Risk Analysis of investment: Real Estate vs Equity

You must have heard people saying: investment in real estate is risk free. Stocks may crash, but real estate always goes up in price. After all, they aren’t making any more land, are they? You might also have heard, from the same people or different, that stock market investment is nothing but gambling. Let us today try to find out how real estate and equity shares really compare in terms of risk. Like this guy was confused about the returns comparison of real estate and equity, are some others confused about risk comparison of real estate and equity?

One thing is certain: real estate prices are actually less variable than share prices. The reason for this has 2 aspects:

1. Stocks are in themselves useless to a retail investor, who is unlikely to hold more than 0.001 percent of any decent company’s stocks. He has negligible voting rights and even less awareness. So, at any sign of trouble, stocks are sold en-masse and hence their prices crash.

2. Houses, on the other hand must be lived in, trouble or no trouble. One residential abode per family is almost essential. So, when there is economic trouble, people stop buying new property but they won’t sell their own home. This partial clinging to real estate makes its prices more stable than stocks.

Now, when financial “experts” speak in their confusing jargon, they call variability of prices as “risk”. This is misleading as, in colloquial usage, risk is a word that is used to convey a related but different concept. Let me point out risk factors that real-estate investment has even after a lower variability of prices. All this is for a middle class family, and these risk factors may not be applicable to rich people. An example middle class family headed by Mr. X will be our protagonist.

Object Diversification

Object diversification in this context refers to investing in multiple different objects. It reduces risk for the investor because different objects might give different returns: positive or negative; so that overall returns are relatively stable. By committing less than Rs. 3000 a month, Mr. X can invest in about 5 well-rated mutual funds and hence have exposure to shares of about 75 companies. These companies do varied business like banking, mining, refining petroleum, newspapers, construction, power production, consumer goods etc. Some companies will be big, some small. The highest exposure to any company he will have will be less than 5%. That is to say, even if that company mysteriously vanishes from the face of the earth(an unlikely event, to say the least) he will lose less than 5% of his money. A mere Rs. 1000 per month more, and he can invest in international equity mutual funds and buy so much diversification as is not possible to describe in this small blog of mine.

Mr. X can buy only one house per half-century. Diversification is just not possible. To have similar diversification as of the above share portfolio through mutual funds, he will have to buy a commercial complex in Kolkata, a small residential house in Mumbai, a mine in Jharkhand, a second larger residential house in Gorakhpur, agricultuaral land in Tamil Nadu,  and many more. He has to remember to buy buildings built by different builders. Forget about ANY object diversification: Mr. X has bought just one house, one location. If it is discovered (an unlikely event, to say the least),  that a volcano will erupt at the place soon, he will be severely impacted financially. Even a simple thing as the city water supply board quoting problems in supplying water to the area might impact real estate prices of the area. Such are the perils of ignoring object diversification.

Time Diversification

Time diversification means investing in a single object at different times. If the price of the object keeps changing, this technique can average out the overall investment price for the investor, thereby reducing risk. In investment arena, this can be achieved by, e.g.  SIP. The tubes of the internet are already choking with information about SIPs so I will not go into further details. The point is, through the years when prices of shares dance to the tunes of FIIs, Governments, International events etc., Mr X buys shares every month. So there is no risk of buying the full portfolio when the prices are at their peak.

I have said before, and I will say it again: Mr. X can buy only one house per half-century. Asking him to buy a house every month would have been funny, if it weren’t so inconsiderate. We will not advice anything of this sort. If this house purchase is done at a time when real-estate prices are near their peaks, bad luck. The long term returns from real estate appreciation will be reduced if initial purchase was at peak prices. Note that like every one else, Mr. X thinks he can time the market but actually he can’t. Since in this case since time diversification is not possible, he will try to time the market and fail. Moreover, price of the house is just part of the cost. Mr. X has taken a loan for 20 year, during the course of which he will pay more as interest than as principal . If he is paying peak prices for house, he has to proportionately pay higher for interest too.

Leverage

Being in the middle class, Mr. X does not have enough money in the bank to buy a house unless he finances it with a housing loan. This makes his real estate investment a highly leveraged one. Leveraging in any business increases risk. Many books have been filled with details how leveraging increases risk, I will only give a few links.

Fraud

Haha. Property developers are masters of fraud and of subsequent litigation. Project cancellation with non-refund, project delays, cost escalation, non-standard and confusing methods for size calculations are routine tactics of real estate business. Realtors encourage their buyers to go to court because they know it will be decades before any meaningful justice can be provided to the buyers. Realtors have lawyers in their employment whereas the buyers would be unable to afford the services of lawyers for long.

Mutual funds are regulated by SEBI: the second best regulators of India in my opinion (best is RBI). There haven’t been many instances of mutual funds (SEBI registered ones, of course) denying, or delaying redemption significantly. Upstream, in the stock markets, whenever we have a Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parikh, or Satyam, we improve our regulatory procedures so that similar occurrences are not repeated.

Fraud is the aspect of risk overlooked by most financial experts. Of course, when their definition of risk itself is different from the common man’s definition, such misunderstandings are bound to occur.

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Home loan tax deduction is/maybe no more

One of the best things that I like about the proposed new direct taxes code in India is the lack of home loan tax benefits. Without much delay, let us start cracking with the advantages of doing away with such stupid laws.

The following points, when taken together, prove that home loan tax breaks do no good to the country, or its common people. If anyone was served by such laws, it was the builders and the bankers. Let me demonstrate how.

1. Lower tax rates compensate for lack of home loan tax breaks. It is as if everyone is getting more than the full benefit of home loan tax break, without taking a home loan.

2. Leverage: Home loan tax breaks encourage taking home loan even if you can save (partially or fully) for buying the house. Or if buying a house is more trouble than it is worth for you because of the mobile nature of your job, so you prefer renting. Encouragement of loan taking leads to over-leveraged consumer behaviour, similar to the US sub-prime mortgage trouble. Read up on the dangers of over leveraging here and here. Since home loans are very long term loans, there is the added risk of interest rates rising a lot which can even double your EMI and thus break your back.

3. Lower housing prices: Removing tax breaks for home loans would bring down housing prices. It is the simple concept of demand and supply. Today, people select a house based on the (EMI – tax break) they can afford. When tax break is no more, they will select a house based on the EMI they can afford. This brings down the demand price. The lack of tax break will mainly affect the margins of builders. As we know, builders are no cuddly teddy bears who cannot take care of themselves. Between the white, black and all colors of money they earn, they can better take care of themselves than any of their buyers or employees.

This point is complicated, read carefully. The absolute amount of money in the hands of consumers is higher because of lower tax rates so real estate prices may not come down in absolute terms. But relative affordability of houses as compared to, say, cars/stocks/clothes/food/travel will increase because there is no tax deduction just for paying interest on a home loan.

Initially the builders will try to maintain the high margins by delaying projects and reducing the quality of buildings. So the buyers will have to remain cautious in buying newly built houses for a while and check the quality thoroughly before buying. But we need to do that anyway. See a video by a Unitech customer here.

Upto a few weeks ago, I had assumed that the Government will never be able to defy the powerful builders’ lobby and such tax breaks will remain forever as evils of Indian democracy. But my faith in Indian democracy has been restored to a small extent. The Government has at least proposed to do away with tax breaks for home loan. Well done ministers / babus / everyone involved. I think hon. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee should not get all the credit for this, as hon. former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and team had started work on this code and it might be his legacy.

Dangers of this proposal:

1. The biggest danger is, of course, of the Government surrendering against the real estate lobby and re-introducing the stupid home loan tax deduction.

2. Since the builders have cash to burn and the power to wait out, people who want to buy a house in next few years might not get the full benefit of lower house prices. Hence they might have to make do with lower quality house than if they waited a few years for house prices to react to this news. Eventually, of course, no one can beat demand and supply.

3. Of course, the price of your house may be less now for the same reason: the buyer of your house will not get any tax break for taking a home loan to buy it. But I guess it is a very small price to pay for more affordable housing for everyone, including your future self and your kids.

Related post: Risk Analysis of investment: Real Estate vs Equity

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Why you don’t need a financial planner

I have nothing personally against financial planners. The few that I have met are amiable fellows. I also don’t say you necessarily don’t need one. Your circumstances might demand that you might need financial planning services. Read on to find out more about it.

Accountability

The results of many financial planning services will be visible only in the long term. Hence it is difficult to choose a financial planner based on performance. Financial planners themselves don’t come up with any metric against which they can be judged and held accountable. In such a market, the following traits will make successful financial planners and you are more likely to go to and trust one of them:

1. Marketing: A financial planner who markets and sells himself well will get more business. They will seem trustworthy, professional and reachable. They build a brand for themselves which you are happy to associate yourselves with. Read any sales, marketing and branding book for details, but surely, none of these techniques concentrate on improving performance or quality of service.

2. Persuasion: Once you consult a financial planner, his manner of speech, the confidence he exudes and general ambience of the environment come into picture. If the overall experience was convincing, you are not likely to take a second opinion and you will choose this same financial planner the next time you need advice. Note that this also has nothing to do with quality of service or prudence of following the advice.

As there is currently no way to hold financial planners accountable as to the quality of advice, the above described qualities are the secrets to success for any financial planner. None of them bode very well for you. This brings us to our next point:

Trust

Even if you define a good financial planner and manage to find such a person, how much can you trust them? That he was really a good financial planner you will know only, say, 40 years later. Remember it is your own financial future that you are entrusting to them. If the advice was wrong, the planner can shrug his shoulders. But you will know about it, 40 years later when you are truly and royally screwed. The solution: backup financial planner’s advice with your own research. This brings up the next point:

Cost

Given the limitations of a financial planner and inevitability of own research, is the financial planner worth the cost? Can he be replaced with more research? Or do you think you will take financial planning service to validate your own findings and give direction to further research?

Notable Exceptions

Now that I have made all financial planners call up Chhota Shakeel to cut my ticket, let me also mention these notable exceptions:

1. Sudden windfalls

Your grandma left you a fortune, you found potfuls of gold coins when digging a well in your backyard, you won “Kaun Banega 3 Crorepati” when your annual income is less than or much less than 50 lakhs a year, etc. You really, badly need a financial advisor. Why?

a) You are not used to handling so much of money. All your knowledge about managing money is for the amount of money you normally deal with. It maybe that those ideas hold for the windfall money, but maybe they are not.

b) You are too excited to make good decisions yourselves.

c) All your “friends” are asking favours of you. If you have a financial planner, you could say : “well, I’d love to, but you know my financial planner is a tyrant and he just doesn’t let me”.

d) Taxes. Some taxes are pre-deducted as TDS before you get your windfall. Some are not. Some taxes are due immediately, some are due before the financial year ends. Installments of some taxes might be due on next advance tax deadline. You have no idea. There may or may not be ways to save such taxes. A financial planner is indispensable here.

Even after I have told you, most people in these circumstances won’t use a financial planner. As my second point above says, you are too excited to make good decisions. Contacting a financial planner is a good decision that you will likely not make.

2. Short term debt management

You have developed a habit of missing credit card payments and are stuck in the vicious circle of debt. Or any other short term debt which you have unwittingly not paid for a long term. The financial advisor can let you know about ways to get you out of the cycle. This might include alternate avenues of credit, advice to lower expenses, tax-efficient ways to sell-off/mortgage your possessions and many more. Since it is short term debt management, you can objectively check the quality of advice given by the financial planner in a short span of time.

Note that I don’t include long term debt in this, because long term debt is like any other financial planning which you should do yourselves like I pointed out in the earlier part of this article.

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Efficient Market Hypothesis in India

Efficient market hypothesis says that stock markets are informationally efficient i.e. all publicly available information is already reflected in the stock prices. (Note that it is mostly illegal to use non-public information for getting advantage on the stock market.) Hence, no strategy can significantly beat the returns of the market (represented by indices) for a sustained time period. People, both professional and lay investor alike, make mammoth efforts in beating the markets, losing sleep over every movement of the market. The efficient market hypothesis, if true, would prove that all such effort is wasted and can at best equal the returns from passive index investing and at worst earn less returns than even the indices.

Studies to prove/disprove this hypothesis have mostly taken place in developed markets. Here, we analyze whether it holds true in Indian markets. Among the different types of people who try and beat the returns of stock market indices, a type that can be easily studied is mutual fund managers. This is because they have to necessarily provide information about their portfolios and their periodic returns due to SEBI guidelines. Mutual fund managers must beat the market indices to justify their high salaries and the expense ratios of mutual funds. It is believed that less than 15% , or 3%! of the mutual funds in the US beat the market indices, which is commonly used as an argument in favour of the efficient market hypothesis. Let us see how Indian mutual funds fare:

I will compare the long term returns of ALL equity diversified mutual funds and ELSS funds with a well known index. Funds for which such analysis is not possible will be discarded and reasons for doing so will be one of the following:

  1. Bonus issues by mutual funds: Date after last bonus issue will be considered. Bonus issues have gone out of fashion these days, so for most funds considered we can get such bonus free time periods of around a decade or so.
  2. Date of launch of the mutual fund: Only funds launched in the previous millennium (31 December 1999 or before) are considered so that we do not get dazzled by short term brilliance.
  3. Date of introduction of the index: In India, our indices are so young that we have mutual funds that are elder than Nifty by a decade or so. Still we can compare the performance of mutual funds against indices for a period of about a decade, so we will go ahead and compare with an existing index.
  4. Total returns: In regular indices, the dividends paid by the constituent companies of the index are not counted in returns. We have considered Nifty as the index for our purposes because its total returns index is readily available, which takes into account the dividend income as well. Since this data is only available 30 June 1999 onwards, mutual fund data of before this date has been discarded.
  5. Sector / Theme specific mutual funds will be discarded.

Following tables summarize our findings. The funds which have beaten Nifty are shown in green, those which lagged Nifty are shown in red. Data comes from Mutual Funds India. Returns have been considered starting from “Start date”, up to 15 July 2009 for the mutual fund as well as the Nifty total returns index.

Diversified Equity Schemes(all Growth/Cumulative option):

Scheme Name Start date Return from scheme (%) Returns from Nifty (Total Returns Index) %
BSL Equity 30/06/1999 1178.83 416.78
Tata Pure Equity 30/06/2000 472.47 332.77
Templeton India Growth 02/05/2000 651.73 367.63
HDFC Equity 30/06/1999 1316.3 416.78
Franklin India Prima Plus 30/06/1999 1070.69 416.78
Taurus Starshare 30/06/1999 598.16 416.78
Franklin India Bluechip 24/03/2000 523.58 314.09
HDFC Top 200 27/03/2000 518.97 315.41
Reliance Growth 30/06/1999 1766.29 416.78
LIC MF Equity 30/06/1999 225.91 416.78
Franklin India Prima 30/06/1999 1143.69 416.78
HDFC Capital Builder 30/06/1999 584.77 416.78
Tata Growth 14/07/1999 718.47 370.52
LIC MF Growth 30/06/1999 247.52 416.78
Taurus Discovery 14/07/1999 249.45 370.52
JM Equity 30/06/1999 283.31 416.78
BSL Advantage 23/03/2000 168.94 317.35
Reliance Vision 30/06/1999 1350.91 416.78
ICICI Prudential Growth 30/06/1999 695.17 416.78
ING Core Equity 30/06/1999 272.1 416.78
BSL MNC 28/12/1999 312.36 343.92
Sundaram BNP Paribas Growth Reg 16/05/2000 496.67 375.03

Equity Linked Savings Schemes(all Growth/Cumulative option):

Scheme Name Start date Return from scheme (%) Returns from Nifty (Total Returns Index) %

HDFC Taxsaver

06/04/00

747.82

338.08

LIC MF Tax Plan

30/06/1999

209.75

416.78

Franklin India Tax Shield

30/06/1999

1319.07

416.78

ICICI Prudential Taxplan

19/08/1999

852.5

367.65

These findings deal a fatal blow to the efficient market theory. Not only do about 70% of the mutual funds beat the market, many of them do so by a factor of 2 or more. Reliance Growth beat the market in this period by more than 400%. Note that the index returns considered are directly from the index and not from any index fund. If an index fund is used for investment, there will be some expense ratio of the fund and hence the index returns will be even lower than mentioned above.

This article is not intended to advertize mutual funds. Nor am I saying that mutual funds will necessarily continue beating the market by a wide margin. I have only analyzed the available data and come to the conclusion that Indian markets have not been demonstrably informationally efficient over the last decade. Hence stock picking has a lot of value in India. All the lost sleep over your stocks was not in vain, after all :).

Limitations of the above comparison:

  1. The comparison suffers from a survivorship bias. Which is to say, the funds which were performing very poorly were discontinued long ago and hence they do not appear in this study. Though in my defence, we have not seen a huge number of mutual fund schemes being discontinued, so possibly the bias does not invalidate my conclusions. In the US, only 15% or 3% funds beat the index even after a survivorship bias.
  2. A decade is not enough to get meaningful conclusions about long term trends. Here my defence is stronger. Efficient market hypothesis categorically denies the possibility of any strategy being capable of beating the market. As such, the onus is on the propounders of the hypothesis to prove that it is so. As market indices in India are very young, supporters of efficient market hypothesis also do not have enough data to be able to prove the hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt. All I claim is, the short term data that we have does not support the efficient market hypothesis.
  3. Maybe, NOW the markets are efficient and going forward it might get difficult to beat the market indices. Agreed. We can only say that so far there is no support for efficient market hypothesis in India. If you are reading this in year 2100 or more, maybe you can throw some light on this matter in the comments section.

Other problems with index funds in India:

  1. High tracking errors: Tracking errors as high as 10% are not unheard of, and fund managers have the audacity to justify the tracking errors. This proves that the index funds were started just to jump on the bandwagon but in essence many of the index funds are being actively managed.
  2. High expense ratios: Most index funds charge an expense ratio of about 1 – 1.5% which is outrageous. The exception is in ETFs (exchange traded funds) which charge around 0.5%. But even this is too high as there is not much that the fund manager has to do with an index fund and a lot of it can be automated by the fund house. Main reason to invest in an index fund is the low costs. In the developed markets, less than 0.25% expense ratio is charged for index funds. Hopefully as more money gets invested into index funds, fund houses will get a better economy of scale and expense ratios will come down.
    Chicken and egg: Index funds in India are not a good idea, partly because of high expense ratios, and expense ratios are high partly because not many invest in index funds because index funds are not a good idea.

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Appendix

More support about passive investing from developed markets:

http://www.stanford.edu/~wfsharpe/art/talks/indexed_investing.htm

http://seekingalpha.com/article/84916-percentage-of-active-fund-managers-that-can-beat-the-market-shrinking-rapidly

http://allfinancialmatters.com/2008/01/04/when-an-active-mutual-fund-manager-beats-the-market-is-it-luck/

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NPS: Not cheap

PFRDA (Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority) has opened the NPS (New Pension Scheme) for general public. Note that it has been “New” for last 2 decades and has materialized only now.

The idea of NPS is extremely noble: India lacks social security of any kind, so the unorganized sector badly needs a useful retirement savings scheme. But the current implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Only saving grace is, that there is no one to hard sell the scheme yet. The appointed intermediaries have no interest in selling the scheme, instead, they have competing products of their own to sell. Since not many people will open an NPS account until some sellers are motivated, not many people will be disappointed that NPS is not cheap.

The promises of fund management charges of 0.009% sounds very cheap. Much cheaper than mutual funds which can charge up to 2.5% fund management charges per year (most charge less than 2%). But there are other problems that we now proceed to analyze.

Target Audience:

Our first step is to understand the target beneficiaries of NPS. Most organized sector workers of lower-middle to middle class (income higher than 1.5 lakhs a year) don’t need NPS that badly because they already have EPF,  government pension(government employees who joined service a decade ago) and other loyalty funds from their employer such as superannuation. Though they can still use NPS to get some equity exposure as their other investments are likely to be largely fixed income investments giving lower returns (less than 9% post tax).

The prime beneficiaries for whom NPS could have been a godsend are unorganized sector workers who do not have access to any retirement scheme. They are also typically poorer than organized sector workers, and people with incomes 75000 – 1,50,000 could have taken advantage of this scheme (if it were sold well, but that is a separate topic). Let us concentrate on such people for our analysis. Yes, I am less concerned with “high” income people, earning more than 1.5 lakhs a year as they can better fend for themselves.

Why I am leaving out people earning less than 75000 per year? Depending on circumstances (rural/urban ; family situation etc.) they may not have any invesible surplus. Even for such important a task as retirement planning. So they could not have taken advantage of NPS even if NPS were perfect.

I know there are exceptions to the generalities I quoted above. There are people in unorganized sector that earn crores a year. There are people earning 50,000 a year who can afford to save because of low expenses. But, like I said, they are exceptions rather than the rule and hence can be ignored for the larger analysis.
Disadvantages of NPS for our specific target audience:

  1. Compulsary investment of 6000 a year:
    A commitment of investing Rs. 6000 every year is tough to make. More so because our target audience has unstable sources of income. Rs. 6000 is anywhere from 8% to 4% of the annual income of our target audience and hence they might be very scared to make such commitments. Especially since the penalty of Rs. 100 per quarter if this minimum investment is not made is very high. On the flip side, it can be argued that this penalty keeps them disciplined; though I wouldn’t buy this argument for much. Retirement planning takes mammoth discipline anyway. Since it is important that our target audience starts some investment right away to take advantage of the power of compounding, to start with we should make our schemes very flexible, and low on penalties.
  2. Charges (9.33% entry load):
    Fund management charges are low enough, but the fixed charges are high. In a bad year, when you barely manage to invest 6000 in the requisite 4 yearly installments, you incur the following charges:
    A. Account opening charge of Rs. 50 (only required for the first year)
    B. Annual maintenance charge of Rs. 350
    C. 4 transactions, Rs. 10 fees to CRA for each. Total Rs. 40.
    D. Registration with PoP (Point of Presence, kind of the investor’s broker): Rs. 40. This will be required not just the first time, but everytime the PoP is changed for some reason (e.g. migration from one location to another)
    D. 4 transactions, Rs. 20 fees to PoP for each. Total Rs. 80.
    Other charges are negligible; but these charges total to Rs. 560. This is 9.33 percentage of the investment for the year (Rs. 6000). Consider it kind of an entry load for NPS.
  3. Expensive modes of withdrawal:
    The funds are reasonably high return : 50% stock market index funds & 50% debt, progressively moving towards majority debt as the individual grows older. But remember that taxes will kill the returns. Unless an annuity is purchased from a life insurance company. Annuity rates given by LIC are on the lower side (those by ICICI Prudential are even lower).

In conclusion, we can say that the high returns from stock markets will be eroded because of high charges and annuity inefficiencies. This article is not to totally condemn the designers of NPS but just to show that more needs to be done. The charges will be reduced only when there are millions of investors in NPS; which will be never if these defects are not rectified. Which brings us to our original point: there is no one to explain all these nitty-gritties to an investor in our target audience. No significant people of our target audience is going to invest in NPS anyway, so all the above rant was for academic purposes only. Government employees, and organized sector workers’ EPF will be replaced with NPS which is good thing.

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I don’t need Life insurance

Everybody and his dog will tell you that you need life insurance. I won’t even go into ULIPs as they are clearly devil incarnate. Even pure term insurance is not what everybody needs. I will summarize below the “reasons” people give for recommending a life insurance policy to you. Even though you don’t have any financial dependants. After a while, it becomes so irritating it is not even funny. The last “reason” is the best: even seasoned, intelligent, honest personal finance writers would tell you this one.

1. Tax benefit :

Are you for real? You get tax benefit on the money that you don’t even receive. It is like quitting your job to save taxes. Allow me to invent a sardar joke:

I once met a sardarji who was standing near a well and tearing and throwing 100 rupee notes in the well. I went to him and asked, “Sardarji, why are you throwing money down the well?”. The inimitable sardarji replied: “Bhai saab, for every 100 rupee note that I throw down the well, the government gives me 30 rupees tax break”.

2. You are worth it:

Yep, I am worth it. That is why I am spending it on a vacation in Switzerland. Or taking my girlfriend (earning well, NOT dependent on me in the least bit) to dinners in  the Zodiac Grill, Taj Mahal Palace. NOT buying a stupid life insurance policy.

3. Premiums are lower if you start young:

Most unsuspecting suckers would fall for this. The beauty of this is: it sounds correct. And the real calculations are a bit complex. Not complex enough that you can’t do them but just enough that you get lazy and get suckered into buying a policy. If you don’t want to go into calculations, here is the crux of the counter argument: the premiums are ZERO when you are not insured. This is lower than any life insurance premium you will come across. These saved premiums can even be invested to earn you more money.

Since the calculations are “complex” you are too lazy to do them. But not to worry, I don’t call myself Business Pandit for no reason. Lets get cracking:

The example considered here is from SBI Life insurance. (The website of LIC is down today). There is this Mr. Sucker, 25 year old in 2009. No dependants. Question is to insure Mr. Sucker for Rs. 10 lakhs up to an age of 40 years(2024). He acquires a dependant (say, Mrs Sucker, and no, it’s not funny) when he is 30 years old(2014). Competition is between the following 2 ideas:

A. Get a life insurance at an age of 25 to take advantage of the “low” premiums. This is a policy for 15 years. Premium is Rs. 1954 per annum. Total premium Rs. 29,310.

B. Remain uninsured until the age of 30, and then get a policy for 10 years. Premium is ZERO for the first 5 years and Rs. 2150 for the next 10 years. Total premium 21,500.

Money saved with plan B is Rs. 7,810. This is not even considering that most of the money was saved in the earlier part of the plan which could have been invested. Skip the following block if calculations bore you.

Let us calculate the total cost of insuring Mr. Sucker in year 2024 rupees. Post-tax pre-inflation rate of return considered is 8%.
Cost of plan A = 1954*(1.08^14) + 1954*(1.08^13) + … + 1954

= 1954*(1.08^15 – 1)/(1.08-1)

= 53055

Cost of plan B = 2150*(1.08^9) + 2150*(1.08^8) + … + 2150

= 2150*(1.08^10 – 1)/(1.08-1)

= 31146

So in 2024 value of rupee, 53055-31146 = 21909 rupees are saved.

Philosophy:

1. Traditional media will not tell you the dangers of life insurance mis-selling. Life insurance companies are big advertisement spenders. Pissing them off is dangerous for any advertisement funded media (newspaper / magazine / TV channel / websites that write their own content). It is only some bloggers who will tell you the truth as we are not dependent on advertisement for our livelihood.

2. Yes India is severely under-insured. Yes we as a society need to encourage life insurance companies. No, this does not mean allowing 420 behaviour in life insurance.

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Forgive and forget

This is about an article Cycles of Regulation by Sanjeev Pandiya in http://www.valueresearchonline.com.

To all appearances, it is written in the context of the economic slowdown. My analysis below assumes this, and is also in the same context.

The article is an adaptation of something called  ‘historical process’, discussed by George Soros in The Alchemy of Finance. The argument is that if there is large scale failure in economy (or any regulated system), all the people involved in the failure are generally destroyed by the regulators (or other kinds of people in power). Let’s call the people who were involved in the disaster the “blunder guys”. They are removed from all decision making by one of the following ways:

  1. Firing them from designations of authority
  2. Not giving credit to them and hence make them unable to do business
  3. Making them so unpopular that they are unable to do business

etc. But the people involved in the failure are exactly the people who are not likely to make that mistake again, because they have learned from their experience. So such people should not be eliminated.

Sounds good if you insist on seeing the best in people. But there are a few flaws in this argument.

Firstly, if the blunder guys are not eliminated, the blunder did not cost them anything. So it becomes a disaster for the world in general, but a pleasant ride for our blunder guys. If they learn anything from this experience, it is that screwing the people is a rewarding practice. They also get the idea that they are rather good at this practice, so next blunder might be even more spectacular.

Secondly, recklessness has genetic risk factors. If many of our blunder guys are genetically predisposed to recklessness, they cannot “learn” to be “reckful” even after a lifetime of experience.

A case in point in this very instance of large scale failure, is the AIG bonus issue. AIG being in deep financial trouble, the US government bailed it out by huge cash inflows. AIG’s bankruptcy would have shaken the US economy (and world economy too) badly so under the circumstances this bailout was not unpopular. But senior management of the AIG showed the same greed and recklessness that landed themselves (and more importantly, everyone else) in trouble. They treated themselves to huge bonuses from taxpayer money.

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