Why Do People Make 3D Charts?

3DchartUgghhThe addition of the third dimension to the charts that most people make is something that has always puzzled me. It seems as if restating an essentially flat planar picture by including an added dimension adds more ‘depth’ to the message. I guess folks with a predilection to 3D think that they are adding more weight to their chart (and therefore their argument) by doing this. And also some ‘enhanced’ aesthetics.

That gets me to my main point. This is so so wrong. It is not about the chart at all. The excessive use of 3D talks a lot about the person who prepares this chart. Yes, a lot of criticism has been leveled at Microsoft Excel for continuing to offer super un-intuitive and irrelevant chart options and presets in its charting menus. Ribbons have come and gone but MS Excel continues to offer murderous weapons of data visualization. Now, if a murder is committed and a data story is brutally butchered, the culprit is not the agency that manufactured the weapon but the hands and brain that performed the mutilation.

So why do people do it? I have the following hunches:

  1. Because they are trying to please whoever the reviewer of the chart is. It never happens consciously but the urge to please is present nevertheless.
  2. It serves the chart creator’s misplaced sense of beauty and aesthetics. Isometric views are pleasing and more revealing, yes. But for complicated solid objects. Not for data that most of us play around with. It’s hard for me to relate to this but somehow the folks that render 3D charts genuinely believe that these look better. They even expect to be praised for the extra effort, if at all anyone were to focus on the presentation aesthetics.
  3. Value Add. Anything that happens easily or anything that is free raises suspicion. The much maligned but quite popular chart wizards of MS Excel render a chart at a click of a button. This does not satisfy the chart maker since it comes out pat. So out come the works: pschedelic colours, black backgrounds, 3D, etc. Its almost like a super avid gardener obsessively plucking out imaginary weeds from his patch to justify his extent of his passion for the gardening.
  4. Conformance. Everyone else is doing it or I was told to do it. I may be a newbie and may have been told to make it in 3D since “that’s the way things are done around here”.
  5. The Chart Lie factor. Some people do it because they want to purposely distort the message and “lie” through their charts and make it confusing for the reviewers. This percentage of such people is very very small.

My suggestion: avoid 3D unless showing spatial engineering, scientific or mathematical data. I don’t think too many readers of my website are engaged in visualization of engineering data like the locus of an electron in a cyclotron, or the spatial plot of isomorphic mathematical figures ….

MS Excel is vilified, but it is just a tool and quite powerful at that if one handles it with patience and precision. Maybe passion as well. I have pinned below some of my favourite visualizations that I have posted on this website earlier. Each of them have been prepared by me using standard features of MS Excel and the image editing functions of MS PowerPoint. :)bolly-tempsnakes 2KM Trades till date 06Apr12NIFTY VIX and Volumes00166_SKS The JPM Cuts00158_RIL INFY Creamy Layer00126_Returns Across Holding PeriodsInflation and RBI Repo00142_Diwali Rockets

Trade Ideas – Oct’10

Some trading ideas are occupying my mind at the moment. Much was said about the QE2 in the previous post but free capital must be employed and given my nervous, edgy nature these days, I prefer flitting in and out of positions hoping to compound to a modest proportion. While I am contemplating these opportunities that caught my eye yesterday, let me set the background score with these opening lines from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece about duality:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

In fact some lines from the book are so very apt in the current global financial markets:

The Fed to all of us: “Keep where you are because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime”. Also, “For I’m the devil at quick mistakes, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead”

The global economy to its planners: “Crush humanity (read economy) out of shape once more, under similar  hammers (read printing presses), and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms”.

Inflation rate in US to whoever cares to listen: “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”.

And so on. These are issues far beyond my full comprehension, so I’ll do what I am forced to do – seek some new punts and see what happens. I just can’t remain still for long. And rotting my money in the bank is criminal.

1. Jain Irrigation Systems: I know that this seems to be a fairly valued stock with it’s 1 yr forward P/E running at 30 and that it’s market cap is in the region of INR 8,700 crores (= USD 1.9 billion) on an expected FY11 sales figure of INR 4,200 crores (= USD 933 million). The stock has recently seen a 1 yr forward P/E band of 33-34 as well, so on that logic there could be some steam there. The company has compounded it’s revenues at a crazy 40% CAGR over the past 5 years using a mix of organic (!) and inorganic methods. So, the market obviously feels that this kind of growth will continue into the future (say 3 – 5 more years) and that’s why a P/E of <40 appears justified. But I am not sure if net earnings growth will also grow at the same clip. Currently, around 6% of the money that the company earns goes into servicing its debt. But I picked up a (moderate sized) position today as I feel that there is a short term 10% – 15% opportunity here. Another important point for me is that this company is from my home district, Jalgaon so I do feel my agrarian roots rising up as I sow this small packet of capital here. But really, the company is cool, having delivered world class drip irrigation methods to a country so sapped of water. It is now pioneering the concept of using drip techniques for paddy – the killer crop when it comes to water requirements. If that clicks, then it will be awesome for the country. From the chart above, I guess 1050-1075 seems to be a support level and given the Lower Bollinger Band touch, a negative plunge of the MACD and a code red, buy signal from the RSI, I will venture out here. A mental stop loss of 1000 is in place. 1000 also appears to be the next support? Lets see.

2. Balmer Lawrie: We have been hearing and reading so much about logistics and transportation being a huge opportunity that many of us may not even bother to check if the story still has some room for possible fresh investments. I have invested in and out of Balmer Lawrie in the past and like the logic for Jain Irrigation above, I guess this could turn out to a small, skim the top kind of opportunity. But in this case, I would be content to hold on to this stock for longer given that A) it is cheaper than Jain Irrigation and B) I am familiar with the company. I once worked in an office buidling next to a Balmer Lawrie Grease Division plant and I like to believe that the proximity and therefore some induction effect helped me make money on this counter in the past! I have not yet taken a position here but the chart on the right looks tempting to me.

 3. Banco Products: What I am really doing is flipping coins between Balmer Lawrie and Banco Products. This one is a Gujarat based company which has been around for 50 years but appears to be selling cheaply as well. It has made auto-equipment all these years and is now getting into cement business as well. Duh. It supplies it’s gaskets and radiators to companies like Tata Motors, TVS Suzuki, M&M, Maruti Udyog etc. It’s operating margins (@ 26%) are highest amongst peer group companies like Bosch, Bharat Seats and UCAL fuel systems. With an expectation of a FY’11 EPS of 12, the CMP gets discounted 9.25 times – that’s not bad. This really has been a turnaround story over the past couple of years with the share price jumping up from the 20s to the current 110 levels. Given the market cap of INR 800 crores (= USD 178 million) over an expected sales of INR 550 – 575 crores for FY’11, the stock still looks a tad cheap. Recently they acquired a company in Europe and are setting up a cement plant in Tanzania. Seems like these guys are confident of what they are doing. On the charts, I see a Bollinger Squeeze which to me means that it can shoot up or down from here. But the RSI and MACD are not there yet for me. I am biased towards Banco, so I think I’ll throw in some coins tomorrow. Let’s see.

4. Talwalkars Fitness; KSB Pumps; MIC Electronics were other punts that came to mind. And a long term possibility on TV Today (but that requires more thought, and I don’t have time at the moment. Maybe later this week).

(I had taken a position on 31Aug’10 in MIC Electronics and written about it in my Earths, Lights and Money post but got out with a 14%. It has corrected only around 8% since then. I’m not fully sure but I do want to hitch a ride on it again and again since the story appeals to me a lot)

When to Sell – Part One

I’ve been spending some time digging around in my trade journal and trying to understand this. Getting a handle of this very important aspect of investing is one of my birthday resolutions. This study and therefore these series of posts are a set of steps in that direction. I’ve entered into 337 sell transactions till date. The first time I ever booked a profit on a secondary market trade was way back in 05Oct’01 and the latest one was as near as 06Sep’10. To understand more about the when of my selling behaviour I looked at these 337 in conjunction with the market and it’s valuation. I also tried to plot my sales in along time to see if there were clusters of sales happening during particular time periods. I will bother (and write) about the other questions of why, how and what regarding my selling behaviour at a later stage.

For now, I constructed this chart which shows my selling activity during the period spanning Oct’01 to Sep’10. The small green histograms at the bottom show the distribution of my sell trades. Three clusters seem to emerge: Aug’04 to May’05; Jan’07 to Apr’07 and Aug’09 till date. I have started my investing career with a handicap – which might seem like a paradox given the upward ascent of the NIFTY since 2001. What I mean is that my investing thought process has been spawned during a whopper of a bull run. Nearly anything anyone touched during 2001-03 turned to gold. Midases were everywhere, hemlines were getting higher by the minute. Then after that 2008 and the early part of 2009 was such a humbling moment. And a great learning experience. I lost money on a few trades and the flurry of sales that you see during more recent times are my unwinding of those doomed trades as they recouped some of their lost ground. The wicked blue line represents the market – NIFTY in this case. The oscillating orange band represents the value of the market – trailing 12 month NIFTY P/E ratios. If one uses this lens to view the art of getting off the train, then it’s good to be a net seller when the NIFTY’s P/E is above 25. It pays to be a net buyer if the NIFTY P/E is below the first quartile (under or at 15). Currently the NIFTY P/E is around 24 so we are entering hilly terrain – best to tighten up our seat belts. I use the terms “net seller” and “net buyer” since even at exalted heights of market valuation one can find a few lonely bulls rampaging around and likewise the depths of market penury still throw up some bears lying in wait to maul you.

The idea is that statistics and data tell a story about your trading pattern. It is useful to step out of the frame once in a while and see things from a wider time perspective. I guess successful traders need to necessarily have oodles of experience behind them. The best minds in the business have lived through at least a couple of downturns and figured out their behavioural patterns and emotional compass. Also, when you see the picture in cinemascope, a few down months don’t seem all that frightening.

The wise ‘old’ men of investing mysteriously say – buy when you see value and sell when your asset gets expensive. but how the heck does one go about ‘seeing value’? We seem to know/have heard about things like fundamental analysis, discounted cash flows, industry compares, etc. Most of us however, do not have the time to do detailed down-to-the bone analysis of company financials. Some of us don’t even know how to go about doing it. I don’t think that such people should not participate in the markets or run scared of balance sheets and mathematics. I guess what is required for this set (I may fall in this realm) is to develop and consistently use common sensical heuristics with modest return expectations. One such rule is getting in and out depending on the movement of NIFTY P/E as compared to the two control limits as depicted in the chart. You may have a better method – gazing at tea leaves perhaps – whatever it is, I think the key is to stick to it. Economies and therfore the stock markets have a slight inbuilt bias towards expansion and growth. Therefore, the dice is loaded – but only if you stick to the same dice.

I don’t drink tea, BTW.

Are we done yet?

We are now at a 31 month high for the NIFTY (@ 5590 therabouts)!

And my mood is getting to be optimistically cautious. It surfaces immediately in my latest tweet which in turn was inspired by the recent tweet from Clifford Alvares, an Outlook Money correspondent.

Clifford Alvares Tell-tale signs of the next downturn: Slow-down in daily FII figures; market PE of 24+; unjustified run in small-caps — and free lunches. 5:50 PM Sep 6th via web Retweeted by you

Most of the people tracking and working the markets will be cautiously optimistic now, but I’m a worm. And worms have no spine. It’s getting to be a cacophony of dire predictions and upbeat prophecies. The more one reads and listens and watches, the more confusing it gets. But if you dont read or listen or watch, you might as well invest using your keen sense of smell or touch, maybe. Thats puts a weird thought in the wormy head. I am thinking of taking a leaf out of Curtis Faith‘s “Way of the Turtle“, where two stock market professionals recruited a couple of dozen bright men and women with no prior experience of trading and transformed them into star traders in two weeks flat (or maybe more). The basic premise being that trading is a skill that can be learnt just like any other academic/vocational course and that traders are made not born. So, what I’m going to do is recruit a dozen sharp blind men and women. Then as study material I’m going to give them thousands of historical stock charts converted into 3d, beveling up the stock price movement lines and make them trace their fingers on the line. The charts would run only upto certain arbitrarily chosen past points in time but I would urge my blind charges to carry on the “momentum” of their fingers….the future path which  the fingers take will be compared against actual historical movements and feedback will be provided….. if this experiment of mine ever gets done, then my hypothesis that blind people can make the best technical investors can be tested. Maybe this personal blind worm method of forecasting will work for me. I’ll write a book, become hugely famous and after a hundred years, people will falsely believe that the phrase “momentum investing” was coined off the tips of blind star traders.

The reason for this lunatic ambling within moving average envelopes is that expert opinions are certainly not helping:

The New York Times carries a story telling us all that the cloud of a double dip recession seems to have passed us by while Nouriel Roubini chastises the US economy planners that we are now defenceless against the looming threat of a double dip. A year or so back, if you’d have mentioned double dip to me, I’d have visions of Taj Mahal tea bags and “dip dip dip, and it’s ready to sip. Do you want it stronger, then dip a little longer. Dip, dip, dip..and it’s ready to sip”. But that’s a triple dip – maybe a new challenge worthy for Roubini. But for now, everyone and her pet poodle is talking of double dips:

Double Dip: the pet food of your pet bears. “Dip, dip and it’s ready to slip. For teddy to be stronger, dip a little longer. Dip, dip…and it’s ready to slip”.

I felt that this interview of the equity analyst, Sangeeta Purushottam dispensed some sane advice. It seems to say that there could be money waiting on the sidelines and it could come pouring in taking our local markets to euphoric heights. But the premise operating here is that there is indeed money waiting on the sidelines. Is there? A browse through global investing sites does not indicate a clamour to invest in the much discovered Asian bourses. Indeed, for all that noise about the NIFTY reaching it’s 31 month high, this country performance table by The Bespoke Investment Group is quite educative and humbling. But then the presses in the USA are printing and printing and printing. Strange things can happen.

So I crawled the SEBI website to ferret out FII net flows into Indian equity over time.  I left out derivative data and picked data representing the FIIs’ stock exchange investments and primary market data only. I think the chart speaks for itself. The main question however remains unanswered: is there is more cash coming India’s way via the FII route for the remainder of the year (net inflows)? Since Jan’10, c 60,000 crores of rupees have come into Indian markets via the FII direct participation in equity. Logic dictates that we should definitely get in more for the remainder of the 115 calendar days left in 2010. However, I noticed that typically there are 3 months (modal frequency) that see net FII withdrawals from the equity markets. We have seen two down months this year (January and May) – is a third one coming? So money will definitely be made, euphoria or not, but it calls for nimble trading and investing. That to me is a big problem since I am a worm after all. Any advise will be greatly appreciated.

Reliance Industries Limited

The biggest sloth in recent times has been the Reliance Industries (RIL) stock. As the market (i.e. the NIFTY) traipsed on from 4,800 to 5,500 in a matter of 3 months (~15%), I have been licking my chops (no, I do not work in the chop shop) and have been generally sporting a nice spring in my step. But now I do not know how long my sunny demeanour will last for I have just about picked up a biggish position in RIL and am squarely on the path of Mukesh Ambani. It’s a trading call, unlike the Godrej Industries investment of mine. I feel quite sanguine about the Godrej depoyment, but not so about the RIL punt. The former has careened up 22% (weighted average returns) in 2 months for me and I will surely add to the position should the stock correct in the future. There was news and informed criticism of the US Fed’s solving of its debt related problems by adding on more debt. It definitely means that they’ll have loads of cash sloshing around in their backyard which they will want to deploy in high alpha economies. So some of it will come to India and that may take our local market higher on from here. But since this is hot money and the investment managers need to keep booking profits, sure enough and soon enough the market should correct. Will give some more cash to Mr. Adi Godrej to manage when that happens.

But coming back to flirt with RIL, I have gone long the stock (cash) and have also bitten a bite of the 30Sep 1040 call. There is next to no liquidity (as of now) on the Sep call and maybe the informed, knowledgeable pundits will shake their heads – but I feel that I have a story. I almost never get my options right – the brokerage charges are also too high for my liking and moreover you need to A) be understanding of the math behind how option pricing works in reality and B) be nimble enough to strike (both in and out) at the right moment.

Earlier, I had briefly written about the drowsiness in the RIL counter here and have been keenly watching this oily worm every other night. As you can see from the chart, it has slithered down to 970. The Bollinger Bands and the RSI seem to be giving a buy signal unless the stock is stuck in a downward channel. Then it would be akin to catching a falling knife. These technical indicators work best when the underlying is smugly oscillating in an escalating envelope. Anyway, I have my grip on my stop losses. If one fears or loathes getting wet, then one should not venture into the sea. But remember, only deep sea fishing gives the largest catch. I also scoured the internet to see some reason behing this very sleepy state of this behemoth – at least on the bourses. there are a few things happening (as listed below) but I do not know if they matter much. You may be aware of the old chestnut about the market being a voting machine in the short term.

  1. They’ve started pimping their pumps. They are selling at same rates as that of the PSU oil retailers. I remember some of my trips around Bombay – the Reliance pumps were always closed. The price decontrol announcement by the Government seems to have opened up the nozzles at private oil vendors like RIL and Essar Oil (have a position there as well). BTW, one comes across a very interesting string of letters when we read about fuel retailing trade lingo – DODO COCO CODO (Dealer Owned Dealer Operated – Company Owned Company Operated and Company Owned Dealer Operated). Notice the absence of DOCO.
  2. Maybe the stock has been moribund due to the announcement of RIL’s acquisition of shale reserves in the US? Perhaps the markets did not like it?
  3. The company is going to raise some money by selling off some of its treasury stock. Is that why the stock has been tied down while the rest of the market was inching up?
  4. I think the real reason has been the orchestrated downgrading of RIL by some domestic and international brokerage houses towards the end of July based on the realisation that the KG Basin may not be able to pump out as much oil and gas as what was expected/communicated by RIL. So it’s like the force of gravity acting on a balloon. Things seem to have reached a state where the forces of buoyancy (market rising) and the forces of gravity (broker downgrades) have been counterbalacing each other. Any trade is now a bet on what gives.

My personal take is that RIL is too complicated a business to understand. I do not know how many brokerage houses themselves understand it’s business thoroughly. But the brokerage community lives by its own code – one of them being a shared recognition in the importance of belonging. There’s tremendous security if the whole bunch believes in, talks about and does the same thing. While you are not better off, but most importantly you are not worst off either. In fact there has been a book called Zachs method of investing whose central tenet is to make investing decisions based on a statistical analysis of brokerage ayes and nayes.

STOP LOSS. DONT THROW GOOD MONEY AFTER BADNot that I can claim to “undestand” the companies that I invest in. You really have to be a senior member of the insider team to know it all. But since the trajectory of the Indian market has been upwards during this past decade, it would take a terribly unlucky bloke to lose money on the markets – on a longer term basis. For me one thing is clear – most of the experts who I lend my eyes to are saying (in print) that there seem to be no signs of the market having topped out in the intermediate term. The logic therefore is that if the market needs to move up and reach it’s intermediate top (before the hot money decides to leave our shores), RIL needs to perform. Hope I get lucky on these punts. Stop losses are my pillows.

Sugar me baby

Sugar me baby, NOT.

The problem with too much of a fixation on charts is that we sometimes tend to ignore their non causality. Past patterns may not repeat. Just because a stock is at its 52 week low/high does not automatically mean that it will start rising/falling. In fact, quite the opposite. Momentum surfers say that, if accompanied by strong volumes a rising tide is likely to rise further and a sinking ship is bound to plunge deeper. Trouble is that we amateurs tend to sell too early (“too much of greed is not good”) or hold on to falling lines sliding further. That is what I had in mind when I said (here and here) that its not important when you buy – when you sell is what determines your worth. Another category of misadventures has to do with those with blood on their hands as they attempt to catch falling knives. Many look at a 6m or 1yr chart, and buy into a stock if they see that its fallen quite sharply. These are  people hopping onto a slide midway in the hope that the slide will magically metamorphise into a roller coaster and take them up. While they lose lesser than the ones who have been around at the top before the slide, it hits the ego more. Guys who have been losing money on a losing investment for some time seem have turned accepting to the fact that they have hit a rough patch and bravely ignore  further losses. Guys who get in fresh in the middle of a drop have to brace themselves for the stock market equivalent of a tight slap.

If there’s some sudden, extraneous shock (the PIIGs dominoing themselves to bankruptcy, terrorist strikes, political events, my turning up to work in pink  corduroys, et al) then it can help to get in during sudden drops. Else, it’s not so simple. Better bet would be good stocks that have done nothing and might be on the verge of a breakout. See the chart of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), for instance – there has been a reconcilation between the brothers, global energy stocks are firming up, entry into communications and power…but the RIL stock has been sleeping.

On the other hand, one sector that has definitely turned quite bitter of late is sugar. Take a look at the chart alongside – while the NIFTY has done a handsome 23%, the sugar stocks have fallen from 12% – 32% during the past 12 months. EID Parry has trumped the NIFTY though to return a nice 46%, but then only 65% of EID Parry is sugar. Now, I do remember a colleague of mine buying into one such sugar producer and losing quite a bit in the bargain. Not a sweet deal at all. Same has been the case with Airtel. A couple of people I know bought into the leading telco, drawn by its image and brand name hoping for a quick rebound. But the rebound has not come about and they are still ringing up losing numbers.

Food is not good here in India. The stomach turns to see so many people going hungry only to realise that mountains of rice are allowed to rot in the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) godowns.  The Indus Valley civilization taught us to build granaries but somewhere down the line we forgot how to manage them. Its pointless to blame Mr. Sharad Pawar since he is, by his own admission, quite overworked. I am not quite sure what role the food ministry mandarins have played in the local sugar mandis, but the the picture looks bleak for these cane crushers.

Sugarcane is quite a popular crop back there in my village. Its yield per acre is high since these grasses can be planted quite close to each other. Its almost impossible to venture deeper into the growth since the stems are quite stubborn and the rough leaves do scratch and irritate the skin. Wild boars gorge themselves on the canes and I remember my cousins/uncle/labourers taking turns watching over the farm under the starry skies.  Later in the morning it was always a pleasure to watch a village belle walking around, with unkempt hair digging her incisors and tearing into the outer skin of a sugarcane stump with a beautiful ferocity that can now be matched with the savage manner in which some investors have been mauled into losses over these stocks.

Sometime back there was a shortage of cane since there were many takers. There was talk of ethanol doping of fuel, the liquor companies where in attendance too, the gur producers and of course the sugar refiners. As a kid, I remember seeing serpentine queues of bullock carts laden with sugarcane waiting to offload their ware at the local sugarcane factory. I am not sure if you know but sugarcane needs to be processed immediately upon harvesting, else the sugar content declines rapidly. But a year or so back, we heard of millers coming directly down to the farms to collect the produce. This is a cyclical stock and once you see such un-natural behaviour (home pickup), it is almost sure that the good times are about to turn.

The heady demand drove up cane prices and the sugar producers had to stock up on inventory procured at very high costs. They are still holding on to these stocks. Since sugar prices are coming down now, the sugar companies have no option but to eat this cost. Further, since the Indian monsoon seems to be ok ok this year, there will be fresh produce coming into the sugar mandis later this year. Which will cause prices to fall even more. Also, there is a wide acceptance of the fact that the RBI might increase domestic interest rates. I do not know offhand, how much debt is carried by the sugar producers, but if they indeed do – then its one more nail into the coffin. Domestic brokerages have thumbed the sector down – many are predicting a 30% – 50% drop in quarterly profits.

Only deregulation of the sector can spike up the sector. But one wonders why talk of deregulation always surfaces when the sector underperforms. It is again a digital event, not in one’s control – and with Mr. Sharad Pawar overwhelmed with work, this is one coin flip which we’d rather ignore. These are cyclical stocks – roller coasters, ferris wheels, etc. Lets have them increase their P/Es first and then look at investing in them. Depressed earnings of cyclicals reduce the denominator of the P/E ratios and therefore they become attractive when their P/Es are high.


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