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不是秘密的秘密

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The most skeptical investors I ever met were Wall Street equity capital market professionals - the ones responsible for pricing initial public offerings. When it came to their personal accounts, they never saw a share they liked.

Their problem? They were the line foremen at the giant Wall Street sausage factory. They knew what went into the sausages, how they were cured, packaged and sold - and wanted no part of it.

I always had a different take. I believed in the promise of the equity markets but not in the hope of anyone to outsmart them. Which is why I turned to index funds and the Vanguard Group, the not-so-secret secret of my investing success.

Since 1991, I have been investing at Vanguard, a $1.3 trillion money manager. Vanguard's specialty is index funds - passively managed funds that mirror the performance of broader stock indexes. Today, I have about a dozen Vanguard funds.

My returns? For the five years ended May 31, my blended Vanguard return is 11.5% annually. Over three years, the same 11.5%. Over the past year, 0.4%. By hedge-fund standards, these are modest returns. But the money outperformed the S&P 500 by 7.2 percentage points over the past year, by four percentage points over the past three years and by about two percentage points over five years. And that was with about 10% always in cash.

The next George Soros? I am afraid not. My investment mix is 70% index funds, a few sector funds and two funds managed for Vanguard by Primecap, a West Coast asset manager.

Some Vanguard investors are fanatical about only indexing. I am an index believer, but not a zealot. A decade or so ago, my wife randomly picked the actively managed Primecap fund. It has outperformed its peers. So far.

How does an active management skeptic like me outperform with index funds? Mostly luck in allocation. There were European and emerging-market index funds that rose as the dollar collapsed. And energy and precious-metal funds that rode the bull commodities market.

Plus, I benefited from an aberration in my own investing behavior. I almost never take profits. But last October I looked at the five-year 25% to 35% annual returns in my 'hot' funds and figured this can't last forever. So I took some money off the table. Common sense, not brilliant insight.

Can it be that easy? Wall Street doesn't want you to think so, but it is. Index funds, sensible allocation, patience, not chasing performance. That is really all it takes. When friends ask me what to do with their money, I point them to Vanguard.com.

On Wall Street, Vanguard isn't popular. Unlike Fidelity and BlackRock Inc., it's structured as an entity owned by the funds themselves. Low costs, no profits. It is an affront to the armies of traders, brokers and fund managers who require high costs for their livelihood.

Many of my Wall Street colleagues would have been embarrassed to admit they invested through Vanguard. It is like a gourmand confessing he loves McNuggets. Most had expensive brokers who disappointed them. Every now and then the broker would serve up an allocation to a hot IPO to justify his services.

Vanguard may be a little too Do-It-Yourself for people who prefer to entrust their money to someone else. Nor is it the place for the sophisticate looking to roll the dice with hedge funds. Of course, Vanguard isn't the only good money manager out there. But wherever you end up make sure you know what you are paying.

A friend of mine uses a large, well-respected money-management firm. I have scrutinized his portfolio statements at length and I still can't figure out his real returns. There is a gobbledygook of buried expenses and fees. Inappropriate benchmarks. Blended returns. Incomprehensible.

Which is what his money manager wants. Then he can't see he would have been better off with index funds.

On Wall Street, this obfuscation of actual performance is an art form. It is called marketing. Next time you see an advertisement promoting a fund's performance, count the asterisks and read the small print. You may go blind, but at least you will understand how the game is played.

There is only one way to beat the market. Buy the market - and get a little lucky.

我遇到过的最不相信华尔街的投资者就是华尔街股票资本市场上的专业人士,也就是那些给新上市股票定价的家伙们。不过,在他们的个人帐户上,从来见不到一只他们自己吹得天花乱坠的股票。

这是怎么回事呢?他们就像华尔街“香肠工厂”的领班。他们知道香肠里都灌了些什么货色,加工、包装、出售都走了哪些程序,而且,这些香肠他们自己一根都不想要。

但我一直有不同的“口味”。我相信证券市场是有前途的,但我不指望任何人会比市场更聪明。正因为如此,我转投了指数基金和Vanguard Group,这可以说是我在投资方面能获得成功的不是秘密的秘密。

我从1991年就开始投资Vanguard,这是一家坐拥1.3万亿资产的基金管理公司,其专长就是指数基金,这是一种跟踪大盘表现的被动型基金。如今我手里持有十多种Vanguard的基金。

你问我的回报率吗?在截至5月31日的5年间,我持有的Vanguard基金的混合年回报率为11.5%。过去3年的年回报率也是11.5%,过去1年是0.4%。如果按对冲基金的标准,这些回报水平一般。但如果对照标普500过去1、3、5年的表现,我的回报率分别高出7.2 、4、2个百分点。而且,我持有的这些基金一直保持大约10%的现金配置。

Vanguard会成为下一个乔治•索罗斯(George Soros)吗?恐怕不会。我的投资组合里有70%指数基金、几只行业基金和由西海岸资产管理公司Primecap为Vanguard管理的两只基金。

一些Vanguard投资者对指数产品情有独锺。我本人虽然也相信指数投资,但还没那么狂热。大约十年前,我太太没怎么考虑就挑选了属于积极管理型的Primecap基金。所幸它的表现一直好于同行。至少到目前为止是这样。

像我这样一个对积极管理持怀疑态度的人怎么会凭借指数基金获得超过平均水平的投资回报呢?这大部分要归功于我的配置。我的投资组合里有欧洲和新兴市场指数基金,在美元汇率下跌时,它们的行情却在上涨;我还有能源和贵金属基金,正好也赶上了大宗商品市场的牛市行情。

此外,我在投资上的非常规做法也不无帮助。我几乎从不做短线获利了结,但去年10月,我注意到手里的热门基金5年间的年回报率高达25%-35%,我觉得这个水平不可能永远持续下去,于是我彻回了部分资金。这也只是常识,算不上是深知灼见。

就这么简单?虽然华尔街不希望你这么想,但事实就是如此。指数基金、合理的配置、耐心,再加上别一味追求回报,这些就足够了。当有朋友问我该怎么打理资金时,我会让他们到Vanguard.com上面看看。

在华尔街,Vanguard这样的模式并不流行。它跟Fidelity和贝莱德(BlackRock Inc.)不同,它走的是基金自有实体模式,低成本,不盈利。这对大量“饲养”成本的交易员、经纪商和基金经理来说真是莫大的蔑视。

要让我的许多华尔街同仁承认他们自己通过Vangurad做了投资或许是很尴尬的事。这就像让一位美食家承认他喜欢吃快餐店里的老什子炸鸡一样难堪。很多人花钱找经纪公司,结果却大失所望。经纪公司也会时不时地在配置里加入某只热门的新上市股票,以此向投资者表明他的服务是物有所值。

对一些喜欢委托理财的投资者来说,Vangurad的“自助”味道或许有点重。它也不适合那些指望像对冲基金那样撞大运的高智商人士。当然,Vangurad并不是唯一一家优秀的资产管理公司,但不论你把钱交给谁打理,你都务必搞清楚你付出的什么。

我有一位朋友选择了一家很有名气的大型资产管理公司。我仔仔细细查看了他的投资组合报告,还是看不出他的回报率到底有多少。报告里对到底有多少费用和收费罗里罗嗦地也没说清楚。要么对照基准不合适,要么回报率混杂,要么是文字难以理解。

这正是他的理财经理希望看到的效果。这样一来,他就搞不清是不是指数基金能让他得到更多收益了。

在华尔街,这种对实际回报大搞混淆视听的做法已是一种惯例。他们把这称作“市场营销”。下次当你看到基金推广广告的时候,记住只看星号后面芝麻大的小字就可以了,也许这会毁掉你的眼睛,但至少让你对这其中的名堂有所了解。

要想获得超过大盘的回报,唯一的办法就是跟着大盘走,再加上一点好运气。
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