Survival is the ultimate prize

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It seems ages since I wrote the following comment three months back

How does one invest under such extreme uncertainty? One option is to assume that there will be a quick recovery and go all in. The other extreme is to wait till it is all clear and then deploy the capital. In the first approach one is making a bet on a specific scenario which may not occur, leading to sub-par results. In the second case, we may end up with sub-par returns too but only because prices will adjust once all the uncertainty goes away.

At that point of time the future was uncertain and anyone making a specific bet was ‘assuming’ a specific scenario. If we assume that 50% of the investors bet on rapid recovery and the other 50% bet on the whole thing dragging on, the first group turned out to be right.

You are now hearing from such investors who went all-in, in the month of March/April.

It could have easily gone the other way and in that scenario, the second group would be highlighting the merits of being cautious, whereas the first group would have been silent.

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I personally avoid taking a specific view of how the future will unfold. The risk of doing so is high, if you get it wrong. If you are managing money for others (like me), then the risk is asymmetrical. If you get it right, you can tout your performance. If not, then your investors bear the brunt.

I will not tar all managers with the same brush. A lot of them, including us, are invested the same as their investors. In such cases, the behavior of the manager changes quite a bit. In such cases, your focus shifts to survival, than shooting the lights out. It does not mean that you will not make mistakes, but are very focused on managing the risk.

If the goal of investing for an individual is to achieve his/her financial goals, then the first priority is to ensure that you don’t incur a massive loss from which you cannot recover. The older you are, the higher the risk. I would recommend an individual investor to NOT look at the performance (especially near term) of professional investors. You should never do what this class of investors is doing, not because they are smarter (they are not), but because of the asymmetry of risk faced by them.

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I took the following approach in the middle of the crisis

Under the circumstances, my approach is that of ‘regret minimization’. That’s a fancy way of saying that I will do something in middle, so that I can avoid FOMO (fear of missing out) if the first scenario occurs, but at the same time have enough dry powder available incase the economic recovery takes longer.

Instead of going all in, we have slowly added (and even sold) positions as shape of the crisis has become clear at the company level (and not at a macro level). It has allowed me to sleep well and live to fight for another day.

In investing, there is no finish line and gold medal at the end of it. The end goal is survival and meeting your financial goals.

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Rohit Chauhan

Rohit Chauhan

Investment Manager at RC Capital Management
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