SET YOUR OBJECTIVES
The starting point for achieving financial independence begins with a financial plan. Determine your current financial position, available resources and immediate fund requirements. Then set your long term financial goals: keep in mind your risk-taking ability, current lifestyle, occupational profile and family background. The number of dependents and their own financial status (a working spouse gives you a greater degree of financial freedom) should also be considered.
A financial plan helps an investor to lay out realistic goals and then work towards them over a period of time. Since each individual has a unique setup, this section only makes broad recommendations that should apply to everyone before embarking upon an investment program.
Estimate short term needs
Many investors jump into the stock market without assessing their short term fund needs. Faced with a crunch, they end up selling shares much earlier or book losses at the smallest sign of trouble. That clashes with the fact that the holding period in equities is crucial to meet the targeted return. By estimating short term needs and preparing for them, the painful decision of selling shares before time can be avoided.
Create an emergency fund
Emergencies happen when least expected, forcing you to alter your investment plan. Therefore, having a cash reserve to help meet situations like a medical emergency or a layoff, ensure that your fund requirements are met without affecting the investment plan. A cash reserve (money market / liquid funds, which can be easily converted into cash) of at least six months worth of living expenses or a medical or disability insurance is a must.
Increase your net worth by repaying debt. Start by repaying the most expensive debt usually credit card debts and unsecured personal loans are the most expensive. Keep some amount of debt, especially if you get a tax benefit, like on housing loans. If the return on investment is greater than the amount of interest paid on debt, invest. But if the risk-adjusted return is still less than the amount of interest being paid on the loan, you are obviously better off clearing the loan.
Set priorities in a chronological order
Classify your own priorities and that of your family members based on their time of occurrence. For instance, paying a lump sum donation for getting admission to school is a more immediate need, than providing for higher education. College education is still years away compared to school. Thus, school education can be provided for by investing in fixed income instruments like short term bonds or fixed maturity plans of mutual funds. For college education, a mix of equity and debt, with more in equity, can be taken to combat inflation and the higher risk is spread across a number of years.
Take in to account the effect of Inflation on your savings
You work hard to earn your money. It helps to meet your monthly expenses and the rest, you put away in a savings account for safekeeping. Keeping some money aside is a good habit, but by keeping a substantially large sum in a savings bank account, you may be actually losing the value of your money. Why? Because it is getting eroded by inflation….
Increase in prices ie. Inflation is responsible for reducing the value of the rupee. For instance, Rs.100 could have bought you movie tickets and pop corns for an entire family in 1990s. Today, for the same outing you may have to spend more than Rs.1000.
Practice Asset Allocation
No investment plan is complete without an asset allocation. Different types of assets exist; the most common ones are cash and bullion, the most liquid asset class. Then, there are fixed income instruments, like bonds and fixed deposits, which are less risky, but yield lower returns compared to equities, and are less liquid too. Mutual funds come next, their risk profile depends on the type of fund equity or debt or balanced and the investment philosophy. Sector-focused funds, for example, will be less riskier compared to diversified funds. Equities are the most aggressive investment option, with high returns and commensurate risk too.
Since there are various levels of risk associated with various assets, it makes sense to identify your own risk-return profile and then build an asset allocation strategy. There is no ideal asset allocation, a one size fits all plan. You have to make a plan that suits you best, allocating weights to various asset classes and then designing an investment plan accordingly.
After designing an asset plan, it is imperative to monitor it to ensure that changes in asset prices have not skewed your allocation. A sharp rise in equities, for example, may increase your exposure to equities, much more than you may want. So, selling down equities and increasing exposure to debt would be the right thing to do.
A LIFE CYCLE GUIDE TO INVESTING
Age plays a key role in determining your investment profile. Hence, constructing a portfolio that suits your age is essential. By mapping your age and your background, you can establish a portfolio that comprises of different asset classes, in differing proportion. For example, if you are five years away from retirement, with no major savings for a post-retirement life, then you would build a portfolio comprising fixed income instruments. Similarly, a 24-year old would focus on parking investments in riskier investments like equities, since time is on his side.
We have constructed profiles based on your age and some assumptions. Then we have constructed a break-up of investments that can be used as a guide. You may wish to fine-tune this to meet your own requirements.
While reading through these profiles, please note that these are typical attributes and are not absolute. Again, your risk profile changes depending on how you perceive yourself too. A senior citizen with no dependents, but with lots of savings, may find it perfectly okay to take on more risk. Similarly, a young person but with many dependents and lots of financial liabilities may be more conservative than other people his age.
We have assumed that tax liabilities have been provided for, and the suggested investment break-up is for the net funds available. Broadly, you can classify investments in to cash and bullion, fixed income instruments, equities and mutual funds. Cash and bullion are taken as one, as both are equally liquid and widely used as a means of savings. Savings would also include funds in your bank savings accounts.
Apart from pure equities and fixed income instruments, mutual funds are popular investment vehicles. We have classified mutual funds separately since the risk of investing in funds is relatively lower. Moreover, balanced funds juggle between debt and equity making an all-inclusive classification difficult.
Age : 22-30 years
You are single or are married but with no kids. Dependents are not an issue at this stage and your focus is on creating a sizeable corpus of investments for the future. Incomes typically grow at a fast rate annually. The ability to take risk is high and losses in the short term are acceptable. You can invest in equities with a time frame of about 5-6 years which protects you from short-term fluctuations.
Cash and bullion 10
Fixed income instruments 30
Equity shares 40
Mutual funds-equity growth 20
Age : 31-45 years
You are now married and your family size has expanded, with two kids. Your parents are now dependent on you for emotional and some financial support. The focus is on consolidating your investments, making them more secure. The ability to take risk is there but to a limited extent. Limiting losses is a priority. Building on a corpus of funds for children’s education becomes a priority now.
Cash and bullion 10
Fixed income instruments 40
Equity shares 30
Mutual funds-equity growth 20
Age : 45-60 years
This is the age when retirement blues set in. Children’s college and higher education make demands on your funds. You must also ensure that your retirement plans are in place, if you have not done it already. Hence, risk taking ability as a whole diminishes considerably.
Cash and bullion 10
Fixed income instruments 50
Equity shares 20
Mutual funds-equity growth 20
Age : Beyond 60
You are taking life easy, some introspection, spending time with the family and maybe doing some part time work. Or like some workhorses, you are still engaged as a full time consultant with your ex-employer. The ability to take shocks is extremely limited and you should lower your exposure to equities. Your prime criterion should be to have a higher proportion of fixed income investments and stay liquid to meet any medical emergencies.
Cash and bullion 10
Fixed income instruments 70
Equity shares 10
Mutual funds-equity growth 10
Risk and returns are inversely correlated, barring rare occasions. Hence, knowing your appetite for risk is essential as your returns profile emerges from your risk profile. Your investments should be guided by the risk profile. A totally risk averse person is very conservative, does not want to losea penny regardless of how little his or her money earns. The compulsive risk taker is at the other end of the spectrum, willing to risk a huge amount of money on a risky bet, hoping to reap a windfall in the process.
Risk tolerance can also be measured by volatility. How much of volatility in an individual’s portfolio is acceptable. Apart from an individual’s psychological makeup, various other factors also play a crucial role in determining one’s comfort level with risk.
Evaluate yourself against the following parameters :
Current income or net worth
If a significant portion of your current and future financial needs can be met by income from non-portfolio sources like a job or maybe even an inheritance- you can take more risk with your investments. Likewise, higher your current net worth greater is the investing flexibility. In such cases, a portfolio may be geared to achieve capital appreciation through greater risk. When current income is insufficient, investors would want the portfolio to be focused towards generating income and preserving capital, rather than generate capital gains.
Age is a key factor in influencing comfort with risk, given a current income level or net worth. An investor’s risk tolerance is expected to increase with income and wealth, but after a point, diminish with age. Check the life cycle investment approach, which uses age as a starting point for determining risk tolerance.
If your investing time frame is longer, you can choose a potentially more rewarding, even if riskier and less liquid investment. That can give you better capital appreciation. If you have a shorter time frame, you are better off with less risk investments, since losses are difficult to recover in a short period of time. For instance, a 30-year old investor has more time to recover from initial portfolio losses than an investor who is 58-years old and is nearing retirement. Hence, as the time horizon shrinks, more importance is attached to how the investments yield returns in the short term than in the longer run.
Your occupation can also shape your risk appetite. A person who is more in his or her occupation, will be emboldened to take more risks without fearing for the future. The converse will be true for someone who is not very secure about his or her future. The nature of the profession too may have a role to play. A businessman for example may feel more comfortable with a higher degree of risk, since his main profession itself involves risk. A salaried employee may on the other hand be accustomed to a smaller degree of risk. There may be a contradiction visible here, that a businessman whose future is not very secure may be willing to take more risk too. This is a fact of life, whatever the occupation profile may be each individual’s psyche will determine his world view of things and in turn, his ability to manage risk.