Double-Edged Sword

“It’s a bit like Karma. Every entry on the debit side has an entry on the credit side. There cannot be a single absolute good or bad” said the old man in the sprawling bungalow sitting next to our table while Jigneshbhai, Swami and I were enjoying our coffee.

Today while we were silent, the old man was speaking. I wasn’t quite sure what he was referring to, but he seemed to react to Swami’s exuberance on the markets reaching new 52-week highs this past week. Swami was in a great mood today, and had nothing to complain as he thought about how well his investments were doing. When he has nothing to complain, generally he has nothing to say.

“Everything is so good. Markets are going up, hitting new highs, and they say this is just the start” Swami had said, a few minutes earlier when we were starting our coffee.

The old man in the sprawling bungalow was probably reacting to that, I thought.

“There is nothing like only good” he asserted.

My broker friend Jigneshbhai was listening attentively. When the old man spoke, all of us generally listened. But today Swami’s exuberance got ahead of him.

“How can you say that? Brexit is behind us, the GST bill is going to be passed, earnings have come up well, and the markets are going up. How can all of that be anything but good?” he protested.

Jigneshbhai and I waited but the old man in the sprawling bungalow did not say anything.

Swami directed his gaze at my broker friend, expecting an answer. There was a silence.

Finally knowing well that the old man in the sprawling bungalow doesn’t speak much and whenever he does, it is quite cryptic, Jigneshbhai thought that it might be time for him to speak.

“Well – for every buyer there is a seller. And both of them think they are right. Both of them think what they are doing is good for them.”

My broker friend seemed to agree with the old man. But Swami clearly wasn’t in agreement. And I was confused, trying to digest what both of them were saying.

“But isn’t good earnings good?” Swami revolted.

My broker friend smiled. And after brief thought replied. “Yes – but the buyer of shares is buying because earnings are good, and the seller of the same shares is selling because of the same reason – earnings are good. And both of them think they are right.”

Swami was still not convinced. And I was wondering what’s the truth in this circular argument of my broker friend.

“This is all philosophy. Markets are up and that is good. Nothing else is right. How can there be two sides to that?” Swami finally concluded with a tone of confidence.

My broker friend continued with the same logic that he had earlier.

“Sure – but the buyer of shares is buying because markets are up, and the seller is selling because of the same reason – the markets are up. And both of them think they are right.”

“So what? Who is right? And isn’t it all good?” asked Swami, by now quite impatient, and finally added, with an uneasy tinge of uncertainty “And finally what should I do?”

Despite the tacit explanations of my broker friend, Swami wasn’t convinced. All he knew was markets were up and he felt good about it. My broker friend had tried to explain the duality of markets.

“That’s the thing about economics and finance. No right or wrong, no good or bad in absolute sense.”

But clearly the message of balance was lost in Swami’s exuberance. But it had, nevertheless, raised some doubts in our mind on what’s good and what to do anyway.

And while Swami and I were musing about it, the old man in the sprawling bungalow got up and prepared to leave. And he left us with some food for thought.

“There is no good or bad. Markets are always a double-edged sword. For every greed buying, there is a fear selling. For every greed selling, there is a fear buying. You just need to go beyond both, so that you are never on the edge.”

 

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