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How to invest when stocks are on a high & still make money

The equity market is on a high these days. The Sensex hit 31,291 on June 22 2017, rising about 17 per cent from a year ago and about 19 per cent year to date (YTD). Given the phenomenal rise, should investors continue to park funds in stocks?

Different people have different investing styles. While some follow aggressive styles with shorter investment horizons, most believe in investing for the long term with a minimum of three- to five-year outlook.

During a discussion at work, a colleague made an interesting point - his equity mutual fund SIP opened in January 2008 (the high point of that market cycle) has yielded him an annual compounded return of 12 per cent till date; he continues to hold on to the same.

While one may argue that this is no great feat as the return in absolute terms is not much to write home about, the key takeaway here for readers is that despite investing at a time when valuations and markets were at a peak, this particular investment has yielded him 1.5 times returns of what he would have otherwise got had he invested in a debt instrument at the time. That too pre-tax!

What we are trying to infer is that long-term investing works. And taking such an approach, especially now, would be the right way to go about things.

One may raise a point, the fund my colleague invested in may be one of the few that have done well over the long term, thanks to the fund manager whose wisdom allowed the unit holders to garner such returns.

While that may be true, here are some interesting data points that seem encouraging enough for an investor to take up this approach on his own.

From the market peak on January 10, 2008, the Sensex has risen by around 4.5 per cent per annum. The comparable number for the BSE500 index is about 4.8 per cent per annum. But if we look at the returns of the constituents of the BSE500 index since then (considering only 80 per cent of the index companies were listed nine-and-a-half years ago), some interesting data points can be observed.

A little less than a fourth of the stocks continue to trade below their January 10, 2008 closing levels. About 11 per cent of the stocks have given positive returns, but underperformed the BSE500 index i.e. compounded returns have been positive but less than 4.8 per cent. About 9 per cent of stocks have outperformed the BSE500 index, but have generated returns less than what they would have otherwise got through debt instruments (assumed at 8 per cent). A little more than 8 per cent of the stocks have beaten the returns on debt instrument, but have been lower than the minimum return that one should expect from Indian stocks (1.5 times of 8 per cent).

What is particularly interesting is that 48 debt instrument of the index stocks have given compounded annual returns in excess of 12 per cent. The median of this basket of stocks was a high figure of 20.8 per cent.

What does all of this point towards? Three things I believe -

First, equities have the tendency to outperform other asset classes over long periods.

Second, one should have a long-term investment horizon.

And finally, stock selection is critical.

But how should a lay investor go about doing the same?

We believe the Indian economy is at an inflection point, with strong structural changes being observed within the economy. And thus, growth levels are only going to remain firm, if not rise, going forward.

All one needs to do is weed out the companies with poor fundamentals. A simple approach one can follow is to invest in companies that have a long runway of growth: companies that possess pricing power; companies whose strong historical performances are likely to remain intact in future; companies where disruption and competitive pressures are unlikely to hamper their quality of earnings; companies that are market leaders in their respective domains.

We recommend a systematic transfer plan-like structure wherein investors can park their lump sum fund in a short term debt fund, with the funds getting systematically transferred from such accounts to directly purchase shares of the shortlisted companies on a monthly or quarterly basis, thereby allowing the investors’ idle money to work for them while making the most of the market movements.

This process also helps in keeping the market noise out in the decision making process, while allowing regular financial savings – those that would form the basis of long-term wealth creation.

How to Invest When Market Volatility Picks Up

We are currently investing in an extremely noisy political and economic environment. While markets have remained remarkably subdued during recent times, it is inevitable that greater volatility will emerge. The question is: how should we respond?

As investors, our natural impulse when faced with arresting news or growing uncertainty is to react. Our instincts tell us to take action to protect portfolios or to profit from a particular outcome. This adrenaline fuelled ‘fight or flight’ response is deeply ingrained within us and exists for good evolutionary reasons as early humans who did not have these instincts were less likely to have decedents.

However, this impulse towards action causes a real challenge for investors.

There is an abundance of great research on this topic; however one of the most relevant was a study by Barber & Odean which shows a clear link between portfolio turnover and the results generated by individual investors.

Those portfolios in the highest quintile of turnover delivered returns more than a third lower than those in the lowest quintile of turnover. To say this simply, the impulse towards action is not beneficial to returns.

The Impulse to Action

Alongside the evolutionary impulse and incentives, action is also being encouraged by an array of behavioral biases that revolve around overconfidence, the rejection of opposing views and a preference to recall the recent past.

Most vividly, the ‘recency bias’ makes our recent experience easier to imagine than those experiences that are more distant. This leads us to believe that current trends will continue indefinitely. In contrast, the ‘law of small numbers’ is another behavioral trap that creates an expectation of mean-reversion in small sample sizes, thus encouraging investors to risk too much capital on positions designed to capture small market deviations.

In view of this, it is hardly surprising that most portfolios managers and advisers are far too active in their investment operations. We typically see this via increased costs and poor performance.

Overcoming the Impulse towards Action?

To get practical, there are several strategies to help overcome this impulse to action. The key is to prepare rather than react, as it is likely too late to address the impulse for action when it arises. For the portfolio manager or adviser to overcome the urge to make unnecessary changes to the portfolio, it is important to initiate the strategies beforehand. A good example of how to do this is provided by the story of Odysseus facing the Island of the Sirens as he returned from the Trojan War.

Our hero knew the encounter with Sirens was both inevitable and dangerous and so he prepared himself beforehand.

In this sense, the best preparation was education. Most clients are unaware of both their behavioral biases and the impact that those biases have on a portfolio. A basic education in behavioral science is therefore the first step, as investors who are aware of their biases are less likely to fall foul of them and more likely to be understanding of the adviser’s attempts to overcome them.

Second, one should ensure they have good navigation aids. Our biases create structure to our decision-making that results in predictable mistakes, much like a poorly drawn chart creates repeated navigation errors. In order to overcome this, we need to ensure that we use navigation tools that are fit for the job and enable us to overcome the inevitable obstacles in our path. One of the more popular ways is to create a core set of investment principles that are drawn from the observations of how great investors overcome their biases.

The third is to change the narrative of market movements. Much of the impulse to action comes from the type of investment data we consume and how we consume it. For example, many investors are drawn to recent past performance with an upward moving graph and green numbers. In contrast, red numbers and falling charts create a negative connotation. This naturally exposes us to loss aversion.

Avoid overhyped financial news and broker research designed to prompt action. Instead, one should be incentivised to focus on long-term prospective returns using a fundamental valuation framework.

By doing so, we change the itch to ‘buy high and sell low’ and turn it into a compulsion to ‘buy low and sell high’. Said another way, a rise in prices is viewed as a fall in prospective returns. While this helps address the recency bias, it also reduces exposure to the law of small numbers as most daily movements in asset prices appear to be vanishingly small in the context of a decade long return expectation.

How to Invest 1 Million Dollars Wisely


With $1 million to invest, do some comparison shopping and look at average costs.

I would rather have a million friends than a million dollars.--Eddie Rickenbacker

Mr. Rickenbacker is entitled to his preferences, but many of us would rather have the million dollars -- and perhaps just 10 or 20 or even 100 friends. Some of us even have a million dollars -- by having saved and invested over many years, via a lucky inheritance, or by some other means.

When you have a lot of money, you need to be sure to invest it wisely, preserving much or all of its value. That's where private asset management or an account management advisor can come in handy. It's smart to do a comparison of your options, assessing the cost and fee schedule and typical charges for each one. You may also want to invest the money on your own, with a potential focus on dividend-paying stocks, annuities, and other income-generating assets.

Here are some key ways to invest $1 million.

Private asset management or account management advisory services

One option for investing your million dollars is to let someone else do it -- or have someone tell you what to do. Lots of companies, including very possibly your own brokerage, offer wealth management services, ranging from having professionals manage your money for you to simply holding your hand and offering advice.

What they charge will vary, and if you're interested in such services, you should do some comparison shopping -- comparing not only their average fees but also the specific services offered.

Some companies' wealth management services define wealth rather specifically, seeking clients with at least several million dollars. A mere million might not let you in every door. That's OK, because many services can be rather costly, charging you 1% or 3% or more of your total assets under management each year. (Some do charge less than 0.50%, so it's well worth doing comparison shopping of typical charges.)

If you parked your million dollars with an outfit charging 1% or 2% annually, they'd be charging you $10,000 or $20,000 per year for their services. That kind of fee can sometimes be worth it, if they're delivering more than that in value, but many financial pros find it hard to outperform the overall stock market -- when you can earn the market's average return simply by investing in a low-cost broad-market index fund. Many services charge 0.25% or less per year in fees.

Be sure to also consider independent financial advisors -- especially "fee-only" ones who have few or no conflicts of interest and earn no commissions from steering you into specific investments. (You can look up such pros at A good one can serve you quite well, reviewing your overall financial health and coming up with a plan to help you meet your financial goals, such as having sufficient retirement income. They might recommend strategies such as dividend-paying stocks or annuities -- which you can read about below.

Investing on your own

You can invest the money on your own too, of course, calling your own shots. If you're a young millionaire, you'll want your money to grow, and the stock market is where it's likely to grow the most quickly over the long run. One or more simple index funds could work well here -- ideally ones focused on the broad market, such as the S&P 500 or the total U.S. or world stock market. They will likely outperform most managed stock mutual funds. There are bond index funds, too. Even Warren Buffett recommends S&P 500 index funds for most investors.

If you're approaching retirement, you'll be most interested in preserving those million dollars, or deploying it in ways that will generate income.

Consider dividend income

Another good option for wisely investing a million dollars -- or a significant portion of it -- is to buy dividend-paying stocks. It's true that dividends are never guaranteed, but if you stick with healthy and growing companies that have a good track record of paying dividends, and you spread your money among a bunch of them, you'll likely do well over the long run.

If you park, say, $500,000 in healthy, stable, dividend-paying stocks with an overall dividend yield of 4%, you can look forward to $20,000 annually, while expecting the dividends and the stock prices to rise over time. Put the entire million dollars in the dividend payers, and you might enjoy $40,000 or more in annual income.

Just to give you an idea of what's out there, here are a few well-regarded stocks with significant dividend yields:

Another smart way to invest a million dollars (or a big portion of it) is in an annuity or two (or three). Since an annuity is only as reliable as the company paying it, it's wise to divide your annuity investment among several top-rated insurance companies, to minimize any risk.

In exchange for a big bundle of money, fixed annuities (as opposed to the more problematic variable or indexed variety) can start paying you immediately or on a deferred basis. Below are examples of the kind of income that various people might be able to secure in the form of an immediate fixed annuity in the recent economic environment. (You'll generally be offered higher payments in times of higher prevailing interest rates.)


If you have a million dollars and you take just half of it -- $500,000 -- and invest it in annuities, you could be collecting about $38,000 annually, if you're a 70-year-old man. Spend the whole million and you're looking at almost $76,000, a very respectable income in retirement, especially when complemented by Social Security.

If you're a 65-year-old couple, you could get about $28,000 in annual income for $500,000, and more than $56,000 if you spend the whole million. It might not seem worth getting a joint annuity instead of two separate single ones, but remember that when one spouse dies, the survivor will be left with a substantially lower income. A joint annuity can keep payments steady until both parties die.

If you're fortunate enough to have a million dollars, invest it wisely so that it lasts and serves you well -- perhaps even continuing to grow over time. Remember that you might opt for all of the options above, devoting a chunk of your million to each.


Arisa Horikawa

Author:Arisa Horikawa
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