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Crises are Wonderful

People, ideas and businesses get tested only in crises. The bad ones fall aside and the good ones emerge stronger


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It's absolutely trite to complain that the war atmosphere is making markets volatile. I don't think anyone should care about that. If you invested in equities, then volatility is what you signed up for so don't complain. And if you were born into a country with such friendly and cheerful neighbours, then don't complain either and just support those who are finally doing something about it.

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Remember, no matter what you do or not do in terms of personal finance, most of it is fated to be just a small deviation--a little higher, a little lower--than the country you live in. In the decades past, the life potential of crores of Indians was wasted--ground into the dust, all potential bled out--because of the blight of socialism. We're lucky to live in a time when most of us can finally start looking up and make a real escape from that hell, so the rough must be taken with the smooth. The biggest determinant of how successful you are in life is how things go with our country. Some people will rise higher than the mean and some won't manage to reach it--means are mean that way--but even the worst off will be moving in the same direction, and will reach somewhere near the same destination.

Recently, in his annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett said that a large part of his success in life could be attributed to what he called 'The American Tailwind.' That's an interesting idea. Can you feel an Indian tailwind? Of course, if you're facing the wrong way then you're probably feeling the Indian headwind but that's a different story altogether.

One of my beliefs that have gotten reinforced in the last few days is that crises are good in many, many ways. People (as well as ideas) get tested, and it gets found out what they're really worth and whether they're any good at all. Moreover, there's a strong validation of Taleb's 'Antifragile' idea. There are things that break when faced with shocks, and then there are things that are robust in the face of shocks. However, beyond all that, there are things that become more robust when they are subjected to problems--these things are antifragile.

So the thing about being antifragile is that you welcome volatility and shocks because that's what makes you strong. Does that sound like something you can use as an investor? It definitely is. Volatility, shocks, surprises--all these are the best things in the world. Look back at what has happened over the last two decades in Indian business. Every crisis, every squeeze on the economy has resulted in badly run businesses getting exposed and well-run robust businesses coming out stronger.

In any case, because volatility is a given, the best thing to do might be to not pay moment-to-moment attention to the news. Over the last few days, this might have been an understandable crime, but let's not ever do it as an input to one's investing activities.

Typically, investors look at events and try to figure out whether they should change their investment plans in response to them. The most common idea that investors get is that there's uncertainty or volatility and perhaps they should wait and not invest. Unfortunately, as we have seen above, this idea is completely wrong, and on two levels. Firstly, there is no way to predict what the long-term impact of any of these events will be. Secondly, if current events do indeed portend bad times for the equity markets, then surely that's a reason to invest rather than not invest.

Investors should treat news events--almost all of them--as nothing more than noise, and pay attention only to what they themselves have to do. The biggest bane of investors' life is to mistake noise for actual information. Remember, during big-ticket news events, the signal-to-noise ratio is even worse than usual. There are some events you may end up following because you feel personally involved, but don't think that you should make money decisions in that frame of mind.

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