If investors buy index funds, who watches the companies?
如果投资者购买指数基金,谁来监督公司?【专题报道《资产管理》系列之一】

ROBERT FLEMING has a claim to be a pioneer of active asset management. His First Scottish investment trust pledged to invest mostly in American securities, with choices informed by on-the-ground research. Fleming saw that shareholders needed to act as stewards in the governance of the businesses that they part-owned. So once the fund was launched, in 1873, he sailed directly to America. It was the first of many fact-finding trips across the Atlantic over the next 50 years, according to Nigel Edward Morecroft’s book, “The Origins of Asset Management”.
罗伯特·弗莱明(Robert Fleming)堪称主动资产管理的先驱。他的第一苏格兰(First Scottish)投资信托基金承诺将主要投资于美国证券,并根据实地研究做出选择。弗莱明认为,股东需要在其部分拥有的企业的治理中担任管家。因此,1873年时该基金甫一成立,他就直接坐船来到了美国。根据奈杰尔·爱德华·莫罗克罗夫特(Nigel Edward Morecroft)在《资产管理的起源》(The Origins of Asset Management)一书中的说法,这是后续50年许多横跨大西洋的实地考察之旅中的第一次。

The art of asset management is capital allocation. It is easy to miss this amid confusing talk of alpha and beta, active and passive, private and public markets. For investors of Fleming’s kind the work of finding the best investment opportunities and engaging with business was inseparable. Walter Bagehot believed the rapid growth of the mid-Victorian economy owed much to the efficient channelling of capital. In England, he wrote, “Capital runs as surely and instantly where it is most wanted, and where there is most to be made of it, as water runs to find its level.”
资产管理的艺术是资本配置。在阿尔法和贝塔、主动和被动、私人和公共市场等令人困惑的说法中,这一点很容易被忘记。对于弗莱明这种类型的投资者而言,寻找最佳投资机会和与企业互动是分不开的。沃尔特·白芝浩(Walter Bagehot)认为,维多利亚时代中期经济的快速增长很大程度上归功于资本的有效引导。他在英格兰写道:“资本会可靠地、即时地流向最需要它的地方,流向最能利用它的地方,就像水会自己找到水平面那样。”

Most of today’s financiers will say they are engaged in capital allocation. There are many dedicated stockpickers who take this social role seriously and see it as a vocation. But for the most part ties between suppliers and users of capital have become more tenuous. An index fund does not screen the best stocks from the worst. It holds whatever is in the index. Other passive strategies select stocks or bonds based on narrow financial characteristics. The nature of the entity behind the securities and how well the people running it perform their duties are incidental. Does such disengagement matter? Some evidence suggests that it might.
当今大多数金融从业者会说他们从事资本配置。有许多专门选股的人认真对待这一社会角色,并将其视为一种职业。但是在大多数情况下,资金的提供者和使用者之间的联系变得更加薄弱了。指数基金不会筛选最好或最差的股票。它持有指数中的一切。其他被动策略则根据狭窄的财务特征选择股票或债券。证券背后的实体的性质以及其管理人员履行职责的能力是次要的。这样的脱离要紧吗?一些证据表明,可能是的。

To understand why, it helps to distinguish two functions of capital allocation. The first is to direct savings to their best use. This involves finding new opportunities, comparing their merits and deciding which should receive capital and on what terms. John Kay, a business economist, calls this role “search”. The second role is stewardship, ensuring that the best use is made of the capital stock that is the product of past investment.
要了解原因,把资本配置的两个职能区分开来会有帮助。首先是把储蓄派上最好的用场。这涉及到寻找新的机会,比较它们的优点,决定哪些应该获得资金以及以什么条件获得。商业经济学家约翰·凯(John Kay)将这一角色称为“搜索”。第二个角色是尽职治理,确保过去的投资产生的资本存量得到最好的利用。

Both matter. Search matters in the early stages of economic development, when ideas are abundant, businesses are capital-intensive and savings are scarce. The late 19th century was such a time. In New York, Fleming’s hunting-ground, most bonds were for railroad companies. In Britain, brewers, distillers and miners were also thirsty for capital. In 1886 Guinness, a century-old beer company, raised £6m in London. A few years later shares in the Broken Hill Proprietary Mining Company (BHP), which began trading in Australia, were owned and exchanged in London.
两者都重要。在经济发展的早期阶段,搜索很重要,这时创意很丰富,企业需要大量资金而储蓄不足。19世纪末就是这样的时代。在弗莱明的猎场纽约,大多数债券是用来给铁路公司融资的。在英国,酿酒商、酒厂和矿场也渴望资金。1886年,当时已经有百年历史的啤酒公司吉尼斯在伦敦筹集了600万英镑。几年后,最初在澳大利亚上市的布罗肯希尔控股矿业公司(今必和必拓)的股票在伦敦被购买和交易。

When search works well and capital runs to “where there is most to be made of it”, relevant information is quickly reflected in asset prices. The case for index investing rests on the idea that the stockmarket is, in this sense, broadly efficient. Prices are set by informed buying and selling by active and engaged investors. But as more money goes to index funds, the market might become less efficient. Whether it does rests in theory on the quality of investors being displaced. If they are “noisy” active managers, who buy and sell on gut feel, expect more efficiency, not less. If they are farsighted stockpickers, the quality of market prices might suffer.
当搜索职能运转良好并且资本流向“最能利用它的地方”时,相关信息就会迅速反映在资产价格中。从这个意义上说,指数投资的理由是,股票市场总体来说是高效的。价格是由积极参与且消息灵通的投资者进行的买卖确定的。但是随着更多的资金流向指数基金,市场的效率可能会下降。从理论上讲,是否真的会下降取决于被指数替代的投资者的素质。如果他们是依赖噪声的主动经理,凭自己的直觉来买卖,那么市场效率会更高,而不是更低。如果他们是有远见的选股者,那么市场定价的质量可能会受损。

Some empirical studies hint at a problem. A paper in 2011 by Jeffrey Wurgler finds that whether a share is part of an index influences its price. Shares that are included in an index go up in value relative to similar shares that are not. When shares drop out of an index, they tend to fall disproportionately. And once in the index, a share’s price moves more in sympathy with others that are also included. Another paper, by researchers at the University of Utah, finds that index inclusion leads to a higher correlation with index prices. Inclusion also spurs a reduction in “information production”: fewer requests for company filings, fewer searches on Google, and fewer research reports from brokerages. Even so, the authors conclude that more intensive effort by the remaining active investors may counter any adverse effects.
一些实证研究暗示了一个问题。杰弗里·乌尔格勒(Jeffrey Wurgler)在2011年发表的一篇论文发现,股票是否属于指数的一部分会影响其价格。比起未被纳入指数的类似股票,被纳入的那些的价值会上涨。当股票被踢出指数时,它们往往会不成比例地下跌。一旦进入指数,股票的价格就会更加与其他同样在指数中的股票同步。犹他大学研究人员发表的另一篇论文发现,被纳入指数会导致与指数价格的相关性提高。纳入指数还会引发“信息产出”的减少:对公司申报材料的请求减少、谷歌搜索减少以及券商研究报告减少。即便如此,作者得出的结论是,剩下的主动投资者更为细致的努力或许可以抵消任何不利影响。

Share prices may no longer matter so much for how capital is allocated. Most big companies are nowadays self-financing. Guinness (now Diageo) and BHP are still among the leading stocks listed in London. Like a lot of businesses, they generate enough cash to cover their investment needs. When a company taps the capital markets, it is usually to tidy up its capital structure (lengthening the maturity of debt, say, or buying back shares) or to build cash reserves in times of stress, such as now. It is management teams that now do most to allocate capital.
股价对资本如何配置可能不再那么重要。如今大多数大公司都自筹资金。吉尼斯(现为帝亚吉欧)和必和必拓至今仍是伦敦股市的主要股票。和许多企业一样,它们产生足够的现金来满足自己的投资需求。当一家公司利用资本市场时,通常是为了整理资本结构(比如延长债务期限或回购股票),或者在压力时期(例如现在)建立现金储备。现在,资本配置大多由管理团队完成。

This makes stewardship more important. When it works, investors engage with a firm’s managers to verify that the business is well run. The problem is that the incentives to be good stewards are weak. An asset manager that bears the cost of stewardship will capture only a small share of the benefits. A paper in 2017 by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen and Scott Hirst, a trio of law professors, found that asset managers mostly avoid making shareholder proposals, nominating directors or conducting proxy contests to vote out managers. Index funds are especially at fault. Their business model is to avoid the costs of company research and deep engagement. The law professors reckoned that the big three asset managers devoted less than one person-workday a year to stewardship.
这使得尽职治理更加重要。当它起效时,投资者会与公司的主管互动,以验证业务运作良好。问题在于,成为好管家的动机很弱。资产经理要承担尽职治理的费用,却仅能获得一小部分收益。三位法学教授卢西恩·贝布丘克(Lucian Bebchuk)、阿尔玛·科恩(Alma Cohen)和斯科特·赫斯特(Scott Hirst)在2017年发表的一篇论文中发现,资产管理者大多避免提出股东建议、提名董事或发起代理权争夺以投票解雇管理层。指数基金的问题尤其大。它们的商业模式是避免承担公司研究和深度参与的成本。三位法学教授认为,三大资产管理公司每年仅花费不到一个工作人天在尽职治理上。

Bosses and agents
老板和代理人

The growth of index investing is likely to have raised the agency costs of asset management. Bosses may be either too timid or too lax, depending on the circumstances, to act in the best interest of shareholders. They may shun profitable projects because it is hard to persuade disengaged owners that the rewards justify the risks. Or they may be careless with shareholders’ money. Some research finds passive ownership aggravates these problems. A paper by Philippe Aghion, John Van Reenen and Luigi Zingales finds that companies with a larger share of active owners are more innovative. They find no such link between index ownership and innovation. Other research suggests that indexing makes it more likely that managers will pursue ill-judged mergers.
指数投资的增长很可能增加了资产管理的代理成本。老板们可能会要么太胆小,要么太松懈——视情形而定,而不能根据股东的最大利益行事。他们可能会避开有利可图的项目,因为很难让那些参与不足的所有者相信回报配得上风险。或者他们可能对股东的钱漫不经心。一些研究发现,被动所有权加剧了这些问题。菲利普·阿吉翁(Philippe Aghion)、约翰·范·里宁(John Van Reenen)和路易吉·津格莱斯(Luigi Zingales)的论文发现,拥有更高比例的主动所有者的公司更具创新力。他们在指数所有权与创新之间并没有找到这种联系。其他研究表明,进入指数使管理层更有可能追求判断不当的合并。

Investors now care more about what they are investing in. The growth of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, which selects companies on how they score on such matters, reflects this. Some asset managers suspect ESG is a fad, but many do not. An ESG score will soon be a requirement, says one. It will eventually be as important to a firm as its credit rating, says another. “Sustainability” is increasingly seen as a risk factor for long-term performance. “If your firm is more sustainable, you will get the best people, customers and regulators,” says Christian Sinding, boss of EQT, a Swedish private-equity firm. These are the firms you will want to own in ten years’ time, he adds.
投资者现在更加关心自己投资的是什么。环境、社会和治理(ESG)投资的增长反映了这一点,它选择公司的标准是它们在这些问题上的得分。一些资产管理者怀疑ESG只是一阵风潮,但许多人却不这样认为。一位资产经理说,ESG评分很快将成为一项要求。另一位则说,对企业而言它最终将和信用评级一样重要。“可持续性”越来越被视为长期绩效的风险因素。“如果您的公司更具可持续性,那么您将获得最优秀的人才、客户和监管者。”瑞典私募股权公司EQT的老板克里斯汀·辛丁(Christian Sinding)说。他补充道,这些是您十年后想要拥有的公司。

ESG looks like a lifeline for active fund managers. “Active has a big advantage over passive when it comes to ESG,” says Ashish Bhutani, chief executive of Lazard Asset Management. Passive funds can only tick boxes. Some environmental matters, such as a firm’s carbon footprint, can be quantified, but others cannot. The social criterion requires qualitative judgment about a firm’s hiring practices, its efforts to reduce inequality or the broader impact of investment projects. Governance is somewhere in between. Good analysts have a deep knowledge of companies and their management. They know things that are hard to quantify and cannot be found on a financial statement or a boilerplate disclosure.
ESG看起来像是主动基金经理的生命线。拉扎德资产管理公司的首席执行官阿希什•布达尼(Ashish Bhutani)表示:“在ESG方面,与被动相比,主动具有很大的优势。” 被动基金只能打勾。某些环境问题(如公司的碳足迹)可以量化,而另一些不能。“社会”这个评价标准要求对公司的聘雇操作、其为减少不平等所做的努力或投资项目的广泛影响做定性判断。治理介于两者之间。好的分析师对公司及其管理层有着深刻的了解。他们知道那些难以量化、无法在财务报表或模板化披露中找到的东西。

The challenge for active managers is to show that sifting firms by ESG or any other qualitative criteria will make for better portfolios that justify a fee premium over an index fund. A greater focus on the long term would be welcome for both companies and their shareholders. It is a stretch to claim that active managers in the main are great stewards. They are not. Most are (or at least have been) either transient owners, trading in and out of faddish stocks, or closet index-huggers.
主动管理者面临的挑战在于,如何证明按照ESG或其他任何定性标准筛选公司将有助于建立更好的投资组合,从而配得上它比指数基金更高的收费。对长期的更多关注是公司和股东都欢迎的。要说主动管理者大体称得上出色的管家是有点过了。他们不是。他们大多数目前(或至少曾经)短暂持股,买进卖出大热股票,或者暗地里拥抱指数。

The best-performing stockpickers are both patient and strong in their convictions. They hold stocks for long periods in a concentrated portfolio. It is in part a quest for these traits—commitment and patience—that has persuaded a lot of investors to flock into private equity and other closely held assets. ■
业绩最好的选股者既有耐心,又有坚定的信念。他们在高度集中的投资组合中长期持有某些股票。一定程度上,正是对这些特质——投入和耐心——的追求,说服了许多投资者涌入私募股权和其他封闭持有的资产。