This story was first published in July 2016.
On the occasion of Wealth Insight's tenth anniversary, I thought it's best to write on whatever little I have learned about investing in the last ten years. So here we go.
1. You don't make money by watching TV: There are many business-news channels now which claim that they help you make money. Ever wondered why they never advertise the track record of the recommendations they make? Or why they only seem to talk about the winning recommendations and not the losing ones? Or why they seem to talk about 'global cues' driving the stock market all the time?
Most of the business news TV is best for understanding things in retrospect. In fact, when the business TV wallahs don't have a reason for what is driving the stock market, they say, 'global cues'. Also, the short-term orientation of TV channels will essentially make your broker, and not you, rich.
2. You don't make money by reading newspapers either: All the business newspapers these days have a strong personal-finance as well as a stock-market section. But a lot of the analysis on offer is full of hindsight bias, i.e., they come up with nice explanations of things after they have already happened. Further, newspaper reporters can get analysts to say things that fit in with the headline that has already been thought of. Analysts are more than happy saying these things in order to see their name in the newspapers. And it is worth remembering that newspapers have space to fill. So they will write stuff even if the situation doesn't demand it.
3. SIPs work best over the long term: If you were to ask a typical fund manager about how long one should stay invested in an SIP, the answer usually is three to five years. Honestly, I think that is too low a number. I started my first SIP in December 2005. And more than ten years later, I am actually seeing the benefit of having invested for so long. Also, it is worth remembering that SIPs over the long term are about a regular investing habit which gives reasonable returns than the possibility of fabulous returns that one might earn by choosing the right stock. This is an important distinction that needs to be made.
4. Don't chase fund managers: I did this during the 2007-2008 period and lost a lot of money doing it. I think it's best to stick to investing in good large- and mid-cap funds which have had a good track record over a long period of time, instead of chasing the hottest fund managers on the block. The funds with the best returns in the short term (one to three years) keep changing, and there is no way you can predict the next big thing on the block; the point being, investing should be boring. If it is giving you an adrenaline rush, you are not doing the right things.
5. Endowment policies are not investment policies: Endowment policies sold by insurance companies are a very popular form of investing as well as saving tax. One reason for this is because they are deemed to be safe. But have you ever asked how much return these policies actually give? If I can be slightly technical here, what is the internal rate of return of an average endowment policy in which an individual invests for a period of 20 years? You will be surprised to know that such data are not available. But from what I understand about these things, endowment policies give a lower rate of return than inflation. So why bother? Endowment policies are essentially a cheap way for the government to raise money, given that most of these policies end up investing the money raised in government bonds. That is all there is to it. If you want to finance the government, please do so, but there are better ways of earning a return on your investment.
6. What are ULIPs? I am still trying to understand: ULIPs are unit-linked investment plans, essentially investment plans which come with some insurance. The trouble is if they are investment plans, why are there no past returns of these policies available anywhere? A quick search on the Value Research website (and many other websites as well) can tell you the best-performing mutual funds (equity, debt or hybrid) over the past one day, one week, one month, three months, six months, one year, two years, three years, five years and so on.
But what are ULIPs? I have put this question to many people, but I am yet to receive an answer. What is the best-performing ULIP over the last five years? No one has been able to give me that answer. This is not surprising, given how complicated the structure of an average ULIP is. Hence, if you want to invest indirectly in equity, it is best to stick to mutual funds.
7. Sensex/Nifty forecasts are largely bogus: Towards the end of every year or even around Diwali, all broking houses come up with their Sensex/Nifty forecasts for the next year. Usually, these are positive and expect the index to go up. At the same time, they are largely wrong. You can Google and check. Hence, treat them as entertainment but don't take them seriously. Stock brokerages bring out such forecasts because it is an easy way to get some presence in the media. Both TV and newspapers, for some reason I don't understand, are suckers for Sensex as well as Nifty forecasts.
8. Don't buy a home unless you want to live in it or have black money: Much is made about excellent returns from property. The trouble is there are no reliable numbers going around. It's only people talking from experience. But when people calculate property returns, they do not take a lot of expenses into account. Also, when people talk about property returns they talk about big numbers: 'I bought this for `20 lakh but sold it for a crore.' This feels like a huge return, but it doesn't exactly take into account the time factor as well as loads of expenses and other headaches that come with owning property. Further, these days there are other risks like the builder disappearing or not giving possession for a very long time. This leads to a situation where individuals end up paying both EMI as well as rent. Also, property returns have been negative in many parts of the country over the last few years. And given the current price levels, I don't think buying a home is the best way to invest currently.
9. Gurus are good fun: In my earlier avatar as a journalist, one widely followed stock-market guru told a closed gathering of investors that Sensex would touch 50,000 level in six to seven years. He said it very confidently. Confident stock-market gurus make for good newspaper copy. I wrote about it and the story was splashed on the front page of the newspaper I worked for. It was October 2007. Nearly nine years later, the Sensex is at half of the predicted level. The point is that gurus might be good. They might have the ability to predict things in advance. But then, why would they give their insight to the media, and in the process, you, dear reader, for free? Remember this, next time you see a guru making a prediction.
10. Low interest rates on loans also mean low interest rates on your fixed deposits: This is something that many people don't seem to understand. People want low interest rates on their loans, but they are not happy with low interest rates on their deposits. Banks fund loans by raising fixed deposits. They can't cut interest rates on their loans unless they cut interest rates on their deposits. It's as simple as that. Nevertheless, I wonder why people can't seem to understand this basic point.
This column appeared in the July 2016 Issue of Wealth Insight.