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2009.01.26 投资银行的IPO真的是问题所在吗?

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Were investment bank IPOs really the problem?
By Dr. Manhattan
JANUARY 26, 2009

Michael Lewis' recent cover story in Portfolio on the end of Wall Street has been justly hailed; the anecdotes about Steve Eisman's housekeeper and baby nurse would themselves be worth the newsstand, if you couldn't access it for free online, that is.  But I have to quibble with Lewis' big conclusion, which he reaches after a tense reunion with his former CEO, John Gutfreund.  After recounting how Gutfreund turned Salmon Brothers from a private partnership into Wall Street's first publicly held investment bank - a step that would be imitated by virtually all major Wall Street institutions in the following two decades - Lewis pronounces:

No investment bank owned by its employees would have levered itself 35 to 1 or bought and held $50 billion in mezzanine C.D.O.'s. I doubt any partnership would have sought to game the rating agencies or leap into bed with loan sharks or even allow mezzanine C.D.O.'s to be sold to its customers. The hoped-for short-term gain would not have justified the long-term hit.

So suppose we have an employee-owned investment firm, organized as a private partnership, which aims to become a major financial institution. In Lewis' formulation, it should be the least likely candidate to run excessive leverage and blow itself up with untrammeled risk-taking.  In fact, it might spare no expense on the risk-management side and only use the most highly sophisticated analysis to protect the franchise.

I am thinking, of course, about Long-Term Capital Management.  When LTCM imploded in 1998, they were leveraged about 25 to 1.  And at that point, they were only gambling with their own money, not their limited partners - the year before LTCM's implosion, they returned most of the capital contributed by outside investors.  (As it turned out, those investors made a killing on their LTCM investment - far greater than the LTCM principals, in an inversion of the usual principal-agent problem.  Many of those investors were begging and pleading to get back into the fund - at least until John Meriwether asked for money right before LTCM's collapse, at which point it was obvious that they were in deep trouble.)  In its short history, LTCM had become a major Wall Street player - on a course to rival the major investment banks for importance. For some reason, all these factors did not lead to an excess of prudence on LTCM's part.

And while LTCM was an extreme case, almost all hedge fund firms are privately owned (only in the last couple of years did hedge fund managers begin offering shares to the public, and I am not aware of any argument that those managers who completed public offering have increased their leverage or generally acted less prudently since they went public) and the managers usually invest a very large amount of money into the hedge funds they manage, so they generally should have enough incentive not to blow themselves up.  Yet they do often enough that it should make us reconsider whether public ownership is really the problem. (And as the Economist recently pointed out, even public firms such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were largely owned by their employees, and the amount of money both firms' CEOs had in their firms should have given them more than enough incentive to act prudently. Yet they still lost it all.)

By contrast, James Suroweicki has made a different argument against Wall Street firms being publicly traded - basically, that it increases the risk of a self-fulfilling panic to which all financial firms are vulnerable.  His argument is far from foolproof, but it at least makes more measured claims about the consequences of public ownership and thus is more plausible. By contrast, extravagant claims about how Wall Street IPOs were themselves the prime cause of our current economic catastrophe may help sell a 20th anniversary edition of Liar's Poker, but they don't actually explain the mess we're in.


迈克尔-刘易斯(Michael Lewis)最近在《投资组合》(Portfolio)上发表的关于华尔街终结者的封面故事得到了公正的赞扬;关于史蒂夫-艾斯曼(Steve Eisman)的管家和婴儿护士的轶事本身就值得报刊亭的价格...呃,如果你不能在网上免费获得它的话。 但我不得不对刘易斯的重要结论提出异议,他是在与他的前首席执行官约翰-古特弗伦德(John Gutfreund)紧张地重逢后得出的结论。 在叙述了古特弗伦德如何将鲑鱼兄弟公司从一个私人合伙企业变成华尔街第一家公开持有的投资银行--在接下来的二十年里,几乎所有的华尔街主要机构都会模仿这一步骤--之后,刘易斯宣布。


因此,假设我们有一个雇员拥有的投资公司,作为一个私人合作伙伴组织,其目标是成为一个主要的金融机构。在刘易斯的表述中,它应该是最不可能运行过度的杠杆和不受约束的冒险行为使自己爆炸的候选人。 事实上,它可能在风险管理方面不遗余力,只用最复杂的分析来保护特许权。

当然,我想到的是长期资本管理公司。 当LTCM在1998年内爆时,他们的杠杆率约为25比1。 而在那个时候,他们只是在用自己的钱赌博,而不是用他们的有限合伙人--在LTCM内爆的前一年,他们归还了大部分由外部投资者贡献的资本。 (事实证明,这些投资者在LTCM的投资上大赚了一笔--远远超过了LTCM的负责人,这与通常的委托-代理问题相反。 这些投资者中的许多人都在乞求和恳求重新回到基金中--至少在LTCM崩溃前,约翰-梅里韦瑟(John Meriwether)向他们要钱,这时他们显然陷入了巨大的麻烦。 在其短暂的历史中,LTCM已经成为华尔街的主要参与者--在与主要投资银行的重要性相抗衡的过程中。出于某种原因,所有这些因素并没有导致LTCM方面的过度谨慎。

虽然LTCM是一个极端的案例,但几乎所有的对冲基金公司都是私有的(只是在最近几年,对冲基金经理才开始向公众发售股票,我不知道有什么论据表明,那些完成公开发售的经理在上市后增加了杠杆或普遍表现得不那么谨慎),经理们通常向他们管理的对冲基金投资大量的资金,所以他们通常应该有足够的动力不把自己炸死。 然而,他们经常这样做,这应该让我们重新考虑公有制是否真的是问题所在。(正如《经济学人》最近指出的那样,即使像贝尔斯登和雷曼兄弟这样的上市公司也主要由其员工拥有,而这两家公司的首席执行官在其公司中拥有的资金数额应该给他们足够的激励来谨慎行事。然而,他们还是失去了一切。)

相比之下,James Suroweicki提出了一个反对华尔街公司公开交易的不同论点--基本上,它增加了所有金融公司都容易出现的自我实现的恐慌的风险。 他的论点远非万无一失,但它至少对公有制的后果提出了更有分寸的主张,因此更有说服力。相比之下,关于华尔街IPO本身是我们当前经济灾难的主要原因的奢侈说法可能有助于销售《说谎者的扑克牌》20周年纪念版,但它们实际上并不能解释我们所处的困境。
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