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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Does the internet help or harm Indian value investors?

As any investor in Indian equities would know, reporting and disclose practices are not,err, 'top notch' in most Indian companies(barring the L&Ts, Infosys's and MNCs). Companies would not disclose much information barring the periodic annual report. But now thanks to IT revolution and SEBI regulations, investor can now view the following information.
  1. Viewing annual report in PDF-even if company does not host it on its own website. The Indian postal system is (and some companies's posting practices are) such that even registered shareholders may not get copies of their annual report-let alone any prospective investor who requests a copy. Thankfully, SEBI ordered the stock exchanges to host a copy of the electronically filed annual report(w.e.f FY 2009-10) on their websites. Now, the investor need not depend on the company's whims and fancies for getting the annual report
  2. For those companies which post the information(not mandatory so far)
    1. Conference Call Transcripts
    2. Presentations(quarterly results, 'About Us' etc)
    3. Quarterly results(this is also available on stock exchange websites)
    4. Business information like products etc.
  3.  For online clients of brokerage houses
    1. Research Reports
    2. Trading calls AND rationale behind them
    3. Access to analyst meet reports
  4. Blogs(both individual investors and famous names)
The flip side of all this is 
  1. Easier to 'pump and dump' stocks as the message board of any finance website would show
  2. Information overload for investors flooded with information
  3. Disadvantaging investors with slower/no internet connections
  4. Disadvantaging non net-savvy investors
  5. Rumours can now go faster
  6. Tendency to ignore prospectuses/mutual fund annual reports:- Since these are available online, the regulators allow the issuers to send the hard copies only to those investors who opt for them. As discussed by Richard Thaler in his book 'Nudge', the response rate under an opt in system would be low due to inertia. And investors who may have read something sent to them, may not want to read those many pages of electronic documents on screen. 
 For me personally, the advantages out weigh the disadvantages. But that is because I'm net savvy, have access to a fast net connection, do not go on rumours, reason for myself, and can reasonably cope with information overload(Ok I'm too modest to continue further!!).  For someone on the other side of the digital divide, the case may well be reverse.

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