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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Don't be a bull or a bear in the stock market, be an African python

The triangular headed South African python is a truly awe-inspiring reptile - massive in length and weight, immensely strong with an intricately patterned shining skin. The other day, on the National Geographic channel, the camera followed such a beauty as it slowly slithered through the bushes and weeds and glided into a watering hole.

There it hid with only its snout above the water - and waited patiently. Day followed night and night followed day - and still it waited. Animals big and small, arrogant and shy, came to the watering hole for a drink. The python didn't move.

Six days and nights passed - and no body except the camera-person knew that the python was lying in wait. On the 7th evening a herd of deer came for a drink. A younger and frisky member ventured a little further from the water's edge - unaware of the peril.

Suddenly, the water hole exploded into action. With its immense muscle power, the python lunged out like greased lightning and in the blink of an eye had wrapped itself around its prey. The poor animal probably didn't even know what hit him.

The South African python is used to spending weeks and even months without feeding. Some times it eats the odd rodent or bird. But when it really wants to eat, it plans its every move and with infinite patience grabs a large meal so that it won't have to eat for a long time.

Like the python, a successful long term investor does not need to 'feed' (i.e. trade) every day or every month. Once in a long while, the stock market provides an ideal opportunity to grab a few frontline stocks at mouth-watering prices. Back during the 2002-2003 bear market period, stocks like Tata Steel was available at 100, M&M at 90, ITC at 60 (actually 600 for a Rs 10 share). All three subsequently offered bonus shares at 1:2, 1:1 and 1:2 ratios respectively.

There were many other shares going for a song and which made a ton of money for savvy long term investors. Since then, we had a one-way bull-market with V-shaped corrections in 2004 and 2006. But after 5 long years we are now in a full-fledged bear market which seems to have completed its first leg at 12500.

For long term investors, this is the right time to behave like the python. Don't jump yet. Conserve your muscle power (i.e. cash), decide on a few target companies and wait patiently for the market to exhaust its second leg. This will possibly happen in the 15500-16500 range. (A few 'dud' shares in your portfolio can be sold in that range.)

The Q1 results declared so far show that top line growth has been satisfactory for most companies. But margins growth has been far lower and below expectations. With inflation rate still in double digits, interest rates are unlikely to come down any time soon. The lower oil prices and political stability are the silver linings.

The Q2 results are likely to be worse than Q1. The market will probably have a third leg down to test the 12500 bottom, and panic and doom will be all around. Time frame should be around October. That will be the right time to lunge.

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