Some investors in India look to the stars for stock advice
The 2008 financial crisis gutted Girish Kumar’s portfolio value by 90 percent. So much for technical and fundamental analysis. The 42-year-old textiles businessman from Jaipur turned to astrology, and now he says the stars guide him to a profit every month.
Kumar is part of a group of Indians who think that analysing the positions of the planets, stars and other celestial bodies can predict the direction of the stock market and suggest which companies and sectors deserve their money.
“There is something in this universe that makes it run. I believe in that,” said Kumar, who pays an astrologer 100,000 rupees a year, about $1,700, for stock market advice.
Though exact numbers are hard to come by, financial astrologers say that they have seen business increase by nearly a third every year since the 2008 financial crisis jolted Indian investors, many of whom are wary of investing in stocks, preferring instead tangible assets such as real estate and gold.
Despite rising disposable income and an emerging middle class, data shows that less than 5 percent Indian households’ savings are invested in stocks. In comparison, an estimated 20,000 tonnes of gold is lying idle with households, according to the World Gold Council.
Astrology for many people around the world is a pastime, an activity that many people deride as a pseudoscience. Still, many Indians visit astrologers, palm readers, numerologists and tarot card readers for advice on marriage and career, and charting the stars, picking auspicious dates that guide millions of people before making all kinds of important decisions.
For thousands of years, astrologers and pundits have been predicting the future by making kundlis, a graphical representation of planets based on the time, date and place of one’s birth. Similar charts and software have evolved over years for stock indexes such as the Sensex and the Nifty.
Astrologer advice on stocks is not as common, but it is popping up more frequently.
Ashok Sharma, who has been investing since 1996, said he makes a net profit of 350,000 rupees annually – thanks, in part, to astrology.
“I have full faith,” said the 56-year-old government employee. “If I have made a loss, it has been an amount which I can live with.”
On the advice of his astrologer, Sharma said he bought 200 shares of Bayer CropScience at around 905 rupees in August 2012 and sold them at 1650 rupees in July 2013, generating a return of around 70 percent in 11 months.
Many websites in India offer a host of services, including daily newsletters and SMS alerts for stock market advice. Software for astrological predictions in general include Leo Star from Future Point that costs 5,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees, while one called Kundli costs 4,700 rupees ($77).
Ajay Jain, CEO of astromoneyguru.com, charges 30,000 rupees to 1.1 million rupees ($490 – $17,970) a year, depending on the investor and the service that he’s offering.
“Main specialty is turning point. We track markets … minute to minute, second to second,” the 49-year-old army colonel said, as he talked about the changing price of Nifty futures July series from his office in Jaipur, where he leads a team of four junior astrologers.
Jain, who writes for several websites and used to regularly predict markets as a guest on Bloomberg TV, studies clients’ horoscopes and pairs their charts alongside the horoscopes of shares and commodities before recommending ideal investment avenues. Premium clients also get telephone time with him.
Other than stocks, Jain and his associates offer advice on foreign exchange rates, gold, oil and even commodities such as mint oil. With more than 3,000 clients including Kumar and Sharma, the astrologer’s business has grown by 25 to 30 percent annually in the last five years.
In an interview to Business Today in April 2012, Jain predicted that the Sensex and Nifty would hit 52-week highs in the first quarter of the 2013 fiscal year. Data shows that Sensex hit a 2-1/2 year high on May 20, 2013.
Tracking the accuracy of astrological predictions beyond asking investors who have their portfolios done is hard because of the personalised advice. What works for one person might not for another.
“For your horoscope, it might not be conducive for you to get into, say, steel-based shares in the year 2013, but with Saturn changing its sign or Saturn becoming favourable for you, it might be conducive for you in 2014,” said Hemang Arunbhai Pandit, founder of Bejan Daruwalla’s Ganeshaspeaks.com.
There are other complicating factors. The effect of Jupiter passing through the first house of any person’s horoscope is different when compared to the same planet passing through the first house of the Nifty’s horoscope, Pandit said.
Market experts, who use fundamental and technical analysis to predict market movements, do not recommend using astrology for stock picking.
“Even if one would have possibly believed in astrology for human beings, I don’t know how you can correlate to stocks … I won’t advise anyone to do that,” said market expert Ambareesh Baliga.
Still, the hard-boiled world of fundamental, quantitative analysis is not entirely shut off from faith. Stock traders during the festival of Diwali participate in about an hour-long Muhurat trading, a session that they consider auspicious because it marks the beginning of the new year on the Hindu calendar.
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