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日本可能成为全球金融危机新的引爆点

Cyrus Sanati 2012年02月20日

日本的债务水平急剧膨胀,甚至连希腊也相形见绌。华尔街已经注意到了这点,并已开始果断下注。

    欧洲主权债务危机刚刚获得喘息之机,然而,就在此时,华尔街又开始越来越担心日本可能成为这场全球金融危机的下一个引爆点。当前,日本经济疲弱,负债相对于经济产值已经急剧膨胀,水平之高甚至使希腊看上去都像是用钱有度。日本的经济账目经过了约20年的累积,似乎将在不远的将来迎来关键时刻。

    华尔街正在买入信用违约掉期(CDS),为日本债务危机爆发的那一天做好准备。纽约和伦敦的交易员们告诉《财富》杂志(Fortune),过去一年日本主权债券CDS大幅震荡,现为135个基点左右,比日本主权债券收益率高出100个基点。CDS为投资者提供了违约情况下的获利机会。

    虽然日本的债务炸弹不会明天就爆炸,但当前日本CDS的价格已比一年前高出50%。近年来华尔街对日本债券市场的参与度上升,可能给日本政府带来更大的压力,迫使它们努力解决债务困境。不过,华尔街的“债券保安团”(bond vigilantes,为抗议通胀性的货币或财政政策而卖出债券的投资者——译注)可能会逐步将日本债券收益率推至高位,导致日本政府再也无力偿付债券,引发历史上最大规模的主权债务违约潮之一。

    想到素以高效和受到良好教育而著称的日本人可能已经给自己挖下了这么一个债务泥潭,真是有点不可思议。但当前日本的总负债/GDP比率已高达235%,并还在与日俱增。可资比较的是美国的负债/GDP比率约为98%,处境最糟糕的欧元区成员国希腊和葡萄牙的这一比率也分别只有159%和110%左右。

    日本之所以能不断扩大举债,有赖于一些显而易见的债务保障机制,包括强大的出口产业使得日本成为一个资本净输入国,以及忠诚的日本人更倾向于在国内进行投资和消费。而且,和其他发达经济体不同,很大一部分日本债务的债主都是本国国民,因此它并不需要面对华尔街债券投资者的质问。

    但上周,日本传出的一些经济消息却令投资者大为紧张。这些消息显示,日本的债务保障体系已竟出现裂缝。消息称,第四季度日本GDP降幅为远超预期的2.3%;此外,日本这个出口大国还宣布出现了1980年以来首次全年贸易逆差。日本财务省(the Ministry of Finance)将贸易逆差归咎于能源价格高企,以及去年大地震导致出口中断。虽然这两项因素确实在一定程度上导致了贸易逆差,但主要问题似乎在于日元。

    目前,日元兑美元和欧元的汇率极其坚挺,导致日本出口商品的国际市场价格远高于从前。随着出口减少,日本一些大型出口企业可能出现创纪录的亏损数据。比如,最近松下(Panasonic)已宣称本财年预计亏损100亿美元,索尼(Sony)也表示本财年净亏损将翻番至28亿美元左右,创下公司历史上最高的年度亏损。日本大企业亏损意味着日本经济增速放缓,政府财政收入锐减。为了维持运转,政府只能向继续国民借更多的钱。

    With the European sovereign debt imbroglio taking a breather for the moment, there is increasing concern on Wall Street that Japan could be the next major flashpoint in the ongoing global financial crisis. It appears that the country's economic reckoning, some 20 years in the making, could finally be coming to a head in the near future as the economy weakens and its debt, relative to its economic output, balloons to a level that makes Greece look like a responsible steward of capital.

    Wall Street is buying protection in the form of credit default swaps to prepare for that day Japan implodes. Trading of swaps on Japanese sovereigns has been highly volatile in the past year -- they are currently being sold at around 135 basis points, 100 basis points above Japan's debt yield, credit traders in New York and London tell Fortune. Credit default swaps provide a way for investors to make money in the event of a default.

    While the Japanese debt bomb isn't expected to go off tomorrow, Japanese CDS is now 50% higher than where it was a year ago. Wall Street involvement in the Japanese debt market has grown in the last few years, which could bring increased pressure on the government to try and solve its debt dilemma. Eventually, though, the Wall Street bond vigilantes could drag Japanese bond yields up to levels that could cripple the government's ability to pay off its debts, setting the stage for one of the most prolific sovereign debt defaults in history.

    It seems crazy to think that Japan, a country known for its efficiency and educated population, could have dug itself into such a dire debt hole. But Japan's total debt compared to its GDP is topping 235% and getting larger by the day. As a point of reference, the U.S. has a debt to GDP ratio of around 98%, while the worst off eurozone members, Greece and Portugal, have ratios of around 159% and 110%, respectively.

    But Japan has been able to continue racking up the debt because of some notable debt defenses. Those defenses include the nation's strong export industry, as it allows Japan to be a net importer of capital, and the nation's loyal population, which tends to invest and spend money at home. And unlike other advanced economies, the bulk of Japan's debt is held by its own citizens, so it hasn't faced the full wrath of Wall Street's bond investors.

    But the nation announced some startling economic news this week that has exposed some chinks in Japan's debt defenses. In addition to announcing a much larger-than-expected 2.3% contraction in the country's GDP in the fourth quarter, Japan, the exporting powerhouse, said it ran its first annual trade deficit since 1980. The Ministry of Finance blamed the trade deficit on the high price of energy and the disruption in exports caused by last year's devastating earthquake. While both events did contribute to the trade deficit, the main issue here seems to be Japan's currency.

    The yen is now extremely strong versus the U.S. dollar and the euro, making Japan's exports appear more expensive than ever before on the international market. Some of the nation's largest export-driven companies are reporting record losses as a result of reduced outflows. For example, Panasonic recently said that it was forecasting a $10 billion loss for the fiscal year, while Sony (SNE) announced that it was doubling its net loss to around $2.8 billion for the fiscal year, the largest loss in the company's history. The losses at Japan's biggest firms translate to reduced economic growth and a big decrease in government revenue. That forces Tokyo to borrow more money from its citizens to stay afloat.

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