一个实业家的诞生——读巴菲特的信(9)

2011-10-22 22:21阅读:

一个实业家的诞生——读巴菲特的信(9)

Barrons

关于保险行业

巴菲特在1967年开始进入保险行业。他对这个行业有着深入的见解。保险业的资金也支撑了他进一步投资。保险资金的特点在于无利息,甚至是负利息。当保险亏钱时,与整体的浮存金(Float)相比,亏钱百分比很小,常常低于美国国债利息,所以还是划算。而当保险赚钱时,
就相当于负利息,也就是借别人的钱,别人还倒贴给你利息。所以保险是否赚钱不是最重要的,浮存金才是关键。通过浮存金,巴菲特获得了无利息甚至负利息的杠杆,提高了投资的业绩。2009年伯克希尔·哈撒韦的股东权益为1360亿美元,保险浮存金(float)为620亿美元,相当于1.46的负利率杠杆。

SAFECO probably is the best run large property and casualty insurance company in the United States. Their underwriting abilities are simply superb, their loss reserving is conservative, and their investment policies make great sense.

SAFECO可能是美国运营最好的大型财产事故保险公司。他们的承保能力一流,赔款拨备保守,投资策略非常明智。

SAFECO is a much better insurance operation than our own (although we believe certain segments of ours are much better than average), is better than one we could develop and, similarly, is far better than any in which we might negotiate purchase of a controlling interest. Yet our purchase of SAFECO was made at substantially under book value. We paid less than 100 cents on the dollar for the best company in the business, when far more than 100 cents on the dollar is being paid for mediocre companies in corporate transactions. And there is no way to start a new operation - with necessarily uncertain prospects - at less than 100 cents on the dollar.

SAFECO比我们的保险业务好很多(虽然我们坚信我们在某些方面远好过平均水平),好过我们自己所能发展的水平。同样,也远好过我们通过谈判购买控股权所能得到的业务。而且,我们对SAFECO的购买价格远低于帐面价格。对这个业界最好的公司,对每一美元的帐面资产我们支付了不到一美元的价格。与此同时,一些平庸的公司在企业并购中的价格远超过帐面价格。用少于帐面价格的花费,根本无法创建一个新的业务,而且新建业务还必然有不确定的前景。

Of course, with a minor interest we do not have the right to direct or even influence management policies of SAFECO. But why should we wish to do this? The record would indicate that they do a better job of managing their operations than we could do ourselves. While there may be less excitement and prestige in sitting back and letting others do the work, we think that is all one loses by accepting a passive participation in excellent management. Because, quite clearly, if one controlled a company run as well as SAFECO, the proper policy also would be to sit back and let management do its job.

当然,拥有少数股东权益,我们无权指导或者影响SAFECO管理策略。但是,我们为什么要这样做呢?记录显示,他们自己管理的运营比让我们来管还更好。虽然撒手不管,让别人去做事不够令人激动,也缺少声望,但我们认为,这是接受被动参与优秀的管理层所能失去的唯一东西。因为,非常清楚,如果一个人完全拥有一个像SAFECO这样运营良好的公司,合适的策略也是撒手不管,让管理层自主管理。

1978年给伯克希尔·哈撒韦股东的信)

Insurance companies offer standardized policies which can be copied by anyone. Their only products are promises. It is not difficult to belicensed, and rates are an open book. There are no important advantages from trademarks, patents, location, corporate longevity, raw material sources, etc., and very little consumer differentiation to produce insulation from competition. It is commonplace, in corporate annual reports, to stress the difference that people make. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. But there is no question that the nature of the insurance business magnifies the effect which individual managers have on company performance. We are very fortunate to have the group of managers that are associated with us.

保险公司提供标准化保单,可以被任何人复制。他们惟一的产品就是承诺。执照不难获得,保费是公开的。保险公司在商标、专利、地点、企业的悠长历史、原材料来源等方面没有重要的优势。他们很难把自己与竞争对手区分开来。在企业的年报中,常常强调人的作用。有时候,这是事实,有时候不是。但是,毫无疑问,保险业的本质放大了个别经理人对于公司业绩的作用。我们很幸运,拥有一群好的经理人。

1977年给伯克希尔·哈撒韦股东的信)

Nevertheless, we believe that insurance can be a very good business. It tends to magnify, to an unusual degree, human managerial talent - or the lack of it. We have a number of managers whose talent is both proven and growing. (And, in addition, we have a very large indirect interest in two truly outstanding management groups through our investments in SAFECO and GEICO.) Thus we expect to do well in insurance over a period of years. However, the business has the potential for really terrible results in a single specific year. If accident frequency should turn around quickly in the auto field, we, along with others, are likely to experience such a year.

但是,我们相信保险业可以是一个很好的业务。保险趋向于以非常大的比例放大管理人才(或者缺乏管理人才)的效果。我们有很多经理人,其才干不仅得到证实,而且正在不断增长。(而且我们通过投资SAFECO GEICO 而间接获得了两个真正优秀的管理团队的权益。)所以,我们预计未来一些年将在保险行业取得好业绩。但是,这一行业有潜在的可能性在某一年取得非常糟糕的业绩。如果汽车领域的事故频率突然升高,我们和同行业者都有可能遭遇这样糟糕的一年。

1979年给伯克希尔·哈撒韦股东的信)

保险行业的问题

在极高通胀背景下,保险行业受到双重挤压。一方面,保费增长跟不上赔付成本的快速增长。另一方面,投资的债券又在通胀加息后损失惨重。为了不被迫卖掉债券而实现损失,各个保险公司宁肯赔本卖保险,也要维持保费收入增加,从而引发价格战并进入了恶性循环,加重了保险业的问题。美国保险业过去的问题,对于有可能进入高通胀时期的中国,也有借鉴意义。

We estimate that costs involved in the insurance areas in which we operate rise at close to 1% per month. This is due to continuous monetary inflation affecting the cost of repairing humans and property, as well as“social inflation”, a broadening definition by society and juries of what is covered by insurance policies. Unless rates rise at a comparable 1% per month, underwriting profits must shrink.

我们估计我们的保险运营所涉及的成本正以每月1%的速度递增。这是由于持续的货币通胀影响了医治人和修复财产的成本,以及“社会通胀”,即社会和陪审团对什么是保险应该负责的定义越来越宽泛。除非保费能以类似每月1%的速度增加,承保盈利必然减少。

1977年给伯克希尔·哈撒韦股东的信)

The insurance industry’s underwriting picture continues to unfold about as we anticipated, with the combined ratio (see definition on page37) rising from 100.6 in 1979 to an estimated 103.5 in 1980. It is virtually certain that this trend will continue and that industry underwriting losses will mount, significantly and progressively, in 1981 and 1982. To understand why, we recommend that you read the excellent analysis of property-casualty competitive dynamics done by Barbara Stewart of Chubb Corp. in an October 1980 paper. (Chubb’s annual report consistently presents the most insightful, candid and well-written discussion of industry conditions; you should get on the company’smailing list.) Mrs. Stewart’s analysis may not be cheerful, but we think it is very likely to be accurate.

保险行业的承保情况如我们预期的一样发展。综合成本率(译者注:综合成本率是指:综合成本,即理赔费用与发生的赔款总合,与相应的已赚保费的比率)从1979年的100.6%上升到1980年估计的103.5%。几乎可以确定,这个趋势将会继续,保险行业的承保损失将在1981年和1982年逐渐显著增加。想要了解为什么会这样,我建议读一读Chubb公司的Barbara Stewart写于1980年10月的文章,这是一篇对财产事故险行业竞争态势的出色分析。(Chubb的年报一直呈现了最深刻、坦率的文笔流畅的行业情况讨论。你应当加入其公司邮寄名单。)Stewart女士的分析可能不乐观,但我们认为很有可能是准确的。

And, unfortunately, a largely unreported but particularly pernicious problem may well prolong and intensify the coming industry agony. It is not only likely to keep many insurers scrambling for business when underwriting losses hit record levels - it is likely to cause them at such a time to redouble their efforts.

不幸的是,一个未被报道,但却非常有害的问题有可能持续并加剧即将到来的行业困境。这不仅有可能让很多保险公司在承保损失达到创纪录的水平时忙于应对,而且还有可能迫使他们付出加倍的努力。

This problem arises from the decline in bond prices and the insurance accounting convention that allows companies to carry bonds at amortized cost, regardless of market value. Many insurers own long-term bonds that, at amortized cost, amount to two to three times net worth. If the level is three times, of course, a one-third shrink from cost in bond prices - if it were to be recognized on the books - would wipe out net worth. And shrink they have. Some of the largest and best known property-casualty companies currently find themselves with nominal, or even negative, net worth when bond holdings are valued at market. Of course their bonds could rise in price, thereby partially, or conceivably even fully, restoring the integrity of stated net worth. Or they could fall further. (We believe that short-term forecasts of stock or bond prices are useless. The forecasts may tell you a great deal about the forecaster; they tell you nothing about the future.)

这个问题出在下跌的债券价格和保险会计惯例允许公司不论债券的市场价值而用已摊销成本持有债券。很多保险公司拥有的长期债券按已摊销成本计算是其净资产的两到三倍。如果是净资产的三倍,那么当债券的价值从成本价贬值三分之一后,在账面上体现出来就会把净资产全部消除。而这些债券确实已经贬值了。当持有的债券用市场价估值时,一些最大,最有名的财产损失险公司目前发现自己仅有微不足道,甚至是负的净资产。当然,他们的债券有可能升值,部分,甚至是全部恢复规定净资产的完整性。或者他们也有可能进一步恶化。(我们坚信对股票或者债券价格的短期预测是毫无用处的。预测可能更多的是告诉你很多关于预测者本身的情况,而不是未来的情况。)

It might strike some as strange that an insurance company’s survival is threatened when its stock portfolio falls sufficiently in price to reduce net worth significantly, but that an even greater decline in bond prices produces no reaction at all. The industry would respond by pointing out that, no matter what the current price, the bonds will be paid in full at maturity, thereby eventually eliminating any interim price decline. It may take twenty, thirty, or even forty years, this argument says, but, as long as the bonds don’t have to be sold, in the end they’ll all be worth face value. Of course, if they are sold even if they are replaced with similar bonds offering better relative value - the loss must be booked immediately. And, just as promptly, published net worth must be adjusted downward by the amount of the loss.

对有些人来讲,会觉得以下情况很奇怪:当保险公司的股票投资组合下跌到足够的程度,以至于严重减少净资产时,保险公司的生存就会受到威胁;但即使保险公司拥有的债券价格下跌更多,保险公司却毫不受影响。保险业的反应可能是指出,无论目前的价格如何,债券在到期后将全额付清,所以最终将消除任何在这之间的价格下跌。这个论点指出,债券可能持续2030,甚至是40年,只要不必卖出,最终债券将回归面值。当然,如果债券被卖掉,即使是用有更好价值的类似债券替换,债券的损失也要立刻记入。而且,公布的净资产也将同时根据损失额相应向下调整。

Under such circumstances, a great many investment options disappear, perhaps for decades. For example, when large underwriting losses arein prospect, it may make excellent business logic for some insurersto shift from tax-exempt bonds into taxable bonds. Unwillingness to recognize major bond losses may be the sole factor that prevents such a sensible move.

在这种情况下,很多投资选择在几十年的时间里消失了。比如,当预计有大量承保损失时,非常符合商业逻辑的做法是保险公司从免税债券转向付税债券。保险公司不愿意做这样合理的转换,完全是由于不愿确认债券的重大损失。

But the full implications flowing from massive unrealized bond losses are far more serious than just the immobilization of investment intellect. For the source of funds to purchase and hold those bonds is a pool of money derived from policy holders and claimants(with changing faces) - money which, in effect, is temporarily on deposit with the insurer. As long as this pool retains its size, no bonds must be sold. If the pool of funds shrinks - which it will ifthe volume of business declines significantly- assets must be sold to pay off the liabilities. And if thoseassets consist of bonds with big unrealized losses, such losses will rapidly become realized, decimating net worth in the process.

但是大量的未确认债券损失所带来的问题远比仅仅失去投资智慧的灵活性严重。用于购买并持有那些债券的资金来源是保险客户和保险索赔人(充满变化)的钱。这些钱实际上是暂时存在保险公司的。只要这些钱的多少保持不变,债券无需被卖出。但是如果这些钱减少,如果业务流量急剧减少时就会如此,资产必须被卖掉以平衡负债。而且如果这些资产包含了大量未确认损失的债券,那么这些损失将迅速被确认,随之减损净资产。

Thus,an insurance company with a bond market value shrinkage approaching stated net worth (of which there are now many) and also faced within adequate rate levels that are sure to deteriorate further has two options. One option for management is to tell the underwriters to keep pricing according to the exposure involved - “be sure to get a dollar of premium for every dollar of expense cost plus expectable loss cost”.

所以如果一个保险公司拥有的债券的市值减少接近规定的净资产(目前有很多公司是这样的),而且面临综合成本率水平不足且肯定会进一步恶化的情况,这个保险公司有两个选择。一个选择是管理层指示保险承保人依据所面临的风险定价,即“对每一美元的成本和预计赔付,一定要得到一美元的保费。”

The consequences of this directive are predictable: (a) with most business both price sensitive and renewable annually, many policies presently on the books will be lost to competitors in rather short order; (b) as premium volume shrinks significantly, there will be alagged but corresponding decrease in liabilities (unearned premiums and claims payable); (c) assets (bonds) must be sold to match the decrease in liabilities; and (d) the formerly unrecognized disappearance of net worth will become partially recognized (depending upon the extent of such sales) in the insurer’s published financial statements.

这个指示的后果可以预测:(a)由于大多数的业务对价格敏感而且是年度续约,很多目前的保单将在短期内丢失到竞争对手那里去。(b)当保费的数量严重减少,那就会有滞后但相应的负债减少(预收保费和应付索赔)。(c)资产(债券)必须被卖掉以平衡减少的负债。(d)之前未确认的净资产消失将在保险公司公布的财务报表中得到部分确认(还要看这些销售债券的情形)。

Variations of this depressing sequence involve a smaller penalty to stated net worth. The reaction of some companies at (c) would be to sell either stocks that are already carried at market values or recently purchased bonds involving less severe losses. This ostrich-like behavior - selling the better assets and keeping the biggest losers -while less painful in the short term, is unlikely to be a winner inthe long term.

这一恶性循环的一个变种会让规定净资产的减少较轻。有些公司对(c)的反应是卖掉已经以市场价值计的股票,或者最近购买的债券,这些债券较少涉及严重的损失。这种鸵鸟式的行为,卖掉更好的资产却留着最大的损失,在短期内痛苦较少,但长期看不太可能成功。

The second option is much simpler: just keep writing business regardless of rate levels and whopping prospective underwriting losses, thereby maintaining the present levels of premiums, assets and liabilities -and then pray for a better day, either for underwriting or for bond prices. There is much criticism in the trade press of “cash flow”underwriting; i.e., writing business regardless of prospective underwriting losses in order to obtain funds to invest at current high interest rates. This second option might properly be termed“asset maintenance” underwriting - the acceptance of terrible business just to keep the assets you now have.

第二个选择简单多了:只要继续卖保险,不论综合成本率水平,也不管巨大的未来承保损失。只要保持目前的保费水平,资产和负债状态,祈祷未来会更好,无论是承保还是债券价格。在保险行业媒体有很多关于“现金流”承保的批评。这种方式不论未来的承保损失,只为了获得资金以目前的高利率投资。这第二种选择可以称为“资产维持”承保,接受糟糕的业务只为了维持你目前现有的资产。

Of course you know which option will be selected. And it also is clear that as long as many large insurers feel compelled to choose that second option, there will be no better day for underwriting. For if much of the industry feels it must maintain premium volume levels regardless of price adequacy, all insurers will have to come close to meeting those prices. Right behind having financial problems yourself, the next worst plight is to have a large group of competitors with financial problems that they can defer by a“sell-at-any-price” policy.

当然你知道哪一个选择会被采用。而且,非常清楚,只要许多大型保险公司迫不得已选择这第二种方式,承保的好日子不会到来。如果行业中的大部分都认为不论价格是否足够,必须维持保费的数量水平,那么所有保险公司都必须用接近的价格应对。在自己有财务问题之外,第二糟糕的困境就是,有着财务问题的一大群竞争对手,能用“卖在任何价格”的方式延缓问题。

We mentioned earlier that companies that were unwilling - for any of a number of reasons, including public reaction, institutional pride, or protection of stated net worth - to sell bonds at price levels forcing recognition of major losses might find themselves frozen in investment posture for a decade or longer. But, as noted, that’s only half of the problem. Companies that have made extensive commitments to long-term bonds may have lost, for a considerable period of time, not only many of their investment options, but many of their underwriting options as well.

我前面提到,保险公司不愿以不得不确认重大损失的价格卖掉债券。他们这样做可能有很多原因,公众反应,机构的自尊,或者保护规定的净资产。他们这样做有可能导致束缚自己的投资方式长达10年,甚至更久。但是,如前面所说,这只是问题的一半。购买了大量长期债券的保险公司有可能在很长时期内已经失去了不仅是投资选择,而且是他们的承保选择。

Our own position in this respect is satisfactory. We believe our net worth, valuing bonds of all insurers at amortized cost, is the strongest relative to premium volume among all large property-casualty stockholder-owned groups. When bonds are valued at market, our relative strength becomes far more dramatic. (But lest we get too puffed up, we remind ourselves that our asset and liability maturities still are far more mismatched than we would wish and that we, too, lost important sums in bonds because your Chairman was talking when he should have been acting.)

在这种情形下,我们自己的情况是令人满意的。用已摊销成本计价来评估债券,我们相信我们的净资产相对于保费,在所有的大型财产事故保险公司里是最强的。当用市值评估时,我们的相对优势变得更加突出。(但别信心膨胀,我们提醒自己,我们的资产和负债仍然不匹配,离我们希望的差的很远。我们也在债券上亏了很多,因为你们的董事会主席在需要行动的时候正在滔滔不绝的讲话。)

Our abundant capital and investment flexibility will enable us to do whatever we think makes the most sense during the prospective extended period of inadequate pricing. But troubles for the industry mean troubles for us. Our financial strength doesn’t remove us from the hostile pricing environment now enveloping the entire property-casualty insurance industry. It just gives us more staying power and more options.

我们大量的资本和投资的灵活性让我们能够在长期定价不足的条件下做出我们认为最明智的决策。但是,行业的麻烦就意味着我们的麻烦。我们的财务优势并不能让我们免于目前席卷了整个财产事故险行业的恶性价格战环境。我们的优势只给了我们更好的持续能力与更多的选择。

1980年给伯克希尔·哈撒韦股东的信)