How to look at the market swings – Time horizon

October 21, 2007

I have been re-thinking my time horizon for investments for some time and have made some changes to it. The corresponding impact on my investment decisions and how I look at the market swings has been dramatic. My earlier time horizon was on an average 2-3 years. However I have now increased my time horizon to 10 years for my SIP component. The active portfolio component still has a horizon of 2-3 years.

I cannot understate the impact of extending or changing time horizon has on how one looks at market volatility, current events, investment ideas etc. Let me illustrate

10 year or more horizon – If you are in you 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s this time horizon makes sense. For a time horizon of 10 years, short term market movements have no importance. Over a 10 year horizon, if you are looking at index funds or well managed mutual funds, a small amount of overvaluation does not matter. These overvaluations would even out as long as one has not bought extensively during the peak. At the same time if you are investing via SIP (systematic investment plan), then during a 10 year or more period, there will be periods of recessions, market bubbles and all kinds of fluctuations. However the portfolio should perform well (see my post on the power of SIP here)

If like me, you are investing a portion of your portfolio with the above horizon, the current circus on PN notes, subprime crisis in US, oil price etc etc will not hold too much importance. If you feel that Indian companies as a whole will do well in the next 10-15 years, then find an ETF, get into an SIP and get on with other things in life

2-5 years – This is my active portfolio horizon. I tend to look for undervalued companies selling at 50% discount to intrinsic value and if the gap closes in 2-3 years, I have a 20-25% return per annum. For this horizon, current market events make a difference in the sense they provide me opportunities to buy stocks which have been beaten down for no reason. The more the better. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter whether the market will open 1% up or 1% down.

1 year or less – This is the time horizon for the aribitrage component of my portfolio. I have written about a few likely opportunities earlier. Here some corporate action such as buy back, rights issue, spin offs create an opportunity. In this component, current market level or events should not matter. The company specific developments are more important. However I have seen that sometimes market events can suddenly throw off the entire calculations and result in a loss. I am still not heavily into arbitrage and would not have more than 10% of my portfolio in it in the future.

1 day – 1 month – I do not operate with this horizon. Profitable or not, it is not my cup of tea and I do not have the stomach for it. This where all financial websites, TV channels’ and several blogs focus. In this time horizon the current PN issue, subprime in US and whether the market will open higher or lower on Monday may matter. Question to ask yourself – are the returns you are making commensurate with the effort?

All I can say is that if you decide to play this game, have the stomach for it and don’t risk too much capital.

I have been reading on some websites and blogs, stories of people who got into the market near the top and are now suffering losses. I can empathise with them as I have gone through the same. The problem is that most of us think we can tolerate losses, but when they really happen it is gut wrenching. The worst thing to happen is that such people get scared from the market for ever and never return back. That is definitely not good in the long term if you want to build a decent nest egg.

I think it is important for us to understand our risk tolerance and see which time horizon we want to operate in and take investment decisions accordingly. That ofcourse is easier said than done.

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