Business Today

Celestial lucre

It's economics for most. For others, the future of commodities is written in the stars.

By Amit Mukherjee | Print Edition: July 15, 2007

When Manoj Jain, a Hyderabad-based bulk bullion dealer, frantically called up Anurag Tripathi, a Mumbai-based commodity analyst on a hot June morning, the question was the usual "Should I buy silver?", as the prices seemed to be showing an upward turn after a flat run. Tripathi warned him not to touch the white metal. "It's likely to show a dip in the next two days. I think you should wait for some more time," he advised. Nothing unusual in that apart from the fact that Tripathi's reasoning was based not on the usual parameters of technical price analysis, global demand and supply, and fluctuations; but on planetary calculations. His advice to Jain: "Venus is sitting in Cancer at the moment. As a result, prices will continue to slip or remain flat. It's worthwhile to wait for a more opportune moment."

Yes, believe it or not, investors and traders actually sometimes suspend their faith in fundamental and technical analysis and put their money where the stars dictate. Sceptics and rationalists will frown at this logic, but Jain followed the advice and did not buy the white metal. Tripathi's is the last word for Jain, whose family has been tracking stars for trade-related advice for more than four generations. Explains Tripathi: "Silver is usually under the influence of Venus and has a moon sign of Cancer. Since Venus is a soft and kind planet, when it passes through Cancer, which is the zodiac of silver, it has a soothing effect on the metal. The impact of a tender planet on a metal usually translates into a fall in its price."

Tripathi and others of his ilk have a sizeable following among commodity traders. "If Venus cruises through a harsh zodiac like Leo, there will be a bullish effect on the metal and prices will shoot up in the short term. Also, if Venus along with Sun passes through Cancer, it will have the same effect," says Tripathi, who predicts commodity fluctuations on an hourly basis on celestial combinations.

Jain says that the planets have seldom let him down. "Predictions based on planetary movements have proved accurate about 80 per cent of the time," he says. And his is not a one-off phenomenon. Says Shyamal Gupta, Head (Institutional Business), Kotak Commodities: "Though most people will not admit it, a large number of market players do refer to astrological calculations and quietly rely on them." Gupta, who was earlier with the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX) as Senior VP (Product Knowledge Mangement and Institutional Business), asserts his faith in planets saying: "Often, such reports are contrary to mainstream market trends based on technical projections. There have been instances when planetary calculations have helped investors make a fortune when the markets appeared to be in a bear grip."

Some institutions also seem to have jumped onto this celestial bandwagon, though not overtly. Tripathi, who is an analyst with the National Spot Exchange, bagged the post primarily on the basis of his ability to gauge the effects of Saturn, Sun, Venus and other stars on commodities.

Here's how it works

Tripathi calls his methodology "astrological projection theory", which, he claims, enables him to read the future direction of commodity prices. "The market trend indications under this method are based on a series of mathematical calculations, which are integrated with other market principles of analysis in a structured format," he explains. The planetary positions are calculated meticulously and are matched with historical trends.

But sceptics also abound. Atul Shah, Head (Commodities), Emkay Commotrade, says most astrological predictions are inaccurate. "It's pure chance when predictions work in someone's favour." Shah analyses commodities based on factors like demand and supply in the US markets, us Federal rates, the manufacturing index and unemployment data, among others, though sometimes, he does rely on nature for his predictions. "For commodities like petro-products, predictions are made after taking into account occurrence of calamities such as hurricanes, which affect production at refineries and transportation."

Having said that, Shah, however, qualifies his apparent lack of faith, saying: "Astrological predictions can be scientific in nature but I doubt if today's astrologers are good enough to decipher celestial messages."

Ashok Goel, a stocks and commodities advisor and owner of Delhi-based Goel Capital, also hedges his bets. "The immediate movements projected by these astrologers are good, but long positioning moves based on these predictions often fail. Sometimes when the two projections-astrological and technical-show some sort of congruence, I have relied on the astro-projections for a kill." But he is quick to add: "You cannot completely rely on them."

Semi-sceptics like Shah and Goel get a riposte from the serene ghats of the Ganga in Benaras. Chanrama Pandey, Head (Astrology Department), Benaras Hindu University, asserts: "Astrology is a vast science that involves physics, mathematics and biochemistry. It's true that very few people have in-depth knowledge of astrology, but that does not make the subject a hoax."

Explaining the influence of planets with the theory of resonance, Pandey says: "There are certain basic elements which are present in all commodities, substances, planets and life forms in the universe. All the objects have particular frequencies that cause them to resonate under the magnetic flux and radiation of various planets depending on the planets' positions." This has a beneficial or a malefic effect on all commodities and life forms on earth. "Astrology has always been a guiding force for the Rs 15,000-crore a day commodities market. The panchangs (almanacs) published by a host of small publishing houses have been guiding businesses in India for years," says Gupta.

The annual turnover of the panchang market is about Rs 5 crore, according to market players. "Our calendars have been in demand since the 60s and today, across India, we sell almost 10 lakh copies of our calendar, which comes out twice a year," says Anand Agarwal, owner of the Benaras-based publishing group Savitri Thakur, which comes out with the famous Thakur Prasad Panchang and Chinta Haran Jantri. "The calendars are not highly priced but the volumes are reasonably good," says Agarwal.

Rationalists, however, dismiss this phenomenon as so much more mumbo jumbo. Says Prabir Ghosh, General Secretary, Science and Rationalists' Association of India: "Astrology and the astrologers are a complete hoax. How can stars alter anything? In the greater interest of society, this profession should be declared illegal." But that is unlikely to shake the deep-rooted belief in the powers of the stars which has been ingrained in the psyche of many Indians over several millennia. By the looks of it, the Indian commodities market will continue to shimmer under the guidance of the heavens.

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