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欧洲不良资产救助计划迫在眉睫

Cyrus Sanati 2011年07月19日

欧洲部分国家的债务危机令投资者惶惶不可终日,他们要求欧洲财长们迅速行动,采取有效措施,避免雷曼兄弟危局再次重演。欧洲债券,有人要买的吗?

    欧洲债务危机逐渐失控,触动了投资者的“恐慌”按钮。世界各国银行正试图安抚客户的恐慌情绪,例如召开电话会议,进行一对一说服等。但此时此刻,他们似乎无法阻止客户们寻找退路的急切步伐。

    分析人士承认目前的问题十分严重,但他们仍相信解决危机的办法总会有的,有些人将其称为大规模欧洲救助金计划,这与美国在金融危机巅峰时所提出的计划类似。大多数人认为欧洲政府需要尽快采取联合行动来防止债务瘟疫对欧洲经济体系造成毁灭性打击。

    每一天,欧洲大陆都是噩耗不断。上周一,投资者的抛售使得10年期意大利主权债券由4%上升至6%。穆迪评级(Moody’s)随后下调了爱尔兰主权债务的级别至不推荐投资级别或垃圾投资,这直接将其10年期国债收益率拉升至历史新高14%。

    经纪人和投资顾问正试图缓和客户的焦虑,但是大部分投资组合经理都希望抛掉所有与欧洲国家相关的证券。考虑到目前每况愈下的态势,使用信用违约互换投保葡萄牙和爱尔兰的主权债务比投保委内瑞拉债务的成本更

    债务瘟疫已经为欧洲固定收益市场带来了“实实在在,显而易见的危险”,瑞士信贷(Credit Suisse)的一位高级经理周三在固定收益电话会上对客户说道,“我们的意见是,官方必须尽快采取有效措施,避免其对全球金融稳定和增长构成实质性威胁”。

创可贴式解决办法

    过去的一年中,欧洲各国一直都在努力控制主权债务危机,但是收效甚微。这些针对债务瘟疫的政策往往只是治标不治本。如果只是用来救助希腊、葡萄牙和爱尔兰,这些政策的作用还能持续几年。但目前债务危机已然蔓延至意大利,该国1.8万亿欧元(2.6万亿美元)的债务危如累卵。欧洲各国需要一个更加长远的解决办法。

    分析人士和投资者认为,欧洲各国现今需勇敢面对困境,向世人展示其保护欧洲货币及政治联盟的决心。

    欧洲到底会选择更强势的政治、经济联盟或选择各自为政?当前的危机局势要求各国财政预算决策必须与欧洲中央银行的货币政策保持步调一致。为达到这一平衡,欧元区各国需要让渡其对本国经济的大部分控制权——这在过去是不可想象的。

    但是针对欧元区国家的救助计划的精髓正是如此。如果想要得到贷款,希腊和葡萄牙必须通过削减预算和变卖资产达到预定的财政目标。欧洲“核心”国家,如法国和德国【包括国际货币基金组织(IMF)】,正对周边国家发号施令,这种做法无异于暂时让渡主权。投资者希望这一临时经济策略成为永久性措施,这样欧元区将成为一个更加强大的政治及财政联盟——但是谈何容易。

    这意味着希腊和葡萄牙的相关国策将由布鲁塞尔和法兰克福的当权者制定,但是希腊人和葡萄牙人并不一定甘愿接受外国人的长期管制。同样,德国和法国也不一定愿意和周边国家合并资产负债表。

投资欧元债券

    现在,政府应大幅度增加欧洲救助基金的放贷数量和规模。

    目前,由法兰克福酝酿的这个计划要求欧洲强国,诸如德国和法国,发行联合债券来帮助周边国家偿还债务。

    欧洲金融稳定机制(European Financial Stability Facility,简称EFSF)于去年危机爆发伊始成立,目前正通过发行债券来帮助向周边国家提供救助基金,但是并未在二级市场购买这些国家的现有债务。如果要执行新的方案,欧洲需要赋予欧洲金融稳定机制更多的权利并大幅增加其7,500亿欧元的欧元授权额度。本周,德国勉强表示这一做法将有可能得到实施。

    瑞士信贷(CS)称,欧洲稳定金融机制将创造一个新的“欧元债券”,以帮助融资赎回由私人投资者所持有的周边国家几十亿欧元的主权债务。希望抛售主权债务的投资者们终于迎来了欧洲稳定金融机制这位意向买家。

    这个融资机制的工作模式与美国在金融危机顶峰时所实施的不良资产救助计划(Troubled Asset Relief Program,简称TARP)相似。但是欧洲金融稳定机制买的是不良主权债务,不是问题银行的不良抵押资产。人们对于欧洲金融稳定机制赎回主权债务的价格还存在争议,但是大部分认为该价格会向当前已然低于面值的市场价看齐。赎回之后,欧洲金融稳定机制将不再计较债券的价格差额,并最终削减周边国家的债务,藉此让他们赢得喘息之机。

    所有这些在理论上都十分可行,但在实践中却不尽然。投资者可能因为过低的市场价而不愿抛售手中的债券。与此同时,谁也不敢保证新的欧元债券就能吸引到足够多的投资者来为赎回注资。如果投资者确信周边国家向核心国家进行的债务转移将成为欧洲新的规范,他们将更愿意掏腰包。要成就此事,欧洲必须空前团结。

    Investors are pushing the panic button as the European debt crisis spins out of control. Banks around the world are trying to calm their clients' fears, setting up special conference calls and one-on-one sessions, but there seems to be nothing they can do at this point to prevent a rush for the exits.

    While analysts acknowledge that the problem is severe, they also believe that there could be a way out of this mess, with some calling for a massive European bailout mechanism, similar to the one set up in the U.S. at the height of the financial crisis. Most agree that European governments need to act collectively and in short order, before this contagion causes irreparable damage to the economic fabric of the continent.

    Each passing day seems to bring more sour news out of Europe. On Monday the yield on 10-year Italian sovereign bonds jumped from around 4% to 6% as investors dumped Italian debt. Moody's later downgraded Ireland's sovereign debt to below investment grade, or junk, sending yields on their 10-year bond to a record 14%.

    Brokers and investment advisors are trying to assuage their clients' fears, but most portfolio managers just want to dump anything associated with the peripheral countries of Europe. Things have gotten so bad that it now costs more to insure the sovereign debt of Portugal and Ireland using credit-default swaps than it does to insure the debt of Venezuela.

    The threat of contagion has emerged as a "clear and present danger" in the European fixed income market, a senior manager at Credit Suisse told investors on a special fixed income conference call Wednesday. "Our view is that this issue needs to be tackled aggressively and soon by authorities to avoid a real threat to global financial stability and growth."

Band-Aid solutions

    The Europeans have been trying to manage the sovereign debt crisis for over a year now with only marginal success. The policy has been to treat the symptoms of the contagion rather than to find a cure for it. That methodology might have worked for a few years if they only had to contend with bailing out Greece, Portugal and Ireland. But now that the crisis threatens to take down Italy and its 1.8 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion) debt pile, the Europeans need a more lasting solution.

    Analysts and investors feel that the time has come for the Europeans to face the music and decide how far they are willing to go to preserve their monetary and political union.

    Will Europe choose stronger political and economic integration or will it choose disorderly disintegration? The current crisis illustrates that fiscal decisions made at the state level need to be in harmony with monetary decisions made by the EU central bank. To achieve this balance, nations in the eurozone would need to give up sovereign control over much of their economy – something that in the past was unthinkable.

    But the bailout packages for the peripheral eurozone nations have in essence done just that. To get the loans, Greece and Portugal had to meet certain fiscal targets by cutting spending and selling off assets. The "core" European nations, namely France and Germany (along with the IMF), are now essentially calling the shots in the peripheral nations, which is tantamount to a temporary transfer of sovereignty. Investors would like this temporary economic arrangement to become more permanent, thus requiring the eurozone to come together in a much stronger political and fiscal union – no easy task.

    But it's unclear if the Greeks and Portuguese are willing to have nearly all their state-level decisions made by foreigners in Brussels and Frankfurt forever. And it's equally unclear if the Germans and French are willing to permanently merge their balance sheets with those of the peripheral countries.

Investing in eurobonds

    For now, the current European bailout fund needs to be greatly expanded in both size and scope.

    The plan being floated around the halls of Frankfurt at the moment calls for the rich countries in Europe, namely Germany and France, to issue some sort of collective bond to help pay off the debt of the peripheral countries.

    The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), set up last year when the crisis first flared up, currently issues debt to help fund the bailouts of the peripheral countries, but doesn't buy up their existing debt in the secondary markets. For this new plan to work, the EFSF's role and its 750 billion euro mandate would need to be greatly expanded, something the Germans this week reluctantly acknowledged could happen.

    The EFSF would create a new "Eurobond," as Credit Suisse (CS) is calling it, to help finance the acquisition of billions of euros worth of peripheral sovereign debt held by private investors. Those investors looking to get rid of their peripheral sovereign paper would now have a willing buyer in the EFSF.

    Such a funding mechanism would work similar to how the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, worked in the U.S. at the height of the financial crisis. But instead of buying bad mortgages off the books of crippled banks, the EFSF would buy bad sovereign paper. The price at which the EFSF would pay for the debt is controversial, but most see it paying the current market price for the bonds, which is below face value. The EFSF would then forgive the difference in the value of those bonds, essentially giving the peripheral nations a haircut on their debt, allowing them time to get back on their feet.

    All this sounds good in theory, but it may not work in practice. Investors may be reluctant to give up their bonds at distressed market prices. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that the new eurobonds would attract enough investors to fund the buybacks. Investors would be more willing to fund this new debt transfer from the periphery to the core if they knew with certainty that fiscal discipline was the new norm in Europe. For that to happen, Europe will need to get closer than ever.

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