The 10 commandments of successful investing
Moses was coming down the stairs of the Bombay Stock Exchange building after a rough trading session one rainy day and look what he found peeking out of the false ceiling on the 10th floor landing, written in the hand of God…
God entrusted to Moses the noble task of protecting the small investor from the vagaries of the market and the attempts of various vested interests to waylay them on their path to safe investing. Safe investing, said God, was a mere matter of following these ten simple rules.
Commandment 1: Don’t attempt to time the market
Timing the market is no guessing matter. To the little investor, timing the market is like taking a random walk. Most people only recognize the correct path after already having set foot on the wrong one. One exception to this is “bottom-fishing”, an approach to buy stocks that you want in your portfolio at prices below the prevailing levels. This entails biding your time and buying into a market downturn before the others do (the age-old philosophy of buying low, selling high). The downside of this approach being that the stock you want may never see the downside you expect.
Commandment 2: Don’t try to outguess the market
Market psychology is for shrinks, not for couch potatoes like we humans. What captures the imagination of the market is transient. This means that what is “in” today is “out” tomorrow. Most people only recognise the pattern after it has become apparent to almost everyone else and is too late to act upon. For example, if investment in technology appears to be the current flavour, you are probably already too late to cash in on the trend. In this instance, you should only invest in technology as part of a long-term balanced approach.
Commandment 3: Treat investing like marriage–go for the long haul
Short-term investing could go either way. Invest for the long term. Almost all market pundits and investment studies show that stock investing should be part of a long-term strategy, lasting for five to ten, or even 20, years or longer. Beware that not every year will result in a positive return on your investment. However, over time the plus will likely overwhelm the minus by a substantial margin.
Commandment 4: Stay clear of broker’s advice, hot tips and “multibaggers”
Every portfolio advisor is not a god who swears by sound investment principles. Think. Wouldn’t most brokers be tempted to make their living by goading their clients to constantly move in and out of positions, thus garnering commissions? This is diametrically opposite to Commandments 1, 2 and 3. For most people, stock advice is like a game–of darts! Only accept advice if the person has your financial interest in mind and is not making a living by selling your stock. Of course never buy from someone who calls on you and gives you advice.
Commandment 5: Almost always invest in blue chips and blue chips-to-be
Do invest in companies that are considered blue chips. These include not only the BSE 100, but also the others that are slowly stepping into the big league. Invest only in established companies with a good track record. Beware that not every blue chip will rise after you buy it, and that even these otherwise stellar performers will have their good months/years and bad months/years. But over time, the fluctuations will even out and you would be left with a considerable net plus. Also invest in companies that have a good record of declaring dividends (and if you find the solitary one that increases its dividend pay-out each year…you know what to do).
Commandment 6: Prefer steady installment-like buying of stock to buying at one go
Investing should never be done in panic or be treated as an emergency. Purchasing your favourite few is best accomplished at a steady rate over time, so as to avoid the ups and downs of the market. This is called rupee cost averaging and is one of the safest approaches to investing. It works just like any other habit: you buy, regardless whether the price is up or down, until you reach the desired number of shares of that stock.
Commandment 7: Diversify, diversify and diversify
Do diversify your portfolio, both within your selected sectors and within the overall industry. For example, don’t invest in only technology because it happens to be in vogue but consider the other industries as well.
Commandment 8: No shopping with borrowed money and maintain a core reserve
Never use margin money to buy stocks. You should not invest money you don’t have. A simple and basic rule is to not leverage yourself to an extent that when the tide turns against you, all you are left with is nothing.
You never know when a financial emergency might arise. That’s why you must keep a comfortable cash reserve in your savings account, so you do not have to tap into your long-term investments. A reserve equal to six months of salary should be just about ideal.
Commandment 9: Set realistic financial goals
Treat a 500% return with as much derision as you would a 5% return. Decide what you need the money for: To retire early, to finance your kid’s college education or to fund your daughter’s marriage or just to preserve and build wealth? Whatever the goal you set, make sure it is reasonable and attainable. Expecting too much will only lead to disappointment down the road. Aim for an expected return level that is realistic–not mediocre or overambitious.
Commandment 10: There are 10 more commandments
For those who thought that was the last of the ten commandments I have good news. There’s more. Ensure that your portfolio size is controllable (15 stocks is about ideal) and your stocks are well researched. Checkpoints: Is the management quality above board? Does the company have a positive cash flow? Does it have the capability to compete on a global scale? Most importantly, is it shareholder friendly?
Finally, leave your emotions behind when you enter the world of investing. Follow the ten commandments. Time is on your side. Investment success won’t happen overnight, so stay focused on long-term returns and avoid overreacting to short-term market swings. Remember, investment success depends on time, not timing.