When the golden eggs run out
Dec 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition
A decade of poor returns and the onset of recession are likely to make investors cautious. That would be understandable, but mistaken.
Illustration by Brett Ryder
IT IS the envelope they dare not open. When this year’s statement from the financial adviser or pension plan lands on the doormat, many people will not want to know the bad news. They would rather put the envelope in a drawer and forget all about it.
This year has been a disaster for savers. The value of stockmarkets around the world has fallen by almost half and is now about $30 trillion below its peak. The prices of corporate bonds and commercial property have plunged. Anyone who diversified into commodities, hedge funds and private equity has also lost out. Even those shrewd enough to stick their money in a savings account have had to worry about the safety of the banks.
Worse still, the value of many people’s main source of wealth-their houses-has fallen sharply, as The Economist’s house-price indicators continue to show (see article). On a quarter-on-quarter basis, residential-property prices are dropping in 23 of the 45 countries surveyed by Knight Frank, an estate agent.
The damage will vary from one person to the next, depending on where they have put their money, so figures on pooled portfolios are pretty much the only way of estimating savers’ pain. The Investment Company Institute, the national association of American mutual funds, says the value of assets in such funds was $9.6 trillion at the end of October, $2.4 trillion less than at the end of 2007. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculated in October that American pension funds had dropped in value by $2 trillion in the previous 18 months. And these American losses are just a portion of the global whole.
不同的人，取决于投资方式，损失程度也各不相同。因此集成投资工具的统计数字大概是估量储蓄人损失的唯一办法。美国投资公司协 会（The Investment Company Institute）–美国共同基金公司的联盟，证明共同基金到今年10月底为止总值为9万6千亿美元，比2007年底缩水2万4千亿。国会预算办公室（The Congressional Budget Office）计算10月美国退休基金在18个月以来损失了2万亿。而这些美国人的损失也仅是全球的冰山一角而已。
By way of comparison, the Bank of England estimates that $2.8 trillion has been lost in credit-related instruments, the devices that dragged the financial system down in the first place. The blow to savers in pooled investments thus easily exceeds the direct damage to the arcane area of the banking system where the crisis began.
Indeed, the stockmarket’s decline this year has been so steep that it has erased all the gains made in the rally from 2003 to 2007. In late November, the S&P 500 index dipped to its lowest level in 11 years. The extravagant claims made for equities in the late 1990s, when there was talk of the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting 36,000 (or even 100,000) have proven to be hollow. Lately the Dow, which was at about 13,000 at the end of last year, has been trading between 8,000 and 9,000.
实际上，今年股市的损失之惨烈，直接导致2003年至2007年这 4年间的积累付之东流。11月末，S&P500 指数触到11年来的最低点。九十年代末关于股票价格的夸夸之谈–其中不乏吹捧道琼斯指数挑穿36000点（甚至100，000点）的妄言–最终证明不过是黄粱一梦罢了。最近的道指，去年底还有13000点左右，一直在八九千点附近摇摆。
A good deal of these losses will have fallen on the very wealthy, who can cope. Many others, though, are not so well placed. And one class of investor will be especially badly hit: workers in defined-contribution, or money-purchase, pension schemes. These people’s retirement income depends solely on the return generated by their pension funds; their employers are not liable to top up their pots if things go wrong. And the CBO reckons that defined-contribution plans are more exposed to equities than final-salary plans, in which the employer bears the risk.
A possible consequence of this is that workers will feel frustrated or let down, and thus be discouraged from saving for their old age-or at least from buying shares for the purpose. They were told that saving would pay in the long run. But those who have been methodically putting money into pension plans (often known in America as 401(k) schemes) must be wondering why they bothered.
Figures from Morningstar, an investment-research firm, show that an American who put $100 a month for the past ten years into the average equity fund would have accumulated just $10,932-$1,068 less than he invested (see chart 1). Even a balanced fund (one that mixes government bonds and equities) would have lost money. A European who invested a flat amount every month for the past decade would have lost almost 25% of his money, according to Lipper, another research firm.
投资调研公司晨星（Morningstar）的数据表明过去10年如果一个普通美国人每个月拿出100美元放进股市最后将会拿回10932美元– 比投资 总数还亏损1068美元（见表1）。即使把钱放进平衡基金(国债和股票的混合体)也是亏钱。根据另外一家研究公司理柏( Lipper )的数据，对于欧洲人而言，如果在过去10年每个月投资同样的数目最后可能已经亏掉几乎四分之一之多。（上图依次是股票基金，混合基金，床底下，国债）
It is hard to get individuals to defer gratification: retirement seems a long way off for someone in their 20s or 30s. So, faced with the returns from past thrift, the temptation for many will be to opt out of the system altogether. Already, the American Association of Retired People estimates that 37% of workers lack a pension plan.
让人们推迟享乐确实很难：退休对于二三十岁的年轻人来说遥遥无期。所以，面对靠节衣缩食抠出养老钱的苦楚，很多人无法抵御今朝有酒今朝醉的诱惑。实际上， 美国退休人士协会（American Association of Retired People）估计37%的劳动者缺乏一个退休计划。
Spend, spend, spend
For a decade or more, American households in particular have seen little need to save out of income at all (see chart 2). The household savings ratio (the proportion of disposable income that is not spent) has been below 2.5% since 1999. Asset markets-first for shares, then for housing-were doing households’ saving for them.
Calculating the savings ratio is an inexact business, because it is the residual between measures of income and consumption and so tends to be revised a good deal. It also excludes capital gains on existing investments, although the taxes on those gains are deducted from the income measure. You might imagine that a low ratio was nothing to worry about: add in capital gains-the savings a rising asset market bestows-and the ratio looks healthier.
Some economists accepted this argument. A paper from the American government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis in 2002 argued that capital gains “can be as important as personal saving in determining the future consumption possibilities of households” and pointed out that the ratio of household wealth to income had rocketed in the late 1990s.
一部分经济学家认同这种说法。美国政府经济分析局（Bureau of Economic Analysis）的一篇报告认为资本利得”与个人储蓄在决定未来消费可能性上是同等重要的”而且指出九十年代末家庭财富收入比率增长迅猛。
But should this really have been reassuring? Financial assets are simply a claim on goods and services. If their value rises a lot faster than GDP, that either suggests investors expect the GDP growth rate to rise substantially (unlikely in a mature economy), or that the assets are overvalued.
Similarly, if people borrow to buy houses, the immediate effect will be to push prices up higher and make personal balance-sheets look healthy. But as the past couple of years have demonstrated, that can push prices too far, prompting consumers to overextend themselves. As the economy deleverages-ie, borrowers are obliged to repay debt-balance-sheets then deteriorate sharply.
All this looks particularly pertinent today. Americans and Britons may have been living in a fool’s paradise for a decade, saving less than they should because they thought share and house prices would stay high for ever. Now they have learnt the awful truth, they may decide to save a lot more, making the recession even worse than expected. Economists at Lombard Street Research estimate that the American savings ratio, which turned negative in one quarter of 2005 (ie, consumers spent more than their incomes), may rise to 10% over the next year and a half.
今天看来这点恰好正中要害。美国人和英国人可能近十多年来一直住在自欺欺人的乌托邦里面，他们不太存钱因为大家都觉得股市和房价永远只涨不跌。现在他们已 经见识到惨痛的现实，他们于是决定要多存些很多钱，这将使经济衰退的幅度比预期更糟。伦敦朗伯德街研究公司(Lombard Street Research)的经济学家估算2005年某一极度为负值（即消费者花钱比赚钱多）的美国储蓄率有可能在下个一年半内达到10%。
Changes in the savings ratio are driven as much by borrowing as by saving habits. The ratio is a net figure. Many consumers spend more than they earn, borrowing or dipping into savings to make up the difference. Indeed, David Owen, an economist at Dresdner Kleinwort, an investment bank, points out that during this decade British households have generally saved more of their income than German households have. But they have borrowed more too: so much more that their savings ratio is much lower than the Germans’.
储蓄习惯对储蓄率变化的驱动力与借贷是相同的。储蓄率的比值是净数值。很多消费者入不敷出，需要靠举债和动用积蓄来填沟。实际上，投行德累斯顿-克莱沃特( Dresdner Kleinwort )经济学家David Owen指出这十年中英国家庭通常比德国家庭从收入中拿出更多钱存起来。但是他们借得更多：以至于他们的储蓄率比德国人的低很多。
If the savings ratio is going to jump, it is most likely to be driven by the reluctance or inability of consumers to borrow. That was what happened in Britain in the recession of the early 1990s. According to Capital Economics, a research firm, borrowing (including mortgage equity withdrawal) fell by nearly £22 billion ($38 billion) between 1988 and 1992; conventional saving rose by just £14 billion in the same period.
如果储蓄率骤增，最大的原因是消费者不愿意或者没有能力借贷。九十年代初期的英国经济衰退时曾发生过这样的事情。根据研究机构Capital Economics称，在1988到1992年间，借贷（包括抵押股票赎回）下降了近220亿英镑（380亿美元）；而传统意义上的储蓄同期仅增长140 亿英镑。
Many economists might regard a marked increase in saving as a bad thing just now. With rich economies all around the world in recession, governments would rather people spent, not saved. That will not happen without a push-when workers are worried about the outlook for their jobs, they usually save more if they can. The same tends to be true when their existing wealth, including their houses, falls in value. So governments are loosening fiscal policies to try and maintain spending power.
That said, saving could be good news for companies. In the long term, saving gives companies the funds to invest in new equipment and in research and development. In the short term, companies would be grateful for any equity capital they could raise from retail investors, so they could bolster their balance-sheets.
Alas, that looks unlikely. The problem is that investors do not regard financial assets as they do other goods; lower prices do not encourage them to buy more, but simply reduce their confidence. Past returns are the main determinant of flows into the stockmarket; investors buy when prices have gone up, not down.
Net retail sales of British mutual funds were £14.1 billion in 1999 and £17.7 billion in 2000, the two years at the peak of the dotcom bubble. Investors were happy to pay price-earnings ratios of 20 or 30 for the market, and more than 100 for some technology stocks. By 2003, the FTSE 100 index had fallen by more than half; net retail sales of mutual funds were only £8.1 billion. In the first ten months of this year, which have seen price-earnings ratios fall into single digits, net sales have slumped to just £1.3 billion.
英国共同基金的净销售额在1999年是141亿英镑和2000年的177亿，恰逢互联网泡沫顶峰的两年。投资者乐于为市盈率20或者30，和一些高达 100的科技公司大掏腰包。到了2003年，英国金融时报指数（FTSE 100 index）大跌过半；而共同基金的净销售额仅为81亿镑。那一年的头十个月，市盈率曾经跌进个位数字，净销售额跳水至仅仅13亿镑。
British investors have been relatively stoic. In America, equity mutual funds saw net outflows of $195 billion in the first ten months of the year. In some European countries, the picture is a lot worse. According to Huw Van Steenis, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, the annualised pace of mutual fund outflows in Italy and Spain this year has been 24% and 26% respectively. Across Europe as a whole, about $200 billion has been withdrawn from mutual funds in the past 12 months.
英国的投资人还能表现的相对坚韧克制。在美国，股权共同基金在当年的前十个月见证了1950亿美元的资金外流。在一些欧洲国家，状况更惨不忍睹。根据摩根 斯坦利分析师Huw van Steenis所说，按年折算的共同基金资本外流增速，在意大利和西班牙分别为24%和26%。欧洲作为整体，在过去一年内有近2000亿美元从共同基金里被取走。
Indeed, continental European savers’ appetite for equities never recovered from the bursting of the dotcom bubble. A shareholder culture was being created in the late 1990s, thanks to privatisations and the creation of the German rival to the NASDAQ, the Neuer Markt, which collapsed spectacularly after the dotcom bust. But now investors want only the safest kind of mutual fund. European money-market funds received euro 95 billion ($120 billion) of inflows in the first nine months of the year, according to Morgan Stanley.
A focus on cash has its advantages. In the short term, the banks themselves will be very glad of a flood of retail deposits: that will leave them less dependent on jittery wholesale markets. And politicians will also be happy if cautious investors are willing buyers of government debt; many countries are moving into heavy deficit in the face of the recession.
But it does not look helpful to companies. If they want to raise equity, who will buy it? Not the big corporate pension funds, which have been moving into bonds and alternative assets (like property) in recent years. And not the hedge funds, which are being forced to sell assets to return money to clients.
Nor is it good, in the long run, for savers. Cash generates very low long-term real returns, of around 1% a year. Roger Urwin of Watson Wyatt, a firm of consultants, describes an overconcentration on cash as “reckless conservatism”.
对于普通储户而言，长远看也不是好事。现金的长期真实回报率超低，大约1%一年。咨询公司华信惠悦（Watson Wyatt）的Roger Urwin把这种现金的过度集中形容为”不计后果的保守主义”。
Even low interest rates may not put them off. Having become used to (nominal) rates of 4-6% in recent years, savers may initially suffer from “sticker shock” if rates fall to 1% or so, as they already have in America and may well do in Europe. But the example of Japan suggests that nervous savers may be happy to receive nothing at all from their accounts if they think that is the only safe option: the return of capital becomes more important than the return on it.
What investors may be missing to their cost is that financial markets tend to revert to the mean. On the one hand, high past returns are an indicator of low future returns: that has certainly proved true for those who bought equity mutual funds at the turn of the decade. On the other hand, the converse is also true: low past returns (and low valuations) create an opportunity for the stout-hearted investor.
James Montier, a strategist at Société Générale, a French bank, has calculated that when American shares have traded on a low cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio (a measure that smooths profits over the previous ten years), returns over the next decade have averaged 8% a year in real terms. When the initial valuation was high, the subsequent average was just 3%.
法国兴业银行(Societe Generale) 的策略师James Montier计算出当美国的股票在较低的周期性调整市盈率，（一个衡量过去十年平均收益的指标），后面十年实际的年收益平均为8%。当初始估值偏高的时候，随后的收益平均值仅为3%。
Risky assets look more attractive now than they have in ages. Corporate-bond spreads are sufficient to compensate for the kind of default levels seen in the Depression. Stockmarkets in America and Europe now offer a dividend yield that is higher than the yield on government bonds, something that has happened only rarely in the past 50 years.
Unfortunately, savers do not seem to take account of these long-term factors. When the stockmarket is falling, they tend to view the idea of investing more money into equities as sending good money after bad. And the average diversified American equity fund is down 41% for the year, according to Lipper.
Falling stockmarkets mean that, without doing much, a lot of savers are less exposed to equities. A recent survey by Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm, found that the proportion of 401(k) plans invested in equities was at an all-time low of 53.8%, compared with 74.2% in 2000. Arguably, workers were overexposed to shares at the turn of the decade. But they may be underexposed now.
Whatever their asset allocation, savers ought to be putting more money into their pensions, given their nest-eggs have taken such a beating. But there is little sign of that; employees subscribed just 7.8% of their salaries to 401(k) plans this year, according to Hewitt. Even if you add in the average employer’s contribution of 4.4%, the amount is nowhere near sufficient to match the 20% of pay needed to fund the equivalent of a final salary pension.
Indeed, it was the realisation of how expensive that promise had become that led to many employers abandoning final-salary pension schemes in recent years, thereby passing the risk on to workers.
The generational challenge
Many people-especially the baby-boomers born between 1946 and 1964, who will be retiring over the next 20 years or so-will be asking themselves whether they will have enough to keep them comfortable in their old age, even if they save a lot. After all, it is generally accepted that they cannot rely on the state. The burden on the taxpayer would be too great.
But, as already noted, financial wealth is just a claim on the assets produced by the economy. Making pensions a claim on the private sector rather than the public purse does not change the problem. Will businesses in 20 years’ time be producing enough income to pay the dividends and bond interest to pay baby-boomers their private-sector pensions? And what will happen to asset prices if the boomers try to cash in their portfolios?
但是，如上文所述，金融财富仅仅是对经济体产出资产的拥有权。把养老金划归私人部门负责而取代从公家钱包掏钱的转移支付并不能解决问题。在未来20 年的时 间里商业机构是否能创造出足以支付股息和债券利息的收入来落实婴儿潮一代的养老金问题？如果他们决定取现，那么资产的价格会发生何种变动？
In demographic terms, asset markets could be seen as a pyramid scheme, in which each generation aims to sell its accumulated savings to the next. Provided the next generation is larger than the one that preceded it, the savers can sell their assets at higher prices. That was the case for much of the 20th century.
Illustration by Brett Ryder
The baby-boomers will upset the pattern. If they retire at 65, they will start offloading their assets in 2011. And even in America, which has fewer demographic problems than Japan, there are not enough new savers coming along to replace them. Some hope that emerging markets will solve the problem, by acting as buyers of developed market assets and a source of higher returns for investors in rich countries, but the theory is unproven.
In a 136-page report, “The Business of Ageing”, John Llewellyn and Camille Chaix-Viros of Nomura, a Japanese bank, examine the potential effect on financial markets of ageing Western populations. As the baby-boomers run down their savings to fund their retirement, you would expect, other things being equal, real interest rates to rise (because the supply of savings will fall, relative to demand). As a consequence of this, the valuation of assets such as bonds and equities should come under pressure.
在一份长达136页的报告”老龄化时代的商机”（The Business of Ageing）中，就职于日本野村证券（Nomura）的作者John Llewellyn和Camille Chaix-Viros详细的研究了逐渐老龄化的西方人口对于金融市场的潜在影响。当婴儿潮一代为自己的退休时光逐渐花光自己的积蓄时，你可以想见，保持其他条件相同，实际利率会增加（因为相对需求，储蓄的供给下降了）。这样趋势的结果是，像债券和股票之类的资产价值将面临相当大的压力。
Evidence partly backs up this theory. For example, economists can plot a relationship between the proportion of the population aged between 35 and 59 (when people save most) and the level of real interest rates. The relationship has been negative, as theory would predict, since the 1980s (lots of savings kept interest rates low). The strong Western stockmarkets of the 1990s coincided with the boomers’ peak savings years. In Japan, the population aged sooner; some commentators have blamed this for the poor performance of the country’s equity market since the end of the 1980s.
Indeed, although the Japanese have a reputation of being a nation of savers, this has long since ceased to be true. Although the corporate sector has a surplus, the household savings ratio plunged from 11.3% in 1998 to 3% last year. One of the main reasons seems to be that the ageing population is running down its investments. For Japanese equity investors, it has not just been a lost decade, it has been a lost quarter-century; the Nikkei 225 average recently touched a 26-year low.
实际上，虽然日本素来有勤俭之国的美誉，但这已经是老黄历了。尽管企业部门有盈余，普通家庭的储蓄率已经从1998年的11.3%大幅跌至去年的 3%。其中一大原因可能是步入老年的人群正在逐步减少他们的投资。对于日本的投资者来说，不仅仅是迷失的十年，而是迷失的四分之一世纪；日经225平均指数（Nikkei 225）最近触到26年来的最低点。
The worry is that the baby-boomers in Europe and America may be about to repeat the Japanese experience. They will react to the recession by saving more and thereby make the recession worse.
Nor will their savings earn a decent return if they invest the money in the wrong place. Keep the money in the bank and the returns could be paltry and the capital eroded by inflation. Put the money in equities and the risk is that developed stockmarkets suffer the same long slow, grinding bear run as Japan.
Dangerous as it might be, the second of these options looks the better. The time for investors to take financial risks is when risky assets offer a sizeable long-term return, not when risk premiums are low. Savers need to save themselves.
鸣谢：majer 和 弓长贝恩 两位认真专业的点评和润色。
2. 现金购买计划(Money purchase plan)：指雇主每年提出一笔提拨金作为退休基金，累积的提拨金依精算上的各种预测，以决定员工在退休时可以领取之退休给付。一般而言，提拨的标准乃是依「最低提拨标准(率)」来决定，以提拨一定的金额至员工个人退休账户中。
3. 确定给付制又可称为「最后薪资计划」(final salary schemes)，乃是指劳资双方预先约定在工作一定期间后，受雇者于退休时可依其服务年资或最后工作薪资，依一定的计算标准领取一定的给付。至于给付标准的计算方式，可以依考虑退休时通货膨胀的指数、目前薪资与退休时的薪资差异及完全不考虑方式来设定。
4. 资本利得（Capital gain也有译为资本收益，这里取常用的翻译）：这里要解释capital asset的概念。
5. 什么是资本资产(CAPITAL ASSET)
CAPTIAL ASSET 是指能够产生商业利润,利息,股息,专利版税,租金等的资产,并且持有这类资产目的在于这类资产本身能产生收入,而并不是靠买卖这类资产产生收入.
是指纳税人在实际出售或被视为出售上述CAPITAL ASSET 时所产生的收益.
Capital gain=proceed-adjusted cost base-disposal cost.
10. risk premiums：股票风险溢价（回报率）是投资者因投资股票所承担的额外风险所要求或预期的额外回报，其与无风险收益率的和组成投资股票的预期回报（收益）率。