He might have been more at home at Geoffreys – his favourite watering hole – but this was Lunch with BS, so Rakesh Jhunjhunwala didn’t have much of a choice. After having agreed to meet up on a weekday, he changed his mind: the volatility in the market was obviously too high to leave unattended. We finally make it to China Garden, his favourite restaurant, on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Anyone who frequents Geoffreys knows that Jhunjhunwala orders his drinks in doubles – large whiskeys, especially during Happy Hours. But the 46-year-old marketman, as much a trader as an investor, says he’s trying to cut down on his drinking and lose some weight and so settles for just a pint of Heiniken beer, writes Business Standard.
“I used to drink everyday ending with D-A-Y, but it’s less now “ he says admitting that he’s very fond of both food and drink. And also that he’s very opinionated. There’s no talk of giving up smoking though. But, Jhunjhunwala, or “bhaiya” as he’s called by his friends and associates, seems to have mellowed somewhat after the birth of his daughter Nishthaa, a couple of years ago. Or, perhaps, it’s the current state of the market that’s sobered him down. We ask for starters – gin chicken and wantons filled with mushrooms – as he holds forth on the market. The perennial bull that he is, he believes the markets are unlikely to trade very much below 9000, unless there is substantial earnings damage adding that “It’s only because the gains of 1992 and 2000 were eroded so fast that people are apprehensive.”
How does he spend his money, estimated at Rs 2,500 crore? “I invest it all, “ says the one-time bear, who says he has far less than people think. He’s bought himself an S-Class Mercedes although he doesn’t drive. And after living with his parents so far, he’s finally moving out into a 4,400-sq feet flat in Mumbai’s posh Malabar Hill area, which he’s picked up for Rs 25 crore. That apart, he has a bungalow in Lonavala. Real estate is not his cup of tea, he claims, although he has invested in two real estate funds and has bought some land in Secunderabad where he plans to construct malls and rent them out: the yields, he estimates, should be in the region of 20-25 per cent.
Having polished off the wantons, we ask for some hot and sour chicken soup as Jhunjhunwala recalls how he made his first million in Sesa Goa – he bought at Rs 27 and sold at Rs 1,400. But having always been fascinated by fluctuations in share prices, he’s also made a pile shorting stocks. “It’s true that I used to be a bear during Harshad Mehta’s time. But in the market you have to be like a chameleon, always changing your colours and going with the trend. You’re lost if try to go against it.” “The market is like a woman, always uncertain, always commanding, always mysterious,” he says, quoting John Templeton. He’s obviously not regretting the fact that he didn’t end up a pilot or a journalist, something he had contemplated after graduating from Sydenham. Instead, he became a chartered account and started dabbling in the market, picking up a lot of tips from Methods of a Wall Street Master by Victor Sperandeo. “Trading is important because it gives you money to invest and keeps your mind sharp; investing teaches you to see the world as it is, rather than what you would like it to be,” he says.
Jhunjhunwala says he hasn’t had much time to read, what with the markets taking up so much time, but has managed to finish Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. “I listen carefully to what Buffet and Soros have to say and I have also learnt a great deal from Radhakrishna Damani, a stock market veteran,” he says. The eternal optimist, he’s betting India will grow at more than 10 per cent in at least one year by 2010. But, he’s also waiting eagerly to trade and invest abroad post-capital account convertibility.
In the meantime, he’s backing entrepreneurs through private equity (P/E) investments, having put approximately 15-20 per cent of his net worth into such ventures. It’s quite a mix: a dredging firm, a school, a security outfit, a radio station, an asset recovery company and a hotel. “We’ve brought in consultants from firms such as BCG and Accenture to help these start-ups,” he says, as we try out the red Thai curry with some noodles and fried rice. Unlike others of the broking and investing fraternity, Jhunjhunwala is not into religion and doesn’t make the customary trips to Shirdi or Tirupati, unless the family’s going. But he does believe “there’s an authority to whom we much bow.”
I ask him whether he thinks insider trading is becoming rampant. “It’s there as much as it is in other markets,” he says contending that insider trading can never be the key to a successful investment. “I don’t think I bought a stock like Titan because of any specific event and I doubt specific events can make a company,” he claims. Foreigners, he feels, would not have been here in the numbers that they are, unless they felt the market was disciplined. “Money from questionable sources account for only a small fraction of the total foreign inflows and it may be better to ease the rules to allow legitimate investors, like hedge funds, to come in.”
We decide to skip dessert as Jhunjhunwala talks of the day when the markets would be so “high” that he will have time to produce a movie, although he doesn’t think there’s anyone like Guru Dutt around today or anyone to match his favourite heroine Waheeda Rehman. Perhaps the film could star Aamir Khan or Amitabh Bacchhan – he’s a fan of both. Till then, it’s the market that will remain his passion.