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欧洲:债务危机如瘟疫,资金上演大逃亡

Cyrus Sanati 2011年08月09日

欧洲央行最近采取的紧急救助措施在很大程度上产生了适得其反的效果。投资者纷纷撤退,极力远离欧洲主权债务危机“疫区”,将股票、债券和大宗商品变现。

    上周四,美国股市出现大幅抛售,根源或许来自欧洲,因为对意大利和西班牙主权债务违约的担忧造成市场恐慌,投资者纷纷抛售股票以避免损失。两周之前,美国债务上限谈判占据了焦点位置,暂时分散了投资者对欧洲严重的债务危机的关注。但随着美国债务上限问题表面上尘埃落定,欧洲重新成为投资者关注的焦点,但情况却不容乐观。

    欧洲央行(European Central Bank)试图缓解市场的恐慌情绪,但结果却使问题进一步恶化。目前,欧洲主权债务危机似乎已经进入最后阶段,因此欧洲的高层正忙着想方设法避免对欧元的全面挤兑。上周五,在欧洲交易的西班牙与意大利的国债收益率小幅回调,原因是市场指望法国和德国能拿出有效的方案,收拾当前的烂摊子。但到目前为止,这两个国家都没有出台任何相应的措施。但不论他们采取哪种措施,当务之急是要快速恢复市场的信心,否则当前的救助措施可能演变成为投降的信号。

    上周四重现了2008年秋天的情形。被抛售的不仅包括股票。由于恐慌的投资者急于把所有资金变现,因此常被认为可以保值的石油和黄金价格均出现下跌。不过,随后一天公布的一份强劲的就业报告宛如一针强心剂,使市场出现反弹。

    投资者变现的现金全部涌入了美国的托管银行。于是,最大的托管银行纽约梅隆银行(Bank of New York Mellon)开始向机构客户收取费用,用于保管他们认为的“超高”数额的现金——因为缺乏投资渠道,银行的现金水平越高,则意味着需要缴纳更高的美国联邦存款保险公司(FDIC)费用。

    众所周知,如果连银行都不希望客户存钱,这说明情况已经非常糟糕。这一切到底是如何发生的呢?欧洲的主权债务危机发展缓慢,投资者的注意力被美国债务上限谈判的闹剧所打断。但美国和欧洲的债务困境存在明显的差别。总体来看,当前美国的债务危机很大程度上属于自讨苦吃。投资者依然愿意购买美国国债。但欧洲则截然相反,投资者对于是否应该购买欧元区外围国家的国债犹豫不决,迫使国债收益率不断攀升。上周,意大利和西班牙的国债收益率超过了6%,与德国国债的差距达到了新高。

    为了应对这一状况,上周四,欧洲央行宣布重新购买欧元区成员国的国债。这一充满争议的举措表面上看似乎是欧洲央行自行承担了欧元区外围成员国的债务。但这一旨在重建市场信心的措施似乎适得其反。投资者担心,欧洲央行开启第二轮购买债券的措施可能会力不从心,从而造成一种虚假的安全感。

干预适得其反

    去年五月份,欧洲央行直接干预债券市场,被认为给部分欧元区核心成员国,尤其是德国造成了困扰。因此,欧盟领导人在上个月同意将干预债券市场的职责转交给欧洲金融稳定机构(European Financial Stability Facility)。该基金由欧元区核心成员国于去年成立,目的是为欧元区外围国家的一揽子救援计划提供支持。目前,若欧元区成员国无法为自己的国债找到买主,可以由该基金全部买进。

    但EFSF依然未获得进行交易的授权——购买计划必须获得欧元区所有成员国议会的批准。而且,EFSF也没有足够的资金。由于EFSF本身也需要发行债券来支付其买进的所有坏账,因此,为了维持其3A信用评级,该基金只能购买价值3,000亿欧元的债券。这笔资金足以满足希腊的短期资金需求,但要想同时支撑希腊、葡萄牙和爱尔兰的资金需求,这点资金无异于杯水车薪。

    而在大约一个月以前,欧洲债务危机已经蔓延到欧元区分别排名第三和第四位的经济体——意大利和西班牙。要满足这两个国家偿还债务的需求,EFSF更显得囊中羞涩。仅今年一年,意大利的资金需求预计将达到4,250亿欧元——几乎相当于整个EFSF全部的资金数量。尽管EFSF已经募集了约2,770亿欧元,但依然有1,500亿欧元的缺口。今年,西班牙还需要募集380亿欧元,使这两个国家需要的资金总额达到约1,880亿欧元。

    欧洲央行绕过EFSF买进问题国家国债的举措向伦敦和华尔街的投资者发出了一个信号:欧洲央行的大本营法兰克福也已经陷入恐慌。日前,欧洲央行仅买进了爱尔兰和葡萄牙的国债,但投资者对《财富》(Fortune)杂志表示,在未来几天,这一机构还将会大笔买进意大利和西班牙的国债。由于意大利和西班牙的国债将在五到十年内到期,因此如果这两个国家无法以合理的利率在公开市场募得资金,便必须靠ECB提供大量现金才能渡过难关。

    而市场在上周四发出的信号是,市场对欧洲央行作为欧元区成员国最终贷款人的新角色并不抱任何信心。毕竟,仅意大利债务市场就需要约1.8万亿欧元。欧洲央行根本无力为意大利提供保障,更不用说同时保护其他金猪四国(PIIGS)。更糟糕的是,部分所谓的欧元区核心成员国之间也开始出现分歧。日前,法国和比利时的主权债务也已经攀升到危险的水平,而且可能继续恶化。

    与美国的情形不同,欧洲债务危机的蔓延就像快速传播的瘟疫,正愈演愈烈。投资者们慌不择路地逃离欧洲主权债务危机“疫区”,将股票、债券和大宗商品变现。这种状况就好像这些国家的主权债券出现银行挤兑,而欧洲央行则担任着美国联邦存款保险公司的角色。但即便强大如后者,它也没有足够的资金为美国的所有银行提供紧急救助。

    美国的银行系统之所以能够渡过难关,主要是因为投资者对该系统抱有信心。因此,要想拯救欧元区外围国家,投资者也必须对欧洲央行和它的领导能力充满信心。如果信心无法恢复,欧洲的债务危机可能会迅速蔓延到其他主要市场。

    (翻译 刘进龙)

    The massive selloff in U.S. markets on Thursday appears rooted in Europe as fears of a sovereign debt default in Italy and Spain caused traders to panic and run for cover. The markets had temporarily turned away from the crippling debt crisis in Europe two weeks ago as the debt ceiling debate in the U.S. took center stage. But with that issue ostensibly settled, traders turned their attention back to Europe – and they didn't like what they saw.

    The European Central Bank attempted to ease the market's fears, but it seemed to have only exacerbated the problem. European leaders are now scrambling to avoid an all-out run on the euro as the European sovereign debt crisis enters a possible terminal phase. Spanish and Italian bond yields rallied slightly in European trading on Friday on the hopes that France and Germany will come up with some sort of solution to the current imbroglio. So far, neither side has come up with a solution. Whatever they do, they will need to act fast to restore market confidence or the current correction could turn to capitulation.

    Scenes of the fall of 2008 were evident yesterday. And the sell-off was not just reserved for equities -- oil and gold, which normally act as a storage of wealth, also fell as worried investors put all their money in cash. The market rebounded following a strong jobs report this morning.

    All this cash is being dumped into custodial banks in the U.S. This led the Bank of New York Mellon (BK), the largest custodial bank, to start charging its institutional clients a fee for depositing what they consider an "extraordinarily high" amount of cash -- it has no place to invest it either, and higher cash levels mean higher FDIC fees.

    You know it's bad when even the banks don't want your money. So how did this all happen? The farcical debate on the debt ceiling temporarily distracted traders from the slow-motion sovereign debt crisis in Europe. There are stark differences between the debt dilemmas in the U.S. and Europe. In general, the current U.S. debt crisis is largely a self imposed one. Investors still want to buy U.S. debt. Conversely, in Europe, investors are hesitant to buy the debt of the peripheral nations of the eurozone, forcing bond yields to skyrocket. Yields on Italian and Spanish debt passed 6% this week, hitting a record differential to German government bonds.

    In response, the European Central Bank announced on Thursday that it would restart a controversial program of buying up the sovereign debt of member nations. The move would ostensibly place the obligations of the peripheral euro member states on to its balance sheet. But this confidence building measure seems to have backfired. Investors fear that the ECB could be biting off way more than it can chew by initiating this second round of bond buying, leading to a false sense of security.

When intervention backfires

    Direct ECB intervention in the bond markets last May was seen as troubling to some of the eurozone's core members, especially Germany. That's why EU leaders agreed last month to transfer this role to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). This fund, which was set up last year by core euro members to support rescue packages in the eurozone periphery, would now be allowed to buy up the debt of member nations who were having a hard time finding willing buyers for their bonds.

    But the EFSF still is not authorized to make any purchases -- the plan must be approved by every euro member's parliament. Furthermore, the EFSF doesn't appear to have enough cash for the job. To maintain its triple-A credit rating, as the EFSF issues its own bonds to pay for all the bad debt it buys up, it could only really acquire around 300 billion euros worth of debt. That would have been sufficient to cover the short term funding needs of Greece, but it appears to be woefully inadequate to backstop the funding needs of Greece, Portugal and Ireland at the same time.

    But around a month ago the contagion had spread to Italy and Spain, the eurozone's third and fourth-largest economies, respectively. The EFSF couldn't even make a dent in covering the debt requirements of these countries. Italy's funding needs this year alone is projected to be 425 billion euros – nearly the entire EFSF. It has already raised around 277 billion euros, but still has around 150 billion euros left to raise. Spain has about 38 billion euros left to raise this year, bringing the total amount the two nations need to around 188 billion euros.

    The ECB's move to bypass the EFSF and buy up troubled sovereign debt signaled to many traders in the City of London and Wall Street that panic was setting in on the streets of Frankfurt, the home of the ECB. The ECB was seen buying up only Irish and Portuguese bonds yesterday, but traders tell Fortune that they were looking into buying large blocks of Italian and Spanish debt in the coming days. Italian and Spanish bonds have much of their debt maturing in the next five to 10 years, so they will need large amounts of cash from the ECB to stay afloat if they aren't able to raise funds in the open markets at reasonable interest rates.

    Nevertheless, the market signaled on Thursday that it had no faith in the ECB's new role of being this sort of lender of last resort to its member nations. After all, the Italian debt market alone is around 1.8 trillion euros. Not even the ECB could wrap its arms around that one - yet alone wrap its arms around all the other PIIGS nations at the same time. To make matters worse, cracks are beginning to form in some of the so-called core eurozone members. Yields on French and Belgian sovereign bonds started to climb into dangerous territory yesterday and could continue on their way up.

    Unlike with the U.S., the European debt contagion appears to be a fast moving disease, which is picking up steam. Investors are trying to position themselves as far away from the contagion as possible, opting to liquidate equities, bonds and commodities into plain old cash. The situation is somewhat analogous to a bank run on the sovereign bonds of these countries, with the ECB acting as the FDIC. But even as hefty as the FDIC is today, it doesn't have enough cash to bailout every single bank in the U.S.

    The reason the U.S. banking system stays afloat is because people believe in the system. Therefore, if the eurozone periphery is to be saved, investors need to believe in the ECB and its leadership. If confidence doesn't return, the European contagion could quickly spread to all major markets.

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