Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sita Sings the Blues - Enjoy a wonderful movie this Diwali

Just watched "Sita sings the Blues" an extremely innovative animated film that has Sita (of the the famous Indian traditional epic Ramayana fame) singing love songs in the voice of a famous 1920's blue artiste Annette Henshaw.
If this does not sound positively mystifying, then I don't know what will !

Even more interestingly the story of Sita's trial by fire after being rescued from Lanka is juxtaposed against Nina Paley's (the creator of the movie) breakup with her boyfriend in present day New York.

Excellent animation, lively back ground commentary, and some great blues song that are remarkably relevant has lead to a fantastic movie.
For all those interested, the creator provides a free torrent link at her website, which is also a treasure trove of information regarding this movie.
Watch it this Diwali and enjoy !

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inconsistency thy name is English !

Take a look at some of the most famous English proverbs. And just look how inconsistent they are to each other.

All good things come to those who wait.
Time and tide wait for no man.

The pen is mightier than the sword.
Actions speak louder than words.

The best things in life are free.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Slow and steady wins the race ..
Time waits for no man ..

Look before you leap .
Strike while the iron is hot ..

Birds of a feather flock together.
Opposites attract

Doubt is the beginning of wisdom.
Faith will move mountains.

Great starts make great finishes.
It ain’t over ’till it’s over.

Great starts make great finishes.
Well begun is half done.

Silence is golden.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

You’re never too old to learn.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Many hands make light work.

Hold fast to the words of your ancestors.
Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.

I hope you agree withme now that English is definitely an inconsistant language. if you agree, consider this

Wise men think alike
Fools seldom differ!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies - some thought about US versus rest of the world

I am currently reading the latest Booker Award Winner book "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee.
While it is a wonderful read, and I plan to write about it, the present post is about something slightly different.
The history of cancer research is replete with research that is predominantly US centric. Much of this has been done by people who have migrated in from other countries. Even Dr Mukherjee, is an example of a brilliant writer and researcher who has taken the same approach.
This set me wondering, why is it that most people who are doing basic research do their best work in the USA?
Even in the times of economic turmoil and recession, I still believe that at least in research work in basic sciences the USA is far ahead of India and other developing countries.
Many factors are likely to decrease the US dominance in world affairs. But till the time the BRIC nations are able to provide good research facilities and a culture of excellence, scientific discoveries and innovations are still likely to be a predominantly US domain. T
his is likely to influence how the world shapes up in the future.
As to the reason why this situation exists, superficially speaking, there is less of a hierarchy in the USA, and generally speaking your work is more likely to speak for itself. Also the lack of a culture of doing great basic research, and bureaucratic nature of government organizations in India stifle creativity. The pay and lack of growth opportunities, i am sure, play a role to.
Just somethings to think about while we wait for an end to the Unipolar US centric world.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is shyness a bad thing ?

Shy people are usually considered to have a problem. They are 'socially dysfunctional," widely believed to lead lonely, barren lives, trapped in their own prisons.

Various remedies have been proposed. Alcohol is an ancient elixir, prized by shy people. More recently, they are given drugs to loosen them up.

But maybe shyness isn't such a bad thing, after all. Maybe we're not sick. Maybe we're 'normal' after all. Here's the New York Times on the subject:
BEAUTIFUL woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. "Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?"

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects - nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures — drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad's insinuation aside, it's also possible the young woman is "just shy," or introverted — traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill.

This does us all a grave disservice, because shyness and introversion - or more precisely, the careful, sensitive temperament from which both often spring — are not just normal. They are valuable. And they may be essential to the survival of our species.

Theoretically, shyness and social anxiety disorder are easily distinguishable. But a blurry line divides the two. Imagine that the woman in the ad enjoys a steady paycheck, a strong marriage and a small circle of close friends - a good life by most measures - except that she avoids a needed promotion because she's nervous about leading meetings. She often criticizes herself for feeling too shy to speak up.

Before 1980, this would have seemed a strange question. Social anxiety disorder did not officially exist until it appeared in that year's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-III, the psychiatrist's bible of mental disorders, under the name "social phobia." It was not widely known until the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat social anxiety with S.S.R.I.'s and poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising its existence. The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-IV, acknowledges that stage fright (and shyness in social situations) is common and not necessarily a sign of illness. But it also says that diagnosis is warranted when anxiety "interferes significantly" with work performance or if the sufferer shows "marked distress" about it. According to this definition, the answer to our question is clear: the young woman in the ad is indeed sick.

But shyness and introversion share an undervalued status in a world that prizes extroversion. Children's classroom desks are now often arranged in pods, because group participation supposedly leads to better learning; in one school I visited, a sign announcing "Rules for Group Work" included, "You can't ask a teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question." Many adults work for organizations that now assign work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value "people skills" above all. As a society, we prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones. As the psychologists William Hart and Dolores Albarracin point out, phrases like "get active," "get moving," "do something" and similar calls to action surface repeatedly in recent books.

Yet shy and introverted people have been part of our species for a very long time, often in leadership positions. We find them in the Bible ("Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?" asked Moses, whom the Book of Numbers describes as "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.") We find them in recent history, in figures like Charles Darwin, Marcel Proust and Albert Einstein, and, in contemporary times: think of Google's Larry Page, or Harry Potter's creator, J. K. Rowling.

In the science journalist Winifred Gallagher's words: "The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor 'Paradise Lost' was dashed off by a party animal."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A request from a Personal Friend regarding donation for specific family with Muscular Dystrophy who had petitioned for Mercy killing from President

I am forwarding an email from a dear friend who is doing huge work in the field of Muscular Dystrophy in India, specifically in Himachal Pradesh. She has received the President's medal for the same, and is herself a patient of Muscular Dystrophy.

This heartfelt email is my attempt to help the poor family suffering from severe poverty and muscular dystrophy.

" Greetings from IAMD!

We hope all of you are enjoying great health and a good weather!

As you are aware we are working for the cause of Muscular Dystrophy since 1992. We are running many projects to give relief, rehabilitation to the people living with muscular Dystrophy in our country. You can see more about our work and the profile of the organization, on our website We welcome you to be a part of our growing family and help us promote the cause of Muscular dystrophy, and other severe disabilities.

Muscular dystrophy is a severely debilitating condition of body muscles, where the muscles loose strength, over period of time, leaving the person totally crippled and dependent on the others for even basic chores. It is a progressive genetic disorder and is incurable till date. Generally it comes to more than one sibling in a family. Some forms of MD are seen in infancy or childhood, while others may appear until middle age or later.

Recently we have come across a family where there are four children living with MD.The family was under heavy debt and had filed for mercy killing from the president of India.

With no permanent source of income, the family wants to set a new tent house at the cost of 2.5 lack rupees only.

We sincerely urge you to spare some money to donate to the cause of this family and help us bring the smile back on their faces.

We request you to donate Rs. 2000/- only as contribution. It will be a great support if you kindly give your share. All money will be used to create a corpus fund to help the family set up the tent house and take care of their basic medical and living needs.

Please choose one of the following ways to send your contributions:

· On line in the Bank account Number State Bank of India, 30560503263, Indian Association of Muscular Dystrophy.

· For Overseas donations our FCRA account no. is 182540019, Axis Bank, Solan, Himachal Pradesh.

· Circulate this message amongst your friends and collect the fund.

· This is just for your information that we are 80Gand 12A compliant organization.

Be a proud donor! Help us give someone a life of dignity and peace!

Sanjana Goyal, 9418054877
Indian Assn.of Muscular Dystrophy,

C/O M/S Stitch-N-Style
Hospital Road
Solan H.P.173212

Monday, April 11, 2011

Online Personality Test - A fascinating one - give it a try!

At first glance, the Pierley/Redford personality test seems too vague to tell you anything accurate or interesting about your actual personality: “Which of these circles is angry?” it asks (and provides two abstract and gauzy illustrations). Or “Which position is diseased?”

But the pictures are pretty, and weirdly disturbing, and so you find yourself clicking through all 20 questions. When you’re done, you get a short, specific thumbnail sketch of your personality type. That’s where the real fun begins: What did those questions mean, and add up to? And how did they get so far under your skin? You can take the test multiple times, clicking quickly and intuitively, or slowing way down to puzzle out the “correct” answers. Either way, you’ll end up wondering: Is it a pretty parlor trick? Or a real window into your deeper, darker self?

(from VSL - Very Short List Description of the test)

"Verbally and mentally fluid, you are refreshing and illuminating to those around you. This is occasionally somewhat discounted by the obvious pleasure that you take in exercising your mental acuity. Although generally peaceful you can often take a verbally aggressive tact in relations with the world, which can often be misunderstood by those around you. Innovative in the extreme, you can often think yourself right out of the correct answer to a given problem. Many times you are referred to as your own worst enemy. You tire very quickly of routine and so make poor clerks or administrative help. You also have no respect for authority and little patience for those you regard as inferior, most especially those in charge. Experimentation is your watchword and can occasionally lead to experience for its own sake and shallow decadence. Your thought can sometimes be scattered and disconnected."

I found this test very unusual in the questions asked, and interestingly some of the points mentioned above are quite true about me !
Try it, I am sure that you would have fun. Do let me know if the results are accurate !

Thursday, February 24, 2011

ELSS - The Flavor of the season !

Flavour of the season: ELSS
24th February, 2011

The reason I am publishing this email posted to me is that I completely believe, agree and follow this philosophy in making my Investments. Disclosure: I am subscribed to Fidelity Tax saving Fund and Quantum Tax saving Fund (not mentioned here, since not completed 3 years I believe, but I really appreciate their approach as an Asset Management Company)

With the Direct Tax Code (DTC) proposing elimination of Equity Linked Mutual Funds (ELSS) (also known as Tax Saving Mutual Funds) from the list of tax-saving options; mutual fund houses are doing their best to increase their AUM (Assets Under Management) share under the ELSS category of mutual funds.

In order to make hay when the sun shines, they (mutual fund houses) are doling out generous commissions (in the range of 2.5% to 5.0%) from their own pocket, to their distributors thereby pushing ELSS funds before they lose out their “tax benefit” status with effect from April 1, 2012. So now, the next time you approach your distributor for investing to obtain a tax benefit (under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act, 1961), he would be all ready with the ELSS fund’s return chart (and off course his commission chart!) thereby persuading you to invest in them.

However in our opinion, while investing to avail a tax benefit (under Section 80C) it is vital that you consider the following aspects of financial planning too before signing a cheque, which would enable you in making prudent tax saving investment decisions.

  • Age

    Your age should determine your asset allocation. To simply put, how much percentage of your total investible amount should be in equity related instruments, fixed income instruments and gold. So, if you are young, you can take more risk and vice-versa. Hence, for prudent tax planning too, if you are young, you should allocate more towards market-linked tax saving instruments such as ELSS. Moreover, you would also enjoy the advantage of greater investment tenure which would enable you make more aggressive investments and create wealth over the long-term to meet your financial goals.

  • Income

    Similarly, if your income is high, your willingness to take risk is generally high. This thus can work in your favour, as you can skew your portfolio more towards equity related instruments such as ELSS, and make your portfolio appear more aggressive. Similarly, if your income is not high enough (i.e. it is low), you can invest in tax saving instruments which provide you assured returns. These instruments can be Public Provident Fund (PPF), National Savings Certificates (NSCs), 5 Yr Bank Fixed Deposits, 5 Yr Post Office Time Deposits, Senior Citizen Savings Scheme (provided you are a senior citizen) and Non-ULIP insurance plans.

  • Financial goals

    If you have financial goals set in your life, that too should influence the way you do your tax planning and invest in tax saving instruments. So, say for example your goal is retiring from work 5 years from now, then your tax saving investment portfolio will be also less skewed towards market-linked tax saving instruments, as you are quite near to your goal and your regular income will stop. Likewise if you are many years away from the financial goal, you should ideally allocate maximum to market linked tax saving instruments and less towards those instruments (tax saving) which provide you assured returns.

  • Risk Appetite

    It refers to your ability to take risk while investing, and it is function of your age, income, expenses, and nearness to goal. So, if your willingness to take risk is high (aggressive), you can skew your tax saving investment portfolio more towards the market-linked instruments such as ELSS.

    Similarly, if your willingness to take risk is relatively low (conservative), your tax saving investment portfolio can be skewed towards instruments (such as PPF, NSC, 5-Yr bank FDs, 5-Yr Post Office Time Deposits, Senior Citizen Savings Scheme etc. which offer you assured returns. Also if you are a moderate risk taker you can take a mix of 60:40 into market-linked tax saving instruments and assured return tax saving instruments respectively.

    And now if your age permits (i.e. if you are young), income is high, and therefore willingness to take risk is high along with your financial goals being far away, then you may look at ELSS funds to avail a tax benefit under section 80C. Please note that ELSS funds are 100% diversified equity funds and a distinguishing feature about them is the compulsory lock-in period of 3 years (which in our opinion helps in infusing a sense of discipline towards holding one’s investments for the long-term). Also they demand a petite minimum investment amount of 500, which is unlike the other equity oriented funds (who generally demand 5,000 as the minimum investment amount).

How ELSS Funds have fared across time frames

Scheme Name 6 Months (%) 1-Yr (%) 3-Yr (%) 5-Yr (%) Std. Dev (%) Sharpe Ratio Top 10 stocks (%) Expense Ratio Portfolio T/O Ratio (%)
ICICI Pru Tax Plan (G) -3.4 11.1 10.7 11.0 10.18 0.06 37.2 2.0 121.0
HDFC TaxSaver (G) -4.8 14.6 10.1 13.2 9.22 0.07 38.8 1.9 30.6
Sahara Tax Gain (G) -6.7 13.4 9.5 14.0 9.41 0.05 25.5 2.5 205.8
Fidelity Tax Advt (G) -4.6 17.1 9.4 - 8.53 0.06 39.6 2.0 20.0
Religare Tax Plan (G) -7.6 10.0 7.6 - 8.70 0.04 37.2 2.5 76.0
Franklin India Taxshield (G) -1.4 12.8 7.2 12.1 8.59 0.03 46.9 2.1 85.8
Reliance Tax Saver (G) -10.3 9.2 7.0 9.8 8.88 0.03 35.9 1.9 86.0
HDFC Long Term Adv (G) -3.7 14.7 6.7 10.0 9.25 0.04 46.7 2.1 15.7
Taurus Tax Shield (G) -7.7 10.8 6.0 12.7 10.78 0.04 42.9 2.5 159.0
HSBC Tax Saver Equity (G) -7.7 4.9 5.1 - 8.59 0.00 42.2 2.3 119.0
BSE Sensex -2.4 9.8 1.5 11.8 11.52 -0.03 - - -
(NAV data is as on February 11, 2011. Standard Deviation and Sharpe ratio is calculated over a 3-Yr period. Risk-free rate is assumed to be 6.37%)
(Source: ACE MF, PersonalFN Research)

Ideally while evaluating ELSS funds, one should assess their performance over a 3-Yr time frame, since this would enable you to judge whether they have created wealth for you post the lock-in period. The table above reveals that over the 3-Yr time frame most ELSS funds have delivered competitive returns with ICICI Pru Tax being the frontrunner (by delivering a return of 10.7% CAGR). However, when observed from a risk exposure perspective, ICICI Pru Tax Plan has exposed its investors to comparatively high risk (Standard Deviation of 10.18%) and has thus delivered middling risk-adjusted returns (as revealed by its Sharpe Ratio of 0.06), thus making it a high risk-high return investment proposition amongst the peers (see risk-return comparison chart below). Also, the returns have been drawn by the fund manager of ICICI Pru Tax Plan, by engaging in frequent churning (Portfolio Turnover Ratio of 121.0%) which has led to a high expense ratio for the fund.

On the other hand HDFC TaxSaver Fund, Fidelity Tax Advantage Fund too has delivered luring returns over a 3-Yr time frame (10.1% CAGR and 9.4% CAGR respectively), but the same have been drawn by exposing their investors to comparatively low risk (Standard Deviation of 9.22% and 8.53% respectively) and providing enticing risk-adjusted returns too (Sharpe Ratio of 0.07 and 0.06 respectively), thereby making them low risk-high return investment proposition in the category. Moreover, the returns have been delivered by the respective fund managers without indulging in much churning (Portfolio Turnover Ratio of 30.6% and 20.0% respectively) which has led to lower expenses ratios too of 1.9 and 2.0 respectively.

Risk-Return Comparison

(Higher the Sharpe Ratio, larger the size of the bubble)

Please note we are giving importance to portfolio churning as well expense ratio, as any elevated levels of these tend to increase cost for you investors. Moreover, in our opinion churning is just not necessary as the fund manager has the advantage of “buy and hold” strategy on account of the 3 year lock-in period imposed on its investors. Moreover, this also leaves the fund manager(s) with less burden of managing redemption pressures.

Hence, please recognise that there’s more to selecting a mutual fund (be it any kind!) than just the returns, and hence you need to allot significant weightage to the same while considering funds for your portfolio.

Sector Holdings

Top 10 Sectors % of holding*
Banks 15.9
Engineering 12.6
Pharma 11.1
Software 10.8
Oil & Gas 9.6
Auto 6.4
Consumer Non-Durable 4.1
Telecom 3.9
Power 3.4
Media & Entertainment 2.6

*Note: Sector holdings as on January 31, 2011 of ELSS funds in the peer comparison table, have been taken for top-10 sector calculation.
(Source: ACE MF, PersonalFN Research)

As far as the portfolio strategy is concerned ELSS funds have a fairly diversified equity portfolio but conquered by various sectors which are resilient and having a long-term growth prospects. Moreover, most ELSS generally follow a blend style of investing which enable them to do undertake both – growth as well as value investing.

In a nutshell...

Primarily while investing in tax-saving instruments, please make an attempt to complement your financial planning exercise with your tax-saving (by considering the aforementioned aspects of age, income, risk appetite and financial goals) as this would enable in making a prudent investment decision. Moreover, please do not wait till the eleventh hour as this may lead you to making a wrong choice.

While considering an ELSS fund for your market-linked tax-saving portfolio, give importance to those ELSS funds that have completed at least 3 years of track record and select funds from fund houses which follow strong investment systems and processes. Don’t get just lured by the returns chart which you mutual distributor exhibits to you, as remember there’s more to a mutual scheme than just returns. Look for the consistency in the performance instead, with relevance to risk and returns, portfolio turnover ratio expense ratio and the portfolio of the ELSS fund(s).