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意大利遭遇市场冷落,欧洲再现房利美时刻

Colin Barr 2011年07月14日

经过一段漫长的烹煮,欧洲的债务危机几近白热化。

    市场已经开始对欧洲大陆进行报复性打击。欧洲银行股连续第二天下跌,欧元对美元(见图)和瑞士法郎汇率双双回落。

    The market has turned against the Continent with a vengeance. European bank stocks sold off for the second straight day, while the euro sank against both the dollar (see chart, right) and the Swiss franc.

望穿深渊?

    欧元已经降至1.41美元水平,较7月4日前最高位回落1个百分点。包括德国德意志银行(Deutsche Bank, DB)和英国巴克莱银行(Barclays, BCS)意大利裕信银行(Unicredit)在内的欧洲大型金融银行股跌幅高达6%-8%。

    上周,就在抛售开始的同时,欧洲经济弱国发行了国债。意大利和西班牙国债收益率已升至德国国债的两倍多,这是欧元发行十多年来所出现的最高倍差。

    欧洲弱国国债的狂跌引发了新一轮关于欧洲银行健康状况的恐慌,因为他们是主权债务的最大持有者。就在欧洲银行即将公布最新一轮的抗压测试结果之前,抛售开始了。

    尽管欧洲决策者们希望测试结果能缓解人们对银行系统健康的担忧,然而近几天意大利国债交易价的暴跌无疑是在往伤口上撒盐。

    仅在一个月前,意大利财政告急,但应该还不至于伤及筋骨。那时,投资者关注的脚垫是西班牙能否熬过一项即将到来的市场测试。

    除了债务缠身,意大利政府的行政功能也是出了名的紊乱,在经济增长减缓以及银行疲软这个大环境下,这无疑是个棘手的问题。尽管如此,意大利的基本预算仍小有盈余,这也就意味着刨除利息偿还款项,政府的收入超过了支出,这也是衡量勒紧腰带的药方能否治愈赤字顽疾的关键指标。

    但从上个月开始,这种如意算盘似乎已经过时了,因为意大利国债评级前景的下调意味着欧洲实力较弱的国家无法再继续从中获利。穆迪当时称:

    就目前的价格来看,意大利国债是否能继续激发市场的胃口还是个未知数。虽然今后的欧元区政策动向将有利于缓解投资者顾虑并稳定集资成本,但也有可能出现事与愿违的结局。不管结果如何,展望未来,相比金融危机前,投资者区别对待欧元区债务国的态度将更加明显,使意大利这样负债高于平均水平的欧元区国家处于不利位置。

    欧洲决策者们这周将再次碰头。有迹象表明,讨论的主要议题是控制危机规模。他们眼下正在商讨如何削减希腊债务规模,而不是简单地延长偿还期。这一转变值得欢迎。不过,除非全球大批债券商实行债转股,这场危机难以真正结束。

    与此同时,大家可能情不自禁地产生这样一种感觉:目前意大利在市场上的遭遇与2008年初夏房利美的遭遇的挤兑如出一辙——事到临头,谁也无法轻松逃脱、全身而退。如果市场继续冷落意大利和西班牙国债,再加上银行股继续下滑,欧洲将遭遇更加严重的银行挤兑,且债务违约将大行其道。

    令人庆幸的就是这次危机的步伐明显放慢了很多。但是不管欧洲领导人如何作为,疼痛在所难免,而且人人有份。

    The euro hit $1.41, down a nickel from its recent high just ahead of the July 4 holiday here. Big European financial companies, ranging from Deutsche Bank (DB) of Germany and Barclays (BCS) of the U.K. to Unicredit of Italy, saw their shares drop 6%-8%.

    The selloff started last week with a flight from government bonds issued by weaker European states. Italian and Spanish government bonds are trading at more than double the interest rates being paid on German government debt -- the highest spreads since the euro started trading a dozen years ago.

    The plunge of weaker-country government bond prices raises new fears about the health of European banks, which are big holders of sovereign debt. The selloff comes just ahead of the release of the results of the latest round of European bank stress tests.

    While European policymakers are hoping that the tests will ease fears about the health of the banking system, the plunge of Italian government bond prices in recent days throws a new wrench into that plan.

    Only a month ago Italy looked financially stretched but probably safe, as investors focused on whether Spain could survive an expected market test.

    Italy has a famously dysfunctional government and a big debt load, which is obviously problematic in a world of slow growth and overextended banks. Yet it has been running a small primary budget surplus, meaning government revenue exceeds spending excluding interest payments – a key measure of whether belt tightening can help cure fiscal ills.

    But that brand of wishful thinking seems to have gone out of style last month, when a downgrade of Italy's debt-rating outlook signaled that the weaker European states will no longer get the benefit of the doubt. As Moody's said at the time:

    The continued stability of market demand for Italy's debt is uncertain at current yields. Although future policy actions within the euro area could reduce investors' concerns and stabilize funding costs, the opposite is also possible. In any event, going forward, investors appear likely to differentiate more among euro area sovereign borrowers than they did prior to the financial crisis, to the disadvantage of euro area countries with higher-than-average debt burdens, like Italy.

    European policymakers are meeting again this week, and there are signs they are getting their heads around the size of the crisis. They are now discussing moves that would cut Greece's debt burden rather than simply lengthening the payback period, which is a welcome shift. The will have to be many bondholder haircuts all over the world before this crisis finally ends.

    At the same time, it is hard to escape the feeling that the market's turning on Italy is like the run on Fannie Mae in the early summer of 2008 – the moment at which it becomes clear that the scope of the crisis won't allow any easy escape. If the market keeps shunning Italian and Spanish debt and bank stocks keep falling, Europe will face more damaging bank runs and a disorderly default on someone's debt will become almost unavoidable.

    The endgame may not come quite as quickly this time round, for which we can be glad. But no matter what Europe's leaders do, it seems clear that there is going to be no shortage of pain for everyone to share.

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