Are profits written in the stars? These Indian websites think so
Most investors analyse spread sheets, pore over corporate fundamentals or rely on complex algorithms to pick the best stocks. But in India an increasing number of stock-pickers are using astrology and numerology to determine where to put their money.
India boasts several websites that make the most of the country's fascination with astrology including Astrostocktips.in, Ganeshaspeaks.com and Astromoneyguru.com.
These offer a range of "services" to clients for a subscription fee, from daily SMS messages on stock calls to bespoke services for investors, alerting them to planetary movements that could favor certain stocks and sectors. A substantial part of the more orthodox asset management industry relies on complex algorithms to take a "quantitative" approach to stock-picking and has a rate of return of investment of about 3-5 percent.
Abhishek Dhawan, the main astrologer at AskGanesha.com, a popular website offering predictions on the financial sector, as well as other areas of life, love and health. He told CNBC on Tuesday that thousands of people visited his website every day and the number was increasing.
"We are seeing more and more people come to the website, we offer free daily horoscopes online and there is no subscription fee here, people come to us either directly or they call us or contact us online and they pay per consultation."
Perhaps not surprisingly, astrology is not sanctioned by India's stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), which responded to what it saw as a proliferation of astrological financial websites by warning investors to "not be guided by astrological predictions on share prices and market movements."
Defending his industry, Dhawan told CNBC that both the choice to engage in the services and outcome of financial astrology is down to the client. "It depends on the horoscope of the particular person whether an investment or share is good for them or not."
"Sebi doesn't regulate financial astrology just as it doesn't regulate gambling, but financial astrology is just like any other market – some people will make money and some people will lose. It depends on the individual horoscope of the person and we look at this for our clients."
Another high profile financial astrologer is Col Ajay, aka "AstroMoneyGuru," who runs a website of the same name. He told CNBC that traders and investors come to him for the "astro technical" view of the markets and pay between 5,000 rupees ($80) and 110,000 rupees ($1,760) depending on the level of service they require.
"There are large numbers of my followers / students at global levels," Ajay told CNBC on Wednesday. "[The number of] paying clients are in four digits…Every paying client first follows me for a minimum of four to six months, if they then find [my predictions to be] correct then only then do they come for paid services or research."
Ajay gave CNBC some of his predictions too, that next year would be a "historical year for the U.S. economy" and that the Asian economies India, China and Japan would "see sharp progress" in 2014. In Europe, meanwhile, England, Germany and France would see a recovery but this would take longer in Spain, Greece and Italy.
For commodities traders, Ajay said that gold would rebound in the second half of 2014, copper would see a "great positive move" while soybean and wheat crops would have a "great" year in 2014.
Responding to Sebi's warning against using financial astrologers, Ajay said he believed every financial astrologer should have a "basic knowledge of finance and Masters degree in commerce or economics, as well as a perfect understanding of the capital market." For his part, Ajay has a Masters degree in Economic administration and financial management from India's Rajasthan University.
Sebi's judgment on financial astrology has not deterred investors from placing their faith and investment success in the predictions of well-known astrological personalities like Ajay and, for all its economic growth, India is a country that still clings to astrology in its wider culture.
When couples plan to marry, for example, astrological charts are often commissioned by their respective families to see whether the match is auspicious, or not.
Other financial astrologers look at the founding date and location of a company to gauge how successful or not it might be.
One Indian website, Astrostocktips.in, is keen to promote its long-standing position in financial astrology.
"Astrostocktips.in has been tracking stock markets for the last 40 years," the website notes, adding that "all day-to-day activities in this universe including stock market [sic] are influenced by movement of planets/nakshatras in the zodiac."
(Read more: Forget profit, new fund trades on superstition)
The website insists that "American studies have found that there are three basic factors which are responsible for the movement of stock markets i.e. astrology, technicals and fundamentals," and that "no stock of any sector would move upward unless that particular sector is getting astrological support." Furthermore, Astrostocktips claims to have a success rate of 85 percent in terms of picking sector and stock picks which outperform over a specific time.
However, the disclaimer on the company's website warns: "Readers using the information contained herein are solely responsible for their actions. The information is based on our personal assesment (sic)/judgement (sic) and we shall not be liable for any losses and damages."
"Millionaires don't use astrology, billionaires do"
The famous quote by JP Morgan on astrology – "Millionaires don't use astrology, billionaires do" -- is reputed to have been said by the founder of the bank that carries his name after he took his astrologer's advice and decided not to board the Titanic on its fateful maiden voyage. While it might be tempting to scoff at astrological superstitions in India, the global industry around so-called "astro-finance" appears to be growing.
Financial astrologers also defend what they say is an ancient, scientific practice, stating that just like other financial models used to predict stock market movements, financial astrology uses mathematical methods to arrive at its forecasts. Like the websites purveying their astro-financial services, they are also keen to point out that no predictive tool works consistently well all the time.
After all, the exponents of astro-finance add, other methods of financial market analysis are based on the assumption that markets are rational when they often behave in irrational ways.
Software developers have created products that seek to do the planetary number crunching for investors, bypassing the need for an astrologer. One financial software product, Market Analyst, has released an edition of its financial market analysis software -- with an additional astro-finance tool.
Without a hint of cynicism, the software says it allows investors to analyse "natal charts," planetary and lunar movements and other astronomical features that could have an effect on markets.
Despite the naysayers, several high-profile financial astrologers such as Ray Merriman in the U.S., of Merriman Market Analyst (MMA) or Christeen Skinner in the U.K., who says her services are regularly sought out by entrepreneurs, traders and businesses.
"Back in 2004 I released a book that proved disastrous," Skinner told CNBC. "I, along with other people in the profession, predicted that there would be banking collapse and for a few years we were ridiciuled until it actually happened," she told CNBC on Tuesday.
"Then suddenly people though "well if the economists didn't see this, perhaps we should listen to them [astrologers] aswell'," Skinner added. She said she cannot, and does not, give people advice on how to invest "which would be wrong" but "can say which sectors are likely to see advances" which has prompted long-standing relationships with traders dealing in specific stocks or commodities," he said.
"Entrepreneurs and businesses are very interested in what we've got to say. I've had fashion businesses asking me to predict trends coming up and people starting their businesses to known when best to launch….I might well get it wrong, but I can say, 'Look, here are the times I have got it right."
- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt