第八封信:最重要的是自由现金流

第八封信中英文对照:

To our shareholders:
致我们的股东:

Our ultimate financial measure, and the one we most want to drive over the long-term, is free cash flow per share.
我们的评估财务状况的终极指标,也就是我们长期以来最想推动的指标,是每股的自由现金流。

Why not focus first and foremost, as many do, on earnings, earnings per share or earnings growth? The simple answer is that earnings don’t directly translate into cash flows, and shares are worth only the present value of their future cash flows, not the present value of their future earnings. Future earnings are a component—but not the only important component—of future cash flow per share. Working capital and capital expenditures are also important, as is future share dilution.
为什么不像许多人一样,首先关注收益,像是每股收益或收益增长?最简单的答案是,收益并不会直接转化为现金流。股价反映的是未来现金流的现值,而不是未来收益的现值。每股未来现金流部分来自未来收益,但不是全部。对未来现金流而言,未来收益不是唯一重要的,营运资本、资本支出和股权稀释都有对未来现金流有重要影响。

Though some may find it counterintuitive, a company can actually impair shareholder value in certain circumstances by growing earnings. This happens when the capital investments required for growth exceed the present value of the cash flow derived from those investments.
尽管有些人可能会认为这样做违反直觉。然而,某些情况下,公司确实可以透过提升收益,损害股东价值。当增长所需的资本投资超过这些投资所产生的现金流量现值时,这样的事就会发生。

To illustrate with a hypothetical and very simplified example, imagine that an entrepreneur invents a machine that can quickly transport people from one location to another. The machine is expensive—$160 million with an annual capacity of 100,000 passenger trips and a four year useful life. Each trip sells for $1,000 and requires $450 in cost of goods for energy and materials and $50 in labor and other costs.
用一个简化的例子来说明,假设一位企业家发明了一台机器,这台机器能够快速将人们从A地送往B地。这台机器造价1.6亿美元,一年能够传送10万人次,使用寿命为4年。每次快速传送的收费是1000美元,其中包括450美元的材料成本和50美元的人工成本。

Continue to imagine that business is booming, with 100,000 trips in Year 1, completely and perfectly utilizing the capacity of one machine. This leads to earnings of $10 million after deducting operating expenses including depreciation—a 10% net margin. The company’s primary focus is on earnings; so based on initial results the entrepreneur decides to invest more capital to fuel sales and earnings growth, adding additional machines in Years 2 through 4.
接着,业务继续蓬勃发展,第一年机器就使用10万人次,刚好用尽一台机器的价值。扣除折旧等运营费用后,将带来1000万美元的收入以及10%的净利润。这家公司最关注的正是收益。因此,根据结果企业家决定投入更多的资本以促进销售和收益增长,并在第2年到第4年购买更多机器。

Here are the income statements for the first four years of business:
以下是营业前四年的损益表:

It’s impressive: 100% compound earnings growth and $150 million of cumulative earnings. Investors considering only the above income statement would be delighted.
这是令人印象深刻的表现:复合收益增长100%,累计收益达到1.5亿美元。如果只考虑上述损益表的话,投资者将感到十分高兴。

However, looking at cash flows tells a different story. Over the same four years, the transportation business generates cumulative negative free cash flow of $530 million.
然而,观察现金流,你会有不同看法:在同样一段时间中,运输业务产生的自由现金流为「负5.3亿美元」。

There are of course other business models where earnings more closely approximate cash flows. But as our transportation example illustrates, one cannot assess the creation or destruction of shareholder value with certainty by looking at the income statement alone.
当然,在其他商业模式中,收益可能更接近现金流。但是,正如我们的上述案例所显示的,只看损益表是无法评估股东价值的增加或减少。

Notice, too, that a focus on EBITDA—Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization—would lead to the same faulty conclusion about the health of the business. Sequential annual EBITDA would have been $50, $100, $200 and $400 million— 100 % growth for three straight years. But without taking into account the $1.28 billion in capital expenditures necessary to generate this ‘cash flow,’ we’re getting only part of the story—EBITDA isn’t cash flow.
同样要注意的是,关注EBITDA(税前息前折旧前摊销前利润)也可能会导致对业务状况的误判。连续四年,EBITDA分别为5千万美元,1亿美元,2亿美元和4亿美元,其中连续三年增长为100%。但是,这样的表现来自于12.8亿美元的资本支出,而我们只得到其中一部分回报-EBITDA无法跟现金流相提并论。

What if we modified the growth rates and, correspondingly, capital expenditures for machinery—would cash flows have deteriorated or improved?
当我们调整增长率和相应的资本支出之后,现金流会恶化还是改善?

Paradoxically, from a cash flow perspective, the slower this business grows the better off it is. Once the initial capital outlay has been made for the first machine, the ideal growth trajectory is to scale to 100% of capacity quickly, then stop growing. However, even with only one piece of machinery, the gross cumulative cash flow doesn’t surpass the initial machine cost until Year 4 and the net present value of this stream of cash flows (using 12% cost of capital) is still negative.
吊诡的是,从现金流角度来看,这项业务发展的越慢越好。为第一台机器投入初始资本之后,增长率迅速提升至100%,然后便停止增长。然而,就算是只有一台机器的情况,在第四年之前,现金流都比初始机器成本还低,现金流的净值为负。

Unfortunately our transportation business is fundamentally flawed. There is no growth rate at which it makes sense to invest initial or subsequent capital to operate the business. In fact, our example is so simple and clear as to be obvious. Investors would run a net present value analysis on the economics and quickly determine it doesn’t pencil out. Though it’s more subtle and complex in the real world, this issue—the duality between earnings and cash flows—comes up all the time.
不幸的是,这样的运输业务存在根本上的缺陷。就算增长率再高,也无法让资本投入的回报合理化。我们的例子是如此简单明了且显而易见。投资者只要进行净现值分析,就会快速了解到这笔投资并不合算。虽然在真实世界中,评估收益是一件更加复杂的事,但收益和现金流之间的冲突依然时常发生。

Cash flow statements often don’t receive as much attention as they deserve. Discerning investors don’t stop with the income statement.
现金流量表常常没有得到应有的重视。敏锐的投资者,观察财务状况不应限于损益表。

Our Most Important Financial Measure: Free Cash Flow Per Share
我们最重要的财务指标:每股自由现金流

Amazon.com’s financial focus is on long-term growth in free cash flow per share.
Amazon的财务重点是每股自由现金流的长期增长。

Amazon.com’s free cash flow is driven primarily by increasing operating profit dollars and efficiently managing both working capital and capital expenditures. We work to increase operating profit by focusing on improving all aspects of the customer experience to grow sales and by maintaining a lean cost structure .
Amazon的自由现金流,主要来自增加的营业利润,以及营运资金和资本支出的效率提升。我们致力于改善客户体验的各个方面,提高销售额,并维持精益的成本结构,最终实现营业利润的提升。

We have a cash generative operating cycle because we turn our inventory quickly, collecting payments from our customers before payments are due to suppliers. Our high inventory turnover means we maintain relatively low levels of investment in inventory—$480 million at year end on a sales base of nearly $7 billion.
我们的营业周期足够短,因为我们可以很快地把存货售出,在向供应商付款前,先从消费者手中收到款项。我们的高库存周转率,意味着我们可以在库存上投入比较低的金额。年底时,我们的销售额近70亿美元,但库存仅投入4.8亿美元。

The capital efficiency of our business model is illustrated by our modest investments in fixed assets, which were $246 million at year end or 4% of 2004 sales.
Amazon商业模式的运作效率,在固定资产的投资数据上表露无遗。固定资产在年底达到2.46亿美元,仅占2004年销售额的4%。

Free cash flow grew 38% to $477 million in 2004, a $131 million improvement over the prior year. We are confident that if we continue to improve customer experience—including increasing selection and lowering prices—and execute efficiently, our value proposition, as well as our free cash flow, will further expand.
2004年,自由现金流量增长38%,达到4.77亿美元,比上一年增长1.31亿美元。我们有信心,如果我们持续改进客户体验(包括增加商品选择与降低价格)并有效执行,我们的价值主张和自由现金流将进一步提升。

As to dilution, total shares outstanding plus stock-based awards are essentially unchanged at the end of 2004 compared with 2003, and are down 1% over the last three years. During that same period, we’ve also eliminated over six million shares of potential future dilution by repaying more than $600 million of convertible debt that was due in 2009 and 2010. Efficiently managing share count means more cash flow per share and more long-term value for owners.
至于股权稀释,与2003年相比,2004年底流通在外的股票总额基本上没有变化,在过去三年中下降了1%。同一时期,我们偿还了2009年和2010年到期的可转换债券,价值6亿多美元,从而消除了600万股可能会稀释股权的股票。有效管理股票数量,意味着每股现金流量会更多,股东的长期价值会更高。

This focus on free cash flow isn’t new for Amazon.com. We made it clear in our 1997 letter to shareholders—our first as a public company—that when “forced to choose between optimizing GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.” I’m attaching a copy of our complete 1997 letter and encourage current and prospective shareowners to take a look at it.
对自由现金流的关注,对于Amazon来说并不稀奇。我们在1997年第一封致股东信中明确指出,当「被迫在优化GAAP会计报表和最大化未来现金流的现值之间做出选择时,我们将选择后者」。我会附上1997年的第一封致股东信,鼓励现有和潜在的股东对此进行研究。

As always, we at http://Amazon.com are grateful to our customers for their business and trust, to each other for our hard work, and to our shareholders for their support and encouragement.
一如既往,Amazon感谢客户的业务和信任,感谢彼此的辛勤工作,并感谢股东的支持和鼓励。

Jeffrey P. Bezos
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Amazon.com, Inc.
April 2005

杰夫·贝索斯
Amazon创始人暨CEO
2005年4月

我的观点

自由现金流这个东西,其实巴菲特也是同样的看法。

巴菲特非常著名的自由现金流估值法: 自由现金流=净利润+折旧+摊销-(资本支出+营运成本的增加),这个公式又称为股东盈余。

2004年的亚马逊自由现金流增长了38%,确实是一个不错的数据。而且它主要来自增加的营业利润,以及营运资金和资本支出的效率提升。

这种增长是一个非常好的数据,比较一下国内很多上市公司的财报,你就可以发现,这种通过净利润增加,成本减少的增长是非常少的。比如,很多通过变卖资产,拿国家补贴等方法。

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