Sometime during my misspent youth, I went to a reputed business school and then worked in banking for 10 years. This makes people assume one is a stock market maestro. Truth is, I was always in general management and wouldn’t have recognized an equity share if it had hit me in the face.
Three years ago, when a big software company was doing a public issue, a pesky sales agent made me fill a subscription form and also open an online trading account.
I got a user ID, lost the password and forgot about it. The online trading company cluttered my inbox with newsletters, all of which I left unopened. One day I decided to forward them all to my husband. Perhaps to wriggle out of reading mutual fund patois, he gave me a brief speech about how I must be the only MBA-banker who was so scrip-challenged.
Sulkily, one morning, I logged on to the trading portal. I clicked on “Markets”. A panel showed changing prices of the day’s highest traded stocks. Opinions were flying about a new IPO and the future of petro scrips.
I stumbled out to the Home Page. Then I saw “Trading” and clicked. ”Log in” it said. I punched in my ID and password. “Invalid Login ID or Password. Contact our 24 hour customer care centre.” I knew I would be locked out after three tries. I looked at the torn paper containing my login ID. It was in CAPS; I glanced down and saw that my CAPS LOCK key wasn’t lit. I had been typing small letters. If I had not realized this tiny detail, I would have got locked out and never bothered to get a new ID. But I was destined to enter the trading ring and swing people’s fortunes.
Fourth time lucky, I arrived on a fresh page. “Welcome to online investing,” it said. Thank You…I said in an awed whisper. My eyes ran over the menu—Equity, Commodities, Futures... I was actually there, on the trading floor where tough men make rude signs to cut million dollar deals! Ha! Now I would show them—I would buy an alarming number of scrips of an obscure company making, say, cling film or zippers or permanganate. People would wonder who this mystery trader skewing market dynamics was, and then… that flat where the sea breeze strokes the face would be mine.
I opened the latest newsletter. The first “Hot Stock” was of a sugar company, in a notorious northern district. Maybe it belonged to some mafia henchman whom I may end up supporting... but there was no room for sentiment and ethics here. Just ruthless decisions with your eye on booking profit. “Greed is good,” said Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. So I commissioned Rs2,000 of my honest taxpayer’s money to the sugar mafia by clicking “Buy”.
The next was a company making raw material for aluminium. While the herd is mindlessly buying FMCG and Telecom, savvy me would get rich by investing in Calcined Petro Coke stocks and then… time for that luxury cruise in the Aegean Sea around Cyprus.
Uh-oh. “The company faces uncertainty in supply of its principal raw material ...” I paused to consider this. Well, which business doesn’t face risks? Besides, who will read more of this stuff? I also needed to log off and run an errand…
So with 20 shares of sugar and 30 of Calcined Petro Coke, I entered the wild jungle of bulls and bears.
After that I was unstoppable. I had a finger in every pie—telecom, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals—the very vitals of the Indian economy were sitting like golden geese in my portfolio. My portfolio had no losers. I showed my husband how I was making a 15% return on my investment within thre months. I suspect he started imagining himself in the SUV he had been eyeing.
And then it happened. Gravity registered its inevitable presence. The Sensex plunged due to global market forces. The newspapers called it a bloodbath. My portfolio page was drenched in red. The finance minister cautioned retail investors from investing directly in equities as they lacked research.
“I told you I was lousy at this,” I told my husband.
He asked me to fill out the bank fixed deposit form lying in the middle drawer.
Postscript: The writer, an assistant vice-president in Media Marketing with HT Media Ltd, is now following the FM’s advice and sticking to mutual funds researched by professional investment advisers.