"Live life so you have no regrets."
This is the cornerstone of my philosophy, so I found it particularly interesting to read a study of pensioners in the UK. A majority of these over-65s said they wished they had seen more of the world. That's a mistake I don't want to age with, and over the last five years, my family and I have been doing something about it.
Notably, we've had 10 stimulating days at the Edinburgh Fringe, the world's largest performing arts festival; four days in a light-house keeper's cottage high above the pounding Atlantic surf off the Irish coast, and a snorkelling weekend off Thailand's PhiPhi island.
The other regret that I've heard from older men, especially the more successful ones, is echoed by Ben Stein, Yahoo Finance columnist. Recently, he wrote, "I travel constantly; and I usually sit next to men and women who are also travelling frequently. Would you like to know what we talk about? We talk about our families and how much we miss them."
Determined to spend time with my family, and to see the world, a full-time job doesn't work for me. Without a regular paycheck, it becomes especially important for me to make money from wise investments in equity.
Being a successful stock investor doesn't come easy, and I have taken my share of knocks. Every day, I learn new lessons, but the most crucial one is: focus on companies, not markets. This should be obvious, because a share is an entitlement to profits in a company. But when so much media space goes into predicting when the Sensex will reach 15,000 (or 12,000), it's easy to imagine that the Sensex has a life of its own -- today a bull, tomorrow a bear; sometimes both on the same day!
Thus, we imagine that the price of the shares we own depends on index levels. To some extent, this is true, but it is more correct to state that the index level depends on the price of the shares that are contained in it.
And, ultimately, the price of a company's share depends on its performance -- weak results, or the prospect thereof, will see shares drop even in a bullish market (think of sugar stocks between June 2006 and now); and strong profit growth will see a company's shares push even against a bear tide.
If you have made an effort to understand the shape of a company's business, and can set a price target for its shares, it's relatively easy to decide whether you should be buying, holding, or selling. Once I have a set price target for a share, I will buy it as long as it is available for about 20 per cent below this level.
Early this year, my price target for NIIT was Rs 440, which made me a buyer up to about Rs 365. By May 2006, NIIT had climbed to Rs 390, which meant I was in 'hold' mode. Then, when markets dropped suddenly, many were convinced the bull phase was over, and sold stocks across the board.
I, too, was somewhat bearish, but managed to stay focused on individual stocks. NIIT dropped back into my 'buy' range, and when it reached Rs 320, it looked hugely attractive. I jumped in to beef up my holdings of the stock.
The same discipline is required on the upside. Thus when NIIT crosses my revised target of Rs 480 plus, I will need to start booking profits, even if the popular belief is that the Sensex is headed for 16,000. To hold a stock when its price has crossed your target is to believe that others are willing to overpay for it. This is called the 'greater fool' theory, and it often turns out, the joke is on you.
Such jokes I can do without, especially if I want to die without one of Lord John Maynard Keynes' alleged regrets, "I wish I had drunk more champagne."
Have a great 2007.
The author is an investment advisor to a select group of clients. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org