Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Update on portfolio performance

I had on the eve of Diwali posted about my portfolio and performance and promised an update in 6 months. So here goes - The market has c moved 2.37% in 6 months. Whew that is proof of the discussion I was having with my wife and she was cribbing of how its tough to trade in the markets in the last months with even seasoned traders struggling to get a grip on the movement. My view was that there was sideways movement with random volatility and this is proof of that. Anyways, my personal portfolio has increased by 5.66% while for the first time I think my Mutual fund portfolio has beaten both my portfolio and the market by clocking in a 7.48% return.

I had identified shipping, hotels, agri inputs and some specific stocks as inputs. I have actioned on those. Missed out big time on a specific stock I had identified in consumer side and a pick on the financial services I think I have entered at a wrong time. Else I am fairly happy with my picks and I should see better returns.

I am at a loss for themes and stocks now. Looking at a certain area but haven't managed to research it well. I am still unsure of infra or power and I think the execution risks are still underpriced.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Gone are the days when people spent decades with a company and moved through ranks and then the company took care to ensure the employee was trained for the next role, invested in getting them up to speed and the HR team probably had a big role alongwith the team in which you worked to ensure this happened. But with shortening spans of employment tenure, people shifting across different organisations and careers I am sure it is a nightmare for an organisational HR to take care of this. The skill sets are different, they are measured and recorded of where you stack up in a different way, the record of how you stacked up in the past place is never available, so IMHO training is being neglected in big manner or is being delivered in a way which is inherently flawed and badly targeted.

In my short career I have been with 2 large organisations and 1 small upcoming business, changed 3 careers and don't remember when I was trained for a specific skill set. My learning has been on the job mostly and on the softer skills - its training by watching your boss- more an apprentice model. So if you got a great boss and you could watch and pick up the skill, you honed yourself well. I was lucky I had some incredible bosses and picked decent selling skills, client management skills and people management skills. I am a reluctant cold caller and hate making a sales call on the phone but put me in front of a client and I will breeze through.

Every year in the offsite, during the appraisal discussion I have fought, pleaded, cribbed, requested for more training in areas where I feel a need - it just doesn't come through. I think its to do with the growth in the market, then business couldn't think of training people -you had to execute and the last 1 year we were surviving. We could have trained and made our people ready but we didn't know if we needed them then, if we could hold them or they would stay when things turned around - so we didn't train.

Now I have decided I have to tackle this myself - depending on the company is stupid. The technical skills are the easiest to capture although India is still way behind on offering specific short term courses which are friendly for working executives at a good time payoff. I am more scared/ worried/ occupied of where I can get those softer skill sets. I need a good feedback to understand shortfalls - a self appraisal should always be backed up by a 3rd eye. Post the identification, I am unsure of how to get them. I have written in the past about getting a mentor but I am unable to put into practice.

This is something I need to crack, I have specific requirements of areas I need to build on for the time I intend to be within the corporate world and then as an entrepreneur. Any ideas are welcome and leads appreciated. Will update once I have a game plan on this.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


So extending my maniac day trip culture to outside India, I did what counts in my books as a day trip to Dubai last week. First the rants :

1. No, not all people flying to "gulf" are malayalees...so don't assume I speak/ understand the language
2. So you probably got your job as an office in the customs department through reservation, bribing or sheer luck.....so if you don't understand what investment banking is and why I need to spend only a day in various countries after flying for hours together, its not my fault....its an existential question I ask myself too, but that doesn't absolve you of your dumbness
3. No, just because your bag is overloaded and mine isn't, I will not agree to carry your liquor and duty free stuff for you...yes we are all sons of the great mother India, but there ends our brotherhood...
4. And please someone tell me how can I break the jinx of sitting very close to a baby which feels like bawling every time I am desperate for sleep on a airplane? I love kids, and all that but please please please....

Ok now back to what I wanted to say....

It amazes me how the city has changed, I was there 2 years ago and boy it looks different. Billions ( trillions? don't think) of dollars have been invested and it shows. As my local contact said, Dubai offers western lifestyle, Indian culture, Arab belief in some things and proximity to India...better to stay there than in India...Has the downturn affected it, yes it has, you can feel it, but I am a believer in the sense that capital gets reallocated and infrastructure gets used - let others have access to it...and I think Dubai will go that way too....it will be back to its path to glory sooner than all of us scenario builders see it...

But the shock of completely illiterate/ low educated Indians going there in hope, the anticipation of redemption from a life of no hope in India to a better future, the knowledge that it might be back breaking work but visit home is just 2-3 years away and the scene back home will show the results of the hard work keep people going. Those last phone calls from the aero bridge, plane seat,the looks at the immigration stamp, the looks given to that boarding pass...I didn't realise what was a 4 hour trip for was a life changer to a lot of people...make it lot more back home who were related to those people....

On the return leg - the emotions were different - frantic buying at duty free, stuff for everyone without burning too much of the cash which can buy more back home, the 2 weeks/ months planned at home...it was a melee of emotions..

I found it very interesting, the range of human emotions, a cacophony of languages - the underlying thoughts seemed same. I was a snob in bits, the rants emerge from there, but as a person who has seen middle class life, I could not help but identify with some of those emotions. Have we failed as a country to educate this mass, create options to earn a decent living while living with loved ones, the quality of life .... but then those are questions I don't/cant/ want to answer...I am running my own race...

Narayan murthy, the Infosys founder, once said that it takes the sacrifice of a generation to uplift a family's standard of living, I would also add education and luck to that mix but I think what I saw was a plane load full of people who had sacrificed the happiness that proximity to family brings, the joy of being with people like you, walking the same streets with your kid as the ones you did with your parent to ensure the quality of life goes up for everyone....It was hope that one day you will return to what you love and this is a means to that end. Maybe not all felt that way, I am sure a few did...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

End to an eventful year

whew that was quite a year...started on a very pessimistic note...life changed. I understood how it feels to stare at lack of job security, how to persevere and knock, knock and knock again and once more to get that business. How heavy the loan burden feels when you know mentally that it has a high chance of being around for the entire tenure it was supposed to stand in the first place....

Realised scenario analysis that we did never captured a lot of scenarios, new words like black swan, new normal, too big happened and I searched for a bailout myself...

Resolutions were to look at life in a different manner, lead a more balanced life, get some exercise, do good to others not so privileged but when it came to survival, that's all one did...

Learnt its so very easy to keep the morale high, take failure, try again, smile when other hit it well during good times and how self belief, esteem and faith are so important and only saviours when all chips down...

Learnt still not sure how to deal when loved ones fight their own battles without success and experience pain and you in turn feel helpless, when you lose loved ones, when you gain new parts in life...obviously growing old doesn't mean things come automatically ( it never felt that way, but thought it would be easier) , you still need to learn new tricks...

Learnt once more to join organisations and not people or teams - realized organisations are living organisms and evolve and kicked self for taking so long to understand when the Profs said so in the first class...

Bottomline - realized life is all about small events with people who matter, experiences which enrich. Salary slavery seems serious trouble...medium term goals required to increase things which matter.

Happy new year to you all and as most of the beautiful women in beauty pageants wish - AND WORLD PEACE!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bangalore International Airport - My view

Given I did about 70 flights out of Bangalore in the last year and the criticism I had in the past and in light of the review committee of the Karnataka State Assembly coming out with a damning report about the airport I thought I should come out with an update of my view.

The airport has improved from the initial days, its a smooth working, efficient airport and when I make this statement this is from the view of a business traveler who takes the first flight out, comes back by the late evening flight - I usually have a boarding pass and not much carry on luggage. So on the airside, I think the airport works beautifully. I can remember 4 instance when my flight was late and most of them were weather related. They claim 20 mins to get you out of the airport on landing (not sure where I read this but) and they do an awesome job most times. The CAT system to let planes take off in Fog have not been installed and you will find technical discussion why it is not and whose fault but that's a pain point.

The online security check of the baggage has removed a touch point and is now the norm in most large airports and I think works quite well. The baggage handling system is fairly good and I have never had too much trouble.

The biggest crib, trouble and pain point is the terminal - It just is too small for an airport of this size - The check in lines burst at seams now that travel is picking up. Its very messy with all those Queue control systems and I pity the airlines. The security check point on the domestic side is a major bottle neck - and when 8 flights with roughly 1000 people need to be checked through the system creaks. on days like the last few weeks when fog has descended on us in Bangalore- God help you if you are traveling - there is complete anarchy. The queues extend way beyond what BIAL has ever planned for, imagined or thought of I think. To be fair to them, I see the BIAL team managing the line along with the airlines gate executives but still, if someone tells me this airport can manage growth for the next 3 years- I am very doubtful. I think if something is not done about this, we will be back to the state the old HAL airport was with lines stretching to outside the airport.

Once post the security, if I am traveling with Kingfisher, my favourite airline (I seriously think they have pampered me silly, every time I travel abroad I am reminded of how much they have raised the bar on both inflight and ground treatment) - am blissfully unaware of the chaos since I am in a cozy lounge. Else welcome to chaos country. They have opened more toilets, not sure if they are still sufficient but have never had trouble. But charging points is still an issue - they have these weird stands with plug points - not enough mister when there are 3- 4 guys jostling for the point since they are badly placed. The chairs are grossly not enough. There are far too many stores, great - you want me to go give business to your retailers, but you are also taking land given by the government who also are funded by tax rupees...so if I don't want to give them business, please give me a seat to sit. It will be very kind of you.

On the Taxi front, they have managed to crack it, its a fairly efficient system, but you should hand it to the BMTC vayu vajra service, it is simply superb. Although I am still unsure why the heck they can put something which tells me when the next bus is leaving so that I can make the decision before the trudge all the way to the bus stand.

Also give the employees, the cops, the support staff some place to eat. I keep seeing this shanty type eatery and have heard people crib about it.

On the international side, the airport has managed to clear much of the chaos I think. The immigration process is smoother and the whole process seems far streamlined.

Overall, I hate the terminal side interaction if I am not in the lounge, the airside seems to be good since it seems majorly efficient...if only they could do something with the terminal, BIAL would be a fantastic world class airport from the good airport it is in my books.

And last piece - would I like the name to be changed, the local culture to be depicted - I would say "do it now" - not because of jingoism or regional chauvinism but we have a great medley of culture and rich history in India. Every single touch point we use to depict it, generate curiosity, teach about it to others, will allow us to develop better as a soft power....go on, depict the glory of stone we have in aihole, pattadkal, badami, the greenery in uttara kannada and dakhsina kannada, the wild life of bandipur, nagarahole, the tibetan monastery, single rock cut statue at sharavanabelagola, the basadis, the dome at bijapur.....we are a rich diverse state...lets help people explore and learn, let BIAL be the door to introduce some curiosity.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Portfolio update

I am an active investor - try to stay invested in the long term and have 2 portfolios - one a mutual fund portfolio and the other an active stock portfolio. I have in the past updated about the progress, so on the threshold a Samvat 2066 an update how both did over the last Diwali to Diwali period.

My MF portfolio has gained 93%, while the stock portfolio is up 137% - I have always maintained that my stock portfolio has a higher Beta than my MF portfolio since the stocks I track are usually mid caps, high growth, high risk stocks, while my MF portfolio is more balanced. So the higher return is good. ( slight technicality - I havent adjusted both for dividends received - so these numbers are off by that- but I dont expect the result to alter drastically)

I enjoy investing and some day hope to invest to make a living. I think I haven't spent the kind of time I usually like to do before I invest in a stock. And I am getting better at building a pyramid on the stock and also not jump when I see huge price movements. Watching stocks one picked go down by 70% was gut wrenching but believing in the company and averaging has helped my portfolio to creep close to good gains. This gives me confidence in my stock picking. I still need to experiment with larger amounts of capital ( more to see my behaviour when the market tanks - I want to understand how I will react).

My themes for the next year - Agri inputs, Hotels, Shipping and a few stock specifics. I am getting concerned with the infra, banking and power sector valuations. I have no clue about pharma and have a slightly vague view about auto ancs and IT. Keep a watch, will post a 6 month review.

Does a customer matter?

This is a result of a chat I was having with Dhammo...

With most government services in India, it has been my experience now but I had not joined the dots to see the pattern. Getting enrolled into a new service is a breeze but try making a change or something which is slightly out of ordinary with a government service and wham the Gods of red tape get invoked and woe betides you.. let me give you examples....

1. So you have a landline with BSNL and now want to change it from your fathers name to your name - Why would anyone want it - I can think of countless reasons - You want to setup a ECS from your account to pay the bills, you want a proof of address are a few - end of matter, you will visit the office a few times, fill a few forms and then follow up. But try surrendering the old phone and getting a new one - it will happen in a few days and very efficiently

2. So you have a gas connection and want it shifted : you should hear to what Dhammo is going through - they will want a proof that the transfer order you got is genuine, but try getting a new connection - should be lot simpler

3. You want to change you rag tag paper book Driving licence to a smart card : ( for this I want to give out my villainous laugh!!) - try applying afresh ( still hard to get a licence - not cause of your driving skills but due to the random processes)

I can go on but you smart readers have got the drift. I think this is because, the customer orientation is very low in most of these places. There is a pressure to streamline processes which have the maximum impact and footfalls, new customer acquisition is a thrust area where you directly compete with private sector - so those processes get streamlined sooner, get watched for complaints and efficiency but those odd jobs get lost. Prof. Thiru, my marketing prof at IIM-B used to tell us that the real customer orientation and service should be checked by testing these out of ordinary requests. ( His favourite for a hotel was - call late night - ask for curd rice to be prepared from 'not hot' rice, fresh curds, with a little garnishing within the next 20 mins!!)

While I think the government has a long way to go in this matter, the private sector also struggles. 'My manual says so' is the attitude I run into. So all you consultants out there, doing BPR - keep this in mind the next time. Pareto is ok but the rest 20% also matters in customer service..