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商业 - 科技

揭开Uber保险公司的面纱

Stephen Gandel 2014年12月17日

总部位于百慕大的詹姆士河集团是打车服务商Uber的承保人。该公司去年支付的税率仅有12.6%,其投资的银行贷款评级甚至低于垃圾债券。如今,这家保险商即将上市,投资者有理由保持谨慎。

    批评Airbnb、Uber等所谓“分享经济”公司的人认为,这些公司设置独特的股权结构,就是为了避税。甚至有一些处于分享经济边缘的公司,似乎也在想方设法地避开美国国税局。

    作为Uber公司的承保人,詹姆士河集团(James River Group)去年支付的税率仅有12.6%。这甚至都不足标准普尔500指数成分股公司去年平均税率(27%)的一半。美国的有效公司税率为35%。

    那么,詹姆士河集团是如何成功避税的?几年前,该公司迁往一个小岛。詹姆士河集团成立于2002年,公司总部最初位于北卡罗来纳州教堂山。时至今日,公司网站显示的通信地址依旧是北卡罗来纳州罗利市。但早在2007年,该公司就被纽约对冲基金D. E. Shaw收购。该笔交易引发了两起股东诉讼,并且为詹姆士河集团创始人支付了巨额费用。其中,马修•布朗福曼获得了6,000万美元。他是布朗福曼家族的后裔,该家族曾经拥有酒业巨头施格兰公司(Seagrams)。

    D. E. Shaw将詹姆士河集团与一家位于百慕大的空壳公司合并,并将合并后公司的总部迁至这个小岛。自2007年以来,这家公司一直为私人所有,但该公司预计将在本周四进行首次公开募股。詹姆士河集团计划融资2.5亿美元,发行1,100万股。除了D. E. Shaw外,詹姆士河集团的另一个大股东是高盛公司(Goldman Sachs)。这让Uber与高盛的关系更近了一层。最近,这家打车服务公司聘用高盛发行可转换债券,高盛也一直希望成为Uber公司IPO的主承销商。

    詹姆士河集团擅长为公司提供所谓超额保险,其承保范围包括传统保险不能赔偿的损失。虽然Uber仅占詹姆士河集团业务的一小部分,但它是这家保险商增长最迅速的客户之一。在2013年前九个月,詹姆士河集团从所谓交通网络公司收取的保险费达到1,870万美元,较2012年的170万美元大幅提升。截至目前,公司今年已经获取了4.15亿美元的收入。

    目前尚不清楚这部分增长的业务收入是否全部来自Uber。这家打车服务公司承认从詹姆士河集团购买了责任险。问题在于,对于詹姆士河集团来说,为该公司承保是笔好买卖吗?

    今年早些时候,Uber发表博文称:“当车主个人的汽车保险拒绝赔偿时,该公司的保单将负担这笔费用。”但许多汽车保单通常并不涉及汽车商用范围。因此,如果Uber的车主发生事故或造成乘客受伤或撞伤他人,由此产生的费用恐怕要由詹姆士河承担。因此,虽然詹姆士河集团仅为Uber的美国业务承保,但1,900万美元的保险费恐怕仍然有些捉襟见肘。对Uber的投诉意见之一是,该公司没有为日益增多的车主提供足够的保险。

    除此之外,詹姆士河集团的投资组合也是一个值得关注的问题。在其招股说明书中,詹姆士河集团表示,该公司并未按对冲基金的方式经营,但它愿意投资一些传统保险公司认为风险过大的产品。例如,詹姆士河集团有20%的投资为银行贷款。该公司表示,其投资的贷款平均信用评级为B级。而垃圾债券的最低评级为BBB+,甚至要高于詹姆士河投资的银行贷款的平均评级。詹姆士河集团的IPO文件称,这些贷款非常安全,因为它们属于借款公司必须偿还的优先债务。但如果这些公司持有的优先债务贷款被评为B级,那么这些公司的总体信用评级有可能低于垃圾级。詹姆斯河集团银行贷款债券的平均收益为5.5%左右,这意味着该公司的投资比普通公司债券的风险更高。

    詹姆士河集团曾经出现过投资失误。例如,去年该公司投资的波多黎各市政债券损失了210万美元。

    不过,就其本身而言,银行贷款不会对这家公司造成太大的损失。詹姆士河集团持有大量现金,并且投资了大批传统的低风险公司债券和其他债务。但除了高风险投资组合外,它与一家新公司的业务往来日益频繁,而向这家新公司出售的保险面临未知的风险,将两者结合起来,投资者有理由产生担忧。

    当然,这家选择为Uber承保的公司,愿意接受风险更高的投资组合,或许也并不会让人感到意外。但Uber选择詹姆士河集团,并决定不从其他公司购买保险,或许能让我们对这家打车服务公司有更深入的了解,更不用说分享经济公司愿意承担的巨大风险了。(财富中文网)

    译者:刘进龙/汪皓

    Critics of Airbnb, Uber, and other companies in the so-called sharing economy argue that these companies are structured to avoid paying taxes. It appears that even companies on the fringes of the sharing economy are looking to dodge Uncle Sam.

    James River Group, Uber’s insurer, paid a tax rate of just 12.6% last year. That’s less than half the average rate paid by companies in the S&P 500 last year, which was 27%. The effective U.S. corporate tax rate is 35%.

    How did James River Group manage to avoid the tax man? A few years ago, it moved to an island. James River Group was formed in 2002 and was originally based in Chapel Hill, N.C. The company’s website still lists its mailing address as Raleigh, N.C. But in 2007, the company was acquired by New York-based hedge fund D. E. Shaw. The deal sparked two shareholder lawsuits and huge payouts for James River’s founders, including $60 million for Matthew Bronfman, a scion of the family that once owned liquor giant Seagrams.

    Shaw merged James River with a Bermuda-based shell company, and moved the combined firm’s headquarters to the island. The company has been private since 2007, but it is expected to sell shares to the public in an IPO on Thursday. James River aims to raise about $250 million and sell 11 million shares. In addition to Shaw, James River’s other major shareholder is Goldman Sachs. That gives Uber yet another tie to Goldman, which was recently tapped to lead a convertible-bond offering for the ride-sharing company and is angling to do Uber’s IPO.

    James River specializes in offering corporations so-called excess insurance, policies that cover damages not covered by traditional insurance. Uber accounts for a small piece of James River’s business, but it is one of its fastest growing accounts. James River collected $18.7 million in premiums from so-called transportation network companies in the first nine months of 2013, up from just $1.7 million in 2012. The company has brought in $415 million in revenue this year.

    It’s not clear if all of that growing business comes from Uber. The ride-sharing company has said that it buys its liability insurance from James River. The question is whether James River is getting a good deal for covering that risk.

    Earlier this year, Uber published a blog post saying its corporate insurance policy “provides back up cover when/if a driver’s personal auto insurance denies the claim.” But many auto insurance policies do not cover drivers when they use their cars commercially. So James River could be on the hook for the whole tab when an Uber driver causes an accident or hurts a passenger or runs someone over. So, $19 million to cover all of that doesn’t seem like much, even if James River is only covering Uber in the U.S. One of the complaints about Uber is that it doesn’t have enough insurance to cover its growing fleet of drivers.

    On top of that, there’s James River’s investment portfolio. In the prospectus for its IPO, James River says it does not operate like a hedge fund, but it’s willing to invest in some things that traditional insurance companies deem too risky. For example, James River has about 20% of its portfolio in bank loans. The company says the loans it invests in have an average credit rating of B. The cutoff for junk bonds is BBB+, which is a few notches above what James River’s average banks loans are graded. James River’s IPO documents say the loans are safe because they tend to be some of the first obligations that the companies it lends to have to pay back. But if the first obligation loans those companies hold are given a B rating, those company’s overall credit rating is probably even junkier. The bonds in James River’s bank loan portfolio pay an average yield of nearly 5.5%, suggesting the company’s investments are far riskier than typical corporate bonds.

    James River has had some investing missteps. In the past year, for instance, it lost $2.1 million on a stake in Puerto Rico municipal bonds.

    Still, on their own, the bank loans aren’t likely to do much damage to the company. James River holds a lot of cash, and it has a large portfolio of traditional, lower-risk corporate bonds and other debt. But combine James River’s risky investment portfolio with the fact that it has a growing business with a fairly new company where the true risk of the insurance it is selling is likely unknown and then you have something to be nervous about.

    Of course, it’s probably not that much of a surprise that the company that chooses to insure Uber is also comfortable with more risk than usual in its investment portfolio. But the fact that Uber went with James River and decided not to pay up to get insurance elsewhere may tell you a little bit more about the ride-sharing company, not to mention the sizable risks sharing economy companies are willing to take.

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