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标普总裁:奥巴马明白问题的严重性

Katie Benner 2011年08月11日

历史性地调低美国债信评级后,标准普尔总裁迪文•夏玛接受《财富》专访,就股市暴跌、总统的回应以及财政部反应为何如此激烈等问题畅谈了他的看法。

    如果有人觉得评级机构威势不再,周一的股市暴跌应该能让他认清现实。

    标普(Standard & Poor's)近日作出了备受争议的决定,将美国债信评级从最高的AAA级下调至AA+级,引发股市重挫。尽管标普主权评级委员会主席约翰•钱伯斯试图轻描淡写(“这不过是从靛蓝变成海军蓝”),但本就脆弱不堪的股市大幅下挫,全球各国财政部长被迫磋商应对之策。

    值此股市摇摇欲坠,金价高歌猛进,专家学者争论这到底只是市场恐慌,还是2008金融危机重演之时,《财富》杂志(FORTUNE)专访了标普总裁迪文•夏玛。标普隶属麦格劳-希尔(McGraw-Hill)集团旗下,夏玛从2007年9月开始掌管这家评级机构。目前,该机构正处于风暴中心。夏玛就股市下跌、标普的声誉以及备受争议的2万亿美元修正等问题发表了看法,他还表示对奥巴马就本次降级所作的公开回应颇为赞赏。

    本次美国债信评级下调符合市场预期,股市却仍然出现了暴跌,您对此如何看待?

    首先,市场自主决定是否根据信息行动,而且不是反应过激就是反应不足。希腊就是个典型,我们多年来一直在谈论该国的各种弊病,结果什么都没有发生。我们将希腊主权债信评级下调至BBB级别时,其收益率仍维持在比AA级债券略低的水平,可当我们进一步下调至BB级时,其收益率一下子飙升至CCC级债券的水平。

    可能影响市场的因素有很多:欧洲债务危机的演变,美国经济增长放缓,高增长市场减速影响美国公司的全球收入,围绕美国政府如何实现削减1.5万亿美元财政支出的目标也存在不确定性。许多人声称我们已进入未知领域,我本人也颇为赞同。

    信用降级之后,奥巴马总统发表了演讲以示回应,您对此如何评价?

    人们说他的演讲缺乏新意,还是过去那一套,可他是美国总统,而且是在呼吁各界(对美国债台高筑的问题)形成一种紧迫感。演讲开头,奥巴马就指出我们存在两大挑战,分别是债务规模日益增长,及制定行动方案、解决债务问题的经济程序存在缺陷。而这也正是(我们下调美国债信评级的)两大原因,因此,他的表态让我深受鼓舞。奥巴马承认这个问题很严重,作为一个美国公民,这让我觉得:嘿,或许事情还有希望得到解决。

    美国债信评级下调是否会使奥巴马无法连任?

    我无意影响总统大选。我们的角色是指出信贷风险。如果政界能拿出一套减轻债务负担的方案来,并找出促进增长和降低失业率的方法,所有人乃至整个国家都会普遍受益。

    政界能实现上述目标吗?您有多大信心?考虑到美元是世界储备货币,有些人认为人们仍会购买美国国债,而且收益率仍将维持在低位,因此政客们不会觉得必须采取行动。美国和日本的情况相似,日本也有一套结构性机制,使其在丧失AAA评级后仍然能使国债收益率维持在低位。日本没有就缓解政治僵局并解决债务问题而实现任何进展。

    这个类比很有趣。丧失AAA评级的国家通常在9-15年内重获该评级,但日本没有做到。日本国债主要是由国内储蓄支持,因此其政府没有受到高收益率的压力(来作出艰难的决定)。不过,日本人口正在老龄化,而且他们迟早会停止购买日本国债,而将储蓄用于退休生活。届时日本就得向国外借款了,那会引发多么严重的后果?

    至于美国,美元是世界储备货币,我们可以享受开动钞票印刷机带来的好处。问题是,人们何时会开始寻找替代性货币?届时会发生什么后果?目前机制的作用总是有限的。

    由于标普分析师在研究美国债务问题时出现了2万亿美元的差错,财政部质疑标普是否称职。

    我来澄清一下。这不是差错,而是根据我们与债券发行者的对话而对假定情形所作的调整。这是对各种信用(包括公司、主权和结构性信用产品在内)进行评级时的程序之一,我们都会与发行者对话,听取他们的反馈。如果我们赞同其反馈,就会对分析进行调整,对此我们并不避讳。

    这次,国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)对可以自由支配的政府开支的增长有几种不同假设情景,我们选取了此项开支与国内生产总值(GDP)增速一致的设想。随后财政部指出,根据预算法案规定,政府可自由支配的开支增长速度不得超过通胀率。与国会预算办公室和财政部进一步对话后,我们认同了这种说法,并调整了我们的分析。

    可是,这一调整并不足以改变我们的看法。如今,美国的债务规模已高达11.4万亿美元,即占到国内生产总值的74%。根据我们原先的假设,债务规模将在2015年增加到14.7万亿美元,调整分析报告后,到2015年债务规模仍将高达14.5万亿美元。美国债务负担仍在增加,而且正向不可持续的水平发展,总统也认同这一点。

    那财政部是想掩饰上述对话的真相吗?

    我只能说,本次降级对财政部来说是一项重大事件,不容易接受。我们经常得作出重大决定,尽管它们会给全球各国人士带来一些困难。我们降低其他国家的评级时,其反应也一样激烈。

    你有没有给标普的主权信用评级团队雇保镖

    可以想象,我们收到的一些电子邮件的言辞颇为有趣。不过,人们的反应总是各不相同,我们得专注于标普自身的使命和角色。

    且不论好坏,您觉得降低美国信用评级是否会影响标普的声誉?

    我希望人们最终能认识到,我们是独立而客观的。我们从前瞻性角度发现风险,并如实指出。

    至于人们将如何看待我们上周五的决定,这还很难说。得用历史性的眼光来看这个问题,即在今后5到10年后再加判断。如果(美国政治上的机能障碍)得不到改变,历史将会证明我们正确地指出了风险。当年我们降低日本债信评级时,该国是世界第二大经济体,且正在表现出惊人的经济实力,因此,人们困惑不已,完全不能理解我们在说什么。可如今日本的债务规模已达到国内生产总值的200%,问题已经相当严重。

    译 小宇

    For those who doubt that credit ratings still wield power, look no further than Monday's market rout.

    The selloff followed a controversial decision by Standard & Poor's to downgrade the United States from AAA, the gold standard in credit ratings, to AA+. Even though S&P's head of sovereign ratings John Chambers has downplayed the move ("It's like going from indigo to navy blue''), already fragile stock markets plummeted, and the world's finance ministers were forced to discuss the situation.

    With stocks still shaky, gold prices soaring and talking heads debating whether this is market panic or 2008 redux, FORTUNE spoke with Deven Sharma, the president of S&P, the company that at the eye of this particular storm. Sharma, who became head of the McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP) division in September 2007, talked about the stock market slide, his company's reputation, the controversial $2 trillion revision and why he liked Obama's public response to the downgrade.

    Given that the U.S. downgrade was widely anticipated, what do you make of the sharp stock market selloff?

    First, markets act on information when they want to, and they always over- and under-shoot. Greece is the classic example. We talked about the problems there for years, and nothing happened. We lowered the rating on Greek sovereign debt to BBB, and spreads stayed just below levels for AA rated bonds. But when we lowered the rating to BB, we saw spreads hit CCC bond levels.

    There are many factors that could be influencing the markets: the debt situation in Europe, the economic slowdown in the US, a slowdown in high-growth markets that could impact U.S. companies with a mix of global revenues and uncertainty around how U.S. government will achieve the $1.5 trillion in cuts. I've heard many people say, and I agree, that we are in uncharted territory.

    What did you think of the speech President Obama gave in response to the downgrade?

    People say that we've heard what he had to say before, but he is the president and he was calling for a sense of urgency about [America's indebtedness]. I was encouraged that he began by saying that we have two challenges, the rising debt level and the economic process by which we create an action plan to address the debt. Those were the two reasons [why we downgraded the U.S.]. Obama recognizes this is a serious problem, and as a citizen I personally thought, hey, maybe there is hope that things will get sorted out.

    Will the U.S. credit downgrade could make Obama a one-term president?

    Listen, I'm not going to weigh in on the election. Our role is to speak to credit risk. If politicians can come up with a game plan to address debt levels, figure out a way to drive growth, and lower unemployment, it will be good for everyone and for the country broadly.

    What hope do you have that our politicians can deliver? Given that we have the reserve currency, the argument has been made that people will buy our debt and interest rates will stay low, and politicians won't feel compelled to act. It's akin to Japan, which also had a structural mechanism that kept rates low even after the country lost its AAA rating. Japan has done nothing to ease political gridlock and fix its debt problem.

    That's an interesting comparison. Japan did not regain its AAA rating in the nine to 15 year period typical of other countries that lost AAA ratings. They are funded by domestic savings, so the government has not been pressured [to make hard decisions] by higher interest payments. But the Japanese population is aging and, at some point, they will have to stop buying Japanese bonds and spend their savings in retirement. Then Japan will have to borrow from outside the country. Then what happens?

    As for the U.S., the dollar is the reserve currency and we have the benefit of printing money. The question then is, at what point do people look for alternative currencies. Then what happens? There are limits to these mechanisms.

    S&P's competence has been called into question by the Treasury because of a $2 trillion error that your analysts made when they looked at the U.S. debt situation.

    Let me clarify. This was not an error. It was a change in assumptions based on conversations we had with the issuer. That is part of the ratings process for any credit [including corporate, sovereign, and structured credit]. We talk to the issuer. If they have feedback, we listen. If we agree, we have no qualms about saying that we will adjust our analysis.

    In this case, the Congressional Budget Office had different scenarios for discretionary spending growth, and we picked the scenario by which discretionary spending grew at the same rate as GDP. Then the Treasury pointed out that the budget act caps discretionary spending growth at the rate of inflation. After further conversation with the Treasury and CBO, we agreed with them and adjusted the analysis.

    But that adjustment wasn't enough to change our minds. Today, America's debt level is 74% of GDP, or $11.4 trillion. Our initial assumption was that it would grow to $14.7 trillion in 2015. After we adjusted our analysis, we still see debt hitting 14.5 trillion in 2015. The debt is still rising, and moving to an unsustainable level, which the president acknowledged.

    Was Treasury trying to spin this conversation?

    I would only say that the downgrade was a momentous event for the Treasury and not an easy one. We have to make calls that create difficult situations for people globally. When we downgrade other countries, the reaction is equally strong.

    Have you invested in bodyguards for your sovereign debt rating team yet?

    You can imagine some of the email traffic has been interesting. But, hey, people have all kind of reactions. We have to focus on our organization purpose and role.

    For better or worse, will downgrading the U.S. impact S&P's reputation?

    I hope over time that people recognize that we are objective and independent. We call risks as we see them with a forward-looking view.

    It's hard to say how our decision Friday will be taken. You have to look at it in the context of history, five, ten, or 10 years from now. If [U.S. political dysfunction] doesn't change, history will say that we made the right risk call. When we downgraded Japan it was the second largest economy and it was coming off so much economic strength. People wondered, what the hell we were talking about. But now Japan has more than 200% debt to GDP and the problem there is big.

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