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希腊:欧洲的“雷曼兄弟”

S. Kumar 2015年07月01日

欧洲在放任希腊崩溃前,应吸取2008年金融危机的经验教训。

    上周末,希腊同债权人的救助协议谈判破裂。希腊政府随后于本周一关闭了所有银行以及股市,并对现金提款进行限制。这个地中海国家岌岌可危,已处于金融崩溃的边缘。

    希腊的债权人正采取强硬态度,这无可厚非。希腊应于周二向国际货币基金组织偿还到期的17亿美元,但欧洲央行拒绝发放紧急贷款,除非希腊承诺进行有意义的经济改革。尽管希腊政府公布了一项增加税收以筹集更多资金的计划,但欧盟和国际货币基金组织对此表示怀疑,这主要是因为增税会阻碍未来经济增长。他们更希望看到希腊大幅削减开支。

    问题在于,希腊早已无法回头。实施严格的紧缩措施无法稳定希腊经济;反而可能抑制经济发展。如今,欧盟和国际货币基金组织需要做出决定:冒险惩罚希腊以警戒其它债务缠身的欧洲国家是否值得?要知道,如果希腊崩溃,巨大的经济动荡必将殃及大部分欧洲国家。

    目前的局面使我想起了过去几年里一些经济学家提出的一个论点:希腊金融危机的破坏力可能堪比甚至超过当年著名投行雷曼兄弟破产。雷曼兄弟于2008年倒闭,由此引发的市场恐慌情绪迅速席卷整个美国金融体系。当时,刚刚出手救助了贝尔斯登的美国政府,因为担心树立不好的先例,不愿救助雷曼兄弟。然而,美国政府未能预见到,雷曼兄弟是多米诺骨牌中的一块,一损则俱损。

    此事的教训是,最终导致危机全面爆发的,不光是其它市场参与者对雷曼兄弟的风险敞口,还有对金融体系的信心减弱。在目睹了雷曼兄弟被抛弃后,银行感到它们不能依靠美国政府的救助来度过正在发酵的次贷危机。因此,它们停止了同业拆借,也停止了向其它企业放款,这迅速导致了信贷冻结、贷款利率大幅攀升。

    众所周知,最终的结果非常糟糕。最终,美国不得不前所未有的救助了几乎所有大型金融机构,包括美国银行、花旗集团、高盛、摩根士丹利等,还救助了保险业巨头美国国际集团以及汽车制造商通用汽车。可以说,如果美国政府当初对雷曼兄弟施以援手,从而防止市场恐慌,并使其他银行有时间来减少对不良次贷的风险敞口,后果可能不会这么严重,经济也有可能实现软着陆。

    此外,正如《纽约时报》所言,美国政府对美国国际集团的救助表明,政府出手救市完全可以做到保护纳税人。不过,当时美国政府更担心会纵容不良行为,因而未能遵循审慎的行动计划。最终,美国国会和白宫别无选择,只能违背初心。希腊的批评者们应该从此事中吸取教训。据《洛杉矶时报》称,希腊经济崩溃的真正威胁,不光是债务违约或退出欧元区,而是恐慌蔓延,广泛波及欧洲市场。

    这反过来可能鼓励投资者不管不顾的抽回资金:债权人要求立即还款,借贷成本暴涨,普通储户纷纷取现,其结果是,银行资金枯竭,而意大利、西班牙、葡萄牙等本已疲弱不堪的国家,则陷入死亡漩涡。而且危机将进一步蔓延,因为对欧元的信任危机将影响整个欧盟市场。甚至可能出现大范围的市场抛售和银行挤兑。

    在雷曼危机期间,政府监管部门对于纵容“大到不能倒”的机构心存忧虑,它们的担心不无道理。但在此过程中,它们恰恰创造出了更多“大到不能倒”的实例。与其他许多更发达的欧洲经济体相比,希腊经济体量不大,但其一旦崩溃,则可能对欧洲其他国家造成巨大影响。就此而言,希腊恰似雷曼兄弟,欧盟和国际货币基金组织在放任希腊崩溃前应该认识到这一点。(财富中文网)

    本文作者Kumar是一名科技及商业评论员,曾就职于科技、媒体以及电信投资银行。Kumar未持有文中提到的任何公司的股票。

    译者:Charlie

    审校:夏林

    After bailout talks broke down with Greece’s creditors over the weekend, the government on Monday closed all banks, the stock market and put restrictions on cash withdrawals as the Mediterranean nation teeters on the verge of a financial meltdown.

    Greece’s creditors are playing hardball, which is understandable. The country is due to repay $1.7 billion to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, but the European Central Bank has refused to extend emergency funding unless Greece promises to institute meaningful reforms to its economy. While the Greek government has unveiled a plan to increase taxes to raise more money, the European Union and the IMF are skeptical — mainly because higher taxes could impede economic growth in the future. They would rather see sharp spending cuts.

    The problem is that Greece has already gone past the point of no return. Implementing severe austerity measures won’t stabilize its economy; it would actually choke off the economy. At this point, the EU and IMF need to decide whether making an example of Greece to Europe’s other debt-trouble nations is worth risking the immense economic turmoil that will surely infect most of Europe if Greece collapses.

    Today’s situation brings to mind an argument that some economists have posed over the past few years: Greece’s financial disaster could be as bad, if not worse, than Lehman Brothers, the storied investment bank that collapsed in 2008 and sparked a market panic that quickly spread through the entire U.S. financial system. In that case, the government was unwilling to bail out Lehman because it had just saved Bear Stearns and was wary of setting a bad precedent. But it failed to foresee the chain of dominos that the bank was a part of and would inevitably bring down.

    The lesson there was that it wasn’t just the exposure that other market players had to Lehman, but the erosion of confidence in the financial system that led to a full-blown crisis. Banks, after witnessing the abandonment of Lehman, felt they could not rely on the help of the U.S. government to weather their brewing subprime mortgage storms. As a result, they stopped lending to each other and to other businesses, which led to an instant credit freeze and a dangerous increase in borrowing rates.

    The aftermath, as the world remembers, was very bad. It necessitated an unprecedented bailout of nearly every large financial institution, including Bank of America BAC -3.04% , Citigroup C -2.59% , Goldman Sachs GS -2.59% , and Morgan Stanley MS -3.01% , as well as insurance giant AIG AIG -1.82% and automaker General Motors GM -3.35% . It can be argued that had the government saved Lehman, thereby preventing market panic and giving other banks time to unwind their exposure to toxic subprime mortgages, the fallout might have been somewhat contained and a softer economic landing achieved.

    In addition, a bailout, as The New York Times points out, could have been easily structured to protect taxpayers, as the U.S. government’s rescue of AIG illustrates. At the time, though, Washington was more worried about excusing bad behavior than following the prudent plan of action. In the end, Congress and the White House would have no choice but to do what they didn’t want to. Greece’s detractors should learn from this experience. The real threat from a Greek economic collapse is not just the default on its debt or its exit from the euro, but a larger panic that could ripple across broader European markets, according to The LA Times.

    That, in turn, could encourage investors to flee their positions regardless of merit; creditors demanding their money overnight, borrowing costs skyrocketing, and ordinary depositors withdrawing their cash in hordes – bleeding banks dry and sending already weak nations, such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal, into a death spiral. And neither would this disease remain contained to a few pockets since a crisis of confidence in the euro would impact the entire EU business establishment. A broad market sell-off and widespread bank runs are not out of the question.

    During the Lehman crisis, government regulators fretted about condoning Too-Big-to-Fail, and rightfully so. But in the process they only created many more instances of Too-Big-to-Fail. Greece is small compared with many other more developed European economies, but the potential impact of its collapse on the rest of the region is not. As such, it is exactly like Lehman, and the EU and IMF should realize that before allowing it to collapse.

    Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. Kumar does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.

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