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债务危机:欧洲偷师美国,结构存在缺陷

Cyrus Sanati 2011年10月31日

欧洲正在考虑效法美国次贷危机最严重时美国财政部实施的两项成功的救助计划。想法不错,但结构可能有问题。

    我们不妨回顾一下。TALF鼓励人们投资那些看上去依然健康、但没人愿意触碰的证券化资产,如优质的AAA级资产抵押证券。政府为第一部分亏损提供担保,鼓励私人投资者重返市场。而PPIP则是鼓励投资者买下银行资产负债表上的所有问题资产,并为此提供所需资金额约85%的贷款。两项计划都是通过政府激励,吸引私营部门参与到救助活动中来,从而强化美国救助基金TARP的效力。

    欧洲人提出的方案与美国的这两项计划相仿。一是设立一个特殊目的投资工具(SPIV),帮助基金买入资产——就此而言,这些资产可能是优质主权债券(即意大利和西班牙)。另一项提议则类似于保单,EFSF为主权违约相关的首个20%损失提供担保,创造出准主权信用违约互换(CDS)。同样也是通过鼓励私人投资,加强救助基金的效力。

    欧洲人效法美国人的想法是对的,但他们设计的执行结构却存在根本缺陷。TALF和PPIP确实推动了美国经济重拾活力,因为投资者们知道他们投入金融体系的所有钱事实上都有美国财政部(the U.S. Treasury)和美联储(the Federal Reserve)的资金担保。这让他们有信心打开腰包,参与到政府的救助项目中来。

    但在欧洲的计划中,唯一的后盾是EFSF的本金。美国财政部有收入流,美联储有基本上无限的印钞能力,而EFSF的现金池则设定为4,400亿欧元,不能逾越。这样的规模不太可能在投资者中激发起必要的信心,让他们重新投身于欧洲主权债券市场,也无法鼓励银行增加放贷。

    欧洲人的计划要想取得成功,EFSF需要有欧洲央行(the European Central Bank)的支持。欧洲央行是否准备投入足够的弹药是完成整个拼图的关键一环。如果投资者们知道欧洲央行愿意在危难时刻向金融体系注入充足的现金,那么他们愿意参与欧元区救助的可能性就会高很多。问题是欧洲央行已拒绝出手,而且一些成员国,比如德国,也不想押上自己的资产负债表来支持EFSF。

    欧洲的债务危机肯定没有速效药。但这也不是眼下急需的。类似TALF和PPIP这样的计划当时也没有解决美国的次贷问题,但时至今日,它们仍然被视为取得了成功。这是因为它们帮助化解了当时更为紧迫的、可能令美国整个银行体系崩溃的信心危机。

    欧洲人需要先灭火,再谈重建。目前提出的计划就好像是水龙带,但现在还没有足够的水能将火势完全扑灭。而时间已经不多。

    Here's a refresher. TALF set out to encourage investment in securitized assets that were seen as sound but that no one wanted to touch, like high quality triple-A asset-backed securities. The government would guarantee the first portion of losses to encourage private investors to jump back in the market. PPIP set out to encourage investors to buy up troubled assets off the banks' balance sheet by essentially loaning them around 85% of the money to do it. Both programs had the effect of augmenting the firepower of the U.S. bailout fund, known as TARP, by having the private sector help with rescue efforts with government incentives.

    The European proposals are similar to these programs. One would create a special purpose investment vehicle to help fund asset purchases -- in this case, presumably, high-quality sovereigns (i.e. Italy and Spain). The other would act like an insurance policy in which the EFSF would guarantee the first 20% of losses associated with a sovereign default, creating a quasi sovereign credit default swap. This expands the firepower of the bailout fund by again enlisting private investment.

    The Europeans have got the right idea in copying these programs, but the structure they have set up for its implementation is fundamentally flawed. TALF and PPIP worked to get the U.S. economy going again because investors knew whatever money they put in the system was essentially being backed by the firepower of both the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve. This gave them the confidence to open up their wallets to help augment the government's bailout program.

    But under the European plan, the only backstop is the principal in the EFSF. Unlike the Fed and the Treasury, which have revenue streams and basically unlimited money printing powers, the EFSF's pool of cash is set at 440 billion euros and cannot grow. That is unlikely to spur the confidence necessary to get investors to jump start the European sovereign bond markets and encourage banks to increase lending.

    For the European plan to work, the EFSF needs to be backed by the European Central Bank. The firepower of the ECB is the key to this entire puzzle. Investors will be far more likely to commit to helping the euro zone if they knew that the ECB was ready to flood the system with cash if there is a problem. Trouble is, the ECB has refused to help, and countries, like Germany, do not want them to lend their balance sheet out to back up the EFSF.

    To be sure, there are no quick fixes to Europe's debt woes. But that is not what needs to happen right now. Programs like TALF and PPIP, for example, didn't fix the U.S. mortgage problem, but they are still viewed as being successful. That's because they helped end the more pressing crisis of confidence, which was threatening to take down the entire U.S. banking system.

    The Europeans need to put out the fire before they rebuild their house. While the proposed plan gives them the hose to fight the fire, there still isn't enough water to put it out completely. Time is running out.

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