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Mad about Tulips (为郁金香疯狂)

This is a story that happened in 17th century Europe. Tulips were introduced into Holland before the 17th century but it did not take long for the flowers to gain popularity among the upper classes. Flowers of such beauty and rarity soon became symbols of power and prestige and the rich tried their utmost to lay their hands on some to display in their gardens. When more people learned of the prices that the rich were willing to pay for tulips, they knew they just found a ‘get-rich-quick’ gold mine.

这里要讲一个发生在17世纪欧洲的故事。郁金香在17世纪传入荷兰,没多久的时间贵族就疯狂爱上了它。这美丽兼稀有的花朵顿时成了权力和威望的象征,只要是有钱人都千方百计找几朵种在自己的庭院供玩赏。当越来越多人知道贵族们愿意为一束郁金香付出高昂的价格时,他们晓得已经寻到梦寐以求的金矿。

By 1634, the whole country was so fascinated by tulips that all other activities almost came to a stop. People were trading in tulips and even buying and selling un-sprouted flowers. It was similar to the futures market today, where traders are buying and selling crude oil or cotton which they will never see. It was documented that one rare bulb fetched a price equivalent to ten tons of cheese. As the tulip trades increased, regular marts were set up on the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam and other towns. That happened in the year 1636 when mania was reaching its peak.

1634年,荷兰百业荒废,全国上下都为郁金香疯狂,进行郁金香的交易,甚至买卖还未种植的花朵。就像现代的期货市场,交易员都在买卖见也未见过的石油或棉花。有人曾记载,当时一个稀有的球茎竟然叫价相等于十吨重芝士的价值。当郁金香交易开始频繁,大家就在阿姆斯特丹股票交易所和一些城镇设立了固定的市场进行买卖。那一年是1636,郁金香交易的投机性也变本加厉。

 

Like all speculative bubbles, many made a fortune in the beginning. As the prices moved in one direction, you only needed to buy low and sell high, buy high and sell higher. After the initial gains, confidence rose and many sold away their assets in order to invest more money in tulips, hoping to make more money. The temptation was so great that those who were watching from the sidelines also rushed to the tulip-marts. People often said in jest that one should sell stocks when housewives were talking about stocks in the market. Mass participation was a sign that the market had peaked. At that time, everyone thought that the high demand for tulips would continue forever and prices could only go up because more and more people from all over the world would start to like tulips. This was similar to the early nineties when China opened up its economy. If a listed company announced its intention to enter the Chinese market, its stock price rose because the profit potential was limitless if every single Chinese bought its product.

像所有的投机泡沫,人们都在开始时赚了钱。由于价钱节节上升,你只须买低卖高,买高卖更高。得了甜头后,大家信心大增,倾家荡产把更多的钱投入郁金香买卖,希望赚取更多的钱。原本旁观的人也受不了诱惑,都加入疯狂抢购的队伍。这就是投资行家所讲的“连巴刹里的阿嫂也谈股票”现象。这是价钱达到巅峰的征兆。人们都普遍认为郁金香的供不应求将永远持续下去,价钱一定会上升,因为人们以为全世界会有越来越多的人爱上它。这又有点像90年代初,中国开放后,任何宣布进军中国市场的上市公司,都受到投资者的垂青,因为人们认为只要每一个中国人购买它的产品,公司的钱就会赚个不完。

  

When the prices of tulips reached such an exorbitant level, few people bought them for planting in their gardens. The real demand for the flowers was exaggerated by people who were buying them for speculation, not appreciation. The bubble finally burst in 1637. For some unknown reasons maybe a group of people suddenly realized the madness tulips failed to command the usual inflated prices in a gathering. Word spread and the market crashed. As in all asset bubbles, it took time to propel prices to such outlandish levels, but it only took a single pierce to burst the bubble. When confidence was destroyed, it could not be recovered and prices kept falling until they were one-tenth of those set during the peak. Soon the nobles became poor and the rich became paupers. Cries of distress resounded everywhere in Holland.

郁金香的价值达到这个地步,已没有多少人是买它来种在庭园里。多数的人都想从中牟取暴利,而不是纯粹想欣赏它,所以真正的需求被夸大了,泡沫终于在1637年的某一天破了。不晓得为了什么,可能有一群人清醒了,郁金香在一次交易中无法保持以往的高价钱。消息一传十,十传百,神话破灭了。像所有的泡沫,要把它吹涨需要一段时间,可是轻轻一戮破,它即刻破灭了。人们的信心一旦丧失,就难挽回,结果价钱一跌再跌,只剩高峰时期的一成。瞬息间,贵族变贫民,富翁成乞丐,荷兰陷入一片萧条。

  

Why do investment professionals like to bring up this story that happened centuries ago? This is because greed is part of human nature and short memory is an investor trait, we just never seem to learn from past mistakes. Recently, many have pointed to the American investors’ craze over Internet stocks as another ‘tulip mania’. Whether these are really ‘Internet tulips’ remain to be seen. However there are tell-tale signs that the buying is overdone.

为什么几百年前的事,如今还被人津津乐道?因为人的贪性不变,记性不好,虽有前车之鉴,可是仍栽了进去。远的不说,最近就有人指出美国股市出现了“网络郁金香”。这些网际网络股是不是郁金香,应留给后人去评定,可是却有迹象显示有过热的情况。

  

There is no denial that the Internet is an important development in this century, but it is madness when every Internet stock jumps in multiples and every company that announces conducting their business over the net witnesses their stock prices going up. Not to mention that some of these Internet stocks are trading at hundreds times PE and some will not report any profit for the next few years ! In the early eighties when personal computers just appeared, PC-related stocks were also the darlings of investors, just like Internet stocks. However, many of the top brands then did not survive and most of the leaders in the PC industry today were not set up then. A look at the table shows the extent of the high valuations enjoyed by Internet stocks, as evidenced by their high market capitalization (think of it as the price in the PE ratio) relative to their low annual revenues.

无可否认的,网络是本世纪末的重大发展。可是任何网络股都飙升,任何公司只要宣布要上网做生意,隔天股价就会上涨,这就接近疯狂了。不说有些网络股的本益比是百倍以上,有些公司在未来几年还不能赚钱呢!其实80年代初,个人电脑面市时,许多人也对个人电脑制造商寄予厚望。可是当年成名的品牌如今已荡然无存,而今天数一数二的电脑制造商,当时仍未成立。本文附上一个图表,显示网络股的高估价,从中你可以看到它们的高市值(可以把它当做本益比中的股价)与低营业额的悬殊对比。

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