygdala – unprepared and untrained to handle a bear market.

Even experienced investors have gone through their share of tough periods and most of them over years have evolved their ability to handle bear market mostly via trial and error and repeated exposure.

Usually a correction of 40-50% happens every 7-10 years while a 20-30% happens every 3-5 years. This means by the time we get prepared to handle a bear market via actual exposures it is almost 15-20 years. That is too long a training period.

So the question for all of us is –

How in the world do we train for a stock market correction?

While I don’t have the perfect solution yet (and I guess a lot more attention is desperately needed here), here is a good starting point to train for a market fall

  1. Reduce the no of decision making points – pre decide when you will actually make a decision
  2. Prepare a “What if things go wrong” plan – write down what you will do if your portfolio is down 20%,30%,40% and 50% (also think of the various declines in portfolio in Rs terms (vs % terms). A 10% fall, on a 1 lakh portfolio feels a lot different than on a 10 cr portfolio!)
  3. Reduce the frequency of monitoring your portfolio
  4. You can also refer my earlier posts on this topic for a detailed explanation

2. Long Term Goals as a sequence of short term goals

This was one among the most important techniques which the Navy Seals used to increase their passing rates during training.

To maintain a feeling of control, during an extremely stressful situation the Navy SEALs often thought about their friends, family, religious beliefs, and other important things from their lives. The key was to see something positive in the future (in the near future, if possible) that allows the mind to be distracted away from the current stress and uncertainty.

They also broke down their goals into micro goals, short-term goals, mid-term goals, and long-term goals.

Instead of thinking of completing the six month training course as one goal, they broke down the six months into weekly goals, daily goals, hourly goals, and even goals by the minute. 

Short-term micro goals coupled with longer-term goals was their strategy

We can apply the same strategy while investing.

Goal Based Investing is a practical way to implement the above concept where your investments are bucketed according to their purpose (goals) and when you will need a given amount.

The purpose of “why” we are investing is often forgotten during a falling market. It makes sense to remind our self of the original goal for which we are investing (to become financially free, start a new venture, fund kid’s education etc) and the actual planned time frame. This helps to get a holistic picture and distract ourselves from the temporary market fall.

Further, a micro focus on short term things under our control – continuing to invest one month at a time and sticking to our “what if things go wrong” plan after every 10% fall also helps to stick to our long term plan.

3.Stoic Philosophers to the rescue

In ancient Greece and Rome, many prominent thinkers & philosophers subscribed to a philosophy called Stoicism which is primarily about recognizing what you can and cannot control, in order to focus your energy exclusively on what you can actually control.

Source: https://dailystoic.com/premeditatio-malorum/

The ancient Stoic philosophers which includes the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus regularly conducted a strange exercise known as a Premeditatio Malorum, which translates to a “Premeditation of Evils.”

Now before you get scared, “Premeditation of evils” was simply a practice of taking a moment to think through everything that could go wrong with a particular plan and prepare for it.

This may sound extremely pessimistic and counter intuitive, but the Stoics believed that by imagining the worst case scenario ahead of time, they could overcome their fears of negative experiences, make better plans to prevent them and lessen the impact of the negative outcome if it ever translates.

While most people were focused on how they could achieve success, the Stoics also considered how they would manage failure.

What would things look like if everything went wrong tomorrow?

And what does this tell us about how we should prepare today?

Source: https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/File:Samurai_with_sword.jpg

Even the Japanese Samurai warriors used to think about death a lot. Why? That way they wouldn’t fear it in battle.

One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year’s Day through the night of New Year’s Eve.

The Code of the Samurai

Really thinking about just how awful things can be often has the ironic effect of making you realize they’re not that bad.

Here is an interesting story which I came across from a presentation by an amazing blogger called Jana Vembunarayanan.

This is what an experienced investor from India recent told me. He has been operating in the markets for 30+ years with a CAGR of 35%. During 2008-2009 his portfolio was down by 80%. Apart from his property he had most of his net worth invested in equities.

How did he sleep well at night?

He had the habit of mentally counting only 20% of his net worth.

This helped him a lot to stomach the drawdown.

https://janav.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/three-bucket-framework-to-investing.pd

This is a great way to think about your existing portfolio.

As equity investors, we will all have to experience a 40-50% drop in our equity portfolios at some point in time. 

What if we, like the ancient stoics mentally wrote off and counted only 50% of our existing equity portfolio.

What would things look like if this happens tomorrow?

What if the market never recovered – will we still be ok?

The answer to this will also decide our equity allocation.

Like the stoics and the experienced investor from India, practicing the habit of mentally writing down a part of the portfolio will help us be a lot more prepared and better positioned to handle the inevitable bear market.

Summing it up

Never underestimate the ability of the Amygdala to overrule your rational brain in times of panic. The key is to acknowledge and work along with it.

Here are few techniques we can learn from the Navy Seals, NASA, the Samurai warriors and the Stoics to handle a market fall without panicking

  • Plan and Pre-load your decisions for a falling market
  • Reduce the no of decision making points – pre decide when you will actually make a decision
  • Prepare a “What if things go wrong” plan – write down what you will do if your portfolio is down 20%,30%,40% and 50%
  • Reduce the frequency of monitoring your portfolio
  • Long Term Goals are a collection of short runs – combine the “why of investing” with the discipline of regularly investing one month at a time and sticking to the “what if things go wrong plan” for every 10% fall
  •  Practice mentally writing down a part of the portfolio

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Disclaimer: All blog posts are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my organization. I do not provide any investment advisory service via this blog. No content on this blog should be construed to be investment advice. You should consult a qualified financial advisor prior to making any actual investment or trading decisions. All information is a point of view, and is for educational and informational use only. The author accepts no liability for any interpretation of articles or comments on this blog being used for actual investments