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商业 - 金融

华尔街再现金融危机风险!

Nin-Hai Tseng 2012年04月23日

华尔街的健忘是出了名的。新近出现的4个迹象显示,风险已重返金融业。这让人不禁怀疑,之前是否真的发生过金融危机。

    没有人想重温2007-2008年金融危机那段水深火热的日子。美国最大的数家银行竞相争取紧急救助,房地产市场崩溃,数百万人失业。华尔街(Wall Street)最终获救,小企业和平民百姓却为此支付了高昂的代价。

    危机过后,为了避免另一场灾难,美国通过了新的金融法规。一切似乎意味着人们已经汲取了教训。但是,事实果真如此吗?

    金融业如今已经从陷入困境的借款人带来的巨额损失中恢复了元气,又飘飘然起来。美国各大银行在剔除最危险的资产、清理资产负债表之后,大多数都通过了年度压力测试。投资者当然注意到了这一情况。今年到目前为止,标准普尔500指数(Standard & Poor's 500)的金融类成分股已经上涨了16%,高于总指数的涨幅(9%)。美国银行(Bank of America) 的股价更是飙涨了59.3%,成为涨幅仅次于西尔斯百货公司(Sears)的标准普尔500指数成分股。

    但是,与金融危机爆发前几年那些臭名昭著的特征非常类似的风险似乎正缓慢回潮。美联储(the Federal Reserve)的宽松货币政策可能刺激了投资,在理想状况下,这些投资又将反过来促进经济增长。但代价是什么呢?

    以下四个迹象显示,风险正在重返华尔街:

高风险借款人重新获得贷款

    对于一些贷款人来说,麻烦缠身的借款人似乎已经不再令它们感到困扰。

    第一资本公司(Capital One)和通用金融公司(GM Financial )又开始引诱那些仅仅几年前金融机构还避之唯恐不及的高风险借款人。《纽约时报》(The New York Times)最近报道称:去年12月份,信用卡贷款人向信用受损的借款人发行了110万张新卡,比上年增长了12.3%。

    我们可以从不同的角度来看待这一增长。首先,正如《纽约时报》所指出的,它对更宏观层面的经济是否有利值得怀疑。消费者是否已经做好了准备,承担更沉重的债务?失业率依然高企。数百万人背负的抵押贷款依然高于其房屋的现有价值。这些显然都引发了道德问题。

    与此同时,它也反映出银行现在正在适应新型的借款人。各大银行逐渐意识到,鉴于这场金融危机甚至把信誉最好的借款人也逼到了丧失赎回权的境地,它们不可能永远把那些带有信用污点的人拒之门外。当然,发放抵押贷款时,银行依然在执行严厉的放贷标准。但德勤咨询公司(Deloitte)表示,对于贷款人来说,驳回“首次欠款人(first-time defaulter)”的贷款申请将是一个错误之举——倘若不是因为受此轮经济衰退的影响,他们原本可以一直保持良好的信用记录。德勤在去年夏天发布的一份报告中建议:“首次欠款人群体可以成为金融机构一个独特的创收机会。”

    德勤公司或许认为这个机会是“独特的”,但各大银行很有可能视其为“必需的”。毕竟,它们正在想方设法弥补因新的金融法规而丧失的数十亿美元交易费收入。因此,它们把(收取相对较高的利率和滞纳金)信用卡作为解决问题的办法,我们实在不必感到惊讶。

 

    Nobody wants to relive the height of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The biggest banks scrambled for federal aid, the housing market crashed, and millions lost their jobs. Wall Street was saved, and Main Street paid dearly for it.

    In the wake of the crisis, new financial regulations were passed to help avoid another disaster. This might suggest Americans have learned their lessons. Or have we?

    The finance industry is starting to feel better about business again, having recovered from huge losses made to troubled borrowers. Most of America's largest banks passed their annual stress test after unloading their riskiest assets and cleaning up their balance sheets. And investors have certainly taken notice. So far this year, shares of financial companies listed on the Standard & Poor's 500 index have risen 16%, higher than the overall index's rise of 9%. Bank of America (BAC) stock, in particular, has rallied 59.3%, becoming S&P's second-biggest gainer next to Sears (SHLD).

    But similar risks that infamously defined the years leading up to the financial crisis appear to be slowly creeping back. The Federal Reserve's cheap money policy may have spurred investments, which in turn would ideally help the economy grow. But at what cost?

    Here are four signs that risk is back on Wall Street:

Risky borrowers get loan offers

    For some lenders, troubled borrowers no longer seem as troubled.

    Capital One (COF) and GM Financial are luring back riskier borrowers that financial institutions turned away only a few years ago, The New York Times recently reported. In December, credit card lenders issued 1.1 million new cards to borrowers with damaged credit, a 12.3% increase over the previous year.

    There are a few ways to look at the rise. For one, as the Times points out, it's questionable if it's even good for the broader economy. Are consumers even ready to take on more debt? Unemployment is high. Millions are still chained to mortgages worth more than their homes. This clearly raises ethical issues.

    Meanwhile, it also reflects banks responding to a new profile of borrowers. They've begun to realize they can't always turn down people with credit blemishes, given that the financial crisis has pushed even the most creditworthy borrowers into foreclosure. Of course, lending standards for mortgages remain tight, but the consultancy Deloitte has suggested that it would be a mistake for lenders to dismiss "first-time defaulters," who otherwise would be in good credit standing if it weren't for the recession. In a report released last summer, Deloitte recommended: "Targeting this segment of first-time defaulters could become a unique revenue opportunity for institutions."

    Deloitte might see it as "unique," but it's likely that banks just see it as necessary. After all, they're looking to make up billions of dollars in fees lost by new financial regulations. So it's really no surprise that credit cards, which charge relatively high interest rates and late fees, could be one answer.

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