An investor friend asked me a million dollar question last week: The stock market has collapsed and blue chips are available at attractive valuations, but where is the cash to buy them?
Many investors - yours truly included - have been taken by surprise by the severity of the market decline. Let alone think about buying, many are scrambling to save whatever little is left of their portfolio. The currently attractive fixed deposit (FD) rates have prompted some to sell even at a loss and move to fixed income.
This is as great a time as any to give some thought to asset reallocation. But to do that we have to start with asset allocation.
Let us say that you are 35 years old and an investor in the stock market. The thumb rule for percentage allocation to equity suggested by market experts is (100 - your age). In this case, it will be (100 - 35 =) 65%.
Now you may not feel comfortable with the associated risk of such an allocation to equity. No one is pointing a gun at your head. Choose whatever percentage makes sense to you. 40-50% if you are a conservative investor. 75% if you are aggressive about making high returns with high risk.
The younger you are the more should be your equity allocation. Why? Because equities tend to earn the best returns over the long term, and when you start young you have less responsibilities and hence can afford to take more risk.
The older and closer to retirement you are, the more should be your allocation to fixed income. Why? Because the stock market can be in doldrums just when you are about to retire - when your regular income source will dry up. The (100 - age) formula comes in handy after all.
For argument's sake, if you agree with the 65% equity allocation (this could mean shares or equity MFs or a combination), the balance 35% should be in fixed income, gold ETF and cash. A rough breakup can be 25% in bank FD or Post Office MIS or PPF, 5% in gold ETF and 5% in cash.
The gold ETF is a hedge against inflation, but low returns may not permit a higher allocation. The cash is necessary for unforeseen opportunities - like a rights issue, or additional purchase due to a bonus issue or divestment.
If you have Rs 20 lakhs as an investible surplus, this asset allocation formula means Rs 13 lakhs in equity/MF, Rs 5 lakhs in fixed income, and Rs 1 lakh each in gold ETF and cash.
Investment guru Benjamin Graham had advocated that on no account should you let your equity allocation go beyond 75% or go below 25%. If you follow this advice to the letter and spirit, it will enable you to reallocate almost without thinking.
How? Say the stock market moves up (not likely in the near future!), and the value of your equity portfolio becomes Rs 18 lakhs. Your total investment value now becomes Rs 25 lakhs (=18+5+1+1), and your equity percentage becomes 72% (=18/25).
This is still below Graham's limit of 75% but is 7% above your original plan of 65%. Prudence requires that you start booking profits partially. If you are aggressive, you can ride the bull market till your equity value goes up to Rs 21 lakhs. Now you've hit the 75% level (=21/28). No further waiting - start selling and invest the proceeds into fixed income and cash, to return to your original percentage allocation plan.
What happens in the process is you increase your wealth in real terms - not only on paper, because now your fixed income/cash amounts have increased. The actual figures are about Rs18 lakhs in equity, Rs 7 lakhs in fixed income and Rs 1.5 lakhs each in gold ETF and cash.
Thanks to the bear market, let us assume your equity value drops to Rs 10 lakhs. Your total investment value is now back to Rs 20 lakhs (=10+7+1.5+1.5) but your equity allocation is down to 50%.
Guess what? You now have some extra cash to deploy back into the market. And if you opt for Post Office MIS and/or monthly/quarterly interest from your FD in your fixed income allocation - then you will have even more cash without touching your FDs or gold ETFs.
No wonder Warren Buffett has said that knowledge of simple arithmetic is enough to be a smart investor! (In real life, the arithmetic may become a little more complicated - but an Excel spreadsheet should take care of that.)