From farming to fishing out stocks

Juggling cultivation and equity research is a breeze for Porinju Veliyath of Equity Intelligence

For most seasoned stock market professionals, talk of wealth often revolves around mind boggling figures with more zeroes than one can easily fathom.

However, for Porinju Veliyath, CEO and Fund Manager of portfolio management service, Equity Intelligence (India), the definition of true wealth is not determined by money alone.

Son of the soil

“The way I choose to live does not relate to my net worth at all,” he says. “Money is definitely important and a certain amount of wealth does give one a sense of security and comfort. But, for me, it is more important to stay in touch with my roots.”

Veliyath, who grew up in rural Kerala and hails from a very humble background, is a value investor who has made millions for himself and arguably for his clients in multibagger deals. And yet, he is a son of the soil at heart. At his farmhouse at sleepy Potta, near the bustling city of Thrissur, Veliyath cultivates paddy and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The hot food served up at the Veliyath household straight from the farms sans chemicals and preservatives have a refreshing aroma and taste that is nostalgia-inducing, he says. It is this kind of peace and comfort that Veliyath treasures above all.

And nurturing life and cherishing the simple joys it has to offer is the true wealth that Veliyath yearns for and seeks to create. “For me, a heartfelt phone call or an email from a client stating that I have made a difference in their life is a valuable gift,” explains Veliyath.

“It touches me in a way that inspires me to do more, do better.”

As someone who has grown up witnessing hardship and troublesome times, Veliyath firmly believes that being instrumental in changing someone’s life for the better is worth far more to him than money.

“I have changed the financial profiles of thousands of families,” claims Veliyath. “And I am not referring to my clients alone. Every time I travel, I meet people who come up and tell me that acting on one of my stock ideas has made them richer and changed their lives. This is especially true for those who have followed my words almost blindly.”

Changing eras of investing

When Veliyath started out in the wild, wild world of financial investing, the stock market was a very different beast.

“I started my career in the 90s as a floor trader with Kotak at the Bombay Stock Exchange,” reminisces Veliyath.

“It was great fun trading in the outcry system on the floor of the stock exchange. Back then, it was all about meeting people, understanding price movements and getting the vibe of the market right. There was a certain charm to it all”, he says. Today, it is all about algorithm or electronic trading; everything is digital and impersonal, feels Veliyath. “Have the New-Gen systems taken away the spirit of equity investing?” he wonders.

Veliyath’s investing principles follow the the tradition of legendary value investors like Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch as well as Chandrakant Sampath and the late Parag Parikh, who was Veliyath’s mentor.

He claims to have spotted the story of Shreyas Shipping earlier than the market. The share price of this company grew exponentially from ₹20 in early 2013 to ₹700 by July 2015. He is often quizzed about how he gets the courage to invest in oft-neglected mid-cap stocks.

“Courage is what one requires to perform in a circus,” he responds, in his trademark wry humour.

“In the stock market, all one needs to understand is the price and the value of the stock one is investing in.”

Research — anytime, anyhere

Veliyath’s research into stocks starts at the ground level, from the experiences that he is witness to.

Few years ago, when Franklin Templeton’s Executive Chairman Mark Mobius was in Mumbai to speak at a fund managers’ conference, Veliyath found that both five-star hotel rooms and airline tickets were almost sold out.

This led him to invest in hotel stocks, as he famously tweeted: “...Airports have no space, flights are full, hotel occupancy 102 per cent. What is going on? Where is the slowdown? Bought hotel stocks today...”

Veliyath is known for calling a spade a spade. He expresses his opinions on various public and social media platforms, most notably on Twitter.

He does not shy away from taking a stance for what he feels is right through his tweets, even if it means taking on political and corporate bigwigs.

Veliyath also has a close network of value investors that he interacts with, some of whom manage large personal funds . Besides his interactions with corporate management, it is this group that he dips into for advice, research and much-needed camaraderie.

A family man, Veliyath takes every opportunity to rush off to his farmhouse from his Kochi office. There, amid the cackle of geese, the mooing of cows and the gentle wind blows of the paddy, he sits back, breathing in the invigorating aroma of the countryside.

Then he powers his laptop to check on his other love: equities. He lives every way his email sign-off urges us to: Do what you enjoy. Enjoy what you do.

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