Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Strategy during crisis investment III

Part III

Catching a falling knife
Some may argue that buying now is like catching a falling knife. If you are not careful, you may be hurt and suffer more losses from falling stock prices. There is no doubt that we may incur short-term losses as long as we do not buy at the bottom. On the other hand, who can determine where and when is the bottom. As long as there are still unknown events or hidden problems, an apparent bottom now may not be the eventual bottom. Since we do not have all the information in the market, it is almost impossible to guess where the bottom will be.

In most cases, we only realise the bottom after it is over and by that time stock prices are running high with much improved market confidence. Market bottom could be there only for a short period. In most cases, market did not stay at the bottom waiting for investors. It will just move on.

Since market moves ahead of the economy by about six months, the market bottoms out when the economy is still gloomy, news are still negative, analysts are still calling underweights and most investors are staying at the sidelines.

In the absence of a crystal ball and in order not to miss the market bottom, it will be more profitable if we learn how to catch a falling knife. The good thing about a falling knife is that, we know it is a falling knife. So, we only need to use some precautionary measures to avoid being slashed by it. Handling something we know is definitely much easier than dealing with the unknown risks, something which hits from behind without warning. When we invest during a crisis we actually go in with our eyes open. We know it is definitely risky but we also know it could also be very profitable. If we can handle the risk, the risk-reward trade-off will be very rewarding.

Emphasise strategies
What we need is to buy near the bottom, not right at the bottom. Investors’ frequent question now is when to buy, that is where is the bottom? Perhaps it is more intelligent to ask how much to buy now since nobody will be able to guess where is the market bottom. Even if someone provides advice for market timing on when to buy, how can we trust he knows the answer. He is probably doing it as a favour in order not to disappoint the enquirer with a negative answer — “I don’t know” (which is a fact, unfortunately), or he is probably guessing based on some assumptions.

Staggered buying is preferred over bullet purchase which is taking the risk of timing the market bottom. In staggered buying, a pre-determined amount will be set aside for investment over time, say in 10 equal portions.

One common method of staggered investment is dollar cost averaging, an investment scheme made in equal portions periodically, either by a small amount monthly or larger amount quarterly. There are also several variations of staggered investment.

The investment portion can be modified to x percentage of cash balance, say 10% of available cash balance. An investment of RM100,000 will start off with RM10,000 in first purchase, then RM9,000 in second purchase (ie 10% of the RM90,000 cash balance) etc. This method will stretch the money over a longer period.

Other than equal interval investment outlay irrespective of how the market performs, timing of the next staggered investment will only be made if the market dips by say 5% or by 50 points.

For more aggressive investors, a 10-equal portion of investment could be finished before market hits the bottom. This could happen if the market takes longer-than-expected time to recover. On the other hand, a more conservative investor may be investing too slowly and the market may have rebounded before he or she has invested half of the money set aside for investment. This could happen if the market rebounds faster than expected.

Anyway, staggered purchase is a preferred method to avoid the anxiety of market timing and the mixed feeling of fear of further downside and worry of missing the market rebound. As long as the market is undervalued, the strategy of staggered investment ensures that investors are in and are benefiting from the undervalued market.