July 2007

confidence.gifA hypothetical situation where 20 CEO’s board an airplane and are told that the flight that they are about to take is the first-ever to feature pilotless technology: It is an uncrewed aircraft. Each one of the CEO’s is then told, privately, that their company’s software is running the aircraft’s automatic pilot system. Nineteen of the CEO’s promptly leave the aircraft, each offering a different type of excuse.

One CEO alone remains on board the jet, seeming very calm indeed. Asked why he is so confident in this first uncrewed flight, he replies : “If it is the same software that runs my company’s IT systems, this plane won’t even take off.” !!!!

That is called Confidence!!!

Makes me wonder if CEO’s buy their own STOCKS???? 😆

woman2.gifApproximately eighty percent of our investors are male. But I am willing to bet that eighty percent of the most successful investors are women.I have read many stories and I began to wonder why is it that women tend to be better investors than men. I thought about it over and over, and I could not ignore the facts that women make more successful investors than men.

While this recent research shows that potentially women are naturally talented investors, many are still put off by the macho image of the stock market. Men tend to let their egos make their decisions for them. They hold when they should sell and vice versa. They buy in for fear of missing out on that one big opportunity. They refuse to ask questions or to ask for help in fear of looking silly.

In other words, men are more interested in looking strong, knowledgeable or successful than they are in making money. They invest not to get the best deal out of the market but invest so that they look good.

Women on the other hand, are much more likely to ask questions until they fully understand what they are learning, and they are usually more interested in the goal, (in this case making money) than they are in impressing the people around them.

This quality makes women great investors from all that I have read are that rather than investing according to what will make them look good, women will invest according to a plan—not according to what mood they are in or whether they will be “right” or “wrong”.

Investing is not about being right or wrong. It’s about making money. Women are able to put their egos aside in ways men have trouble doing. This ability to set their ego aside makes women great investors. Need proof?

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finance-money.GIFAs a Financial Planner, I get emails from people who want investment advice. Much of this is not about comprehensive advice but rather; just single questions that are bothering people. This is very useful in my work because one can often spot interesting trends in the questions that people ask.

Over the last few months, I have noticed that an increasing number of people are worried about whether they are ‘managing’ their investments properly. Clearly, the idea is afoot that investments need to be managed. And the genesis of this idea is also clear from some of the email. Sometimes, people ask specifically whether the X investment management plan from Y Bank is better than the A plan from B Financial Services Company. Mind you, most of these are not what are normally called Portfolio Management Schemes. Instead, this is plain old fund sales; dressed up in a brand to look like customized investment management.

Earlier, someone from a fund distribution outfit would contact you, ask a few questions and sell you a bunch of funds, good or bad. Now, his actual actions will be the same but he’ll claim that your fund investments are being managed as part of his bank’s plan, which he claims better than the other bank’s plan.

Now, this branding does not do investors any real harm because it’s just a routine sales stunt of the kind that infests practically every product or service nowadays. However, I get the clear feeling that the kind of sales pitch that is given with these plans is leaving many investors with a certain anxiety. To sell funds dressed up as management plans, investors are told that managing investing is a very complicated activity that requires continuous management. Most investors swallow this line and then start worrying about whether they are managing their investments correctly.

In reality, investment management is an activity that can be as simple as you want it to be.

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2004012800340901.jpgThere seems to be a school of thought around that the stock markets must run in such a way that the so-called retail investor must always make money and if he doesn’t, then there’s something wrong. Either the laws are inadequate or the markets are crooked, or preferably, both. The belief that the retail investor (formerly called the small investor) has a right to make profits no matter what he does is shared by some in the investment community, the media and in the government. There are frequent lamentations about the fact that the retail investor is not participating in the markets and various remedies are suggested (and some implemented) to correct this supposed anomaly.

Am I saying that no individual should invest directly in stocks at all? After all, expert investors too start out as individuals investing for themselves. The way it happens is that a large number of investors try their hand at the markets, usually when the markets are booming. As long as the markets stay strong they all make money, more or less.

This makes them confident so that when the bulls stop running, most of them lose heavily. Some, however, turn out to have the right mental make-up for this activity and go on to become experts. There is nothing wrong with this. Markets are inherently Darwinian by their nature that those who make the wrong choices will lose. For a market to function correctly, those who make the right choices must make money those who make the wrong choices must bear losses. If we see this as a problem and try and fix things, we will actually end up breaking them.

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exchange_hand_signal.jpgInvesting is so fascinating because it’s just as much about people and their emotions as it is about the raw numbers. Sure over the shorter period – and especially over the past 4 years – everyone’s an expert. It’s critical that ALL investors have a sound investment process.

It’s good to be confident, or so all of us were told when we were young. Confidence will make whatever you want achievable. So it must be very good that I’ve been meeting a lot of very confident investors these days. I met a man who started investing in stocks only three months ago and whose investments have returned more than 25 per cent during this period. That’s an annualized return of more than a 100 per cent a year, as he proudly-and accurately-informed me. Someone else I ran into started investing in February 2004 and have more than doubled his money. He has made a very confident projection that showed how fabulously rich he was likely to be in about five years’ time.

Of course, this is not just amateur hour-professional investors too are sounding like the gentlemen above. I met the marketing chief of a mutual fund company who had many megabytes of marvelously entertaining PowerPoint slides about how his fund managers had generated great returns over the last three years. I did ask him about what their returns had been like before that but the response I got made me feel that I had said something very rude.

Welcome to the land of investing geniuses, no one in this world has made any mistake on the stock market for as long as they can remember.

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backpain.jpgThe pain of investors is enormous. People have lost a lot of money and not only are the losses continuing, but it’s clear to me that they are going to continue. What is worse is that the boom and the hype around it evolved in such a way that the worst pain is faced by those who are least prepared for it.

The worst real losses are those of investors who got attracted to the stock markets around the time when the markets were booming. Typically, these people have made a series of bad choices. Instead of investing steadily, they have put in large chunks of money at one go. Their mutual fund investments are in untested new funds and their stock investments are in rumor-of-the-day type of stocks that were being pushed by brokers. The more recklessly adventurous have already lost large chunks of their investments to repeated margin calls from brokers and lenders.

Of course, the question that everyone is asking is when will the markets turn upwards and resume what we’ve come to believe is their normal course. After all, as the logic goes, there is nothing wrong with fundamentals. Firstly, the fundamentals corporate’ financial future are somewhat less rosy than the general hype would have us believe. The rising cost of money and distortions produced by the huge liquidity glut are a serious issue.

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22199036.jpgPersonally, I’ve never had much respect for the stock market. In fact, on some days, the news of the stock markets are the chief source of amusement that I and some colleagues of mine have. I hardly ever pay any attention to the Stock Indexes except when I am feeling bored. When I feel the need for some light relief, some of us open the day’s live Dow Jones graph on finance, point it out to each other and laugh heartily, as if it were some great joke. We never feel there’s anything strange about this behaviour except when we end up doing this in front of a visitor who, in turn, starts looking at us as if there is something strange about our behavior.

Now I know this sounds heretical coming from someone whose vocation appears to be linked to the stock market, but I really do feel that there is something funny about the daily curve of the stock market graph. Or more precisely, about the deep meaning that so many people are trying to derive from it.

Am I saying that the stock market is a meaningless circus then? No, far from it. The stock market, along with the stock prices of all listed companies and the levels of the various indices are extremely important to the countries and to many of us’ economic well-being. What is a meaningless circus is the minute-to-minute hyperventilate tracking of these things. Let me explain it this way. Tracking and predicting the weather is an important function but lying on the ground and trying to draw meaning from the changing shapes of clouds being chased by the wind is madness.

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17939-cc2117c6994259f21bb665c527c66bf8.jpgLet’s talk about rats. Rats are mammals, they are intelligent, and have a remarkable behavioral and biological resemblance to humans. These are the reasons that they are often used not just for biological but psychological experiments as well.

Here’s an amazing experiment that I once read about. A group of rats were divided into two groups. Both groups were conditioned to expect food at a certain spot in the complex of cages where they lived. Apparently, rats learn this sort of a thing very easily. At set times of the day the rats would turn up at this feeding station and find food waiting for them. However, immediately after eating, the rats were subjected to electric shocks through the floor of their cages. The shocks were strong enough to be very unpleasant but not lethal.

But the two groups were treated differently. While one group was given an electric shock after every meal, the other one was given the shocks after only half of the times. However, for the second group, the actual instances when they would be subjected to the shocks were chosen randomly. After some of their meals they would get the shocks and after some they wouldn’t and they had no cues to help them figure out what would happen on any given instance. The effect of this pattern on the behaviour of the two groups was interesting. The group that got the electric shocks every time quickly adjusted to what was happening and basically got on with life. They would show up for food, eat it, brace themselves for the shock and happily continue with their ratly routine after getting the shock.

The other group did far worse. They just couldn’t get used to the randomness of their ordeal. Many of them started avoiding food and would eat only when they were on the verge of starvation. All of them became significantly weaker. Get this clearly: the group that got fewer electric shocks fared far worse than the ones who were given electric shocks every single time. It was the sheer meaningless unpredictability of their lives that did them in.

From this point on, this article could be about almost anything. But since investments are my brief, I’ll just talk about how legions of investors are abandoning equity and rushing towards debt.

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im_spending_too_much_money.gifDo you ever wonder where your spending money goes or how you can spend so much on practically nothing in so little time? In the old days people brought their paychecks to the bank, deposited most of the money and pocketed the rest in cash. The cash was supposed to last until the next check. If it didn’t, it was an obvious cue that too much money was being spent.

Fast-forward to these days when paychecks are deposited electronically and we stuff our pockets with debit and credit cards. Beaten-up dollar bills and heavy coins never dirty our hands. It’s so much nicer than the old days. Unfortunately, it makes it too easy to bust the budget.

Without that dwindling pile of cash it’s harder to recognize how much is being spent. Sure, you can log on and look at your bank account every day, but most people probably don’t. When they finally see their balance they think, “no way!” More than likely it’s not the mortgage that’s killing them; it’s the daily money drain. If that scenario fits your life, the seven-day money challenge may help you get on track.

Use this challenge to give yourself a wake-up call to those who don’t realize how much they’re spending. I ask some of my clients to guess to the best of their ability how much cash they’ll need for a week’s worth of spending. It’s just the day-to-day stuff like gas, groceries, going out for meals. The usual outcome is they’re out of money by Wednesday.”

Learn your weaknesses. “I was trying to go from Monday to Monday, I carried a little notebook and would write it down if I stopped for coffee or went to the drugstore. Wednesday night I went to buy gas and I didn’t have enough cash. I had to resort to my credit card to get me through the rest of the week. I was shocked and a little disappointed.” Thats what some of them say.

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andresr050700039.jpgIt takes time, sacrifice and consistency to join the million-dollar club

Quit fantasizing about marrying a millionaire, winning the lottery or walking off with a TV-quiz-show jackpot. By making your money work harder and smarter now, you can become a millionaire by the time you’re ready to kick back and trade work for play.

There’s no magic involved in reaching the million-dollar mark. If you set goals, do the research and start investing now, you can hit your wealth-building target on schedule. And you don’t have to be a financial whiz! What are needed are time, sacrifice and consistency.

Time is most significant: The longer you invest, the smaller the amount you need to put away each month to reach $1,000,000. Thus the younger you are when you start investing; the younger you’ll be when you join the million-dollar club. Many of the estimated 8 million millionaires began investing in their teens, and always with a long-term goal. Let’s say you’re 28 years old now, with no money saved or invested and would like to have a million-dollar portfolio of investments by the time you turn 60. You will need to invest $300 a month in stocks or stock mutual funds that have at least an 11 percent annual rate of return. If you increase your monthly investment to $500, you’ll hit your mark by age 54.

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