Expense Ratios of Mutual Funds in India

It’s hard to find what Indian mutual funds charge their customers to manage their money for them. The so called “expense ratio.” Try to find it on, say, the UTI website, or SBI’s MF website.

Also, since January 2013, SEBI (the market regulator) made it mandatory for all mutual fund houses (AMCs) to offer what is called a direct plan. Every fund offered by every AMC will have a direct plan where the AMC will charge you a lower expense ratio. This is the money saved by the AMC because you went directly to them, and not through your neighborhood bank branch manager or ShareKhan. This lower expense ratio is also hard to find.

My favorite mutual fund research website, Value Research Online (vro.in) also, surprisingly, does not make it easy to find the expense ratio of a particular fund. Other sub-standard sites like Money Control do not care about listing expense ratios at all.

Now, why the fuss about expense ratios?

  1. You do want the cheapest deal, don’t you?
  2. A fund that charges 2.6% vs. a fund that charges 0.15% to manage your money. Compound this difference over 15 years, and you will see what the fuss is about.

So, what’s the solution?

  1. Call the AMC directly. Some of the “customer care” personnel do not know what a “direct plan” is. Tough luck. But this approach typically works.
  2. Go to any list view on Value Research Online’s website — say, funds from HDFC, or all Large Cap Funds, or any other list that can be sorted on expense ratios. This seems to be the only way to find expense ratios in this otherwise great website.
  3. Download the latest factsheet from the AMC website. Most AMCs do have expense ratios buried deep inside the takes-forever-to-download facesheet somewhere.
  4. I hate saying this, but invest in HDFCFund. I am not affiliated in any way to HDFC or HDFCFund, but I found their website (logged in and logged out) the best to use. They list their expense ratios boldly, they offer cheap expense ratios, you have a great range of funds, their index funds are very cheap, and you can do everything online (except for opening the account).

I have been a direct plan customer of UTI, SBI, ICICI-Prudential, IDFC, HDFC, Taurus, and Quantum Mutual Funds. Here’s my order of preference based on the range of funds, past performance of funds, expense ratios, complete online usage, and overall experience.

  1. HDFCFund
  2. IDFC (if they had a Flex STP, they would rank #1 with HDFC)
  3. ICICI-Prudential (Cannot cancel STP’s online)
  4. Quantum Mutual Fund (wish they had a slightly wider range)
  5. UTI, SBI, and Taurus: all of their websites sucked. Funds are ok.

Well, that’s that.

Are we blind?

Or is it just a dark room?

The Nandigram SEZ was supposed to be developed by Indonesia’s Salim Group. Preliminary web searching indicates that Salim group has very close ties with Dow Chemical. And of course, Dow Chemical owns Union Carbide. It’s up to investigative journalism to figure out the extent to which Salim and Dow are bedfellows; what I find most surprising is that this has not found mention in any major column/article or news coverage of any other form anywhere. I read about it in an Arundati Roy interview in Telelka, and after some serious digging on the web, the best I could come up with was that Dow Chemical was actually invited to bid for the Nandigram SEZ. The collective enormity of these two ironies evokes a very deep and profound rage.

And deeper guilt.

Jingoism revisited

People keep telling me how good things will happen to India if we stop complaining and start doing things. I agree. No amount of armchair philosophy and acerbic cribbing can beat direct action on the ground (italics inspired from The Direct Action Day).

NGO’s are doing their bit. Examples like Barefoot College, which do transform lives en masse are inspiring. But the question which bothers me is how viable it is as a career alternative? Can I work full-time for an NGO and sustain a normal family on that income? I doubt that. This has a two fold impact. Either people do it part time, while debugging Java code for their day jobs; or highly inspired people take it up no matter what, and don’t bother about better living conditions for themselves or their families. Why is working for a good cause not a viable career option? Why does primary school teaching pay so less? Why is the media coverage for these causes so restricted.

Let me elaborate on the media point a little (currently obsessed with this “manufacturing consent” phenomenon, apologies). We have seen India Today do their Person of the Year feature on someone who has made a real difference at the grass root level, we see coverage on some NGO’s now and then, we also have sites like Good News India which appreciate and publicize great work done by unselfish people. But if you compare the number of articles, features, headlines, cover stories, etc. covering the BPO/IT sector, covering their glamor, how-to-get-in-tips, going ga-ga over the global economy, etc. with the miniscule amount of coverage that NGO’s get, you know why people are not inspired that much. But the reason for this difference in media treatment need not be attributed to Chomskian filters, but can be easily attributed to the fact that NGO-type of work is still not a viable career option for a fresh graduate who is looking for a job.

Currently our manufacturing, government, political, transport, financial and other non-IT sectors are not as lucrative as the BPO sector. The consequences are obvious – we are just losing a huge chunk of educated quality work force, who instead of working on things which do matter to us, are selling long distance calling cards to someone who hates them in some godforsaken place. We have to see whether the money they are bringing in to India is comparable to the benefits that’d have accrued over a long term had they decided to put in their brains and energy into working for India directly. I think the latter would yield better results had it paid as much as the call centers. This is where some amount of Jingoism comes in. I beat my chest and scream that we should not be licking ass, and should be kicking it instead, and I hope that someone (including me) hears me and does something worthwhile.

But why are non-IT sectors not as lucrative as the IT sectors? I don’t know fully. Needs more academic study.

Of course, all of it is economics. The Brits looting like common robbers, the Americans doing it in the grab of neo-colonialism, the Elite taking horse riding lessons (couldn’t resist this dig S), the Media raving about movies like Page 3, and almost everything that results in anything is attributed to economics. So, if everything were economics, where does government policy come in? why can’t free markets rule the world? Why do we need countries, governments, organizations, unions, etc. taking care of people who cannot take care of themselves. I think that is what separates us from the free market loving animals of Masai Mara. We try to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. And when that doesn’t happen, we cry foul. We cry foul because, according to us, exploitation of the not-so-intellectually-or-technologically equipped class of people is not fair. Not abiding by live-and-let-live is unfair. But, free markets do have their place. Aggressive economic thinking resulting in great profits is a great thing. People who can do it should be allowed to do it. But if that starts happening at the cost of an entire set of people, an entire culture, across centuries to alter the mind-set of generations, I have a problem with it.

I am a jingo alright.

Tirade

My striving for abstractness and ambiguity is all gone and the real context emerges. Next time, I will write in even more cryptic tongue using only pronouns and articles.

With that said – now for the real discussion.

1 – Why do we assume that the British were any better than Chengiz Khan or Muhammaad Ghazni? They did build railways, educational institutions, and postal departments – but we need to investigate why they did it? Was it to help us? Beeeep!! Wrong answer.

Railways to transport goods to and from ports efficiently, educational institutions to encourage the elite Indians (who were already licking the British ass) to study and become employees of the British Raj, and postal departments to serve some similar purpose, its plain economics again. We are dealing with more sophisticated robbers who knew that pointless killing was …well, pointless.

Show me one project that the British started to help the Indian poor of that time, did they build dams to irrigate lands? did they start mass education programs at the primary school levels? Did they bring in the British army from the UK mainland during partition to prevent bloodshed? Did they do anything at all for the Indians?

They just packed their bags and left when they thought that the time had come to leave. It just didn’t make any economic sense to stay back. The logistics was getting too expensive, Gandhi was getting on their nerves, etc. But mostly it was economics. They had looted enough, and the entire colonial model was failing, and it was high time.

Now again, there is this perception that the British were a “gentlemanly” class who were somewhat better rulers than say Germans or Japanese who would’ve fucked us even more. I have seen many people feel good about how we were ruled by British, and we were able to develop an English educated elite who could use the language superiority to serve the British/West after independence too. But were they really that good, the British?

Isn’t it possible that they were humane because they were entirely dependent on the Indian working class at that time to get their jobs done? They just couldn’t afford to have Mangal Pandeys rising all over the place, and screwing up their supply chain, army, etc. Personnel from the British Indian army were fighting British wars in Afghanistan, South East Asia, and other places. Oh, you couldn’t kill their brethren in Uttar Pradesh and expect them to fight your battle for you, can you? The Gentlemanly touch was just to ensure that the average worker wouldn’t complain. The extreme complaints were dealt with quite effectively in Kaalapani.

Also, the whole English language thing. The gift from heavens which have made us oh-so-competitive in the international market. I wonder how the French, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, etc. are competing in the same market? Do you really think that in this age, language matters? And imagine how gleeful they must have felt when they saw that they could still use their left over labor in India for back office work. Who do you think is complaining about outsourcing in the US/UK, and when is this complaining happening? Right about now, and not any earlier. I think that the 70s and 80s management of US/UK fucked up a lot with a lot of misplaced attention at other things (communism, nuclear apocalypse, etc.) to actually see where the real problem was brewing. Their problem of concern should have been how their delicately established setup of the third world was breaking up, and some of them were catching up, and they just didn’t notice. So, the current Indian growth is better attributed to their complacence during 80s than their benevolence in the 50s.

2 – Most of our middle class BPO employees speak in an American accent, they know about the fifth amendment, they know about the civil war, Martin Luther King Jr, Mardi Gras, the New Jersey Turnpike, etc. And its not just America the country; we are clued into the inner workings of that country. And whats happening there – they ask you whether you are from Kerala? I wonder how they would react if they knew that the current government is held by the Communist Party of India, and Kerala, ironically is Communist too. Do they really know about the problems which North East India is facing? Do they know about the multi-facedness of Indain Cinema? Tsk tsk. And, please talk to a few people from the Mid-west whether they know about the capital of India. Now, how do I know about the Mid-west? Well, I am a product of this fucked up system as well. Sigh.

3 – We need more than just elevated thinking to get us where we should be, much more. We need a cultural revolution. I am with Samba on this. We have been screwed so thoroughly – by the media, by the continuous brainwashing, entire generations are screwed; and to get out of our awe of the white skin, to develop a little bit of self respect and sustain our identity – it does need a revolution of sorts. Elevated thinking will just make this neo-colonialism more efficient. And that wont help us one bit.

And I haven’t even touched on how the global corporate culture has entered and ingrained itself with the Indian corporate scene. And as Soumen said in this post, MacCaulay is back to taste native blood again. Large scale media manipulation is just starting. How many indigenous products are advertised on TV now. Vicco Vajradanti? Oh no! its Pepsodent time now. More on this later.

Long time

It’s been a long time since they left us. It’s been somewhat long since we allowed them to send stuff back to us again. Now, we are also doing things for them at half price. We love their football, we love their movies, we love their currency, we love their literature, some of us even try to speak like them, notwithstanding that we are already speaking their language.

It hurts.

Why?

I don’t know. In spite of sustained efforts, I cannot rationalize a few core principles of my life – this hurt being one of them. This inability used to bother me a lot before. It bothers me even now, though not as much. But the hurt still remains.

Why again?

After all, my being here is just a geographic coincidence. I could’ve been anywhere, anyone. Now, the I-could-have-been-anyone thought is a digression worth its own space, and it will get some here later. So, I could’ve been anywhere, and would I be lamenting about my current home’s state of affairs today? As an academic, maybe I might have, and the hurt would have remained academic. But it wouldn’t have hurt this deeply. This one cuts deep. There is something that ties me to my origins, to my people; Part hereditary, part cultural, part self, part randomness: all of these contribute. As for now, I have succumbed to faith and don’t question my origins, I am just thinking of the next level problems. It won’t surprise me if I, in the future, succumb to other faiths as well. Leaps of faith seem to be inevitable.

So, what is the occasion? Oh yes, we are free! Free as in entitled to free beer? Free to install software? Free to make money? Free to think? Free to think fair? Free to rule ourselves? Free to defend ourselves? Free to participate in the the economics of the flat world? Free to do what we want?

What is it that we want? We wanted to be free. Now what?

Magnanimity and Leadership

I haven’t been able to live up to a few of my own magnanimous gestures at times. Having given myself more credit than I deserve, I have fought hard to live up to my promises; sometimes, to others, but often, to myself. I am just one person, responsible for my own actions, and the only one to bear the consequences.

Imagine Gandhi, Nehru, and others, who took a few such magnanimous decisions for 700 million Indians. Was Gandhi fair in asking the Indian Government to give Pakistan the money India technically owed them, so that they could fund their on-going proxy tribal war in Kashmir? Was he trying to be fair because India had to be fair to her neighbours? or was he exhibiting some personal gesture to himself? – that the people he leads are always fair to others. What statement was he trying to make?

Was Nehru fair in asking India to be secular? Did he (or they, the Congress) base the decision that allowed Indian Muslims to stay in India, on his own principles or on a more collective mindset of India? Pakistan was enforcing the Hindu exodus from its land and Nehru decided that India will accept them all, and there would be no corresponding enforcement from the Indian side. In a way, its like offering the other chin…..

Now, on the history per se, I have no strong opinion because I am not really privy to what exactly transpired then. The facts, the thoughts, the opinions; I have to read a lot more history before I am even close to giving my own opinion….But the point in question here is about whether leaders have the rights to be magnanimous, when all they are implicitly entrusted with is just the main cause. There are two “causes” here –

– The issue where magnanimity is being shown – India being secular (Nehru), Give Money (Gandhi)
– The issue on which leaders were made – Independent India (Nehru, Gandhi)

I might be mistaken here; these might not be two separate entities. Independent India might subsume Secular India or Internationally Fair India. But from first looks, it appears that some form of constitution had to be in place before the leaders took these decisions. But of course, I am grossly overlooking the urgency of the situation in 1947. The extreme nature of Partition might make these arguments on academic aspects of leadership look trivial; or to some extent, even offensive.

But in less extreme cases where leaders make choices for their “subjects,” do they have the right to be magnanimous on issues that are out of their leadership domain in a strict sense.

At a personal level, when individuals make commitments, stick to their signatures, their word, their promises, do they reckon with all the other agents who actually have to carry out their word? Agents like emotion, selfish instinct, reflex, malleable thought, maturity, micro-evolution, etc. Leadership at the micro level seems to be so hard……I wonder about Gandhi…

What started out as a blog….

ended up being this. Do check out Cosma Shalizi’s Notebooks. What amazes me is the amount of reading a person can do. And the diverse range of reading interests anyone can hold. This is by far the widest range of reading that I have seen anyone accomplish.

I wonder where time passes us by. Passed me by. I need to rework my schedule.

In other news, Aishwarya Rai has been asked to present an Oscar. Why her? and why this? Of course, she is beautiful, artsy, speaks good English, hazel eyes, brown hair, high cheek bones, the works. First, Cannes, and now Oscars. I guess she is just what the media wants; here, as well as in the west. The clueless reader from Bangalore will be proud about how India has finally arrived on the World Stage and fold Bangalore Times, finish her donut, exit a Starbucks like coffee shop, and don her headphones, and become Melanie again.

I am really not sure what I am lashing out against, but somewhere, it hurts. It also feels bad cuz the hurt is not fully backed by logic. And the hurt is not strong enough to change the way I am. I can’t find a consistent set of theories regarding why things are happening the way they are. I can’t reconcile my own desire for pizzas with my empathy for the Tsunami victims. I hate it that I take refuge in the fact that Gandhi used to be a fashionable dandy during his London years, and only became the Gandhi we know after his stint in South Africa. Its a screwed mix of thoughts, and needs a lot of figuring out before real plans of actions are charted out. Of course, I can’t wait for all that…..I need some food now, and thats where Pizza Hut comes in. I am waiting for the sensualist in me to die….

Manufacture of Consent?

Currently a very heated discussion is on in the IITB.general newsgroup here at IIT-Bombay. The topic is somewhat pertaining to the lack of academic and research interest of undergraduate (UG) students (as compared to postgraduate (PG)), and their building interest in extra-curricular activities. Replying to the “IIT-B.Tech-praised-by-press-across-the-world” comment by some UG, one of the professors replied that both the Indian and the US presses are biased and self serving, or serving some kind of big-brother of sorts. These presses want go glorify BTech education in IITs, and not bother about MTech and PhDs, and esp any form of research conducted in IISc, and IITs. Why is it that we never hear about IISc in the Indian Media? Is it cuz it is sub-standard? Think again!

I have put the entire text of the professor’s IIT newsgroup posting in this blog entry. Make sure you read the last section about Indian Media, and self-censorship. The posting was titled “Mysterious sedition on part of Indian Press,” and here is the full text.

After reading that, followed by summaries and excerpts of Manufacturing of Consent, I was put into some deep thought regarding what I personally think are cool in this world. Here are a few questions that I asked myself:

– Why do Star Movies/HBO rarely play non-American movies (with English subtitles) ?

– Same applies to TV series on AXN/StarWorld/etc

– Why do I know the Fifth Ammendment of the US consitution? (courtesy TV series – The Practice)

– Why do I care about Mardi Gras?

– Why am I charmed by NYC so much?

– Why do I understand the American accent better than I understand, say British?

– Whatever happened to Varsha Bhosle and Rajeev Sreenivasan and other columnists of that ilk on Rediff.com?

– How come European sites never get listed as frequently on Google’s search results as are American sites. Trust me, this is more common than you’d notice, and you wouldn’t notice it probably cuz of the what you are reading right now.

– etc. etc.

I do not deny the non-American influence on me, and of course, the native Indian/Kannada/Bangalore/Family influence on me is perhaps the strongest; but the proactive pro-American influence on my thinking, actions, personality and what I spread as my sphere of influence on others, is incredibly high, done subtly and is very effective – startling!!

I really need to rework myself. Never knew that I, as an individual, had a ghost of an elder brother.

The Jackfruit Letter

The Indian Railways is so fascinating. Mesmerising legacy, mindboggling scale, unbelievable efficiency and of course, the romance of a train journey. My earliest memories of train fascination is that of Gopi: a very close friend from high school days. He used to rattle the starting and ending stations of _all_ train names from the Railway Timetable. Believe me, I used to actually quiz him with that book.

There is this very cooL urban legend about Gopi that made its rounds in our high school corridors (I think its due to Dhruva, but he might claim innocence, like always ;-> ). Legend has it that when some friends had been to Gopi’s place to call him for a customary game of cricket. Gopi and his brother were all dressed up and ready to go somewhere. They were pestering their father about how they would be late for some train and would miss it and all. The unsuspecting friends assumed that their pal was going out of station or something, and decided not to include him in the next day’s game. But it so turned out later (much to their amazement) that the party was going to the Bangalore City Railway Station not to travel soemwhere, but to check out some train that would halt there for some half an hour, and had some “cool” technical specification!!!. Whoa, now, that is a true enthusiast, considering that we were around 12 that time, and his brother was barely 10. Imagine being 10 and being interested in Railway Gauges. Anwyays, thats just the legend. I wonder if Gopi still has his passion for Indian Rail.

Of all the longest-fastest-oldest of the Indian Railways, I find Bangalore only once; The Bangalore Mail has supposedly been running since 1864! If you did visit that page, do check out the listing of speciality food items in specific stations. I am pleased to see the very delicious Maddur Vade listed (and not pathetically called “vada”, but sticking to the Kannada “vade”). I also feel quite sad that I missed out on all the Lonavala and Khandala station goodies during my train rides between Mumbai and Bangalore on the very normal and quait and non-famous Lokamanya Tilak Express. Will make it a point to eat the Chikis and the Burfis the next time around. Gosh, in retrospect, flights are somewhat boring.

As for the title of this posting, its worth checking out the Jackfruit Letter. Quite funny.