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商业 - 金融

希腊银行现挤兑风潮

Colin Barr 2011年06月10日

如果说过去欧洲的麻烦还不够多,如今希腊已出现了全面的银行挤兑风潮。

没有那么残破不堪。

    Bank of Greece的数据显示,过去6个月中有5个月,希腊银行业的居民存款显现下降,合计减少了120亿欧元(合176亿美元)。GFC Economics驻伦敦的格雷厄姆•特纳指出,两年期存款4月份同比减少8%,储蓄存款3月份同比减少16%。

    希腊资金外逃只会加剧该国的金融危机,使其处于再次接受欧盟(European Union)和国际货币基金组织(International Monetary Fund)救助的边缘。

    虽然官员们也许能将这一刻的到来再推迟一两年,但银行挤兑至少增加了令人讨厌的不确定性。一旦逃离希腊的资金达到一定规模,将加速希腊债务不可避免地进行重组——欧洲央行(European Central Bank)目前忙于拯救欧洲各国资本金不足的银行,因此竭力推迟这种局面的出现。

    特纳周二在致客户的一份报告中写道,“如果希腊存款人继续用脚投票” ,重组“不会无限期后推”,“他们终将明白目前这种程度的紧缩政策和私有化从政治角度是否可持续”。

    考虑到希腊糟糕的消息面,存款外逃并不意外。关于希腊退出欧元体系的讨论似乎很不靠谱,决策者已经明确表态反对这一提议,但希腊重获经济竞争力的道路将异常艰难。

    过去十年,以单位劳动力成本衡量的工资水平在德国仅上涨了7%,但在希腊大涨了50%左右——这意味着如果要实现希腊的成本结构与欧洲地区所谓的核心经济体一致,希腊工人的工资将大幅下调。而要保持欧元区不分裂,这还只是漫长而痛苦的经济重组进程的第一步。

    希腊银行业陷入困境之前,去年爱尔兰也有类似的状况。清理银行体系的成本将大大高于政府此前承认的水平,随着这一点日渐明朗,存款开始撤离爱尔兰。

    爱尔兰人承诺实施严厉的紧缩方案以换取救助后,这一趋势才得以终止;以典型的泡沫时代逻辑来看,这使得曾为银行业的错误扩张提供了资金的投资者免受损失。然而,投资者的好运迟早会耗尽——但是德国正在推动延长希腊债务期限,而欧洲央行又在以近乎恐慌的声音高呼“现在什么也看不到!继续往前走!”,因此很难判断这种好运什么时候到头,也不知道到时会出现什么情况。

    这就是现实——纳税人的钱大部分流向了银行,以支持他们渡过难关;而年成好时,银行多数情况下只会为内部人士谋福利。

    目前这种做法在欧洲其他地区基本没有遇到阻力。从数据看,也没有迹象显示对银行业的忧虑正在向西班牙扩散——除了经济规模更大的意大利之外,从各方面来看,西班牙都是处于高危名单上的下一个主要欧洲经济体。

    但是鉴于今年是银行挤兑年,现在排除周边地区的风险仍为时过早。

    “我认为希腊可能是极端情况,”特纳表示,“但我们知道西班牙和意大利投资者一直在伦敦顶级房地产市场上大笔买入。”从某种程度上说,这不过是从一个摇摇晃晃的纸牌房子转到了另一个而已。

    Household deposits at Greek banks have dropped in five of the past six months, falling by a total of 12 billion euros ($17.6 billion), according to Bank of Greece data. Two-year deposits tumbled 8% from a year ago in April and savings deposits plunged at a 16% year-over-year clip in March, notes Graham Turner of GFC Economics in London.

    The flight of Greek funds overseas will only add to country's financial crisis, which has Greece on the verge of accepting another bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

    But while officials may yet succeed in kicking this Hellenic can down the road for another year or two, at the very least the bank run adds unwelcome uncertainty. If enough money flees the country, it could hasten the inevitable restructuring of Greek debt – an outcome the European Central Bank is desperately trying to delay in the name of saving undercapitalized banks on the Continent.

    A restructuring "will not be deferred indefinitely if Greek depositors continue to vote with their feet," Turner writes in a note to clients Tuesday. "They ultimately have the best sense of whether this level of austerity and privatization is sustainable from a political perspective."

    The deposit flight is hardly surprising, considering the dire news coming out of Greece. Talk about its leaving the euro seems far fetched and has been resoundingly rejected by policymakers, but the country's road back to economic competitiveness is steep indeed.

    Wages, as measured by unit labor costs, rose just 7% over the past decade in Germany but soared 50% or so in Greece – meaning that workers there are looking at steep pay cuts indeed if they are to bring the country's cost structure into line with the region's so-called core. And that is only a first step in what promises to be a long and punishing economic makeover, assuming the euro zone manages to hold together.

    The woes of Greek banks follow a similar tale in Ireland over the past year. There, deposits left the country as it became clear that cleaning up the banking system would cost much more than the government had admitted.

    That episode ended with the Irish getting a bailout in return for a horrific austerity program that, in typical bubble-era logic, left the investors who funded the banks' wrongheaded expansion binge untouched. The investors' luck is going to run out sooner or later -- but it is hard to gauge just when, what with Germany pushing for an extension of Greek debt maturities and the ECB screaming in a near panic, Nothing to see here! Move along!

    Such is life when your taxpayer dollars are directed mostly to propping up the edifices of banks that served mostly to enrich insiders when times are good.

    For now, that effort continues mostly unimpeded elsewhere in Europe. There is no sign in the data that banking fears are spreading to Spain, which is by all accounts the next big European economy on the hit list, let alone much bigger Italy.

    But then, this being the year of the bank run, it is early yet to rule out problems anywhere on the periphery.

    "I think Greece is in a league of its own," says Turner, "but we know there has been significant buying of top end real estate in London by Spanish and Italian investors." From one house of cards to another, as it were.

 

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