Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tenderness and security

I am always amazed by the wife's immense patience and tenderness in dealing with our child. And I think our daughter understands this quite well too. For her, her mother is the fount of all security, love and tenderness. She is happiest when ensconsed securely within her mother's arms.
Some wise person said - God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers. I think I agree!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Follow up on Analyst Credibility

Saw the following interesting article on Bloomberg:

Goldman Sachs Hands Clients Losses in ‘Top Trades’

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. racked up trading profits for itself every day last quarter. Clients who followed the firm’s investment advice fared far worse.

Seven of the investment bank’s nine “recommended top trades for 2010” have been money losers for investors who adopted the New York-based firm’s advice, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from a Goldman Sachs research note sent yesterday. Clients who used the tips lost 14 percent buying the Polish zloty versus the Japanese yen, 9.4 percent buying Chinese stocks in Hong Kong and 9.8 percent trading the British pound against the New Zealand dollar.

Pretty interesting, I thought. Shows how much the large investment banks follow their own analysts' advice! Clearly, they did not implement the 'top trades' otherwise how would they have made profits EVERY SINGLE DAY in the last quarter. In the same time period, clients following the recommended trades would find themselves in a much worse position. If the chef refuses to eat in his own restaurant, I would rather go hungry than eat there!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Very ordinary

Another book I'm reading right now (though with great difficulty) is called 'The Immortals of Meluha'. Frankly, I bought the book because of its cover.

The premise of the book is very very interesting - it is set in 1900BC and tells the beginning of the story of Shiva, the God of Gods. However, the execution is so pedestrian that it makes me quite sad. It reads like a Bollywood masala movie script, not the insightful, graceful and dignified attempt I had hoped it would be. I could take out Shiva, and put in Shahid Kapoor or some equally frivolous current heartthrob into the story, and nothing would change (Disclaimer: I have read only 25% of the book - like I said, with great difficulty - so it may still redeem itself. However, I doubt it)

I wish it had been a better book!

Michael Lewis does it again

I read 'The Big Short' in a couple of totally engrossed sessions over the weekend. Michael Lewis ( author of Liar's Poker, The New New Thing, Moneyball) has written another masterful, funny and insightful page turner - this time a blow-by-blow account of the great credit crisis of 2008.

The book is fantastic because its central characters are a bunch of oddball, eccentric misfits who saw what no one else could. These guys (the 'good' guys in the book) made tons and tons of money even though they had not set out to do so - all they wanted was to uncover (discover?) the truth. And all of them paid a big price for their success. The book also looks at the guys on the other side - equally smart guys who were 'long' (ie they were buying when the good guys were selling). One notable dude is a Morgan Stanley trader, who was right, but not right enough, and who ended up losing $9 BILLION in a single trade. And in the center of the mayhem, touching all the characters, good or bad, was a particular trader from Deutsche Bank.

All the guys, the guys who were right as well as the guys who were wrong, made lots of money personally from the momentous events that unfolded. In doing so, some institutions were bankrupted, a few million livelihoods lost, a generation's lifelong savings evaporated and a few fortunes made.

The book raises very important questions - for one, what are we doing today about a system where all gain is private but all loss is public? The answer, unfortunately, is that we are not doing anything. The American financial system (and by corollary, the world) is hostage to what benefits Wall Street (and in particular Goldman Sachs). And secondly, is money really worth more than a few pieces of paper? Michael Lewis, the guy who saw the big picture, and quit Wall Street to fulfil a higher calling, is absolutely the right guy to answer this question. The answer is not surprising, but its quite weird how none of us ever seem to grasp it in our own lives.

However, enough of the moralizing! The book reads like fiction, is a page-turner and is a definite must-read!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Murder: How an industry was systematically killed

The great Government of India has killed the telecom industry with such astounding brutality that it deserves special applause.

A bit of background - the telecom industry is somewhat special - to survive, it needs spectrum, which (like the Reliance D6 gas) is a national resource. A lot of players invested a lot of capital and took huge risks to start the industry from scratch in the 1990s. Just when they reached the end of the long investment cycle (10-15 years later!) and should have sat back to earn their returns, the government of India jumped in and started killing them.

First, in Jan 2008, the (dis)honourable minister for telecom suddenly changed rules midway and said that more operators would be allowed in the industry. This, despite the law saying categorically, that new licenses would NOT be given out. The incumbents, who should have got more spectrum by law, were now told - sorry! you will not get any more. We will give it away (almost for free) to friends and cronies (who by the way are going to make millions of $$s selling this spectrum to the likes of Telenor, Etisalat etc etc, without investing a single rupee of their own. Sorry, correct that - they are going to bribe me, the honourable minister, so that I can get a nice little fund going in my Swiss bank accounts.) Also, I'm going to keep an arbitrary date for consideration of applications for spectrum, so that ONLY my friends get this spectrum AND I'm going to change the rules on which incumbent gets spectrum first.

As a result, Reliance Communications, which by law was last in queue to get spectrum, will now jump to #1 position.

In any other country, this would have led to corruption charges against said minister, and he would have been in jail. But thanks to our strangely perverse country, the minister not only thrives, he actually got a second term in the government of the supposedly 'clean' Mr. Manmohan Singh despite a huge uproar on the blatant theft of revenues that should have accrued to me, the mango man of India.

The result of this was that fly-by-night operators came in, the industry got screwed because of irrational pricing, call quality suffered and investors got punished.

But the honourable minister had only begun. He now says - ha ha! you incumbents - you had the temerity to oppose my despotic theft - I will make you suffer more. So he says, retroactively AGAIN changing the rules - I am now going to arbitrarily decide that spectrum above 6.2 MHz (which I gave you 4-5 years ago for the same price that the new guys got it for) will now be priced at rates determined by the 3G auction (or more than 10-12 times what the new operators paid for their spectrum just last year). I will, perversely enough, not charge anything from the new operators. The losers, not surprisingly, are Bharti, BSNL, Vodafone and Idea. Reliance Communication, not at all surprisingly, totally not affected by this decision.

The incumbents today are large, respected companies not because they bribed thieving ministers and bureaucrats. They have built companies painstakingly, putting to risk large amounts of capital, effort and resources, and believing in the law of the land and principles of justice. To see them being systematically killed is a matter of shame. Strangely, perpetrators of this murder continue to line up their bank balances and enjoy their positions of power. But such is life in our country.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Analyst? With credibility? Ha ha...

I have nothing against research analysts. I have quite a few friends who are research analysts with respected fund houses. A few are very good and I respect their views. However, I would never ever want to become a stock analyst. A vast majority of these guys have no credibility. I would strongly advise the retail investor to strongly disregard analyst views and NEVER ever buy based on analyst recommendations. Trust me - my job gives me access to all the reports ever published, and I read quite a few of them (for a few laughs, and mostly during leisure time).

Sample this. I choose this at random - this is, in my view, a representative example of what analyst views are worth. Disclaimer: I do not have anything against these particular fund houses, just used here as examples. All of them are as good or as bad. Take a sugar company called Shree Renuka Sugars ('SRS'). The business is cyclic, and totally commoditized. Everyone knows that commodity cycles turn with great regularity. If sugar is scarce today, it will be in plenty tomorrow (and vice versa).

In a report dated Jan 18, 2010, Morgan Stanley recommended Overweight on SRS, with a target price of INR 125 (adjusted for bonus). In a short period of 3 months, the price target was reduced to INR 70 (or a downward movement of 45%). This was primarily because the stock corrected by approx 45% during this period! The world did not change in this 3 month period, and the outlook on sugar should have been known as recently as 3 months before!

Ditto Merrill Lynch. As recently as Feb 11, they said BUY with a price target of INR 173. In 2 months, the price target suddenly became INR 80 (or 50% of the one before). Talk about volatility!

Or Credit Suisse. They take the cake. They went from INR 128 to INR 58 in a similar period of time.

Credibility, anyone?? Why should anyone believe these jokers? It is not my case to trivialize the important work analysts do. However, there is something called perspective! And something called balance. And foresight. Just moving target prices around because the stock moves in that direction does not a credible analyst make! When will this change. Dot-com, Enron, Lehman - nothing has changed analyst behaviour so far. I wonder what will!

Friday, May 07, 2010


The reason for my vastly reduced blog posts these days:

Volatility? Whew!!!

Interesting times for markets globally, to say the least!

  • Tiny, inconsequential Greece re-engages with history books, with a government soon about to go bankrupt, a striking and rioting public that seems spectacularly dense and insular, and overall an enactment of the theatre of the absurd. Repercussions include a 1,000 point drop in the mother of all equity market indices, the mighty Dow Jones - in about 15 minutes, and while the media goes to town with the usual cliches - never happened before, six sigma event, yada yada yada - my take is that these days six sigma events happen every six months. Poor Spain and gluttonous Portugal have to suffer for the Grecian's fun. Lesson: In the party, get drunk while you can. If you are still sober when it ends, you may be left cleaning someone else's puke!!
  • The Sage of Omaha puts his 40-year reputation on the line as he defends the newest villian of the times. Move over Osama bin Laden, Goldman Sachs is here. 2 idiots who got screwed are crying foul at Goldman's mercenary ways, but I think they are more to blame than they let on. Caveat Emptor, anyone? They forgot the golden rule - Goldman Sachs will screw you when it can.
  • Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem set to gain a majority in the UK (though not a government, apparently). Traders troop in to work at midnight in the financial district of London. The Tories promise to implement what I think is the solution to the whole 3 year old debt-fuelled crisis - cut the UK government deficit and apply brakes to government spending. For the sake of Britain's economic future, I hope they get their shot at fiscal prudence.
  • And here in India, Reliance Industries emerges unscathed from its bruising courtroom battle with kid brother ADAG controlled companies - I think the outcome is very rational and fair and square in the national interest - natural gas found in India's territory cannot be divided between individuals. It belongs to the mango man (the aam-aadmi) and should be priced for the benefit of said mango man. So sorry, Mr Anil Ambani - you cannot make umpty zillion rupees buying my gas for cheap (disclosure - I own RIL shares)
What does one make of all this? My opinion (could be in-famous last words) - ignore all the noise. Buy the dips and hold emerging market (Indian) equities for the next 5 years. While one may or may not make a packet, one will surely be spared watching the value of painstakingly hoarded cash erode due to inflation. And keep at least 10% of the portfolio in gold. It remains the only hedge against global insanity