Foam party 泡泡派对

2020.9


Bubble-hunting has become more art than science
辨认泡沫已经变得更像一门艺术,而非科学 

 

泡泡派对


UPON BEING sucked into investing during the South Sea Bubble, Sir Isaac Newton reflected that he could “calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies but not the madness of people”. From tulip mania in 17th-century Amsterdam to railway fever in Victorian Britain, history is littered with tales of investors who lost their heads shortly before they lost their shirts, in the grip of mass delusions described by Alan Greenspan, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, as “irrational exuberance”.
回想自己被卷入南海泡沫的投资潮时,艾萨克•牛顿爵士说自己可以“计算天体的运动,却无法计算人的疯狂”。从17世纪阿姆斯特丹的郁金香狂热,到英国维多利亚时代的铁路狂潮,历史上充斥着投资者丢了理智后很快就丢了衬衫的故事。前美联储主席艾伦•格林斯潘把这种裹挟他们的群体性妄想描述为“非理性繁荣”。
These delusions seem obvious with the cold clarity of hindsight. Spotting them in real time, however, is trickier—especially when the usual measures of frothiness are out of action. Wall Street types typically pore over price-to-earnings ratios, which compare a firm’s value with its profits, or free-cashflow measures, which look at the cash firms crank out after investment. Warren Buffett targets firms with a high return on capital, which compares their profits with the size of their balance-sheets. But the covid-induced economic slump has caused earnings to sink even as the Fed and other policymakers have helped buoy share prices. The obvious gauges of frothiness are not much use.
事后冷静地看,这样的妄想似乎一眼就能看穿。然而要在当下识别它们就没那么容易了,特别是在通常用以衡量泡沫的方法失效的情况下。华尔街人士通常会仔细研究市盈率(比对公司的市价与盈利)或自由现金流指标(衡量公司投资后剩余的现金)。沃伦•巴菲特专看那些资本回报率(比对公司的利润与资产负债表规模)高的公司。但新冠疫情引发的经济衰退已导致收益下降,而与此同时美联储和其他政策制定者帮助提振了股价。那些公认的衡量泡沫的标准已没有多大用处。
This poses a problem for investors confronting the startling fact that the S&P 500, a share-price index of America’s biggest public companies, reached an all-time high on August 18th in the middle of perhaps the sharpest ever economic downturn. Without hard numbers to count on, they must interpret the market’s unusual behavioural signals in order to spot the froth.
这就给投资者带来了一个难题。他们此刻面临一个惊人的事实:尽管可能正在经历史上最严重的经济衰退,涵盖美国最大上市公司的股价指数标普500却在8月18日创下历史新高。在没有确凿的数据依据之时,他们必须解读市场上的异常行为信号来辨认泡沫。
One such sign is the mystifying moves in some stocks. On August 19th Apple became the first American company to touch a valuation of $2trn. Tesla, a carmaker that is undertaking a stock split at the end of August, has quadrupled in value so far this year. It is now worth $354bn, more than Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen combined. Nikola, an electric-truck firm (that has yet to make any lorries), has tripled in value since May. Even more perplexing was investors’ fondness for Hertz, a car-rental firm. Its share price rose tenfold after it declared bankruptcy (though this bubble has since popped).
其中一个信号是一些股票令人困惑的走势。8月19日,苹果成为首个估值达到2万亿美元的美国公司。汽车制造商特斯拉于8月底进行了股票分拆,今年迄今股价已翻了两番。目前它的市值为3540亿美元,超过了福特、丰田和大众的总和。一辆卡车都还没生产出来的电动卡车公司尼古拉(Nikola)自5月以来市值已增长了两倍。投资者对汽车租赁公司赫兹(Hertz)的钟爱还要令人费解。这家公司宣布破产后,股价上涨了九倍(尽管之后这个泡沫已破裂)。
Anecdotally at least, this frothiness seems linked to a second phenomenon: a zeal for retail investing. Take, for instance, the popularity of Robinhood, a trading platform, which has opened 3m accounts since the end of 2019, taking its users to 13m. Or consider “r/wallstreetbets”, a forum on Reddit, which encourages its readers to make “YOLO” (you only live once) bets on short-dated speculative options (akin to lottery tickets) in order to earn “tendies” (short-term gains). The number of subscribers to it has nearly doubled since January to over 1.4m, edging out its staid cousin, “r/investing”, which preaches the virtues of punting on diversified baskets of low-cost index funds.
至少据坊间传言称,这种泡沫似乎还与第二种现象有关:散户投资热。以交易平台Robinhood的高人气为例,该平台自2019年底以来新增了300万个账户,用户数达1300万。或者再看看Reddit上的一个论坛“r/wallstreetbets”,它鼓励读者“潇洒走一回”,在短期投机期权(类似于彩票)上下注,以赚取“短期收益”。自1月以来,该论坛的订阅人数几乎翻了一番,至超过140万,把它古板的“表亲”“r/investing”论坛挤到了一边。后者宣扬押注于多元化低成本指数基金组合的好处。
That exuberance has been matched by a third behavioural oddity: companies’ enthusiasm for issuance. Dealogic, a data provider, finds that stock issuance in America has jumped by 85% year-on-year so far in 2020. Part of that may be a result of the pandemic; many companies have raised capital to build up war-chests. But issuance is also compelling in bubblier times, because it allows firms to capitalise on lofty valuations. Hertz tried to raise up to $1bn in new equity after it had filed for bankruptcy, before regulators intervened.
这种过度繁荣还伴随着第三种行为反常:公司对发行股票的热情。数据供应商Dealogic发现,2020年迄今美国的股票发行量同比增长了85%。疫情可能是部分原因:许多公司通过融资来补充“战备”。但是,在泡沫更大的时候发行股票本身就很有吸引力,因为这能让公司利用高估值获利。赫兹在申请破产后曾试图发行新股,以筹集最多达10亿美元的资金,后遭到监管机构干预。
Moreover, after a hiatus in the first half of the year, tech firms are rushing to list. Special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs)—listed shell companies that then merge with private firms, offering a speedy, back-door route to going public—are all the rage. SPACs were once a dirty word on Wall Street, thought fit only for firms unworthy of an initial public offering. But now they are in favour with firms and investors. They have raised $12bn so far this year, just shy of the amount raised in all of 2019.
此外,在经历了上半年的中断之后,科技公司正争相上市。特殊目的收购公司(SPAC)风行一时,它们先以空壳公司上市,然后再与私人公司合并,从而为上市提供了一条快捷的旁门左道。SPAC在华尔街曾是个犯忌的词,被认为只适用于那些配不上IPO的公司。但现在它们受到了企业和投资者的青睐。今年以来它们已筹集了120亿美元,仅略低于2019年全年的筹集金额。
What to do, in the face of all this enthusiasm? Other assets may start to seem more alluring. On August 14th Berkshire Hathaway, Mr Buffett’s investment firm, said that it had sold chunks of its stakes in banks and bought up shares in Barrick Gold, a mining company. But gold and other assets have also shot up in value this summer.
面对这样热火朝天的情景该做些什么?其他资产可能会开始变得愈加诱人。8月14日,巴菲特的投资公司伯克希尔•哈撒韦表示它已大幅减持银行股,转而收购矿业公司巴里克黄金(Barrick Gold)的股份。但今年夏天黄金和其他资产的价格也已大幅上涨。
As markets rise further it may become even harder to resist joining the fray. Some investors may pile in, and exit with a profit. But even the most brilliant minds can be bamboozled. Sir Isaac spotted the bubble early and liquidated his holdings—only to be sucked back in at the very peak.
随着市场进一步上扬,要忍住不加入这场角逐可能会变得更难。一些投资者可能会一拥而上,然后获利离场。但即使是最聪明的头脑也可能被蒙蔽。牛顿一早就发现了泡沫并变现了所持资产,结果在泡沫最盛之时又被卷了回去。