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索罗斯:关于欧元的两篇文章

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一直唱空做空欧元的索罗斯认为欧元危机是次贷危机的直接后果,如果欧元区不能拥有统一的“财政部”,则无法解决欧债危机,不可避免地陷入金融崩溃和经济“大萧条”。10月14日又于路透社刊登题为《如何破解欧元区主权债务难题》的评论文章

索罗斯:如何破解欧元区主权债务难题

10月14日,路透社刊登题为《如何破解欧元区主权债务难题》的评论文章,现全文主要内容摘要如下:

本周早些时候,包括德国前财政部长、著名经济学家在内的近100名欧洲政经界要人,给欧元区17个成员国的领导人写了一封公开信。在信中,这些重量级的资深人士指出了一点,也是欧元区领导人似乎已经领悟的一点,那就是欧元区领导人不能再抱着"缓一缓、不要着急"的态度。更为重要的是,这些领导人们现在已经明白,仅是确保各成员国政府能以合理的利率支撑债务,远不足以解决愈演愈烈的主权债务危机。同时,欧元区各成员国必须正视欧洲银行体系的疲弱。

的确,欧洲银行和主权债务问题是相互自我增强的。政府债券价格的下跌,暴露了欧洲银行资本显著不足(Undercapitalization)的缺陷。与此同时,政府将不得不为银行资本重组提供支撑的前景,无疑加大了政府债券所要承担的风险系数。在不得不增加额外资本的现实逼迫下,欧洲银行拥有强烈的欲望,想要通过撤回信贷链和缩小贷款组合的方式来减少鸽子资产负债表。

当前,欧洲领导人们正在冥思苦想该如何应对主权债务危机。他们的下一步举动将会产生重大的结果,可能会让混乱的市场冷静下来,也可能让整个局面更加恶化。所有的人都认为,希腊下需要一种有秩序的债务重组,因为无秩序的债务违约会导致整个欧元区的金融垮台。但是,谈及银行业所存在的问题,我担心欧元区的领导人们正在贯彻一些不适宜的举措。

具体来讲,欧元区领导人正在讨论对银行体系进行资本重组而非为其提供担保的相关事宜。而且,欧元区是想在"逐国"的前提而不是"将欧元区当作是一个整体"的前提下,推行银行业资本重组。之所以这样,有一个很明显的原因:德国不想为法国银行的资本充足埋单。尽管德国总理默克尔认为坚持这样的立场很合理且正当,但是这种坚持似乎正在把她引向一个错误的方向。

那么,让我来为欧元区领导人们指一条可以通过"债务危机雷区"的道路。首先,欧洲银行体系需要担保,然后才是资本重组,现在欧元区成员国政府无力重组各自的银行;其次,如果先进行资本重组,可能会让欧洲银行业无法拥有重组的资金来解决主权债务问题。不难想象,在债务危机得到解决,以及政府债券和银行股价恢复正常水平后,再进行资本充足,付出的代价相对会小一些。

不过,政府可以为银行提供一种可信的担保。换言之,在不改变《里斯本条约》的基础上,欧元区领导人可以制定一项在法律上和该条约形成捆绑关系的协议。但是,该新协议需要欧元区各成员国的积极响应。当然,这样的协议势必会花费时间来商议和草拟。不过,在此期间,欧洲政府可以呼吁得到欧洲央行的帮助。

为了得到来自政府的担保,欧元区主要银行将不得不同意接受欧洲央行的指导。这是比较激进的做法,但也是适用于当前特殊时期的做法。为了让银行"听话",欧洲央行有充分的话语权,它可以关闭对银行开放的贴现装口,而欧元区政府可以让那些拒绝合作的银行或机构得不到担保。

欧洲央行可以引领银行业保存各自的信贷链以及贷款组合,同时密切监测这些银行自身账目所承担的风险。欧洲央行还可以通过下调其贴现率的做法来鼓励意志消沉的政府发行债券,鼓励银行进行认购。

上述举措,足可以让市场冷静,可以让主权债务危机画上句号。我需要再次重申的一点是,应该在危机结束后再进行资本充足。

 

Does the Euro Have a Future?

October 13, 2011 New York Review of Books

George Soros

soros_1-101311

Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, Berlin, September 1, 2011

The euro crisis is a direct consequence of the crash of 2008. When Lehman Brothers failed, the entire financial system started to collapse and had to be put on artificial life support. This took the form of substituting the sovereign credit of governments for the bank and other credit that had collapsed. At a memorable meeting of European finance ministers in November 2008, they guaranteed that no other financial institutions that are important to the workings of the financial system would be allowed to fail, and their example was followed by the United States.

Angela Merkel then declared that the guarantee should be exercised by each European state individually, not by the European Union or the eurozone acting as a whole. This sowed the seeds of the euro crisis because it revealed and activated a hidden weakness in the construction of the euro: the lack of a common treasury. The crisis itself erupted more than a year later, in 2010.

There is some similarity between the euro crisis and the subprime crisis that caused the crash of 2008. In each case a supposedly riskless asset-collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), based largely on mortgages, in 2008, and European government bonds now-lost some or all of their value.

Unfortunately the euro crisis is more intractable. In 2008 the US financial authorities that were needed to respond to the crisis were in place; at present in the eurozone one of these authorities, the common treasury, has yet to be brought into existence. This requires a political process involving a number of sovereign states. That is what has made the problem so severe. The political will to create a common European treasury was absent in the first place; and since the time when the euro was created the political cohesion of the European Union has greatly deteriorated. As a result there is no clearly visible solution to the euro crisis. In its absence the authorities have been trying to buy time.

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In an ordinary financial crisis this tactic works: with the passage of time the panic subsides and confidence returns. But in this case time has been working against the authorities. Since the political will is missing, the problems continue to grow larger while the politics are also becoming more poisonous.

It takes a crisis to make the politically impossible possible. Under the pressure of a financial crisis the authorities take whatever steps are necessary to hold the system together, but they only do the minimum and that is soon perceived by the financial markets as inadequate. That is how one crisis leads to another. So Europe is condemned to a seemingly unending series of crises. Measures that would have worked if they had been adopted earlier turn out to be inadequate by the time they become politically possible. This is the key to understanding the euro crisis.

Where are we now in this process? The outlines of the missing ingredient, namely a common treasury, are beginning to emerge. They are to be found in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)-agreed on by twenty-seven member states of theEU in May 2010-and its successor, after 2013, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). But the EFSF is not adequately capitalized and its functions are not adequately defined. It is supposed to provide a safety net for the eurozone as a whole, but in practice it has been tailored to finance the rescue packages for three small countries: Greece, Portugal, and Ireland; it is not large enough to support bigger countries like Spain or Italy. Nor was it originally meant to deal with the problems of the banking system, although its scope has subsequently been extended to include banks as well as sovereign states. Its biggest shortcoming is that it is purely a fund-raising mechanism; the authority to spend the money is left with the governments of the member countries. This renders the EFSF useless in responding to a crisis; it has to await instructions from the member countries.

The situation has been further aggravated by the recent decision of the German Constitutional Court. While the court found that the EFSF is constitutional, it prohibited any future guarantees benefiting additional states without the prior approval of the budget committee of the Bundestag. This will greatly constrain the discretionary powers of the German government in confronting future crises.

The seeds of the next crisis have already been sown by the way the authorities responded to the last crisis. They accepted the principle that countries receiving assistance should not have to pay punitive interest rates and they set up the EFSF as a fund-raising mechanism for this purpose. Had this principle been accepted in the first place, the Greek crisis would not have grown so severe. As it is, the contagion-in the form of increasing inability to pay sovereign and other debt-has spread to Spain and Italy, but those countries are not allowed to borrow at the lower, concessional rates extended to Greece. This has set them on a course that will eventually land them in the same predicament as Greece. In the case of Greece, the debt burden has clearly become unsustainable. Bondholders have been offered a "voluntary" restructuring by which they would accept lower interest rates and delayed or decreased repayments; but no other arrangements have been made for a possible default or for defection from the eurozone.

These two deficiencies-no concessional rates for Italy or Spain and no preparation for a possible default and defection from the eurozone by Greece-have cast a heavy shadow of doubt both on the government bonds of other deficit countries and on the banking system of the eurozone, which is loaded with those bonds. As a stopgap measure the European Central Bank (ECB) stepped into the breach by buying Spanish and Italian bonds in the market. But that is not a viable solution. The ECB had done the same thing for Greece, but that did not stop the Greek debt from becoming unsustainable. If Italy, with its debt at 108 percent of GDP and growth of less than 1 percent, had to pay risk premiums of 3 percent or more to borrow money, its debt would also become unsustainable.

The ECB's earlier decision to buy Greek bonds had been highly controversial; Axel Weber, the ECB's German board member, resigned from the board in protest. The intervention did blur the line between monetary and fiscal policy, but a central bank is supposed to do whatever is necessary to preserve the financial system. That is particularly true in the absence of a fiscal authority. Subsequently, the controversy led the ECB to adamantly oppose a restructuring of Greek debt-by which, among other measures, the time for repayment would be extended-turning the ECB from a savior of the system into an obstructionist force. The ECB has prevailed: the EFSF took over the risk of possible insolvency of the Greek bonds from the ECB.

The resolution of this dispute has in turn made it easier for the ECB to embark on its current program to purchase Italian and Spanish bonds, which, unlike those of Greece, are not about to default. Still, the decision has encountered the same internal opposition from Germany as the earlier intervention in Greek bonds. Jürgen Stark, the chief economist of the ECB, resigned on September 9. In any case the current intervention has to be limited in scope because the capacity of the EFSF to extend help is virtually exhausted by the rescue operations already in progress in Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.

In the meantime the Greek government is having increasing difficulties in meeting the conditions imposed by the assistance program. The troika supervising the program-the EU, the IMF, and the ECB-is not satisfied; Greek banks did not fully subscribe to the latest treasury bill auction; and the Greek government is running out of funds.

In these circumstances an orderly default and temporary withdrawal from the eurozone may be preferable to a drawn-out agony. But no preparations have been made. A disorderly default could precipitate a meltdown similar to the one that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, but this time one of the authorities that would be needed to contain it is missing.

No wonder that the financial markets have taken fright. Risk premiums that must be paid to buy government bonds have increased, stocks have plummeted, led by bank stocks, and recently even the euro has broken out of its trading range on the downside. The volatility of markets is reminiscent of the crash of 2008.

The authorities are doing what they can to forestall an immediate breakdown. The Greeks are meeting the troika's demands so as to receive the next installment of the rescue package. The ECB is allowing banks to borrow dollars for up to three months instead of just one week, as has been the case. The Bundestag is expected to pass legislation establishing the EFSF. These steps will delay the climax from September to December.

Unfortunately, the capacity of the financial authorities to take additional measures has been severely restricted by the recent ruling of the German Constitutional Court. It appears that the authorities have reached the end of the road with their policy of "kicking the can down the road." Even if a catastrophe can be avoided, one thing is certain: the pressure to reduce deficits will push the eurozone into prolonged recession. This will have incalculable political consequences. The euro crisis could endanger the political cohesion of the European Union.

There is no escape from this gloomy scenario as long as the authorities persist in their current course. They could, however, change course. They could recognize that they have reached the end of the road and take a radically different approach. Instead of acquiescing in the absence of a solution and trying to buy time, they could look for a solution first and then find a path leading to it. The path that leads to a solution has to be found in Germany, which, as the EU's largest and highest-rated creditor country, has been thrust into the position of deciding the future of Europe. That is the approach I propose to explore.

To resolve a crisis in which the impossible becomes possible it is necessary to think about the unthinkable. To start with, it is imperative to prepare for the possibility of default and defection from the eurozone in the case of Greece, Portugal, and perhaps Ireland. To prevent a financial meltdown, four sets of measures would have to be taken. First, bank deposits have to be protected. If a euro deposited in a Greek bank would be lost to the depositor, a euro deposited in an Italian bank would then be worth less than one in a German or Dutch bank and there would be a run on the banks of other deficit countries. Second, some banks in the defaulting countries have to be kept functioning in order to keep the economy from breaking down. Third, the European banking system would have to be recapitalized and put under European, as distinct from national, supervision. Fourth, the government bonds of the other deficit countries would have to be protected from contagion. The last two requirements would apply even if no country defaults.

All this would cost money. Under existing arrangements no more money is to be found and no new arrangements are allowed by the German Constitutional Court decision without the authorization of the Bundestag. There is no alternative but to give birth to the missing ingredient: a European treasury with the power to tax and therefore to borrow. This would require a new treaty, transforming the EFSF into a full-fledged treasury.

That would presuppose a radical change of heart, particularly in Germany. The German public still thinks that it has a choice about whether to support the euro or to abandon it. That is a mistake. The euro exists and the assets and liabilities of the financial system are so intermingled on the basis of a common currency that a breakdown of the euro would cause a meltdown beyond the capacity of the authorities to contain. The longer it takes for the German public to realize this, the heavier the price they and the rest of the world will have to pay.

The question is whether the German public can be convinced of this argument. Angela Merkel may not be able to persuade her own coalition, but she could rely on the opposition. Having resolved the euro crisis, she would have less to fear from the next elections.

The fact that arrangements are made for the possible default or defection of three small countries does not mean that those countries would be abandoned. On the contrary, the possibility of an orderly default-paid for by the other eurozone countries and the IMF-would offer Greece and Portugal policy choices. Moreover, it would end the vicious cycle now threatening all of the eurozone's deficit countries whereby austerity weakens their growth prospects, leading investors to demand prohibitively high interest rates and thus forcing their governments to cut spending further.

Leaving the euro would make it easier for them to regain competitiveness; but if they are willing to make the necessary sacrifices they could also stay in. In both cases, theEFSF would protect bank deposits and the IMF would help to recapitalize the banking system. That would help these countries to escape from the trap in which they currently find themselves. It would be against the best interests of the European Union to allow these countries to collapse and drag down the global banking system with them.

It is not for me to spell out the details of the new treaty; that has to be decided by the member countries. But the discussions ought to start right away because even under extreme pressure they will take a long time to conclude. Once the principle of setting up a European Treasury is agreed upon, the European Council could authorize the ECBto step into the breach, indemnifying the ECB in advance against risks to its solvency. That is the only way to forestall a possible financial meltdown and another Great Depression.

-September 15, 2011

 

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