Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of Bugs and Superbugs

I absolutely detest taking antibiotics. So today when I read about the WHO getting all hot and bothered that the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals was leading to the emergence of superbugs and strains of resistant germs, I went “HAH!” Not the evil scientist “BWAHAHAHAHA!” or the snide trouble maker’s “snicker snicker” but more of a relieved, ‘you can’t hurt me any more’ with a dab of ‘up yours’ thrown for good measure kind of ‘HAH’. Let me give you a bit of background here.
When I was ye high (approximately a foot and a half in my socks) I got the runs i.e. Dysentery. Now as I have only the foggiest memory of that period in my life, I rely on third party info here. Sources being my mum and various other family members. Long story short, the family doctor nearly killed me with an overdose of antibiotics, a child specialist was then brought in and I was cured but apparently the antibiotics damaged my immunity system so badly that I stayed very vulnerable to any and every disease in the vicinity. A shift to the clean air of Goa helped, but coming back to Bombay, now Mumbai, now even more polluted, brought on all sorts of new crap.
I have been on a variety of antibiotics and even one biopsy (DO NOT get me started on that). I’ve noticed that the young guns are usually the ones who make my sicker while the old guys who accept that allopathy does not have all the answers are actually the ones who cure you. My favorites though are those old doctors with tiny clinics and compounders who give out little packets of multi-coloured tablets in different shapes and sizes and detailed instructions on when to take what. I’ve noticed they always cure me. After about five years of messing around with different doctors/quacks  I have finally shortlisted one gastric surgeon, one orthopedist, one dentist and one ENT. I still need to find one skin specialist, one optometrist, one gynac and most importantly one GP.
The benefits of my gruesome experience:
  • Avoid Doctors with degrees from posh sounding institutes.
  • Avoid Doctors who use a lot of new fangled equipment. They are usually too reliant on machines rather than instinct.
  • Avoid Doctors who sit in well done up clinics. The posher the clinic the higher the overheads therefore the longer your treatment will take. If he has overheads to worry about, then curing you will not be cost effective. He’s going to take you for all you’ve got.
  • Stick with the older generation doctors with smaller, dingier clinics. They tend to cure you and send you off. They haven’t got into the habit of treating patients like ATM machines. A quick trick to identify them, when you walk into their clinics and see files piled haphazardly in corners and various knickknacks shoved into cubby holes around, you’re safe. This guy has been around for a while. If it’s a pristine clinic, with teak furnishings, polished equipment… run away!
  • Talk to your Doctor, if he acknowledges the impact of stress and a need for a healthier style of living, or if he just tells you to stop being a baby and get on with it, you know you have a gem. Never let him go!
  • And most importantly, get referrals from people who have been living in the same area for years. They usually know the best doctors because they’ve been to them over the years. Beware of the hypochondriacs though. You don’t want a doctor who encourages that.
Expecting diseases to stay put just because the medical/pharmaceutical fraternity hasn’t been able to catch up is stupid. Diseases will evolve. Popping stronger pills will only give you an ulcer. Running to a doctor will probably just make you broke and ill. So get your priorities straight and enjoy till your time comes. And in the mean while, keep a little black book of doctors. Who knows when a superbug might get you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

16,324 hours and counting...

Today is an anniversary of sorts. I have finished 6 years in my current role. In that time I have developed severe acidity, gained 10 kilos, seen my salary multiply several times over and been given the title of Vice President. 6 years = 312 weeks = 1,484 days (6 dayweeks for 2 years + 5 day weeks for 4 years – 30 days holidays a year) = 16,324 hours spent working in the markets and 4,272 hours spent commuting to work and back. That’s a grand total of 20,596 hours that I have dedicated to my job (and this doesn't include the leave sacrificed).
Was it worth it? I don’t know. Unlike most, I didn’t start out as an analyst or as a trader. I started out as a saleswoman for key domestic institutions. Those institutions are still the most sought after for practically every salesperson. I’ve witnessed every circuit in the market and seen crazy crashes and crazier rallies. I’ve seen the Sensex swing 2500 points in a single trading session (and this was in 2006! The base was a lot smaller), I’ve seen the market fall 13% in a day and trading continue, I’ve seen liquidity dry up and later flood the market… sixteen thousand hours covers a lot!
Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way;

On Markets and Investing
  • A mega IPO usually marks the peak of the market – Reliance Petroleum in 2006, Reliance Power in 2008 and Coal India in 2010.
  • A full investment banking pipeline always indicates the beginning of a buying frenzy.
  • Over a long period of time, trading does not make you big money, investing does. The only people who make money trading are the dedicated traders, and that too only for a limited period of time. It is the investors that make the truly astronomical amounts and the investors who survive downturns.
  • Markets will fall. There is no such thing as a perpetual bull run. Everything reverts to the mean. Every business has its cycle.
  • Takey our profits off the table. Ideally try and bring your portfolio cost down to zero.
  • A falling market has no support and a rising market has no resistance.
  • Never trust anyone forcing a tip on you. Chances are they're stuck in a position and want an exit or want company.
  • You will never make money on everything that you are invested in. Some will fall, some will be flat and only a small handful will rise. If all are rising, it means the market is overheating and you should exit while you still have the chance.
  • There is a HUGE difference between speculation and investment. Decide which one you want and stick with it. Ideally invest the majority of your money and trade with a small portion. Take trading profits off the table and invest them.
  • Buy at the point of maximum pessimism. Go contrarian and make a significant bet. Loosely translated it means thumb your nose at your colleagues and Udyan Mukherjee, gather all your money together and buy Buy BUY!!!!!
  • No matter what Warren Buffet and his minions say, the market ALWAYS knows. Playthe trend.
  • No matter how strong the India story, a global meltdown will wipe out all returns. Therefore diversify your investments out of the equity markets.
  • Never trust an emotional call. Numbers don’t lie. Cash doesn’t lie.
  • Behavioral Finance is possibly the most underappreciated branch of Finance. Study it.
  • Trends can and frequently do change overnight. Don’t fall in love with a trend, it’s not going to stay. Abandon and move on. The financial markets take the laws of survival to a whole new level.
  • Read. As much as you can, whenever and wherever you can. The information always helps.
  • Remember that whatever happens, the system will always be salvaged.
On Stocks
  • Governments lie, managements lie and analysts don’t have all the answers or all necessary information.
  • Estimatesfollow the market.
  • Valuations are relative. Steady earnings growth and growing order books are extremely important. Always watch the reserves.
  • Never average your losses unless you know something everyone else doesn't. Otherwise sell your losers and hold onto your winners. Be disciplined with your stop losses.
  • When picking a stock to invest in look at the debt levels, the cash flows, the dividend payment history, the capital expenditure, the return on capital employed and management quality. The party boys never make you any money.
  • Bewary of how much you pay.
  • Never buy something that has been running up for 3 consecutive days. Price graphs steeper than a 45 degree angle will reverse quickly and viciously.
On Work
  • A good boss and a great team are generally mutually exclusive. Get used to it.
  • Today’s kings are often tomorrow’s beggars. Be nice to the people around you. It’s not worth it making enemies.
  • Weasels always survive, except in fairy tales.
  • Don’t try breaking into existing cliques. It usually ends in pain. Be yourself and your clique will find you.
  • Reply All is dangerous. Consider the consequences before clicking it.
  • Always double check before sending.
  • Always carry a notebook into meetings, no matter how irrelevant you think the discussions are.
  • Take notes. Important details are often forgotten.
  • Make sure all your bosses know that you treat them equally. Be very aware of the political affiliations around you. Treat your colleagues and bosses like your clients.
  • Have a life outside the office. Stay in touch with old friends. They keep yougrounded.
  • Stay focused and be careful what you sacrifice.