I have a little extra spring in my steps these days!
Let me share a small personal story. As a kid growing up, diwali was a great time for me. Being a north Indian, sweets are a big part of diwali. We would visit our grandparents during diwali, and I had complete freedom to eat as much sweets or mithai as I wanted to. I have always had a sweet tooth and I still recall a month of pure bliss during diwali. Barfi, gulab jamun, pedas …mmmmm!
I feel like it is diwali or almost diwali these days. I don’t mean in the literal sense, but everyday I look at the market and find my favorite barfis and pedas available for less and less 🙂
But it is such a bad time!
I think all of us know the million reasons why one should not invest money and stay away from market. US is in a mess, Europe is a disaster waiting to happen, India is overheating …blah blah blah.
One cannot open the papers or watch a channel without someone trying to predict a disaster sometime soon. Where were these idiots in the beginning of the year when the index was at 20000 levels? If they could not see six months out then, how are they able to see six months out now?
The truth is that, it is never a good time to invest. There always is some problem somewhere. It could be macro problems such as now or industry/ company specific issues such as in the infrastructure or IT industry. By the way, the right time to sell would be before the market realizes that there is a problem in the industry and not after it has been priced in.
If risk avoidance is the goal, then the only way to invest is in bank deposits. Even in the case of bank deposits, one faces the inflation risk. So in effect, one cannot escape risk. The only thing an investor can do is take intelligent risks for which one is compensated (much like an insurance company)
What is an intelligent risk?
An intelligent risk is one for which one gets the appropriate return adjusted for the risk. The main component for intelligent risk taking is diversification and pricing. You do not overpay for it and you diversify. This is much like an insurance company.
The unsaid part in the above is that one knows what one is doing. No amount of diversification or price can save you from ignorance.
Why not wait till it all clears up
Unless you have some crystal ball to look into the future, it is futile to try to predict the turning point (if you do have a crystal ball, why waste it on the stock market anyway).
Majority of the investors are typically late in knowing when the tide has turned and then there is a mad rush into stocks (remember April 2009 when the index jumped by 10%+ in a day !)
If like me you cannot predict the turning or don’t care to, then a good time to buy is when the prices are low. It is quite possible that things could turn worse before they get better and you may get a better opportunity. However trying to pick the bottom or the top is a fool’s game and I would prefer to pick up stocks which are cheap enough and then just stick with them.
So what to buy?
The first question to ask yourself is this – Do I have the stomach to withstand large swings in the stock prices and considerable paper losses for sometime? It is quite possible that all this may take some time to clear up and could test your patience.
The second critical point is whether you need the money in the medium term. If you need the money in the next five years, then don’t put that money into the stock market. A large drop will scare you and you may exit the market at the wrong time.
The perceived risk in the stock market is high during bear markets, but the actual risk is lower. Everyone was scared in March 2009 – so the perceived risk was high. But if you invested during that period, you made good returns.
If you are short on time and cannot do the research, then you can do what I have done in the past – Invest in an index fund. As I have said in the past, investing in an index is a good option for a lot of investors, especially if you not have the time and interest in analyzing stocks. You can use a simple rule set like mine or do some fancy math to figure the right time to buy.
I was short on time during the first quarter of 2009 and felt the market was fairly cheap. To take advantage of the undervaluation, I invested quite a bit in index funds to take advantage of the low valuations.
If however you have the time and inclination to analyze stocks, then beaten up sectors which do not have a structural issue is a good place to start. I think infrastructure and capital good is a place to search for bargains. The IT industry on the other hand has structural issue and I will not invest in any company unless it is really really cheap.
My mouth has started watering these days and if the market continues to drop, it would be an early diwali feast for me 🙂