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‘Doing nothing worked really well for my equity portfolios’

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In April 2020, when covid hit India and the country went into lockdown, Mint spoke to industry leaders in the financial services space to understand the impact of the pandemic on their personal investment portfolios.

With the passage of a year, we are going back to our respondents to see how things have panned out—and whether there are any lessons for investors. In the second part of the series, we talk to Aashish Sommaiyaa, chief executive officer, White Oak Capital Management.

Sommaiyaa was previously the CEO of Motilal Oswal Asset Management Company, which he left in July 2020.

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In an interaction in April 2020, Sommaiyaa had said that he was 97% invested in equities. This proportion has now come down to 50%, with the balance going into real estate.

“I have been incrementally investing in commercial real estate. The early signs are encouraging; it’s a good play on yield as well as potential growth,” he said. “No one should have the kind of portfolio I have as I said last year. I acted on my own advice and bought yielding assets—commercial real estate.”

His equity portfolio delivered a 60-70% return in the past year, roughly in line with the market; his realty investments yielded a 10% return.

Despite his long experience with financial markets (including seven years at Motilal Oswal MF), Sommaiyaa steered clear of market timing and booking profits.

Nor was he fazed by the market correction, which lowered his portfolio value by 25% last April.

“In March and April 2020, the biggest learning was why not bet on macros and why not take cash calls? If you had perfect knowledge of covid and you took cash on the way down, you would have been left high and dry with your call in the next month or two. A lot of people I have met say that ‘if’ I had removed in February and ‘if’ I had re-entered in April, I’d have done well. I’d just say that when there are two ‘ifs’, the probability of successful execution goes down to 25%. Best not to entertain such ‘ifs’ in hindsight,” he said.

He also plans to invest in international stocks to capture growth opportunities not available in India. Gold, however, is a no-no. “It’s an asset where I can decide to invest only on the basis of some relative macro trends, which I don’t think I am good at,” he said.

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