Played around some more with the market data. The chart below plots the locus of the NIFTY (solid, curvy red line) across the various EPS’ that it has had on the first day of each quarter since 1Apr2008 superimposed between a band of P/Es ranging from 12 to 26. The NIFTY has flirted with both these P/E envelopes at least once since 1Apr2008. Cycloidal? We are around 260 now. If it is cycloidal then it must droop. Which means the markets must fall. Am I crazy or are the markets crazier? 🙂

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.

The Bond Bubble

The bubbling stories going around this week in the financial blogosphere have mostly centered on the heady climb of US treasuries. In fact the topic has been quite hot the past month but the din is getting louder now. Comparisions with the dot com bubble and the housing bubble have started doing the rounds. The yield on the 10 year US paper is currently around 1% now. Which means that if you freeze the frame today, it will take a hundred years for the interest component to add up and match the price you pay for such bonds today. The P/Es (inverse of yield) of the no-brick and no-mortar tech companies were also in the heady hundreds during 1999-00. I don’t have too much of a view since it’s all happening outside of our shores. The Small Investor writes about it here as also the links I’ve listed below: it’s important enough for us to pay attention since we have NOT decoupled ourselves from the west. It’s actually the FII money that’s driving up our local markets here. Hot money.

  • FT Alphaville on the conundrum that equity prices and bond price are now moving in step. i.e. UP!

Logically, I’d guess that the bond market is bigger, more liquid and less amenable to manipulation. So, if the bonds and the stocks are sending out conflicting messages, should one not trust the former?

However, are bond markets better predictors of the economy? I think not: since nominal GDP growth and interest rates are both driven by inflation. Correlation is NOT causality. It’s a mistake many make – if two lines A & B move in tandem, that does not necessarily mean that A and B have a causal relationship. There could be a third factor C which is driving both A & B. So, bond prices are ↑; equity markets are ↑; economic data (US) is ↔. Thats the confusion. 

  • A website called bond-bubble (what else!) has come up and the graph on it’s homepage is quite telling.

It shows the super steep rise of US public debt – almost a parabolic rise. To me this looks similar to the rise of the Chinese stock market. That looked parabolic as well ( y = 4 * A * x↑2) and it could not defy gravity. But can US debt come crashing down? Maybe – if the currency crashes.

  • That seems to be awesome news for the gold bugs! It makes the case that the bursting of the bond bubble will pave the way for a massive upsurge in gold prices. The article notes that the yellow metal shines brightest in three situations – “heightened economical/financial risk; outright inflation and/or deflation”. And therein makes the case for a coming Gold bubble! Marc Faber,  (who keeps telling people to buy gold) has been bearish on treasuries right through the start of April but no one seems to be listening.


This is making people like me (the “half informed”) even more nervous now. Ignorance is bliss – part knowledge is most painful. Anyways, the local markets are frothing on all the money that’s coming in from the US. The Fed there is busy buying up treasuries and sloshing money in their system (to buy the bonds, the Fed has to release money by paying whoever is holding bonds). They’re doing it by working their printing presses overtime spooking inflation. But I guess the game with inflation is that if you whack it too much too fast, the thing just snaps and the party careens towards deflation. I wish I had paid more attention during my economics classes. But to me it sounds logical that what comes in, goes out. So, this money will go back from where it came (at least in the interim). And all will fall down.

Though there is some more ground for the NIFTY to cover. That’s what the “experts” here are saying. The market isn’t fully stoned yet. It’s just started rolling the weed, maybe a few drags….let’s stop hallucinating. In 2008 so many of our local “experts” were shouting out that India is decoupled and that the housing bubble will not effect us. Even politicians had joined the chorous. De-coupled my moon. We are as joined to the US hip as our big bro in the vicinity.

Maybe I’ll be able to call the top.

Shakti Met Dor

Here is another dilemma that I face now. I had invested in Shakti Met-dor about a month back. The company looked undervalued, some people were beginning to notice and write about it but the charts were not indicating anything stellar to me – at least then. I was more happy to cream off 7 – 8% in about a month’s time and get out. I am sitting on an upside of 26% now. Of course, my digging around on the net had made me aware of a much larger upside that was possible on this stock. So I was waiting for the market to discover the hidden value in it – perhaps around the time of it’s quarterly results declaration? I also thought it a good omen to have dumped some money on the stock of a company which is domiciled in the same city where I am working currently.

The company fabricates doors and windows. That’s it. My money is hinging on these humble pieces of building fitout equipment. Doors and windows are not cool enough, I guess. Maybe that’s why the company has never really been able to command a good enough valuation despite doing pretty well for itself. Some time back it recently upped its manfucturing capacity and no one seemed to have noticed back then. The additional capacity seems to have come on board and the additional widgets are now contributing to the bottom line. The coffers seem to be filling up and now people are starting to see it on their screens due to the falling P/E ratio.

What’s my dillemma? When to sell. Again. The same problem.

And what’s the catch? The management – or so it seems. They must have realised that since the market cares two hoots about them, it was time they got out of the party where they were not invited. They now want to delist. The promoters own around 55% and it may seem that they have a long way to go (SEBI requires 90% ownership for promoters before they can slink away). But there’s more to it – we need to open our doors of perception wider. The problem is that, in true Pareto style, just about 100 shareholders seem to own around 90% of the stock under issue. I am afraid that if the management is able to corner these 100, then I’m done for. Who knows what relation exists between these 100 and the management? I hope they do not locate me – but that seems difficult as I work just 7 kms from their head office. The website of the company is nothing great. I am sure some creative webmaster can create quite a few interesting themes with doors and windows opening and closing on their website. They do not have an investor relations page or section but that’s all undestandable since the management has said that the reason for seeking an exit from the listed secondary market is the heavy burden of listing and exchange fees that the company has to bear. If that is such a heavy expense then why would they ever want to pay a few thousands to a web designer to spruce up their website? But despite the frugal website, they have managed to slip in an extract about their company culture (Career With Us >> Our Culture) which should help us investors:

“Openness: We like to be ethical, fair and forthright in all our endeavors; openness not just in the sharing of knowledge across the organization, but also in terms of respecting the feedback given by our people.”

I hope they feel the same about their investors? Or are some investors more investors per share of holding than others?

Despite such nobility, there is some speculation that the promoters have been quietly ferreting away bite sized chunks of shares away from the market ever since 1998 and do not appear to have been open and honest about it. That sounds like fraud to me. Stock analyst Mudar Pathreya said all this and also a bit more in his interview to CNBC-TV18 on 27Jul’10. He says that the company should be worth more than Rs. 500/share and advises shareholders to hold on.

Where is SEBI when it is needed the most? I need you, SEBI for I need to make money. I remember Prof. A, who during my first year of management studies had remonstrated very vigorously and animatedly:

“SEBI should be plucked out and thrown into the Arabian Sea”.

 Serious, risk averse dyed-in-the-wool kind of value investors will stay away and look the other way. But I am greedy. Greed is good. Greed is good.

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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