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Most people lose money chasing Multi-Baggers. You don't have to.

Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backwards. What happens if all our plans go wrong? Where don’t we want to go, and how might we end up getting there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead — through sloth, envy, resentment, self-pity, entitlement, all the mental habits of self-defeat. Avoid these qualities and you will succeed. Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there.-Charlie Munger

I have worked on the sell side for more than a decade. The fascination that investors have with equity markets morphs into a yearning to capture multi-baggers. When I was a research analyst, I was often asked for stock recommendations where stocks were priced below Rs. 50 or in low single digits. Investors believed that if they could buy a stock cheap (by price, not for what it’s worth) and ride it until the prices rise multi-fold, they would have fulfilled their hunger for returns. The allure of ‘riding a stock’ was enchanting.

This desire to buy stocks reached its peak when stock markets were roaring. I remember investors scampering to buy any ‘low-priced’ small-cap stock in the fabulous small-cap dream run year of 2017. In fact, in the biggest bull market in India yet, from 2003 to 2007, I have seen dealers pitching penny stocks by selecting them alphabetically because whatever they touched went up!

This is a deadly concoction. The allure of fast, high, and easy returns from buying ‘cheap’ stocks. And buying them when most of them have already run up so much they believe that they will continue to.

Charlie Munger, the immortal legend of investing, supplied a great nugget. “Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there.”

What are the critical mistakes in small-cap investing where returns meet their demise?

  1. Buying without understanding: Doing business in emerging markets is challenging. Successful small firms require numerous factors to align – low leverage, profitability, and consistent earnings, among others. These are the hallmarks of "Quality companies," a vital trait in small-cap investing.

  2. Timing the market: Small caps are more volatile due to heightened competition and smaller buffers. Timing these stocks is tricky; after the 2017 peak, nearly two-thirds of small caps fell by over 50%1. Timing these moves is a challenging task.

How do we solve for investing in small caps? Do we even need small-cap investing?

In the last 18 years, the Nifty 50 Index has earned 14.6% CAGR, the Nifty Smallcap 250 Index has earned 16.4% CAGR, and the Nifty Smallcap 250 Quality 50 Index has earned 20.1% CAGR. This means Rs 1 lakh invested in the Nifty 50 Index became Rs 12.7 lakh, in the Nifty Smallcap 250 Index it became Rs 16.7 lakh, and in the Nifty Smallcap 250 Quality 50 Index it became Rs 30.7 lakh.

On the opposing end is the SEBI data which highlights that 90% of traders and investors lose money in stocks. Many of them are ‘trying’ their hand at small-cap investing. How do we know this? The largest shareholding by the public (more than 90% of the float of outstanding shares) is all small-cap companies.

So, what is the ‘right way’ to invest in small caps?

  1. Solve for quality. The most critical element of buying smaller firms is to buy right. Invest in firms that have not borrowed huge sums of money and are able to generate profits consistently. By doing so, as you can see above, you can generate a great investment experience. Quality helps avoid disasters. In a study that we conducted, we found out that poor-quality small caps are 8 times3 more likely to cause a permanent loss of capital versus high-quality firms (less indebted and with a consistent track record of profitability). As Munger said – ‘Tell me where I’m going to die….”

  2. Using SIPs. The small cap index today made a new lifetime high. Starting a SIP at market highs gives an inbuilt, better-behavior nudge. Initial units acquired at high prices will generate low returns in the short term causing one to lower expectations of returns and to stay invested for a longer period. Starting an SIP at market highs can fare better because -

      • Whenever markets fall from peaks, you start to accumulate more units (falling NAVs).
      • These higher units will get the benefit of rising NAVs when the market rises again.
      • Wealth = More units x Higher NAVs

Long-term SIPs in Quality Index have given similar returns irrespective of the market being at peaks or lows and considerably better returns compared to the broader index.4 When markets are expensive, even more focus on quality is needed. When small caps are at all-time highs, the right thing to do is to start a SIP. It’s significantly better than not doing anything.

In conclusion

While investing in small caps

  1. Focus on Quality: Prioritize firms with solid fundamentals.
  2. Use a staggered approach: Invest via SIPs, especially when markets are at all-time highs.

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1 Data Source: Bloomberg, 15th Jan 2018 to 23rd March 2020
2 ,4 Data Source: NSE, DSP April 2005 to Nov 2023
3 Data Source: DSP Data from this presentation
5 Data Source: https://www.dsij.in/article-details/articleid/4888/top-ten-companies-with-highest-public-holding

About the author

Sahil Kapoor, Vice President & Head - Products & Market Strategist at DSP Asset Managers. In his own words, his writing is his "Gurudakshina" - his humble repayment to Mr. Market.


Past performance may or may not be sustained in the future and should not be used as a basis for comparison with other investments. There is no assurance of any returns/capital protection/capital guarantee to the investors in this scheme of DSP Mutual Fund. This note is for information purposes only. In this material, DSP Asset Managers Pvt Ltd (the AMC) has used information that is publicly available and is believed to be from reliable sources. While utmost care has been exercised, the author or the AMC does not warrant the completeness or accuracy of the information and disclaims all liabilities, losses and damages arising out of the use of this information. Readers, before acting on any information herein should make their own investigation & seek appropriate professional advice. All opinions/ figures/ charts/ graphs are as of the date of publishing (or as at the mentioned date) and are subject to change without notice. 

Large-caps are defined as top 100 stocks on market capitalization, mid-caps as 101-250, small-caps as 251 and above. Data provided is as on October 31st, 2023 (unless otherwise specified). It is not possible to invest directly in an index. For complete details on investment objective, investment strategy, asset allocation, scheme specific risk factors and more details, please read the Scheme Information Document, itStatement of Additional Information and Key Information Memorandum of the scheme available on ISC of AMC also available on www.dspim.com. Investors are advised to consult their own legal, tax and financial advisors to determine possible tax, legal and other financial implications or consequence of subscribing to the units of the schemes of DSP Mutual Fund. The statements contained herein may include statements of future expectations and other forward looking statements that are based on prevailing market conditions / various other factors and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. The recipient(s) before acting on any information herein should make his/their own investigation and seek appropriate professional advice

Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully. 

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