经济学人官方译文 | 一篮子无形资产:在衡量企业内在价值时,账面价值为何已失去指标意义

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Buttonwood
梧桐
A basket of intangibles
一篮子无形资产
Why book value has lost its meaning as a measure of a firm’s intrinsic worth
在衡量企业内在价值时,账面价值为何已失去指标意义

BABY-BOOMERS may recall, perhaps wistfully, how the golden-arched sign outside every McDonald’s restaurant would proclaim how many customers had been served by the chain. As they became adults, the number kept on climbing: 5bn in 1969; 30bn in 1979; 80bn in 1990. Jerry Seinfeld, a wry chronicler of the trivial, was moved to ask: “Why is McDonald’s still counting?” Do we really need to know about every last burger? Just put up a sign that says, “We’re doing very well.”
婴儿潮一代可能还记得(或许还有点怅然若失),从前每家麦当劳餐厅外面的金色拱形标志上都会宣告这家连锁餐厅已经接待了多少名顾客。随着婴儿潮一代长大成人,这个数字不断攀升:1969年达到50亿,1979年300亿,1990年800亿。这让擅长吐槽各种琐事的脱口秀喜剧演员杰瑞·宋飞(Jerry Seinfeld)不禁发问:“为什么麦当劳还在算人数?”我们真的需要知道上一个卖出的汉堡是第几个吗?直接竖个牌子写上“我们生意很好”就行了嘛。

The counting stopped. The signs said simply: “Billions and billions served”. If this seems unhelpfully vague, that is how the counting business sometimes is. Many of America’s biggest companies, including McDonald’s, report a negative book value, a gauge of a firm’s net assets. Many more have a book value that is small relative to their market value: their shares look dear on a price-to-book basis. Much of this is down to the complexity of valuing a firm’s assets in the digital age. But the result is that price-to-book is a bad guide to a stock’s true value.
麦当劳后来不再计数了。各家店铺的标志牌上只写着:“已接待千亿计的顾客”。这也许看起来太过模糊,但计数这个事有时就是这样的。包括麦当劳在内,许多美国最大规模的企业的账面价值(衡量一家企业的净资产)都是负值。还有更多企业的账面价值相对于其市值而言较低:即按市净率来看其股价偏高。这主要是因为在数字时代评估公司资产的复杂性造成的,但结果就是市净率不能准确反应股票的真实价值。

Stockpickers make a distinction between the price of a share and what it is truly worth. Price is a creature of fickle sentiment, of greed and fear. Value, in contrast, depends on a firm’s capabilities. There are various shorthand measures for this, but true “value” investors put the greatest store by the price-to-book ratio. It is the basis for inclusion in benchmarks such as the Russell value index. Countless studies have shown that buying stocks with a low price-to-book is a winning strategy.
股票高手会区别看待股票的价格和其真正价值。股价反应的是变幻无常的情绪、贪婪和恐惧。而价值取决于公司的实力。对此有各种简单的衡量方式,但真正的“价值”投资者最看重市净率,它是股票被纳入罗素指数等基准指数所需的基础数值。无数研究表明,购买市净率低的股票是一种致胜策略。

But not recently. For much of the past decade, value stocks have lagged behind the general market and a long way behind “growth” stocks, their antithesis. Perhaps this is because, as the industrial age gives way to the digital age, the intangible assets that increasingly matter are not easy to put a value on. The tangible world is easier. Factories, machines, land and office buildings count as capital assets on a firm’s books, because they will generate profits for many years. It is a fairly straightforward business to come up with a value for them: it is what the firm paid. This value is gradually written off (depreciated) over time to reflect wear and tear and obsolescence.
但近年来情况发生了一些变化。在过去十年的大部分时间里,价值型股票的表现逊于大市,而且远远落后于与之性质相反的“成长型”股票。这也许是因为,随着工业时代让位于数字时代,越来越重要的无形资产却难以估值。有形资产则更容易估值。工厂、机器、土地和办公楼在公司账面上算作资本资产,因为它们将在多年里产生利润。对这些资产的估值相当直接了当:就是公司为购置它们支付的金额。随着时间的推移,这些价值会逐渐被扣减(即折旧),以反映资产的损耗和淘汰。

Such fixed capital assets, along with current assets (cash, stocks of unsold goods, and so on) typically make up the bulk of book value. The problem is what it leaves out. These days, the value of a firm lies as much in its reputation, its processes, the know-how of staff and relationships with customers and suppliers as in tangible assets. Putting an accounting value on these intangibles is notoriously tricky. By their nature, they have unclear boundaries. Not every dollar of R&D or advertising spending can be ascribed to a well-defined asset, such as a brand or patent. That is in large part why, with a few exceptions, such spending is treated as a running cost, like rent or electricity.
此类固定资本资产以及流动资产(现金、未售出货物的库存等)通常占到账面价值的大部分。问题在于那些不包含在账面价值中的东西。如今,公司的价值不仅存在于有形资产中,还取决于其声誉、工艺、员工的专业知识,以及与客户和供应商的关系。计算这些无形资产的价值非常棘手。就其性质而言,它们不易界定。并非每一美元的研发或广告支出都能归入某个明确定义的资产类别,例如品牌或专利。很大程度上,这就是为什么这类支出会和租金或电费等一道被列为运营成本,仅有少数例外。

Increasingly price is detached from book value. The median price-to-book of S&P 500 stocks is 3.0. But plenty of well-known companies, whose competitive edge rests on brands or patents, have much higher ratios or even negative book values (see chart). McDonald’s has considerable brand value, which is not on its balance-sheet. It also has property assets that have been fully depreciated.
股票价格越来越与账面价值脱节。标准普尔500股票的中位市净率为3.0。但许多依靠品牌或专利建立起竞争优势的知名公司具有高得多的市净率,账面价值甚至为负(见图表)。麦当劳的品牌价值很可观,却没有体现在资产负债表上。它还有很多已完全折旧的不动产。

经济学人官方译文 | 一篮子无形资产:在衡量企业内在价值时,账面价值为何已失去指标意义

The effect of mergers is to make things murkier. If, say, one firm pays $100m for another that has $30m of tangible assets, the residual $70m is counted as an intangible asset—either as brand value, if that can be gauged, or as “goodwill”. That distorts comparisons. A firm that has acquired brands by merger will have those reflected in its book value, says Simon Harris, of GMO, a fund-management firm; a firm that has developed its own brands will not. Share buy-backs make things murkier still. For any firm with a price-to-book greater than one, a buy-back will diminish book by proportionately more than it lowers the value of outstanding stock. So price-to-book rises further.
企业合并会让价值更难计算。例如,如果一家公司花费1亿美元收购了另一家拥有3000万美元有形资产的公司,那么这7000万美元的差额将被视为无形资产——要么记作品牌价值(如果可以计算的话),要么记作“商誉”。这会在比较不同企业时造成扭曲。基金管理公司GMO的西蒙·哈里斯(Simon Harris)表示,一家通过合并来收购品牌的公司将在其账面价值上反映出品牌,而开发自有品牌的公司却不会。股票回购就把水搅得更浑了。对于任何市净率大于1的公司而言,回购带来的账面价值降幅将大于流通股价值的降幅。市净率因此会进一步上升。

Some have called for accounting rules to change. But the more leeway a company has to turn day-to-day costs into capital assets, the more scope there is to fiddle with reported earnings. Better to spur the disclosure of spending that adds to intangible value. Analysts can then make their own judgments. Mr Harris finds that adjusting book value to reflect past R&D and advertising spending makes for more useful comparisons across stocks. It is not a perfect gauge. But no single measure—whether price-to-book or billions of customers served—can ever tell the whole story.
一些人呼吁改变会计规则。但是,公司将日常成本转化为资本资产的余地越大,就越有可能在报告收益方面做文章。更好的做法是敦促公司披露那些会提升无形资产价值的支出。这样分析师就可以做出自己的判断。哈里斯发现,调整账面价值以反映过往的研发和广告支出对于比较股票更有意义。这不是一个完美的衡量标准。但无论是市净率还是已接待过的亿计顾客人数,没有任何一个衡量标准可以全面体现公司的价值。

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