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商业 - 金融

债务危机悬而未决,欧洲解困遥遥无期

 Colin Barr 2011年07月18日

上周五,世人又错失了一次化解欧洲债务危机的好机会。

    欧洲银行业管理局(The European Banking Authority)即将公布最近的银行抗压测试结果。该结果将显示已经不堪重负的欧洲各国政府还需要拿出多少钱才能维持那些摇摇欲坠的贷款国。然而,市场不会因为这些测试结果而立即释放出积极信号,除非欧洲各国财长们愿意采取长远措施来应付希腊债务危机——但是貌似他们目前还没有这个打算。

    The European Banking Authority will release results on the latest bank stress tests, which will show how much money overextended governments will have to pony up to support their vulnerable lenders. But the market is unlikely to heave a sigh of relief at those results until European finance ministers are willing to try a more lasting solution to the debt crisis in Greece -- and it looks like they are still not ready yet.

罗马着火,隔岸观之

    市场恐慌正从希腊、葡萄牙及爱尔兰周边灾荒之地向看似坚挺的欧洲核心蔓延。本月,意大利、西班牙甚至是法国的债券收益率一路飙升(见右图)。直到最近,法国依然被认为拥有仅次于德国的良好信誉。

    市场对于周五东部时间中午宣布的测试结果必定是关注有加。西班牙银行的得分将分为引人关注。西班牙房产泡沫泡沫破灭后,全国失业率超过20%,导致该国资金仍在泡沫破灭后的余震中苦苦挣扎。

    但是认为抗压测试压力标准足够高的人并不多:贝伦贝格银行(Berenberg Bank)的尼克•安德森指出,意大利银行目前十分凶险,其政府10年期国债收益率只有5.9%——这一数字仅仅稍高于上周的现行收益率5.6%。

    此外,如果欧洲决策者们拿不出更有力的措施来解决这场债务瘟疫,这次的测试也就只能沦为一纸空文。如果他们继续任凭恐慌肆虐,银行将面临巨大的压力,就算纸面功夫做的再好也是枉然。

    “意大利的银行已经饱受政府债务的拖累,这也导致了人们对新一轮银行危机的担忧”,瑞银(UBS)战略师迈克•莱恩在上周给客户的信中写道,“这一局面使意大利的官员们和欧盟决策者们必须承担更大的风险”。

    到目前为止,欧洲各国对于希腊及其他国家的问题反应各异,但不外乎拖延塞责和装聋作哑。然而,欧洲部长们已开始吵嚷着要求采取新的解决办法——但是进展缓慢。市场观察家对原本计划于上周五召开欧洲财政首脑聚会寄予了厚望,但这次会议竟然搁浅。

    这次会议延期被视为一个倒退,原因是分析人士对于周一欧元区发表的集体声明青睐有加,该声明敦促尽快采取措施“改善欧元区整体应对连锁风险的能力,这包括提高救助基金的灵活性和规模”。该救助基金就是众所周知的欧洲财政稳定基金(European Financial Stability Fund),简称EFSF。

    扩大救助基金的放贷规模和放宽其运营政策将使得决策者们有机会大展身手,帮助减轻希腊债务负担,而不是简单的一拖再拖。

    德国虽然是欧洲政治联盟的主要受益者,但一直是救助基金的守财奴。本周,德国发表声明说,欧元成员国可以使用EFSF以折扣价赎回本国的债券——这一新政或许为解决希腊危机提供了一条更为长远的出路。

    德国的这一转变可能意味着新的希腊救助计划,该计划遵循了上个月欧洲政策研究中心(Center for European Policy Studies)智囊团丹尼尔•格罗斯和德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)经济学家托马斯•梅尔联合提出的思路。

    他们撰文指出,救助基金放贷规模扩大后,决策者们可用新发行的救助基金债券以极低的折扣价来置换希腊现有的国债,以此结束希腊债务恐慌。

    置换方案可以帮助希腊偿还过期债务,进而改善希腊的财政状况,而此前计划只是简单地呼吁延长债务期限。置换计划实施后,EFSF将成为希腊政府的主要债权人,而且基金也可以利用债务削减这一杠杆迫使希腊深化经济改革的力度。

    格罗斯梅尔的计划也有可能加速违约,而这正是欧洲领导者们一直竭力避免的后果。但是这两位作者写道,终端评级机构的降级评级“应该是个可控的问题”,因为希腊要迈向未来,这一点已在预料之中。

    然而,这可能只是一厢情愿的想法,而且有人怀疑即便赎回了希腊的债务,也无法为欧洲争取到太多时间。苏格兰皇家银行(RBS)杰克斯•凯劳克斯在最近的报告中提到,要彻底解决欧洲债务危机,各成员国必须向EFSF注资共计2万亿欧元(2.8万亿美元)——即便是欧洲鼎盛时期,如此规模的出资也绝不是零花钱这么简单。

    即便如此,任何债务计划都无力显著改善希腊目前的状况,这一点是毋庸置疑的,因为不管这次苛刻的抗压测试结果如何,人们仍然会担心弱国经济和银行的过度透支会逐渐走向失控。

    高盛(Goldman Sachs)的分析师注意到,本周,意大利银行势头强劲,完成了140亿美元的融资。但是他们警告说,“意大利银行业与其他欧洲银行部门的紧密联系最终将带来相对较高的风险,该风险会加剧意大利主权债务和银行市场的动荡,从而为其他国家带来严重的后果”

    自从去年进行的上一轮抗压测试以来,投资者们对本轮新的、更为严格的抗压测试始终保持着密切关注。然而去年的测试压根就没能打消市场对欧洲银行实力的疑虑。尤其是爱尔兰银行通过了上轮测试,使其效力荡然无存。因为几个月后,爱尔兰便开始索要几十亿欧元的救助金。

    业界希望第二次的测试能更管用——但这最终还是由管欧元区的人说了算。

    “如果西班牙和意大利再掺和进来,一切努力都将是徒劳的”,安德森说,“除非市场能亲眼看到一个可靠的债务危机解决方案,否则银行界的复兴无法持久”。

    欧洲盛夏,压力绵绵无绝期。

    Market panic has been creeping from the impoverished periphery of Greece, Portugal and Ireland toward the supposedly heartier core of Europe. Bond yields have risen sharply this month (see chart, right) in Italy, Spain and even France, which until lately has been viewed as second only to Germany as a sound European credit.

    The stress test results promise to get full market attention when they are released at noon Eastern time Friday. Scores for Spanish banks, laboring in the aftermath of a massive housing bubble whose collapse left unemployment north of 20%, will get special scrutiny.

    But few believe the stress tests will be all that stressful: The adverse scenario for Italian banks includes a yield of 5.9% on 10-year Italian government bonds, notes Nick Anderson at Berenberg Bank -- just a hair above the 5.6% going rate this week.

    What's more, the entire exercise will be moot if Europe's policymakers fail to take a more aggressive approach to the debt crisis sweeping the Continent. If they don't stem the panic soon, the banks will come under enormous pressure, regardless of how good they look on paper.

    "Italian banks are heavily exposed to government debt, raising concerns that a new phase of the banking crisis could emerge," writes UBS strategist Mike Ryan in a note to clients this week. "This raises the stakes for both elected officials in Italy and policymakers within the EU."

    So far, the official response to the problems in Greece and elsewhere has amounted to a variation on extend and pretend. European ministers have started making noises about a different approach -- but progress is slow. Market watchers were hoping for a big announcement out of a European finance minister meeting scheduled for Friday, but that event has now been pushed back.

    The delay stands as a setback because analysts' interest was piqued by a Euro group statement Monday pledging readiness to "improve the euro area's systemic capacity to resist contagion risk, including enhancing the flexibility and the scope" of the bailout fund known as the European Financial Stability Fund, or EFSF.

    Making the bailout fund bigger and loosening the terms under which it operates could free policymakers to actually cut into Greece's debt load, rather than simply delaying the reckoning.

    Germany, which has been stingy on bailouts despite being a major beneficiary of European political union, said this week that euro members can use the EFSF to buy back their own bonds at a discount – a shift that could presage a more long-lasting solution to the Greek crisis.

    Germany's flip could point toward a new Greek bailout plan along the lines sketched out last month by Daniel Gros of the Center for European Policy Studies think tank and Deutsche Bank economist Thomas Mayer.

    They wrote that policymakers, using an expanded European bailout fund, could end the Greek panic by offering to swap existing Greek bonds for newly issued bailout-fund debt at a steep discount.

    The swap would improve Greece's financial position by slashing its outstanding debt, rather than simply extending debt maturities as some previous plans have advocated. It would also leave the EFSF as the Greek government's primary creditor – which would give the fund the leverage to make the debt reduction conditional on further economic reforms.

    The Gros-Mayer plan would have the disadvantage of provoking the default that European leaders have taken such pains to avoid. But the authors write that a terminal rating agency downgrade "should be a manageable problem" since it would come in the context of greater clarity of Greece's future.

    That may be wishful thinking, and there are those who doubt a Greek debt buyback would actually buy much time for Europe. Jacques Cailloux of RBS writes in a recent report that truly resolving Europe's debt crisis would require member states to fund the EFSF to the tune of 2 trillion euros ($2.8 trillion) -- which isn't exactly pocket change even in the best of times.

    Even so, it's clear that any Greek debt plan would mark an improvement on the status quo, as worries about the weaker economies and banks' exposure to them threaten to spiral out of control, regardless of what the tougher stress tests show.

    Analysts at Goldman Sachs noted this week that Italian banks themselves appear strong, having completed $14 billion in capital raising. But they warned that "the high degree of interconnection between the Italian banking and other European banking sectors … ultimately implies a relatively high risk that further tensions within the Italian sovereign and banking market could have severe consequences for other countries."

    Investors have had their eyes on the results of the new, stricter stress tests ever since the ones last year failed so miserably to quell market fears about the strength of Europe's banks. That effort foundered when Irish banks passed the test, only to require tens of billions of euros in new bailout money just months later.

    The hope is that the second time round will be more useful -- though that is ultimately up to the guys who run the euro zone.

    "All bets are off if Spain and Italy are included in the debate," says Anderson. "Until the market sees a credible solution to the debt crisis, there will be no sustained" banking sector rally.

    And no end to Europe's summer of stress.

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