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Chaotic markets: Keep your cool

Don't take any hasty steps, even if falling markets dent your confidence, as we explain why and how

Joydeep Ghosh & Neha Pandey Deoras  |  Mumbai 

It’s not been easy going for investors in the stock market. While the initial couple of months of the rally would have given some hope for things to improve, certain decisions or indecisions in the Union Budget, such as absence of hard reforms, fears on the General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR), followed by the European crisis, have unsettled things again.

So, investors have shown little enthusiasm in the equities market. The combined average turnover of retail and high net worth individuals at the Bombay Stock Exchange, depicted by the cash turnover, is down to a seven-year low of Rs 3,414 crore.

Many are even moving out. Mutual funds have lost 300,000 investors in April alone due to closure or non-servicing of portfolios. The January-April numbers are a whopping 1.1 million.

In reality, the returns aren’t too bad. Year-to-date, the Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index, or Sensex, and the National Stock Exchange’s Nifty have returned 3.98 and 5.32 per cent, respectively.

But investors tend to follow a herd mentality. As Prashant Prabhakaran, president, retail broking, IIFL, says: “Typically, these are the times for investors to stay put or build an equity portfolio. But, in reality they follow a herd mentality.” The reason, he feels, is that each time investors entered in the past two-three years, there was a further slide.

Agrees of institutional business, Emkay Global Fin Services, “Investors normally look at the recent past to get inspiration to invest. But the numbers in the recent past have not been so encouraging.”

Many feel it is time to show a little, perhaps more than a little, courage. While debt and gold have been doing well, the former suffers from lack of liquidity. Gold is great but overexposure could mean trouble. Returns from debt have been a good eight to 10 per cent during last year, through fixed deposits and fixed maturity plans. Similarly, returns from gold have been in excess of 25 per cent.

In fact, over a five-year period, the numbers are hugely in favour of gold. The yellow metal has returned 24.4 per cent, whereas the Sensex has returned a dismal 2.56 per cent and debt (income) funds have returned seven per cent. But over a 15-20 year period, equities tend to score.

Bad times are perhaps the best times to enter. As Warren Buffett has said, ‘Buy when everyone else is selling’. It has been proven right over the years. If you had entered the stock market when the Sensex slipped to 8,160 in 2009, the returns as of today’s closing would be 96.9 per cent. In other words, you would have almost doubled your money. It would have been even better if the investor had exited when the Sensex hit 21,000 points in November 2010.

But investors often enter in a rallying market. “We feel the valuations are fair/cheap but a retail guy’s psyche is different; he will come back only when the valuations increase a bit, which would typically be around the 5,600-6,000 level,” adds Parmar.

This time, you could avoid the mistake. If the market was to continue to correct from here onwards, start a systematic investment plans (SIP)in large-cap equity funds. Of course, age and risk profile do make a difference. If you are a young, first-time investor in stocks and have a good 20-25 years to retirement, take the SIP route or buy some blue chips and hold on for the next few years. There isn’t much need to think about debt. There can be some gold in the portfolio, around 10 per cent, but in exchange traded funds.

If you are middle-aged and have around 10-15 years to retirement, have some equities and around 20 per cent in gold. Closing on retirement (two-three years), debt is the best option. Put most of the money, around 80 per cent, in debt. Have some equities and gold, say 10 per cent each, to add the element of high risk-return in the portfolio. For interim goals, such as a house, car, travel and others, depending on the time at hand, choose your instruments.

First Published: Fri, May 18 2012. 00:00 IST