We rarely use much debt and, when we do, we attempt to structure it on a long‐term fixed rate basis. We will reject interesting opportunities rather than over‐leverage our balance sheet. This conservatism has penalized our results but it is the only behavior that leaves us comfortable, considering our fiduciary obligations to policyholders, depositors, lenders and the many equity holders who have committed unusually large portions of their net worth to our care.
Our consistently-conservative financial policies may appear to have been a mistake, but in my view were not. In retrospect, it is clear that significantly higher, though still conventional, leverage ratios at Berkshire would have produced considerably better returns on equity than the 23.8% we have actually averaged. Even in 1965, perhaps we could have judged there to be a 99% probability that higher leverage would lead to nothing but good. Correspondingly, we might have seen only a 1% chance that some shock factor, external or internal, would cause a conventional debt ratio to produce a result falling somewhere between temporary anguish and default.
We wouldn't have liked those 99:1 odds - and never will. A small chance of distress or disgrace cannot, in our view, be offset by a large chance of extra returns. If your actions are sensible, you are certain to get good results; in most such cases, leverage just moves things along faster. Charlie and I have never been in a big hurry: We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds - though we have learned to live with those also.
我们一贯的财务保守做法看起来像是个错误，但我认为这种做法完全正确。回顾过去，伯克希尔取得了年化 23.8% 的净资产收益率，如果我们在可接受的范围内大幅提高财务杠杆比率，净资产收益率的数值也会获得可观的提升。1965 年，我们做出如下判断：在可接受的范围内提高杠杆获得更高收益的概率高达 99%，与之相对的是仅仅有 1% 的概率，在一些意想不到的内外因素影响下，我们会陷于短暂的困境，甚至被迫平仓。
我们其实并不喜欢这种 99% 会赢 1% 会输的，而且永远也不会喜欢。在我们看来，极高概率获取的超额回报，其实并没有办法弥补微小概率下你的无尽烦恼或颜面尽失。如果你是个明智的人，肯定会获得不错的结果，在大多数情况下，杠杆只是加速了这个过程。我和查理从不着急，和投资获得的收益相比，我们更享受投资的过程，当然在享受过程的同时，我们也学会了去承担收益好或不好的结果。
Unquestionably, some people have become very rich through the use of borrowed money. However, that’s also been a way to get very poor. When leverage works, it magnifies your gains. Your spouse thinks you’re clever, and your neighbors get envious. But leverage is addictive. Once having profited from its wonders, very few people retreat to more conservative practices. And as we all learned in third grade – and some relearned in 2008 – any series of positive numbers, however impressive the numbers may be, evaporates when multiplied by a single zero. History tells us that leverage all too often produces zeroes, even when it is employed by very smart people.
毫无疑问，总有家伙通过加财务杠杆变得非常富有。然而，财务杠杆同样也可能让人穷困潦倒。如果杠杆用得好，你的收益会增加，这会让你的配偶觉得你很聪明，让你的邻居羡慕你。但杠杆可是会上瘾的，一旦品尝过用它获利的滋味，很少有人会回退到不加杠杆的保守状态。正像我们在三年级数学中学到的——一些人在 2008 年重温了这一知识——那就是，不管多大的正数，只要乘以一个零，都会烟消云散而归零。历史一再向我们证明，几乎所有杠杆的最终归宿都是清零，即使驾驭杠杆的是绝顶聪明之人。
Investors, of course, can, by their own behavior, make stock ownership highly risky. And many do. Active trading, attempts to “time” market movements, inadequate diversification, the payment of high and unnecessary fees to managers and advisors, and the use of borrowed money can destroy the decent returns that a life-long owner of equities would otherwise enjoy. Indeed, borrowed money has no place in the investor’s tool kit: Anything can happen anytime in markets. And no advisor, economist, or TV commentator – and definitely not Charlie nor I – can tell you when chaos will occur. Market forecasters will fill your ear but will never fill your wallet.
Another warning: Berkshire shares should not be purchased with borrowed money. There have been three times since 1965 when our stock has fallen about 50% from its high point. Someday, something close to this kind of drop will happen again, and no one knows when. Berkshire will almost certainly be a satisfactory holding for investors. But it could well be a disastrous choice for speculators employing leverage.
另一个警告：不要用杠杆资金购买伯克希尔的股票。1965 年以来，伯克希尔的股票已经有三次从阶段高点跌了 50%。未来的某天，类似的大跌以后还会出现，而且没人知道这种事啥时候会发生。伯克希尔的股票对于投资者而言是一个能获得满意收益的持仓选择，但对于加杠杆的投机者而言却很有可能是一个灾难。
Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need. We held this view 50 years ago when we each ran an investment partnership, funded by a few friends and relatives who trusted us. We also hold it today after a million or so “partners” have joined us at Berkshire.
There is simply no telling how far stocks can fall in a short period. Even if your borrowings are small and your positions aren’t immediately threatened by the plunging market, your mind may well become rattled by scary headlines and breathless commentary. And an unsettled mind will not make good decisions.
我们对于杠杆的厌恶实际上降低了我们的收益，但我和查理睡得很安稳。我俩都认为，冒着失去你所拥有的风险，去争取那些你本来就不需要的，这种做法实在太疯狂了。我们 50 年前就是这么想的，那时候我们各自运营着自己的合伙人基金，资金来自一些信任我们的朋友和亲友。我们到今天仍然是这么想的，但如今我们的“合伙人”变成了几百万伯克希尔的股东。
Anything can happen to stock prices tomorrow. Occasionally, there will be major drops in the market, perhaps of 50% magnitude or even greater. But the combination of The American Tailwind, about which I wrote last year, and the compounding wonders described by Mr. Smith, will make equities the much better long-term choice for the individual who does not use borrowed money and who can control his or her emotions. Others? Beware!
就明天的股价而言，一切皆有可能。股市时不时就会大跌，股价没准会跌掉一半甚至更多。股市大跌时，对于不借钱和能控制自己情绪的投资者而言，股票的长期投资价值会显著增加，价值增加的原因，既包括我在去年信中提到的“美国国运”，也包括 Smith 先生提到的公司留存收益的复利效应。而其他人呢？只能小心一点，自求多福了。