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投资理财

三问欧债救助方案

Cyrus Sanati 2011年11月02日

欧债救助方案向着正确方向迈出了一步,但很多问题还是没有得到回答。一度为该方案兴奋不已的投资者已开始认识到这一点。

    欧洲为结束旷日持久的主权债务危机所做的最新努力一度让人为之兴奋,但最初的光环正在慢慢褪去。上周达成的这一备受争议的方案甫一公布即推动市场大涨。但方案在关键部分语焉不详,渐渐让这种喜悦开始降温。诚然,该方案向着正确方向迈出了积极的一步,但仍然有大量漏洞需要填补,才能推动市场持续回升。

    欧洲这一备受争议的最新欧元区救助方案出台后,市场经过周末的消化,于周一向欧洲发出了“需更多努力”的信号——意大利和西班牙的债券价格上涨,欧洲各地股市下跌,其中银行股大幅领跌。这表明市场担心欧债危机或进一步蔓延至欧元区核心经济体,而避免这种局面的出现正是救助方案出台的初衷。

越大越好

    救助方案需要回答的第一个大问题是救助火力似嫌不足。根据方案,欧洲救助基金——欧洲金融稳定基金(European Financial Stability Facility,以下简称EFSF)将通过巧妙的金融工程安排实现扩容,规模将从4,400亿欧元扩至约1万亿欧元。基金将通过为欧元区债券提供类似于国家认可的风险保单,借助民间资金;如果出现违约,基金将承担损失的20%。必须指出的是这只针对新发债券,不包括早就岌岌可危的存量债券。第二种做法是安排一个特殊目的机构(SPV),帮助私营部门购买债券。

    两个想法都很好,分别对应美国次贷危机最严重时期成功实施的两项计划,但它们的规模和范围仍受限于救助基金的本金多少。欧洲央行(European Central Bank)不会充当EFSF的后盾来为其无限制地提供现金,导致投资者担心EFSF可能最后会发现钱根本不够用。

    1万亿欧元看起来似乎是很大很大一笔钱,但鉴于危机范围之广,这些钱可能很快就会用尽。市场似乎很担心EFSF可能无法撑起意大利和西班牙的债券市场。8月份时为维持这两个市场运转,欧洲央行情急之下直接进入二级债券市场干预。短短3个月内欧洲央行已购入高达1,700亿欧元的意大利和西班牙债券。上周公布救助方案后,欧洲央行购买债券的职责将移交给EFSF。显然,没有欧洲央行的支持,1万亿欧元可能很快就会消耗殆尽。

信贷评级“就低不就高”

    接下来要谈谈救助方案需回答的第二个大问题:信贷评级。EFSF将发行债券,支撑这些债券发行的是欧元区17个成员国的信贷评级。由于欧元区成员国不能像欧洲央行那样印钞,这些债券的信用评价只能基于成员国的财政前景。联系到欧元区的经济前景,这不禁让人心生恐惧。欧盟统计局(Eurosat)周一早间宣布,欧元区失业率升至两位数,为10.2%,让分析人士大感意外。其中西班牙的失业率上升最快,增加了0.4%,达到惊人的22.6%。

    The magic seems to be fading on Europe's latest efforts to bring an end to its long-running sovereign debt crisis. The controversial deal reached last week initially sent markets soaring. But a lack of specifics in key areas of the deal seems to be sinking in, putting a real damper on the celebrations. While the plan is a positive step in the right direction, there are a number of holes that need to be filled in to bring about a sustained recovery.

    The markets took the weekend to digest the European's latest controversial rescue plan to save the euro zone and by Monday, investors sent a signal to the Europeans that more is needed. Italian and Spanish bond prices rose, while equity markets around the continent fell, led by large percentage drops in bank stocks. Both are indicators that the market fears further contagion spreading to the big economies of the euro zone, which is exactly what the plan was supposed to quell.

The bigger the better

    The first big hole in the plan seems to be a lack of firepower behind the rescue effort. The European bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, is set to get larger in the plan thanks to some clever financial engineering, going from 440 billion euros to around 1 trillion euros. The fund would be levered up by offering a kind of state-sanctioned risk insurance on euro zone bonds, which would cover the first 20% of losses if it defaults. It should be noted that this is for new bonds, not existing bonds already in trouble. The second objective would be to arrange a special purpose vehicle to help the private sector buy bonds.

    Both are a good ideas and match similar programs implemented successfully in the U.S. at the height of the mortgage meltdown, but they are still limited to in their size and scope to the principal raised in the bailout fund. The European Central Bank will not be backstopping the fund with unlimited cash, which has made some investors nervous that the EFSF could ultimately run out of money.

    A trillion euros seems like a lot of money, but it can be spent very quickly given the large scope of the crisis. The markets seem to be very worried about the fund's ability in propping up the Italian and Spanish bond markets. The ECB took emergency action in August to keep those markets functioning by intervening directly in the secondary bond market. In just three short months the ECB has had to purchase a whopping 170 billion euros of Italian and Spanish debt. The deal announced last week would have the ECB transferring those bond-buying duties to the EFSF. Without the ECB back, it is clear how quickly that 1 trillion euros can be soaked up.

As good as your credit

    That leads to the second big hole in this plan: Credit worthiness. The EFSF will issue bonds that are ultimately backed by the credit ratings of the 17-member nations of the euro zone. Since euro zone countries can't print money like the ECB can, the bond's credit worthiness will be based solely on the fiscal outlook of the member nations. That's scary given the economic outlook for the euro zone. Eurosat announced this morning that unemployment in the euro zone broke into the double digits at 10.2%, surprising analysts. Unemployment in Spain rose the fastest at 0.4% to a mind-blowing 22.6%.

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