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投资理财

欧洲面临崩盘危机(下)

Shawn Tully 2011年08月25日

旺盛的消费和大量的政府借贷支出创造了一时的经济繁荣,但这种虚幻的发展速度无助于提高欧洲国家的真实竞争力,反而造成了如今的巨大危机。眼下,惟有削减政府支出,大力推动市场自由化进程,才能化解危机,维系欧盟的存续。

    遭到欧盟强烈反对后,希腊政府承诺进行真正的改革,这份工作落在了海事部长哈里斯•帕姆布基斯头上。接受《财富》杂志(Fortune)访谈时,帕姆布基斯承诺完全放开市场。他说,“大型国际邮轮公司正在探讨从希腊起航,我们准备清除那些合同上的限制条款,以便促成此事。”另一项新法律也可能带来良好效益:希腊将首次实际允许开发商建设规划完善的旅游独家项目,并向欧洲退休者出售别墅,这一变化有望使希腊成为欧洲的佛罗里达。

    考虑到希腊政府的改革一向时断时续、效果参差不齐,很难预测这些新规定是否会奏效。更大的问题在于,即使是朝向真正的自由贸易的大踏步改革,也无法带来希腊偿还巨额债务所需的财政收入。根据IMF统计,该国国债将于2012年达到国内生产总值的172%。前任IMF执行干事米兰达•夏法表示:“对希腊或者说对几乎任何国家来说,如此庞大的债务都是无法承受的。”幸运的是,在今后两年时间内,希腊仍然可以获得三驾马车提供的低利率贷款,之后才需要进行债务重组。不过,债务重组几乎不可不免——债券持有人将必须承担高额损失。人们只能希望届时危机已经结束,而欧洲各银行能够消化相关损失。

规模庞大,救助无门

    相比之下,意大利和西班牙对欧元区构成的风险要大得多,而且还没有这么宽裕的时间。最近意大利和西班牙国债收益率一路飙升,十年期债券收益率一度高达6.3%,幸而欧洲央行强力干预,使其稍微下滑。国债收益率面临的巨大压力会引发双重风险:首先,它可能造成银行手中的债券大幅贬值,引发银行业危机。“意大利银行持有大量意大利政府债券,”经济学家达杜什警告称,“如果跌幅达到一定程度,银行将变得更加紧张,更不愿放贷,要知道他们现在已经极其紧张了。”其次,与希腊不同,意大利和西班牙正在用发行新债的方式偿还部分旧债,如果利率持续高居6%以上,两国不可能有能力偿还债务利息。届时唯一的选择将是灾难性的违约。

    意大利面对的挑战是其政府债务的庞大规模——惊人的2.7万亿美元,在全世界排行第三,仅次于美国和日本。意大利的财政赤字相对较小,大约是国内生产总值的4%。可是,即使国债收益率下降到接近德国的水平,意大利的增长速度仍然不够快,不足以阻止债务规模继续扩大,这很大程度上是因为该国和希腊一样受困于诸多扼杀经济发展的桎梏。

    西班牙的问题则不在于目前的债务规模,而是将来的可怕前景:该国财政赤字巨大,占到国内生产总值的9.2%。该国曾出现全欧洲最严重的房地产泡沫,泡沫破裂后银行业大受挫折,引发资助银行的忧虑。西班牙首相何塞•路易斯•罗德里格斯•萨帕特罗承诺,今年将把财政赤字降到6%,他还许诺将推行与意大利和希腊类似的改革,包括变革为私人企业集中设定工资的制度,后者导致工资增速超过了通胀率。

    意大利和西班牙酝酿中的危机暴露了欧洲共同体惊人的结构性脆弱。欧盟没有一家最后贷款行,即没有一家拥有几乎无限资源、可以确保欧元存续的机构。迄今为止,欧洲央行已经远远超出了其维护价格稳定的权限。德国心不甘,情不愿地投了赞成票之后,欧洲央行开始购买意大利和西班牙债券。可是,欧洲央行不太可能偏离其基本使命太远。为援助希腊而创设的欧洲金融稳定基金(EFSF)已被授予新权限,可以购买主权债务,尽管该基金的规模达到6,200亿美元,可是仍远远不足以反击投机者对意大利或西班牙中任何一国债券的持续攻击,更不用说同时兼顾两国了。

    如果危机变得太过严重,欧盟有可能被迫发行由全体成员国担保的欧洲债券,来清偿到期债务。此举将会给富裕国家的纳税人带来巨大负担,尤其是为欧盟多数花费买单的德国。德国对此解决方案深恶痛绝,可是,如果唯一的其他选项是金融末日,那德国或许还是得咬牙扛下来。

    毫无疑问,目前最好的补救措施是:迅速通过改革重振投资者的信心,改掉繁荣年代养成的政府大手大脚花钱的习惯,推动一拖再拖的市场自由化进程。这一切理应是欧盟创立伊始就应该采取的行动,可它在追求那些看似更宏伟的目标时,反倒忽略了这些根本问题。

    如今,以塞萨洛尼基市长布塔利斯为典型的新一代政治家正在掌权。“不管你信不信,这次危机大有裨益,”布塔利斯点燃新一支骆驼烟,说道,“如果没有这种‘濒死体验’,我们根本就不会讨论这些改革措施。”在这片孕育过希腊神话的土地上,新一代英雄走上前台的时候已经到了。

    When the EU strongly objected, the government pledged real reform. The job falls to Maritime Affairs Minister Haris Pamboukis. In an interview with Fortune, Pamboukis pledged to fully open the market. "The big international cruise lines are talking about starting their cruises in Greece. We're going to get rid of the restrictions on that contract and make it happen," he says. Another potential boon is a new law that for the first time effectively allows developers to build planned resort developments and sell villas to European retirees, a change that could make Greece the Florida of Europe.

    Given the government's halting, uneven record on reform, it's hard to predict if the new rules will truly work. The problem is that even big steps toward genuine free trade won't produce the revenues Greece needs to service its gigantic debt, slated to reach 172% of GDP by 2012, according to the IMF. "It's impossible for Greece, or almost any country, to carry debt that big," says former IMF executive board member Miranda Xafa. Fortunately Greece can fund itself for two more years on cheap borrowing from the troika before it faces restructuring that debt. But it almost certainly has to happen -- and bondholders will need to take a substantial loss. The hope is that by then the crisis will be over, and Europe's banks can absorb the damage.

Too big to bail out

    By contrast, Italy and Spain, which pose a far bigger risk to the eurozone, don't have the luxury of time. The rates on sovereign debt for Italy and Spain have recently jumped, hitting 6.3% for 10-year notes, until the ECB intervened to wrestle them back down. The relentless pressure on rates raises a double danger. First, it could cause a banking crisis by hammering the value of bonds owned by lenders. "The Italian banks have large holdings of Italian government bonds," warns economist Dadush. "If they decline enough, the banks will become even more nervous about lending, and they're already extremely nervous." Second, unlike Greece, Italy and Spain are paying part of their bills by floating new bonds, and if rates stay at over 6%, they can't possibly cover the interest on their debt. The only option would be a catastrophic default.

    The challenge for Italy is the sheer size of the public debt, a staggering $2.7 trillion, the third-largest number globally, behind the U.S. and Japan. Italy has a relatively small budget deficit at around 4%. But even if rates return to near-German levels, Italy doesn't grow fast enough to keep that debt from increasing, largely because its economy is shackled by many of the same restrictions that are killing Greece.

    In Spain the problem isn't the current debt load but where it's heading: Spain is saddled with a huge, 9.2% budget deficit. A housing collapse following the worst bubble in Europe severely weakened its lenders, raising fears of the need for banking bailouts. Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to lower the deficit to 6% this year. He's also promising the same kinds of free-market policies that are moving forward in Italy and Greece, including reforms to the centralized wage-setting system for private companies that raises pay faster than inflation.

    The brewing crisis for Italy and Spain exposes a striking weakness in the structure of the European Community. The EU lacks a lender of last resort, an institution with virtually unlimited resources to guarantee the survival of the euro. So far the ECB has been going far beyond its mandate of maintaining price stability, with the grudging assent of the Germans, to buy Italian and Spanish bonds. But the ECB is unlikely to veer from its mission for long. The fund created for the Greek bailout, the European Financial Stability Facility, is being granted new powers to buy sovereign bonds. But the EFSF, even with $620 billion at its disposal, is far too small to counteract a sustained attack on either Italian or Spanish bonds, let alone both.

    It's possible that the crisis will become so severe that the EU will be forced to issue euro bonds, guaranteed by all the member nations, to cover the debt. That would place a big burden on the taxpayers of the wealthy countries, especially Germany, that pay most of the EU's costs. It's a solution that Germany dreads but may need to shoulder if the only alternative is financial Armageddon.

    By far the best remedy is rapid reforms that restore the confidence of investors, a reversal of the runaway spending of the bumper years, and the long-overdue liberation of markets. That's what the EU was supposed to do at its founding. Then it lost sight of the basics while pursuing supposedly loftier goals.

    Today a new breed typified by Mayor Boutaris of Thessaloniki are seizing the moment. "Believe it or not, the crisis is very helpful," says Boutaris, lighting another Camel. "We'd never even be talking about these reforms if we didn't have a near-death experience." In this land of mythic tales, it's time for some new heroes to step forward.

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