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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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10-Point Action Plan for a Young Earner

Noted Irish playwright and philosopher George Bernard Shaw opined, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

What he possibly meant was that many young people have everything going for them physically; they’re in the best health they will ever be in, and their minds are sharp and clear.

However, they lack patience, understanding, and wisdom which results in so much wasted efforts.

The energy that can be directed towards building a solid thought process and action plan for the future is spent on short-lived pleasures.

Shaw’s words are especially applicable to those young adults who are starting a career and wondering if they should start saving and investing for their future or spend the next few years living life kingsize.

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How to Generate Stock Ideas: An Unusual Lesson from a 1939 Book

One of the best books I read before starting on my journey of building Safal Niveshak was James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas, originally published in 1939. After all, I was trying to build my idea bank for things I wanted to do in life then.

In this book, Young lays out with brilliant simplicity the five essential steps for a productive creative process. Explaining how the production of ideas is largely a result of process than talent, he writes –

The production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool.

My limited experience in investing suggests that what is most valuable to know about idea generation is not just where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the brain in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas.

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How to Survive the Next Stock Market Crisis

Note: I am not predicting a stock market crisis in the near term. But what follows below is a discussion on how an investor can survive a crisis that will certainly happen at some time in the future. That’s the nature of financial markets, you see.



“Hey Vishal, how are you doing today?” asked my friend Ravi as we met for lunch last weekend.

“I’m good, Ravi. How have you been?”

“Super, and more excited than ever!” he replied.

“Glad to know that,” I said. “You got a promotion at the job?”

“No, I’m excited for another reason.”

“Bull market?” I asked, almost knowing what was coming next.

“Yeah, yeah, you guessed it right this time!” Ravi exclaimed. His joy seemed to know no bounds.

“I just sold a five-bagger from my portfolio,” he said with great pride, “And three more stocks are almost hitting that level.”

“Great to know that Ravi. The last time I saw you this happy was in 2007.”

“Oh, don’t be a sadist Vishal,” Ravi said. “Don’t remind me of what happened then.”

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Reasonable Expectations

“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, ’cause you might not get there.” ~ Yogi Berra

At the heart of Ben Graham’s teachings lies his advice that the intelligent investor must never forecast the future exclusively by extrapolating the past.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the mistake that stock market experts and investors have made innumerable times in the past. Some go even further. Since stocks had “always” beaten bonds over any period of at least 30 years, stocks must be less risky than bonds or even cash in the bank. And if you can eliminate all the risk of owning stocks simply by hanging on to them long enough, then why quibble over how much you pay for them in the first place?

In India, it’s easy to find a forecaster who argues that stocks have returned an annual average of around 18% over the past 30 years and thus that’s what investors can easily expect in the future. But what if I tell you that the average annual return for the BSE-Sensex has been just around 10% over the past 25 years (since the peak of Harshad Mehta bull run)?

Of course, this is just one number and you may accuse me of being selective in my choice to prove a point. But that’s what I am up to – prove a point, that when you do not pay heed to the price you are paying for stocks because you have unreasonable expectations for the future, you are bound to get disappointed.

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The Curse of a Bull Market

“Vishal, since the market is up so much over the past 3-4 years, and especially after the surge over the last few months, I’m looking for cheap stocks and sectors that have been left behind, even if they are average businesses,” a value investor friend Ravi told me this as we met for lunch last weekend.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s almost impossible to find value among good quality companies…your so-called moat businesses. And I am a true blue ‘value’ investor you see.”

“Oh no,” I told Ravi. “That is a dangerous thing to do.”

I understood what Ravi was hoping to do. It also sounded logical i.e., to identify and buy stocks that remain cheap in a market where most businesses are quoting at high valuations.

But sensible investing doesn’t work that way.

“There is a big difference between ‘cheapness’ and ‘value’, Ravi.”

“Why do you say that, Vishal?”

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Why Not to Speculate During Bull Markets: Lessons from Newton and Druckenmiller

It was sometime during late 1999 through early 2000, near the peak of the dot-com bubble, the legendary George Soros and his hedge-fund team were working on how to prepare for the inevitable sell-off in technology stocks.

The man in charge of Soros’ high profile technology funds was Stanley Druckenmiller – one of the best-performing hedge fund managers of all time, till date – and he was busy warning his team that the sell-off could be near and could be brutal.

As the markets soared further in March 2000, Druckenmiller was quoted as saying, “I don’t like this market. I think we should probably lighten up.” Soros himself would regularly warn his team that tech stocks were a bubble set to burst.

Despite this, when the sell-off finally did begin in mid-March 2000, Soros Fund Management wasn’t ready for it. His funds were still loaded with high-tech and biotech stocks. Just in five days, starting 15th March, Soros’s flagship Quantum Fund saw what had been a 2% year-to-date gain turn into an 11% loss. By the end of April, the Quantum Fund was down 22% since the start of the year, and the smaller Quota Fund was down 32%.

Post that, in April 2000, Soros said at a conference, “Maybe I don’t understand the market. Maybe the music has stopped, but people are still dancing.”

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Oh, My Impatient Generation!

I met a guy yesterday who spent the past ten years of his life – and he’s just 32 years of age – destroying his body with alcohol, excessive food, and a sedentary lifestyle.

“I have resolved to be fit, lean and healthy in the next six months,” he told me with great confidence.

Well, not surprisingly, he got irritated when I told him that it might take a little longer than six months to achieve what he wanted.

His reaction wasn’t much different from a cousin of mine, who recently told me how she wanted to become a life coach and was ready to do whatever it took to get there in one year.

When I asked her, “What if it takes you ten years to get there, instead of one?” she had no answer.

Clearly, she hadn’t considered the possibility that years of learning, experience and skill development could be one of the necessary success ingredients in becoming a good life guru. But she wanted the results without all this work…or by investing the necessary time.

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