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债务危机:意大利会步希腊后尘吗?

Cyrus Sanati 2011年07月01日

恐慌情绪正在欧洲市场中迅速蔓延,波及所有与意大利相关的产品。全球第三大公债市场若出现主权债务违约,将造成灾难性影响。

    随着本周希腊危机引来关键节点,欧洲交易员们开始担心欧元区其他成员国的财政健康问题。这种担心已悄然升级,直指欧元区核心成员国之一——意大利。

    意大利作为全球第三大公债市场若出现主权债务违约,将造成灾难性影响。虽然这样的违约看来并非迫在眉睫,但欧洲交易员日益担心未来某个时候可能出现违约——导火索可能是意大利的银行业问题。交易员们正在竭力对冲所持意大利和意大利银行业的敞口风险,以免措手不及。如果意大利人不努力控制支出,这种恐慌可能蔓延至欧元区其他核心成员国。

    恐慌情绪正在欧洲市场中迅速蔓延,波及所有与意大利相关的产品。评级机构穆迪(Moody's)已宣布,由于宏观经济结构性疲弱以及周边国家经济震荡,可能下调意大利主权债务评级。上周四,该评级机构称,若意大利主权债务评级下调,还将下调13家意大利银行的评级。

    最初市场忽略了穆迪的这份报告,但到了上周五午间,所有交易员们都开始对组合“去风险化”。他们疯狂购入CDS,希望藉此抵御意大利公债风险。其他交易员则开始抛售意大利银行股票,唯恐避之不及。在恐慌情绪中,意大利最大的两家银行——裕信银行(UniCredit)和联合圣保罗银行(Intesa SanPaulo)的股价都跌了10%,触发盘中停牌机制。复牌后,两只股票当日收盘分别下跌5.5%和4.3%。与此同时,意大利和德国10年期公债利差扩大至212个基点,创下自欧元诞生以来的最高水平。

    意大利银行业存在问题,但如今它们似乎成为了意大利主权债务总体健康状况的晴雨表。毕竟,它们持有超过1,500亿欧元的意大利公债。周一,市场似乎恢复了一些平静,一些意大利银行股较上周五收盘价略有回升。但上周五的恐慌显然已动摇了市场对意大利的信心。

    “大多数荷兰和欧洲银行都开始担心,不再接受意大利( 公债)作为抵押品,并正在降低南欧总敞口,”荷兰一家大型金融公司的交易员接受《财富》(Fortune)杂志采访时称,“甚至连荷兰养老基金也在回避。”

    周一意大利在市场中出售新债,不得不向投资者支付高得多的利率。意大利财政部出售的80亿欧元6个月公债,收益率为1.988%,明显高于上次售债时的1.657%。2013年到期的公债发行收益率为3.219%,也高于上次的2.851%。

危机根源

    不同于其他陷入困境的欧元区成员国,意大利的主要经济问题并非源于高额财政赤字。引发经济学家和交易员们忧虑的是意大利很高的债务/GDP比率,这源于意大利经济的结构性低效,这一问题已经导致意大利近几十年生产率下滑,增长缓慢。

    意大利目前债务负担约为1.8万亿欧元,是全球第四大公债负债国。负债本身不是坏事;但当账面债务额超过了生产率的时候,负债就成了问题。意大利的负债/GDP比率处于令人警醒的120%,在欧洲仅次于希腊的140%。可资比较的是意大利的负债比率是西班牙的两倍。

    过度支出当然也是一个问题,但近期负债比率上升是由于意大利经济增长乏力。2008年意大利实际GDP增长率为-1.3%,2009年达到- 5.2%。雪上加霜的是,自从金融危机以来,意大利的失业率已上升了超过2个百分点,处于8.3%左右,其中青年人失业率更是高达29%。

    要改变现状,意大利有很多问题需要处理,如减少浪费,实现经济增长以及大力强化征税等 (意大利政府估计避税将导致该国2011年损失1,200亿欧元税款)。强势欧元正在损害意大利的出口;出口占意大利GDP的30%左右,占比非常高。

    意大利人正在采取行动,缩减支出。政府设定今年预算赤字目标为3.9%,低于去年的4.6%。意大利总理西尔维奥•贝卢斯科尼本周敦促对财政紧缩方案进行投票,目标是到2014年消除预算赤字。方案提出削减支出430亿欧元,数额较大,主要压力都在接下来几年。普遍相信贝卢斯科尼有能力推动财政紧缩方案在国会获得通过,但他的联合政府中有些人抱怨方案提出的削减支出额过高。

    然而,缩减支出只是等式的一部分。意大利需要进行经济改革,走上强劲增长的道路。这就是难点所在。意大利经济并不是很有竞争力——你能说出多少家意大利科技公司的名称?意大利的制造业和旅游业都受到强势欧元的影响,而日益老龄化的人口还在要求上调工资。

    为了改变现状,巴克莱(Barclays)分析师们认为政府应推迟退休年龄,简化税收体系,并采用清晰的预算上限。他们还认为政府应进一步采取措施,提高就业市场参与率,并降低一些超大型公司的政府持股比例。分析师们坚信这会鼓励外国直接投资流入意大利,帮助其走出债务黑洞。

    但由于偿还新债的成本日益高昂,这样的结构性改革很难实现。借贷成本每上升1个百分点,都会使意大利改善财政现状的难度加大一分。目前,意大利公债的利率水平仍可应付。但如果贝卢斯科尼不迅速采取行动来解决意大利经济中的结构性问题,利率可能飙升,降低意大利躲过灾难性违约的几率。

    With the Greek crisis coming to a head this week, traders in Europe have started to worry about the fiscal health of other eurozone members. Now the worry has moved up the scale to one of the core eurozone members: Italy.

    A sovereign default in the world's third-largest public debt market would be catastrophic. While such a default doesn't appear imminent, there is growing fear on European trading desks that a default may occur sometime down the road -- set off primarily by troubles in the nation's banking sector. Traders are scrambling to hedge their exposure to the country and its banks just in case the unthinkable happens sooner rather than later. This panic could spread to other core eurozone members if the Italians fail to make a serious effort to rein in spending.

    There's a panic of sorts sweeping through European trading desks concerning all things Italian. Moody's has said that it may downgrade the country's debt due to macroeconomic structural weaknesses and the economic turmoil in neighboring countries. And last Thursday the ratings agency said that it might downgrade 13 Italian banks if the nation's sovereign rating was cut.

    The market initially ignored the Moody's report, but by midday on Friday traders started to "de-risk" their portfolios en masse. There was a mad dash to buy up protection against Italian debt using credit default swaps. Other traders then started to dump their Italian bank stocks and head for the hills. UniCredit and Intesa SanPaulo, the two largest banks in Italy, saw their stocks fall 10% in the panic, setting off circuit breakers, suspending trading. They later settled the day down 5.5% and 4.3%, respectively, once trading resumed. Meanwhile, the spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds widened to 212 basis points, its highest level since the creation of the euro.

    The Italian banks have troubles, but they seem to be acting as a proxy for the general health of Italy's sovereign debt. After all, they hold more than 150 billion euros of the stuff. On Monday, calm seemed to have set in with some of the Italian banks up slightly from Friday's close. But Friday's panic has clearly shaken the market's confidence in Italy.

    "Most Dutch and European banks are worried and are not accepting Italian [debt] as collateral and reducing overall exposure in anything southern European," a trader at a major Dutch financial firm tells Fortune. "Even the Dutch pension funds are avoiding it."

    Italy was forced to pay a much higher interest rate to investors when it came to the market to sell new debt on Monday. The Italian treasury sold 8 billion euros in six-month bonds at a yield of 1.988%, which is up sharply from the 1.657% paid during the last sale of government debt. Yields on bonds maturing in 2013 were issued at 3.219%, up from 2.851%.

Roots of the crisis

    Italy's main economic problem doesn't stem from a large fiscal deficit, as is the case with the other troubled eurozone members. What worries economists and traders is the nation's very high debt-to-GDP ratio emanating from structural inefficiencies in its economy. This has led to decades of declining productivity and poor growth.

    Italy's current debt load is around 1.8 trillion euros, making it the fourth-highest public debtor in the world. Having debt is not a bad thing; it just becomes a problem when the amount of debt on the books exceeds productivity. The nation's debt to GDP ratio stands at an alarming 120%, the second-highest in Europe after Greece at 140%. To put that into perspective, Italy's ratio is double that of Spain.

    Overspending is of course a problem, but the ratio has popped up recently due to anemic economic growth in the country. Italy's real GDP shrank by 1.3% in 2008 and a whopping 5.2% in 2009. To make matters worse, the unemployment rate has increased by more than two percentage points since the beginning of the financial crisis and stands at around 8.3%, with youth unemployment at around 29%.

    Italy has a number of problems it needs to deal with to get its house in order. It needs to cut waste, grow its economy and due a much better job of collecting taxes (the Italian government estimates that tax evasion will cost the nation 120 billion euros in 2011). A strong euro is hurting the country's exports, which accounts for around 30% of Italy's GDP, a very large number.

    The Italians are moving to cut spending. The government is targeting a budget deficit of 3.9% this year, down from the 4.6% last year. This week, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans on holding a vote on austerity measures meant to wipe out the budget deficit by 2014. The 43 billion euros in cuts that have been proposed are deep, with most of the pain pushed down the road. It is widely believed that Berlusconi will be successful in getting the austerity measures through the Italian Parliament, but there has been some grumbling from members in his coalition government who believe that the proposed cuts go too far.

    Cutting spending, though, is just one part of the equation. Italy needs to revamp its economy to put it on a strong growth path. This is where it gets tricky. The Italian economy isn't really cutting edge – how many Italian tech firms can you name? It moves manufacturing and tourism, both hurt by the strong euro, and has an aging population who demand higher wages.

    To get its house in order, the analysts at Barclays (BCS) believe that the government should increase the retirement age, simplify the tax system and adopt clear budgeting ceilings. They also believe the government should take further measures to enhance labor market participation and should reduce public ownership of some the nation's largest corporations. The analysts believe that this should encourage foreign direct investment inflows in to the country to help dig it out of its debt hole.

    But such structural reforms will be hard to accomplish as it becomes increasingly more expensive to service new debt. Every percentage point increase in borrowing costs makes it that much harder to get the nation's fiscal house in order. For now, the interest rate demanded on Italian government debt is manageable. But if Berlusconi doesn't move fast to address the structural problems in Italy's economy, the rate could skyrocket up, handicapping Italy's chances in avoiding a devastating default.

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