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Note: This post has been written by Ajay Sreenivasan – a regular reader of Stable Investor. I have been interacting regularly with him after we got in touch regarding my SIP Case Study last month. Ajay made many useful suggestions, which I eventually used for the last part of the interesting analysis. In our email conversations, it became clear that he had a vast experience in Mutual Fund investing. So I requested him to share his experiences and learnings with all the readers of Stable Investor. And he gladly accepted the offer. 🙂
The first part of this story is about his actual experiences over the last 10 years. The second part of the series will be more about the learnings which can be used as guidelines by other mutual fund investors.
So over to Ajay, who shares his experience of mutual fund investing below:
Till 2004, I was of the opinion that stock market investing was not for ordinary people. And that the terms like ‘Saving’ and ‘Investing’ generally referred to depositing money in bank deposits. And this opinion is probably formed because I come from a middle class family and none of my family members have ever had to do anything with the stock markets.
Also a few other people, whom we knew and who invested in stocks, were the ones who lost quite a lot of money in markets. This again kept me away from the markets.
All I knew was that bank deposits, postal deposits, chit funds and LIC were for Savings; and if there was a need to make an ‘investment’, I could buy land if I had sufficient money.
So this is my story…
I became a NRI in 1995 as I had come to Gulf for employment. In 1997, I bought a plot of land (because someone told me to buy it). Later on in 2001, I constructed a house for self-occupancy as my family wanted a place which we could call as a home. And luckily for me, the good part was that buying of plot as well as construction of house was all done with personal savings, without any loans or debt.
I was lucky that I built my house much before the crazy real estate boom began. And I have no hesitation in saying that it was purely because of my need and partially because of luck that I was ahead of the boom.
In 1998, an American Insurance company agent promptly approached and duped me. He convinced me about how I should save for my future and almost forced me to buy a US Dollar endowment policy – it hardly gave 0% return, yes 0% after 10years of regular annual payment. And I realized this only after 2006. But once this realization occurred to me, I promptly chose to convert it into a term plan for next 10 years as there was an option to do it.
In 2003, when my first child was born, I promptly called a life insurance agent in Gulf and took a Child Marriage and Education policy. In this policy, I had to invest on a yearly basis for next 18 years. It was a US Dollar denominated LIC endowment policy – it hardly gave 2% bonus every year despite paying regular annual premium. My reason for buying this policy was to be a responsible father, who was saving for his child’s future. But to be honest, I was doing it without having any knowledge about what long term investment was all about, and more importantly, without having any set target in mind.
In 2003, banks deposit rates started coming down and dollar started becoming stronger. I felt that it was better to keep money in dollars, even if it fetches a lower rate. And that is because it will get compensated by the exchange rate – due to rupee depreciation over the holding period. With this thought in mind, I again bought a single payment US Dollar denominated endowment life insurance policy for a 5 year term. I was treating it more like a US Dollar fixed deposit. 🙂 Unfortunately, the returns were less than 4% per year as I did not get the exchange rate benefit. And reason for it was that even after 5 years, Dollar-INR rate remained more or less at same levels.
By 2003, I was in a good-to-be situation, where I was saving a considerable amount of cash. And more importantly, I was free from any kind of loans. At this juncture, I got fooled once again. A LIC agent in India fooled me into buying a so-called good a policy named Jeevan Anand. To cut the long story short, the policy is hardly earning 5% despite paying annual premiums regularly for last 10+ years. A good policy indeed!!
By 2003, stock markets had started gaining momentum and IPOs were all rage. Personally, I didn’t know anything about IPOs at all. All I was hearing on news channels and from friends, who had invested in IPOs, was that it was a way of making easy money….and that too quickly. Being attracted to the glamour of quick money, I approached a broker and promptly opened a demat/trading account. And I did this without even knowing what exactly a share was and how it worked, etc. The broker, being as helpful as an angel, promptly helped me apply for various IPOs. Luckily for me, I somehow got invested only in good, established companies without even knowing anything about them. Some of these were TCS, ONGC, PETLNG, etc. But without knowing the real potential of these companies, I sold them whenever I made a small profit.
Since I dealt a lot with my broker for IPO investing, these guys started recommending mutual funds to me too. They recommended many NFOs and sector funds to me. Not because these were good for me, but because these paid higher commissions to them. And they always recommended me to chose the dividend option, so that I could get back some of the money back in my hand. But as far as I understand now, the real reason for this was to give me a feeling that I was making money. And this in turn helped them, to easily convince me to re-invest with them in other NFOs and funds that they recommended. I became a cyclical commission-making machine for them. But I had no clue about it. All I knew was that I bought a fund and the fund was giving dividends. Broadly speaking, I had full faith on what my broker wanted me to do.
By 2005, I got more accustomed to the concepts of money management and mutual funds. I even started tracking my funds’ annualized returns on a 5 year basis. And at that time, it showed a healthy (rather, very healthy) 25% per year. At that time, my total investment in mutual funds was hardly anything to say about. Mostly, I was churning the funds as per my broker’s recommendations (which benefitted him the most).
With the kind of returns my fund’s portfolio was showing, and the dividend I was getting from these funds, I came to the conclusion that, making money in stock markets was very easy. Even at this juncture, I was completely unaware of the Dotcom crash or the No-Return periods after 1995 or the Asian crisis of 1998. The 5 years annualized return of mutual funds looked good, only because of the 2003-2004 Bull Run. However, because of my excitement at seeing the profits and because I was getting dividends, I had already invested close to Rs 3 Lacs in mutual funds.
As the bull market progressed through 2004-2005, and pulled many novices into the market, I started investing in secondary markets too. But it was purely based on business channel tips & newspaper recommendations. In my quest of making some quick money, I started putting money in companies that I had not even heard off!! You can imagine the risks I was taking when I tell you that I invested in shares of companies like GTC, Manugraph, Betala, Nocil, Kohinoor…only God knows what these companies did…
I simply thought that all stocks will make money for me.
How foolish of me?
But due to losses in these unknown companies (although small), I realized that I should only buy shares of large companies. But I still didn’t know which stocks to buy and why to buy them. It was still very random for me, even though I was ready to hold for the long term. And the money I made in TCS, ONGC and ICICI gave me this foolish confidence, that I could not lose money if I stick with large caps.
It was during this time that I fortunately came across a financial guide on investing from PersonalFn. And as far as I am concerned, it was the turning point of my investment journey…or in fact, it was the starting point. I was not a voracious book reader (although I read a lot of blogs, articles and newspapers)…..however, this guide had me interested. And that was because it was short and simple, and more importantly, it spoke about all the foolish things I was doing in my investments. At that time, this guide was like Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investor to me. It taught me a lot about goal-based investing and how to use a range of mutual funds and direct stock investments to achieve my goals. Honestly, it was like a god sent material for me. 🙂
I realized that despite working for more than 15 years (with 10 spent in Gulf), and also being a good saver, I did not have any plan for the future and was goal-less. All I was doing was to buy some insurance products and some random Mutual Fund and stocks.
I approached PersonalFN to prepare a financial plan and got in touch with a very capable and honest financial planner. During the planning part, I set my goals and the financial plan was ready for investment in line with my risk appetite and the asset allocation.
To cut the long story short, I set a goal of Rs 3 Crores by 2025 for retirement corpus and Rs 1 Crore by 2021 for my child’s education and marriage.
A monthly SIP target of Rs 60,000 was worked out for me. This amount had to be invested in Mutual Funds for my future goals. Though it’s true that I missed out on a good part of my younger age before I started proper investing, I would say that I was still lucky enough not to have any loans at that time when I eventually did start.
By April 2006, I consolidated all my existing funds to the chosen fund as per my financial plan and started SIP investing for the 1st time in a disciplined manner. I decided that no matter what happens, I will invest at least Rs 60,000 every month towards my goals. And I also intended to invest more to cover up for the lost time of 15 years.
Just after a month (in May 2006), there was a significant fall in markets (it had something to do with the commodity price collapse on LME). And by June 2006, about 20% of my portfolio (Rs 1.1 Lacs from Rs 6.9 Lacs) had disappeared due to this market correction. But I told myself that I had to stick to my plans no matter what. Markets eventually recovered and went on to make some good gains over the next 6 months. By December 2006, my portfolio was sitting at 50% point-to-point return.(See entries for 1-Dec-2006 in the Table 1 below)
My investments in mutual funds continued from 2006 to 2008 and I remained loyal to my 60K SIP. Rest of the surplus money went into Fixed Deposits, Liquid Funds and Insurance premiums. I thus built the debt side of the portfolio too. But still I did not bother much about my asset allocation at that point of time.
While I could sense and for that matter, actually see the euphoria building up around me in November 2007, I didn’t do anything. The media propelled euphoria went over the roof around November 2007 as there was a general consensus that GDP will grow at 9+ percent for many years to come. I simply continued with my SIP. At one point, I even doubled my SIP investments as I got a substantial raise in my income. And this I did without any regard to market valuations at that time.
By Jan 2008, my portfolio had peaked with a point-to-point return (since 2006) of 79.27% (See entries for 1-Jan-2008 in Table 1).
An investment of 17 Lacs had turned into Rs 31 Lacs in just 18+ months. No one was bothered about market valuations and almost all market analysts were publishing much higher targets, and justifying them with the now (in)famous theory of disconnect between Indian economy and global market. At this point, Nifty PE Ratio was 27.64. But I only came to know about this in 2010.
And then came the Crash of 2008. Uptil then, I had never seen my portfolio getting slaughtered in a big way. After the crash, the markets started drifting downwards. By July 2008, while my investments went up from Rs 17 Lacs to Rs 29 Lacs (due to my increased SIP and additional purchase – seeing the market fall), the actual profits of my portfolio were completely wiped out and became negative for the first time (see the return figures of 01-July-2008).
Yes…from almost double (of my actual investments) in January 2008, the returns turned negative within just 6 months!! That is how ruthless the markets can be.
Actually in July 2008, the markets came to a reasonable level where Nifty PE was around 16.6. The media also started recommending that this steep correction presented one of the best opportunities that an investor can get (since 2004). I too decided to increase my SIP between April 2008 and August 2008. And I did this by breaking some of the fixed deposits. I also invested some additional money through direct stock investing. Frankly what I was doing was to average out my investments which had run into steep losses. Or you can say that I was trying to catch the falling knife. But as the knife continued to fall, I increased the additional purchases (See additional BUY transactions between August 2008 and March 2009).
By December 2008, the valuations had gone into a deep negative territory – a point to point return of (-) 28%, i.e. a steep loss of Rs 12.7 Lacs on a Rs 45 Lacs investment. There was panic all around. And it was like there was no end to bad news – Dubai default, Sub Prime Crisis, UPA may not come back to power and no stability after upcoming elections etc.
By March 2009, investment showed a point to point return of (-) 28%, a Rs 52.5Lacs investment had become Rs 37.7 Lacs. And Nifty PE ratio had touched a once-in-a-lifetime low of PE 12.
The crash in the period of August 2008 to March 2009 made me read several prominent articles, blogs and most importantly, Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investor. Frankly, it was only then that I started understanding market valuations and the importance of asset allocation. It was here that I decided to consolidate all my investments to evaluate my asset allocation…and to bring it down to a comfortable equity and debt level.
For the first time in my life, I evaluated my complete portfolio of Fixed Deposits, Debt Funds, Equity Funds and individual stocks as one entity.
And based on my readings, I set following rules for myself:
Rule 1: Save as much money as possible for the purpose of investing.
Rule 2: Before investing (every time), look at your asset allocation and in general, market’s PE valuations.
Rule 3: Continue investing via SIP as per the original plan. Do not stop SIP midway for any reason till target investment value (not the target corpus value) is reached.
Rule 4: Broadly keep the asset allocation between 60% – 80% in favor of equity – for PE Ratio range of 18-24. And continue investing in SIPs as per investment plan.
Rule 5: If markets fall below 18PE, increase SIPs.
Rule 6: If markets fall further below 16PE, increase buyout, and
Rule 7: If markets fall below 14PE, invest maximum amount in equity in lumpsum.
Rule 8: If market crosses above 23PE, restrict investment amount in Equity.
Rule 9: Above 25PE, reset equity allocation to something in between 65% – 75%,
Rule 10: Above 27PE, do not invest further and reset the asset allocation to below 65%
Important Note: Equity allocation includes mutual funds and direct stock investments.
In my case, I didn’t sell any of the fund holdings till December 2014. But I did sell my direct equity holdings and invested additional money in debt portion (including gold) to manage my asset allocation.
It is very important to decide the investment period of the money being invested. If you don’t require the money for next 10 years, then it must go to equity mutual funds only (preferably via STP transfer from liquid funds). But if investment period is for less than 3 years, then it should be invested in debt.
Money required for other periods, i.e. between 3 and 10 years can be shuffled between equity and debt as per asset allocation.
So let’s go back to my story…
By May 2009, the election results were out and UPA 2 was forming the government. Markets took the news positively and the portfolio turned neutral i.e. 0% returns after 3 years of accelerated SIP investment. And within a month, i.e. by June 2009, it turned positive.
By this time, I went through a lot of dilemma about whether, what I was doing was correct or not. Honestly speaking, at times my portfolio looked scary to me and even disturbed my sleep. Almost all my friends were investing in real estate using cash and loans and enjoying rents & capital appreciation. As for me, I had almost ZERO returns to show after 3 years of investing. Even my family was not sure whether what I was doing was the right thing to do or not. After all I was going so aggressively with fund based investing, without any regard for what others were doing, i.e. investing in real estate.
And apart from the pain of 0% return of MF portfolio, there was added pain of direct stock portfolio being deep in red. This put further pressure on me. My thought process here was that after so many years of negative returns, even after investing in SIP mode and market touching all time low valuation levels, there is bound to be a point, where I will get decent returns. And backed by this thought and my understanding gained from reading various investment books, I decided to increase my SIP investment – but only using the money which would not be needed for next 10 years.
In any case, my original plan was to invest Rs 60,000 every month for 20 years to achieve my goals. This would amount to Rs 1.44 Crores (Rs 60,000 per month x 12 months x 20 years). By increasing my SIP now, I was only putting the money ahead of its planned schedule.
By Jan 2010, the market PE valuations touched 23. I brought down the equity asset allocation to 63% (see table) as the market at that point was nearly 100% up from March 2009 valuations.
As I had anticipated, markets did correct but recovered immediately. Throughout 2010, the market PE stayed above 21 and therefore I continued with my regular SIPs.
In October 2010, the market once again peaked out at 25PE. Yet, I continued with regular SIP and adjusted the asset allocation by investing equally in debt and also by selling the direct stocks. I had started looking at my whole portfolio in its entirety. So the bad quality stocks, which I held were sold….even if it meant that I had to sell them at a loss (for the sake of asset allocation).
Although, the market PE remained at 20+ till July 2011, the index itself corrected from 6200 to 5000 by September 2011. Witnessing this correction, I increased the additional purchases in this period and equity allocation touched almost 80% plus. Another reason for increasing the allocation was the availability of cheap USD-denominated loans in 2011 to invest in mutual funds. As of today, it seems to have turned out to be very successfully. The loans were paid off in 3 years from salary and the investment amount has nearly doubled.
As 2012 came, the valuations started moderating and PE came down to average levels of around 18 (probably this was due to lots of negative news about government, fiscal deficit, currency collapse, gold restrictions, high oil prices, etc). By this time, I had already become familiar with the volatility and bad news. Here, I decided to keep adding to my MF folio with an investment target of Rs 1.44 crores (and not the total end of 20 year target of Rs 4 crores). The Idea was that once I invest Rs 1.44 Crores, I could always give sufficient time to the markets to achieve my target. And I started increasing the investments whenever the PE came below 18. But I ensured that equity portion in portfolio did not exceed 85%.
As 2013 came, valuations stayed below 18PE and the gains were getting wiped off once again. I was consciously raising the investments in MF and also allocating sufficient funds in debt side. By September 2013, the portfolio gains were nearly wiped off (just a point to point return of 28% was left out with just Rs 42 Lacs profit on a Rs 1.4 crore investment). It seemed that even after investing aggressively for 8+ years, there was no fruitful result. But this time, I got even bolder than ever and decided that even if markets were to correct 20% from here, the PE would only fall 20% from lows of 16 at that time. So downside was almost limited and upside was not. So I decided to continue doing my monthly SIP from there on.
Fortunately, BJP started winning state elections and the sentiment started to change from November 2013 onwards. And rising markets have started helping my portfolio too. By this time, my targeted investment of Rs 1.44 Crore has already been done. Yet I am continuing my minimum SIP investment of Rs 60K. From December 2013 onwards, the additional amounts were invested in the debt folio to increase the debt allocation and thereby bring down the equity allocation from 70% to 58%.
As of Dec 2014, the fund has reached a target of Rs 3.92 Crores versus the original target of Rs 4 crores. I still have another 6 years left to take this corpus out. Therefore except in case of nifty valuations going haywire, I don’t intend to take my profits out anytime soon. I expect this amount to become at least Rs 7-8 Crore by 2021 and serve my goals. Although my original goal was 4 crore, with increase in monthly expenses (retirement corpus), children education and marriage expenses, I may require around Rs 8 Crore. I expect the same to be comfortably met from the current mutual fund folio investment.
As of 1st Jan 2015, the returns on mutual fund portfolio stand at 19.80% per annum. A snapshot view from a portfolio manager tool is posted below:
The above summarize my investment journey till date.
If you want to have a look at the detailed transaction history over a 10 year period, please click on the image below:
The second part of the series will cover the learnings which can be used as bulleted list of guidelines by other mutual fund investors.