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马多夫诈骗案的教训

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The Lessons To Be Learned From The Madoff Scandal

If you had the good fortune never to have invested in what may end up being the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, count your blessings. An alleged fraud like this could have happened to any of us, as it did to some of the world's most sophisticated investors. There are lessons here, though not necessarily the ones that have been touted by much of the media.

Now that some of the dust is settling around the Bernard Madoff scandal, there has been a growing tendency in some quarters to blame the victims, at least in part. According to these theories, they should have recognized that annual returns of around 10% in both good times and bad were too good to be true. They should have been suspicious of Mr. Madoff's vague explanations of how he arrived at those results. And to the extent he described his strategy, which involved the simultaneous purchase of stock and sale of option contracts, they should have noticed that there wasn't sufficient volume in those options trades to account for the reported gains.

The lesson from such criticisms, I suppose, is that we should all turn ourselves into forensic accountants. I find that preposterous, not to mention distasteful, given that some of these people have lost their life savings. After all, consistent returns in good and bad markets are the selling point for nearly every hedge fund. There are plenty that have reported much larger annual returns without raising eyebrows. Indeed, Mr. Madoff's returns were good, but not so spectacular as to raise undue suspicion. As for his vague explanations, they were no vaguer than those of many other hedge-fund managers and even mutual-fund managers.

True, some potential investors examined Mr. Madoff's operation and declined to invest. The same could be said of nearly every other hedge fund. In 2006, one potential investor actually branded it a Ponzi scheme and took his suspicions to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC investigated and gave Mr. Madoff a clean bill of health after he corrected some minor issues. How that could have happened remains one of the big unanswered questions of this affair. Nonetheless, Mr. Madoff's victims can surely be forgiven for relying on what is supposed to be a watchdog agency.

Still, there were some red flags and lessons that we should all take to heart.

Mr. Madoff's books were audited by a virtually unknown accounting firm. So the simple but vital lesson here is never to invest in anything -- hedge fund, partnership, mutual fund -- whose books aren't audited by a recognized accounting firm with a strong reputation and numerous clients, preferably one of the Big Four. Check your investments for the name of the firm that provides the audit. If you don't recognize it, research it on the Internet.

-- Diversify. This is obvious, but bears repeating given the many stories of people and institutions who tied up almost all of their assets with Mr. Madoff. While it's especially hard to reduce an asset that seems to be doing so well, it's the essence of rebalancing and diversification. After all, it doesn't take a fraud to expose the folly of concentrating too many assets in one place. A sharp market correction can have the same damaging effect.

-- Don't believe anyone who tells you that you can earn higher returns while assuming a lower risk. If you're realizing high returns, then you're also accepting increased risk.

-- Don't rely on middlemen. Many Madoff investors were steered into their investments by advisers. With the proliferation of hedge funds and other alternative investment opportunities, such middlemen have grown increasingly popular. Many people don't want to have to think about their investments, but you can't abdicate all responsibility.

-- At the same time, don't lose your faith in human nature. I spoke last week to a money manager with an unblemished reputation who had just spent four hours defending herself to a client who said she couldn't trust anyone in the wake of the Madoff scandal. Mr. Madoff is an especially shocking example, but he is an aberration. The vast majority of money managers are honest, hard-working professionals with their clients' best interests at heart. The financial system operates on trust backed up by regulation. Both failed in Mr. Madoff's case, but that doesn't mean everyone is a crook.

如果你运气够好,从没在这场可能是史上最大的“庞氏骗局”中有过投资,那么恭喜你。这样的一场投资诈骗有可能发生在我们任何一个人身上,一些全世界最精明的投资家不是也中招了嘛。这里面有很多教训值得记取,但未必是许多媒体大肆宣扬的那些。

眼下,随着马多夫(Bernard Madoff)丑闻的尘埃逐渐落定,有些阵营里有一种趋势越来越明显,那就是他们认为受害人有过错,至少在一定程度上是这样。这些说法认为,这些受害人应该意识到,不论市场形势是好是坏每年都能获得10%左右的回报率,这是不可能的好事。他们应该对马多夫就如何实现这么高的回报所作的解释感到怀疑。而且,就他对自己投资策略的解释(包括同时买进股票、卖出期权合约),他们应该注意到,那些期权交易的量不足以得出他所公布的收益。

我想,这类批评的意思是,我们都应该把自己变成法律会计师。有些投资者在这场骗局中损失了毕生的积蓄,在这种情况下,我觉得上面这类说法不仅荒谬,而且让人反感。毕竟,在各种市场形势下获得持续回报几乎是所有共同基金的卖点。有很多基金报告的年回报率远远高于10%,也未见到有什么人不相信。是的,马多夫宣称的回报是挺高的,但那没到让人产生不应有的怀疑的程度。至于说他在解释投资策略时含糊其辞,实际上,他并不比其他许多对冲基金经理甚至共同基金经理更含糊。

的确,是有一些潜在投资人在仔细审视了马多夫的业务后拒绝投资。但这种情况几乎每家共同基金都存在。2006年,有一位潜在投资人怀疑马多夫的基金实乃庞氏骗局,并就此报告了证券交易委员会。证交会进行了调查,并在马多夫纠正了一些小问题后就让他过关了。为什么会这样?现在仍是整个事件中一个没法回答的大问题。然而,马多夫的受害者信任这样一个应该担起监管责任的机构,当然可以原谅。

尽管如此,还是有一些我们应该牢记在心的警示和教训。

马多夫的帐目是由一家基本名不见经传的会计公司审计的。因此,一个简单但很关键的原则是,如果一家机构(不论是对冲基金、合伙制金融机构还是共同基金)的帐目不是由公认的、富有声望且有大量客户的会计公司(最好是“四大行”之一)审计的,那么千万不要投资。你可以事先查问一下这家机构的审计方。如果对它不了解,可以到网上搜索一下。

--投资多元化。这是显而易见的,但有必要在此重复一下,因为这次事件中有许多个人和机构是将几乎全部身家托付给了马多夫。虽然要减少看起来运作得非常出色的资产上的投资会特别困难,但这是调整平衡和多样化的基本要求。毕竟,不是非要到欺诈案曝光才能暴露将过多资产集中投资在一个地方的荒唐之处。一波剧烈的市场调整也会有同样的破坏性效果。

--无论任何人对你说你能在承担较低风险的情况下获得较高回报,你都不要相信。如果你要实现高回报,那么你同时也要接受高风险。

-- 别依赖中间人。马多夫的许多投资者是听了顾问的建议后把投资转过来的。随着对冲基金和其他另类投资机会日益增多,这样的中间人正变得越来越受欢迎。许多人不愿意对投资自己动脑子,但是,你不能把所有责任都托付给别人。

--与此同时,不要对人性失去信心。上周我曾跟一位有良好声誉的基金经理人交谈过。那时她刚花了4个小时,在一位客户面前为自己辩护。这位客户说,在发生了马多夫丑闻后,她再也不相信任何人了。马多夫的确是一个让人非常震惊的案例,但他只是一个异常的个例。大部分基金经理都是诚实、勤奋的专业人士,心中想着客户的最大利益。金融体系是在信任的基础上、在监管的支持下运转的。这两点在马多夫案中都是缺位的,但这并不意味着每个人都是骗子。
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