Move from debt to equity, but gradually

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I started out writing on another topic to avoid adding to the deluge of comments on the COVID–19 nightmare. However, since this is the hottest topic in town, I decided to write about how I, as a person and professional, am reacting to this development.

For one, I am afraid, but not paralysed. In 2015, I had come down with swine flu. I distinctly remember the wave of fear that swept through me till a doctor friend calmed me down. He asked me to rest at home and stay hydrated. I was prescribed some medicines, and my spouse was given a precautionary dose. I remember a reasonably fast recovery. So much so that the only reason I remember the episode at all is because of the diagnosis of swine flu. COVID-19 is a different enemy, which is also much more contagious than swine flu. The same doctor friend has told me that given my fitness level, I am likely to survive even if I do get it. But I need to maintain social distancing in order not to pose a danger to others, including my loved ones. I remain worried about my bedridden elderly father and some other senior members of my family, as they are very vulnerable and am taking all measures to protect them.

On the social distancing front, I have asked the entire staff at my boutique investment advisory firm to work from home except one who, like me, does not have to travel by public transport. The only social distancing I am unable to do is give up my morning walks, which is in an open ground.

Now, turning to the professional side. In case of my own investments, I was in the middle of shifting a reasonable amount of debt mutual funds into equity mutual funds through twelve-monthly systematic transfers. I converted these into 12 systematic weekly instalments so that the conversion to equity is accelerated. This money was anyways slated for equity, as it is part of my long-term goal and the current slump was a good opportunity to push it into equity at a faster pace.

I have given the same advice to my clients who were similarly shifting their debt mutual funds to equity mutual funds. All clients, bar none, have followed the advice. I resisted suggestions from some of my more aggressive clients to invest lump sums into equity immediately when the markets fell sharply on March 9. I suggested the same weekly instalment approach to such clients as well. I don’t have a single client who wishes to reduce equity exposure at this time, so I did not have to do any counselling on this aspect.

It takes courage to invest in equities at a time like this. What we did and how we behaved during the COVID-19 outbreak will be part of our battle stories. I am preparing myself and my clients well to have good stories to narrate. As they say – courage is not the absence of fear – it is the ability to act despite the fear. So even if you are afraid, be courageous.

The writer is a Sebi-registered investment advisor

(A slightly different version of this column first appeared in the Business Standard on March 19, 2020)

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