How to Minimize Investment Returns

假設所有美國企業都是被龐大的「既得利益」(Gotrocks)家族所擁有(這裡指的就是廣大投資人),長久以來家族成員彼此之間和樂融融,且隨著企業成長,擁有財產總值也越來越多。然而這時,想分一杯羹的人卻陸續出現了,他們披著羊皮,口若懸河地開始提供服務。

首先跳出來的是「券商幫手」(Broker-Helpers)。他們開始說服家族成員用技倆擊敗他們的親戚(以特定價格買下其他投資人手上股票,然後以特定價格轉手出售)。幫手的動機就是爲了賺取佣金。以整體來說,該家族還是擁有整個美國企業,這項交易只是重新調整成員之間的持股比例,但家族總體所得卻降低了,因為每年投資利潤還必須扣掉付給「券商幫手」的交易成本支出。(當然,券商幫手並不會告知「交易越頻繁、獲利就越少」的事實,因為唯有增加交易量,才能增加券商的獲利)

很快的,家族成員發現在這項「兄弟鬩牆」遊戲中券商的表現不佳。他們推測可能是不會選股的關係。於是新幫手:「經理人」,打著專業的名號出現了!他們告訴家族成員「光靠自己是無法戰勝其他親戚的!」,家族成員於是僱用經理人來執行交易。只不過,經理人卻是利用增大交易量、並和券商幫忙者一起合作來獲利。這時,原本大餅中很大一部分,都跑進券商和經理人這兩類幫手的荷包裡頭了。

家族成員日益不滿,因為身為出資者的他們,都已經委託基金經理人來幫忙了,可是財務狀況卻愈來愈糟糕。他們推測最大的原因出在於:自己可能沒有挑選好基金經理人的能力。

此時,所謂的「財務規劃師」和「投顧機構」跳出來了,指導既得利益家族來挑選適合的基金。看到這裡,或許會有聰明的投資人會質疑:這個家族既不懂得挑選合適股票、也不懂得找選股高手,他們又如何能期待找到合適的顧問呢?既然既得利益家族還沒想到這個問題,他們的顧問幫手當然不會主動提及。

既得利益家族現在供養了三種昂貴的幫手,但結果卻是每況愈下。就在萬念俱灰之際,第四種幫手出現了:「亢奮型幫手」(hyper-Helpers),他們像家族成員解釋:現有的幫手們(經紀人、基金經理人、投資顧問)因為沒有足夠的激勵,因此都沒能發揮十足的戰鬥力,只要家族成員能大方與亢奮型幫手分享獲利(當然還是要付高額的固定費用),就能戰勝其他親戚。他們的真面目其實是基金經理人幫手,只是換了另一套衣服,上頭繡著一些性感美名,如「避險基金」(hedge fund)或「私募股權基金」(private fund),除了收取固定費用,還收高額績效費用,他們花言巧語說服家族成員加碼。

整個既得利益家族原先固定增加的獲利,在四類幫手分時大餅的「幫忙」下,已經徹頭徹尾成了「既失利益」(Hadrock)家族。幫手軍團有幸賺錢時,能分享巨額獲利;就算笨手笨腳地賠錢的話,家族成員仍需付出巨額的固定管理費。

根據估計,現今整個摩擦成本約佔美國商業獲利的20%。巴菲特開玩笑地諷刺金融機構太過活躍的現況:如果牛頓不是那麼在意在「南海泡沫事件」(18世紀著名的商業泡沫化事件)虧損大筆金錢,那麼他很可能就會發明「第四運動定律」:對整體投資人來說,收益與進出活動成反比;進出越頻繁、收益即越低。

==

以上為節錄,原文如下

How to Minimize Investment Returns
By Warren Buffett

It’s been an easy matter for Berkshire and other owners of American equities
to prosper over the years. Between December 31, 1899 and December 31, 1999,
to give a really long-term example, the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497. (Guess
what annual growth rate is required to produce this result; the surprising
answer is at the end of this section.) This huge rise came about for a simple
reason: Over the century American businesses did extraordinarily well and
investors rode the wave of their prosperity. Businesses continue to do well.
But now shareholders, through a series of self-inflicted wounds, are in a
major way cutting the returns they will realize from their investments.

The explanation of how this is happening begins with a fundamental truth:
With unimportant exceptions, such as bankruptcies in which some of a company’
s losses are borne by creditors, the most that owners in aggregate can earn
between now and Judgment Day is what their businesses in aggregate earn.
True, by buying and selling that is clever or lucky, investor A may take more
than his share of the pie at the expense of investor B. And, yes, all
investors feel richer when stocks soar. But an owner can exit only by having
someone take his place. If one investor sells high, another must buy high.
For owners as a whole, there is simply no magic – no shower of money from
outer space – that will enable them to extract wealth from their companies
beyond that created by the companies themselves. Indeed, owners must earn
less than their businesses earn because of “frictional” costs. And that’s
my point: These costs are now being incurred in amounts that will cause
shareholders to earn far less than they historically have.

To understand how this toll has ballooned, imagine for a moment that all
American corporations are, and always will be, owned by a single family. We’
ll call them the Gotrocks. After paying taxes on dividends, this family –
generation after generation – becomes richer by the aggregate amount earned
by its companies. Today that amount is about $700 billion annually.
Naturally, the family spends some of these dollars. But the portion it saves
steadily compounds for its benefit. In the Gotrocks household everyone grows
wealthier at the same pace, and all is harmonious.

But let’s now assume that a few fast-talking Helpers approach the family and
persuade each of its members to try to outsmart his relatives by buying
certain of their holdings and selling them certain others. The Helpers – for
a fee, of course – obligingly agree to handle these transactions. The
Gotrocks still own all of corporate America; the trades just rearrange who
owns what. So the family’s annual gain in wealth diminishes, equaling the
earnings of American business minus commissions paid. The more that family
members trade, the smaller their share of the pie and the larger the slice
received by the Helpers. This fact is not lost upon these broker-Helpers:
Activity is their friend and, in a wide variety of ways, they urge it on.

After a while, most of the family members realize that they are not doing so
well at this new “beat my- brother” game. Enter another set of Helpers.
These newcomers explain to each member of the Gotrocks clan that by himself he
’ll never outsmart the rest of the family. The suggested cure: “Hire a
manager – yes, us – and get the job done professionally.” These
manager-Helpers continue to use the broker-Helpers to execute trades; the
managers may even increase their activity so as to permit the brokers to
prosper still more. Overall, a bigger slice of the pie now goes to the two
classes of Helpers. The family’s disappointment grows. Each of its members
is now employing professionals. Yet overall, the group’s finances have taken
a turn for the worse. The solution? More help, of course. It arrives in the
form of financial planners and institutional consultants, who weigh in to
advise the Gotrocks on selecting manager-Helpers. The befuddled family
welcomes this assistance. By now its members know they can pick neither the
right stocks nor the right stock-pickers. Why, one might ask, should they
expect success in picking the right consultant? But this question does not
occur to the Gotrocks, and the consultant-Helpers certainly don’t suggest it
to them.

The Gotrocks, now supporting three classes of expensive Helpers, find that
their results get worse, and they sink into despair. But just as hope seems
lost, a fourth group – we’ll call them the hyper-Helpers – appears. These
friendly folk explain to the Gotrocks that their unsatisfactory results are
occurring because the existing Helpers – brokers, managers, consultants –
are not sufficiently motivated and are simply going through the motions. “
What,” the new Helpers ask, “can you expect from such a bunch of zombies?”

The new arrivals offer a breathtakingly simple solution: Pay more money.
Brimming with self-confidence, the hyper-Helpers assert that huge contingent
payments – in addition to stiff fixed fees – are what each family member
must fork over in order to really outmaneuver his relatives.

The more observant members of the family see that some of the hyper-Helpers
are really just manager-Helpers wearing new uniforms, bearing sewn-on sexy
names like HEDGE FUND or PRIVATE EQUITY. The new Helpers, however, assure the
Gotrocks that this change of clothing is all-important, bestowing on its
wearers magical powers similar to those acquired by mild-mannered Clark Kent
when he changed into his Superman costume. Calmed by this explanation, the
family decides to pay up.

And that’s where we are today: A record portion of the earnings that would
go in their entirety to owners – if they all just stayed in their rocking
chairs – is now going to a swelling army of Helpers. Particularly expensive
is the recent pandemic of profit arrangements under which Helpers receive
large portions of the winnings when they are smart or lucky, and leave family
members with all of the losses – and large fixed fees to boot – when the
Helpers are dumb or unlucky (or occasionally crooked).

A sufficient number of arrangements like this – heads, the Helper takes much
of the winnings; tails, the Gotrocks lose and pay dearly for the privilege of
doing so – may make it more accurate to call the family the Hadrocks. Today,
in fact, the family’s frictional costs of all sorts may well amount to 20%
of the earnings of American business. In other words, the burden of paying
Helpers may cause American equity investors, overall, to earn only 80% or so
of what they would earn if they just sat still and listened to no one.

Long ago, Sir Isaac Newton gave us three laws of motion, which were the work
of genius. But Sir Isaac’s talents didn’t extend to investing: He lost a
bundle in the South Sea Bubble, explaining later, “I can calculate the
movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.” If he had not been
traumatized by this loss, Sir Isaac might well have gone on to discover the
Fourth Law of Motion: For investors as a whole, returns decrease as motion
increases.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Here’s the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this section: To
get very specific, the Dow increased from 65.73 to 11,497.12 in the 20th
century, and that amounts to a gain of 5.3% compounded annually. (Investors
would also have received dividends, of course.) To achieve an equal rate of
gain in the 21st century, the Dow will have to rise by December 31, 2099 to –
brace yourself – precisely 2,011,011.23. But I’m willing to settle for
2,000,000; six years into this century, the Dow has gained not at all.

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