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Archives for July 2017

Math is the Simple Part

“Investing is simple, but not easy,” said Charlie Munger.

Why? Because…

Understanding that sensible investing is about buying a thing worth Rs 100 at Rs 50 is simple, but actually buying something worth Rs 100 that falls to Rs 50 is not easy.

Working on spreadsheets is simple, but not twisting spreadsheets to fit your version of reality is not easy.


Calculating past growth and profitability numbers for a business and understanding whether those are good or bad is simple, but actually trying to understand a business deeply enough to visualize how it will look like in the future is not easy.

Knowing that a business has moat as seen from its superior profitability and clean balance sheet is simple, but understanding whether this moat is sustainable or fleeting is not easy.

Calculating book value of a company is simple, but understanding whether that book really has value, and roughly how much, is not easy.

Knowing the results that numbers shout out of financial statements is simple, but knowing which of those results are signal and which are noise is not easy.

Knowing how DCF works is simple, but looking at businesses with a DCF frame of mind is not easy.

Calculating precise intrinsic values for businesses is simple, but trusting approximations that really work is not easy. (Keynes said – “It’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.”)

Knowing beta is a measure of volatility is simple, but appreciating that volatility isn’t the real risk you face in investing is not easy.

Understanding that money can multiply 100x in 25 years when you compound at 20% annually is simple, but sitting through these 25 years patiently when others are cashing in after having made 5-10x is not easy.

The celebrated American physicist and a great teacher Richard Feynman said that there’s a big difference between ‘knowing the name of something’ and ‘knowing something’.

Math helps you know the name of a lot of things, which is simple. But it’s your mindset that helps you really know things, which is not easy.

Of course, understanding basic math is a prerequisite for becoming a smarter investor. But if you need math to tell you whether you are doing right in investing or not, you are doing something seriously wrong.

Move Forward, But with Caution: Lessons from Howard Marks on How to Deal with Bull Markets

Recent advances in neuroscience and physiology have shown that when we take risk, including financial risk, we do a lot more than just think about it.

We prepare for it physically. Our bodies, expecting action, switch on an emergency network of physiological circuitry, and the resulting surge in electrical and chemical activity feeds back on the brain, affecting the way it thinks. In this way, the body and the brain string together as a single entity, united in the face of challenge.

Normally, this fusion of body and brain provides us with the fast reactions and gut feelings we need for successful risk-taking. But under some circumstances, these chemical surges can overwhelm us. And when this happens to investors, they come to suffer an irrational exuberance (or pessimism) that can destabilize the financial markets and subsequently wreak havoc on investors’ wealth creation process.

Consider bull markets. When rising stock prices start to validate investors’ belief, the profits they make translate into a lot more than mere greed. They bring on powerful feelings of euphoria and supremacy.

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Our First Money Workshop for Children – Some Key Lessons Learned

If compound interest is so good, why do we have simple interest?

If bankers know so much about money, they must be the richest in the world, right?

If you get more knowledgeable as you grow up, why don’t you get wiser with money?

Why don’t they teach us about saving and investing in schools?

If saving money is so important, why are you giving us balloons, which is a waste of money?

Well, these were just a few of the many questions that stumped us during the first session of our Camp Millionaire money workshop for children (click here to know more) in Bangalore last Saturday.



We had 32 children in the room, ranging from ages 8 to 15. It was heartening to see a few traveling all the way from far off places like Kerala, Chennai, Gurgaon, Sambalpur, Ichalkaranji, and Kuwait. For us, it was a fascinating experience especially because it was the first time we were handling kids and the subject of money together at one time.

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Latticework of Mental Models: Echo Chamber Effect

A few weeks back I was reading a report penned by Amay Hattangadi and Swanand Kelkar from Morgan Stanley. In that report, I came across a very intriguing word called “Echo Chamber”. The authors wrote –

The most telling reaction post Brexit was from a London based friend who apart from lamenting the outcome went on to say that he didn’t know of a single person who was likely to have voted “Leave” and hence felt that the outcome was rigged. This is what we called the “echo chamber” in one of our earlier essays. We tend to be surrounded by people who are like us and share our world view. Social media accentuates this by tailoring our news and opinion feeds to match our pre-set views. To avoid falling into this homogeneity trap, one needs to seek out and dispassionately engage with people whose views differ from your own and that’s true not just for current affairs but your favourite stocks as well.

The word ‘echo chamber’ painted such a vivid picture in my mind that I decided to give it a permanent place in my mental attic. Echo chamber has thus become an important node in my latticework of mental models.

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Dealing with Failure in Life and Investing: Lessons from the Chaos Monkey

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the Titanic of cloud hosting. It provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to both individuals, companies, and governments, on a paid subscription basis. The platform is designed as a backup to the backups’ backups that prevents hosted websites – including some of the largest in the world – and applications from failing.

Yet, like the Titanic, AWS crashed in April 2011, taking with it popular websites like Reddit, Quora, FourSquare, HootSuite, and New York Times, among many others, for four days.

It faced another major outage in February 2017, which again brought a large number of key websites down on their knees.

There was, however, one site that kept chugging along well during both these instances, despite also having AWS as its host at both the occasions.

This was Netflix, the world’s leading streaming video website and one that owns a dominant share of downstream Internet traffic – almost 35%; double of YouTube – in North America during peak evening hours.

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What You Need to Succeed in Investing (Hint: It’s Not Genius Brain)

“Hey Vishal, have you read about how Albert Einstein lost so much money in the stock market?” asked my friend Ravi as we met for dinner over the weekend.

“Yes Ravi,” I said. “In fact, he lost most of his winnings from the 1921 Nobel Prize in the stock market crash of 1929.”

“Wow!” Ravi exclaimed. “And we are talking about one of the genius minds to have ever walked this planet.

“Right Ravi. And I’m sure you’ve also heard about Mr. Newton, who was wiped out while chasing the stock market bubble in 18th century England.”

“Yes Vishal, you only told me about Mr. Newton’s misdoings when we met a few months back.”

“Sometimes I fail to understand,” Ravi continued, “how men with such high levels of intelligence fail at such petty things as the stock market, even when you hear of investment stories about individuals who’ve made fortunes because of exceptional insights or sheer genius!”

“Because, my dear friend, the best rewards in investing don’t generally go to investors with the smartest brains but to those with the strongest stomachs.”

“Stomach? Are you serious?”

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Announcing – Classroom Course in Value Investing

I’m happy to announce my first ever comprehensive classroom course in Value Investing titled – Value Investing Blueprint.

I will be conducting this course in association with Pune-based FLAME University, under the aegis of its FLAME Investment Lab, which is an initiative that strives to deliver the concepts and decipher the art of value investing to interested students.

This course will be held at FLAME’s campus in Pune and will be spread over seven Sundays in a twelve-week window. It will include lessons on:

  • Practical, time-tested ideas in value investing
  • Identifying competitive moats and analyzing specific sectors to help you build your circle of competence.
  • Psychology of investing and building a latticework of mental models to make better investment decisions.
  • Analyzing financial statements.
  • Estimating intrinsic values.
  • Creating a portfolio of high-quality businesses.

This course is designed for people who want to get initiated into the principles and practices of Value Investing. It is not about technicals or quantitative models. There will be no stock recommendations.

Also, note that there will be an optional test at the end of the program. A certificate will be awarded to all participants who clear the test.

Click here to read more if you are interested in joining this course. The last date to apply is 16th July 2017. And there are just 25 seats available for non-FLAME students.

Safal Niveshak is 6 Years Old!

Birthdays aren’t a big deal when you grow up. And if you are like me, with a fading memory, you sometimes forget that you are growing up fast.

Like it happened yesterday. It took a reminder from someone to, well, remind me that it was Safal Niveshak’s birthday. 😉

So, this initiative that I started in 2011 with just one reader – yours truly – has completed six years. The tribe is now 32,422 members strong, with one-third of these coming in the last twelve months.

A lot has happened in these quick six years, but as with my six-year-old son, Safal Niveshak is just getting started.

Most of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for “raising” this initiative to this point — it truly could not have happened without you, dear tribe member.

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – Thank you so much for reading, for commenting, for your interest and support, for keeping me honest, for helping this entire movement of creating smarter and independent stock market investors become greater and spread wider.

You are magnificent, and I am supremely grateful for your time and attention.

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