高盛：美国银行尚未走出困境2009-04-03[2009.04.16]American banks 美国银行
American banks 美国银行
Apr 16th 2009 200年4月16日
From The Economist print edition 摘自《经济学人》印刷版
Goldman Sachs and other banks want to pay back bail-out cash. But the banking system is not in the clear yet
USING taxpayers’ funds to prop up America’s banking system was a necessary evil. So in many ways it is welcome that some banks now want to repay the money. On April 14th, six months after getting $10 billion from the Treasury, Goldman Sachs sold $5 billion of new shares with that in mind.
It is easy to see why. Some banks, including Goldman, say that back in October they had enough capital and took part in the bail-out only to show solidarity with the government’s plan. Since then they have been excoriated by Congress and now face restrictions, mainly on pay but also on hiring foreigners, that Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s boss, says “limit our ability to compete”. Meanwhile banks’ shares have soared on optimism about their profits. Goldman says that repayment is a “duty”. But who wants to rely on livid voters and banker-bashing politicians when private cash is available?
The principles for letting a bank repay bail-out cash are clear. Its capital position must remain strong: capable of at least maintaining its lending book, absorbing shocks, and commanding enough confidence to allow borrowing without state guarantees. It should repay taxpayers by selling new shares or retaining profits. For a bank to boost capital by withdrawing credit or exiting important business lines would be counterproductive. It must have healthy profits and sane risk and pay policies. European banks, such as HSBC, that have got there without state support have rightly been applauded.
Does Goldman pass these tests too? Although it has just reported bumper earnings (see article), their quality was mixed, and relied too much on volatile trading. It has a slug of hard-to-value assets and its borrowing costs have yet to return to normal; it is still using the government’s debt-guarantee scheme. But its regulatory capital ratios are solid, half as strong again as those of America’s ten biggest banks overall. When the Treasury completes its stress tests to evaluate the largest banks soon, Goldman should pass with flying colors.
No bank is an island 没有哪家银行能独善其身
Yet the crisis has shown that banks do not exist in isolation. Some say that by letting lenders repay the state, those unable to do so would face runs on their shares and junior debt. This cannot be made the sole consideration—the banking system should not walk at the pace of its weakest members. However there is still a danger that the American banking system as a whole is nearly insolvent. And if the stress tests are rigorous, they could show that insolvency is indeed some banks’ likely fate: losses may well eat up much of the system’s capital.
The slim margin for error means confidence could still evaporate, with even good banks dragged down by counterparty risk. The government says banks that fail the stress tests must raise capital within six months (from the state if necessary) and sell toxic assets. The tests must not be fudged. Providing that the six-month deadline is a firm one, forcing Goldman and others to retain their unwanted funds till then seems fair. But that is long enough. Meanwhile, the politicians should stop changing the rules about pay and bonuses.
发表于21:33 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享 0非洲的下一任独裁者2009-04-02[2009.04.16] Africa's next Big Man 非洲的下一任独裁者
South Africa's election
Africa's next Big Man
Apr 16th 2009
From The Economist print edition
If Jacob Zuma avoids becoming a caricature of African leadership, he could change the whole continent for the better
WITHIN weeks, Jacob Zuma is set to become the most powerful man in Africa, a continent of a billion souls that is still the poorest and, despite recent improvements, the worst governed on the planet. South Africa provides more than a third of the 48 sub-Saharan economies’ total GDP. It is Africa’s sole member of the G20 group of influential countries and packs a punch in global diplomacy. Its emergence from the gruesome era of apartheid is a miracle of reconciliation. Africans across the continent and oppressed peoples elsewhere still look to South Africa’s leader as a beacon of hope.
The country’s president is to be elected by Parliament after a general election on April 22nd which the dominant African National Congress (ANC) is sure to win again. As the party’s candidate, Mr Zuma is unquestionably Africa’s next “Big Man”. But it is a phrase that goes to the heart of the continent’s troubles. Too many African countries have been ruined by political chiefs for whom government is the accumulation of personal power and the dispensation of favours. That the revered Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation is now turning to a man of Mr Zuma’s stamp may sharpen prejudices about Africa. It is for Mr Zuma to prove these doubters wrong.
He is undoubtedly a man of remarkable qualities (see article). In contrast to his dour predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, Mr Zuma can charm the birds out of the trees. Unlike the racially twitchy Mr Mbeki, he feels good in his skin, happy to acknowledge, even celebrate, his modest background. He properly educated himself only during his ten years as a prisoner on Robben Island, alongside Mr Mandela. Mr Zuma is charismatic and canny, as you would expect of a guerrilla who rose to be head of intelligence for the now-ruling ANC. He has been a wily negotiator, who magisterially ended the strife between his fellow Zulus in the early post-apartheid era. He connects easily with black slum-dwellers and white tycoons alike.
Big man, big problems
But his flaws are just as patent. He has been entangled for years in a thicket of embarrassing legal cases from which he has only recently been extricated—on a technicality. His financial adviser was sentenced to 15 years in prison for soliciting bribes for Mr Zuma. He has also been tried, and acquitted, on a rape charge. At the least, he has sailed perilously close to the wind. To put the kindest interpretation on his financial dealings, he has been naive and sloppy, not the best qualities for looking after Africa’s biggest economy. During his trial for the rape of an HIV-infected family friend, at the height of the AIDS plague in a country which has the world’s highest recorded rate of rapes, he showed gross chauvinism and staggering ignorance, notoriously explaining that after having sex he had showered to stave off the disease. He is an illiberal populist, sneering at gays and hinting at bringing back the death penalty.
When it comes to policy, Mr Zuma travels light. In the wake of Mr Mbeki’s shameful and lethal denial of the link between HIV and AIDS, he has overseen the appointment of a sensible new health minister. He seems to want the awful Robert Mugabe ousted in Zimbabwe, though his pronouncements have varied. Once a member of the South African Communist Party, which used to fawn on the Kremlin, he shamelessly switched to capitalism after his predecessors, Mr Mandela and Mr Mbeki, had persuaded the ANC to somersault away from socialism. These days he tells the hungry black majority that he has their interests at heart, while reassuring businessmen that he will not switch to high-tax redistribution. No one is sure in which direction he will push the economy, now wobbling after years of steady, commodity-fuelled growth.
As with all the other Big Men, the principal worries revolve around a fatal conflation of party and state. Given South Africa’s racial and tribal mix, robustly independent bodies are vital, from Parliament and the judiciary to human-rights monitors, medical institutions and free media, but the ANC has stuffed all of them with party loyalists to entrench its hegemony. Candidate Zuma has seemed to rate loyalty to the ANC above all else, even the admirable constitution that the party itself was largely responsible for writing. It is not certain he believes in the need to separate powers, letting his fans hurl abuse at judges when they ruled against him.
Confound us all
President Zuma must grab his early chances to reassure the worriers. He should state unequivocally that he will not propose a law to render the head of state immune from criminal prosecution. He needs to resist the temptation to elevate some of his dodgier friends to high judicial posts. Parliament needs more bite to nip the heels of the executive; the present system of election by party lists shrivels the independence of members and needs reform. To curb cronyism, all MPs, ministers and board members of state-funded institutions should register their and their families’ assets. He should also keep the sound Trevor Manuel as finance minister. Finally, Mr Zuma should ask his government to revise, perhaps even phase out, the policy of “black economic empowerment”. This may have been necessary 15 years ago to put a chunk of the economy into black hands. But its main beneficiaries now are a coterie of ANC-linked people, not the poor masses.
Hardest of all for Mr Zuma to accept is that, in the longer run, South African democracy needs a sturdier opposition. The liberal Democratic Alliance, led by a brave white woman, Helen Zille, has good ideas but has failed to expand its appeal beyond a white core. The new Congress of the People, a black-led breakaway from the ANC, has able leaders, yet several are tainted by association with Mr Mbeki. With luck the opposition parties may stop the ANC from getting the two-thirds of parliamentary seats that would let it override the constitution.
Mr Zuma could yet prove to be the right sort of Big Man: big enough to hold his party back from creating something akin to a one-party state, big enough to accept that no one, himself included, is above the law. If that is how he chooses to spend his five years in power, South Africa would indeed serve as a model for the whole continent. But will he?
发表于21:23 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享 0德国宪法法院：不知名的小法官影响全球2009-04-01[2009.3.26] Judgment days 审判的日子
Germany's Constitutional Court
Mar 26th 2009 | KARLSRUHE
From The Economist print edition
The little-known judges on Germany’s Constitutional Court exert real influence, not only at home but also abroad
Illustration by Peter Schrank
WHEN the principality of Baden merged with two others to form Baden-Württemberg in 1951, its former capital, Karlsruhe, was given a consolation prize: the Constitutional Court of the new federal republic. Modestly housed in squat blocks, the court is far from the capital, Berlin. Yet the federal government (and the states) are forever grappling with its edicts. Any toughening of police powers to deal with terrorism seems to provoke objections in Karlsruhe. So do lesser matters, such as whether commuters can deduct transport costs from taxes or whether bars can let smokers light up. “The Constitutional Court is often called the third chamber of the legislature,” notes Dieter Grimm, a former judge. “There is something in it.”
Now the court is to rule on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, which critics say could put the judges out of business. In February it heard arguments that the treaty would give the EU the attributes of a state without making it democratically accountable, and would sap the court’s powers to protect the fundamental rights of Germans. Yet few court-watchers expect the judges to throw Lisbon out. Germany’s EU membership is enshrined in the constitution; and the court has long-standing partnerships with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Lisbon would tilt the balance of power a bit toward Luxembourg, but not as far as its opponents fear. Judges on the Constitutional Court will not discuss the case, but its vice-president, Andreas Vosskuhle, notes that Germany has often gained influence through the EU. He is right. Moreover, even as the Constitutional Court has been shaping post-war Germany, German jurisprudence has spread to affect Europe and much of the world.
The Constitutional Court is in some people’s eyes Germany’s most powerful institution. Almost 80% of Germans trust it; less than half have confidence in the federal government and the Bundestag, the lower house. Although a political player, the court is seen to be above politics. Parties nominate judges, but they are usually approved unanimously by the legislature. Unlike America’s Supreme Court justices, Germany’s seek consensus and seldom write dissenting opinions. Any citizen may bring a constitutional case, an antidote to Nazi notions of justice, and some 6,000 a year do so.
The court is revered partly because Germans’ affinity for the rule of law is greater than for democracy, some scholars say. Germany’s “constitutional patriotism” resembles the American idea of a nation founded on rights and values. But Germans have a different notion of these. American rights—to bear arms and speak freely, for example—are “small and hard”, argues Georg Nolte, a scholar at Humboldt University in Berlin. Germany’s, by contrast, are “fat and flexible”.
The German constitution, or basic law, which will mark its 60th birthday on May 23rd, is a never-again document. Its
first article declares that “human dignity shall be inviolable”. It endows Germany with a weak president and strong state governments. Its freedoms do not extend to those who would destroy freedom, which may explain how Holocaust-denial can be a crime despite freedom of speech.
The court has elaborated rights that the constitution’s authors never envisaged. The Lüth decision of 1958 held that constitutional rights affect citizens’ relations not just with the state but also with each other, a judgment so far-reaching as to be termed a “juridical coup d’état”. The court developed a notion of the “duty to protect” basic rights from threats stemming from private action or social forces. In 1983 the court created a right for individuals to control their personal information. Last year, when considering plans to snoop on the computers of suspected terrorists, it found a right to the “integrity of information-technology systems”. “German society is over-constitutionalised,” observes Donald Kommers, of the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana.
宪法法院详细阐明的有些权利连宪法制定者都没有想到。1958年的吕特案判决书判定，宪法权利影响的不仅仅是公民与国家的关系，而且包括公民间的权利。这个判决影响如此深远，因而也被称为“司法政变”。法院产生了一种“责任”理念，必须要“保护”公民的基本权利免受来自私人或者社会力量的威胁。 1983年，宪法法院创设了公民有保护自己个人信息的权利。去年，考虑到对恐怖主义嫌疑分子电脑的监控计划，宪法法院又创设了一项“信息技术系统完整权 ”。印第安纳州圣母大学的Donald Kommers认为，“德国社会宪政过头了。”
Hans-Jürgen Papier, the court’s president, thinks its reputation for activism is exaggerated. Since 1951 it has judged laws, or parts of laws, unconstitutional in just 611 cases, a small fraction of the number it has considered. But it happens enough to keep the government busy. Recently, for example, it told the government to reinstate a tax deduction for commuters who live near their jobs, one of a number of tax rulings that is causing the finance minister heartburn. The court did not say that commuting costs must be tax-deductible, only that treating people who live close to work differently from those who live far away was unconstitutional.
Friction has increased over the balance between freedom and security. On rights it deems absolute, the court is implacable. In 2006 it said the air force could not shoot down a plane commandeered by terrorists even to prevent a greater disaster. The court often tells lawmakers to do a better job of balancing means and ends. A decision striking down a state law allowing investigators to monitor suspects’ computers ruled that such powers are permitted only with a judge’s warrant and evidence of a grave crime. That was meant to be a warning to the federal government, which was preparing its own law. Wolfgang Sch?uble, the interior minister, has occasionally struck back; last year he grumbled that some of the judges’ musings were “not democratically legitimate”. Mr Papier says that such tensions between the court and the executive are not new.
In a world densely populated with rights, every legal act is likely to infringe at least one other. The court uses “proportionality” to decide what can be allowed. The judges subject any infringement to a whole gamut of tests. The answers reveal, for example, where a journalist’s right to free speech ends and a citizen’s right to privacy begins. Possessing a little cannabis is fine, says proportionality, because law enforcement must be balanced against the right to “free development of personality”.
Invented by Prussia in the 18th century to limit the Kaiser’s power, proportionality has influenced constitutions from Canada’s to South Africa’s. Mr Nolte calls it “the prime example of the migration of constitutional ideas”. Even America’s Supreme Court, which employs its own form of rights-balancing, is taking an interest. Justice Stephen Breyer referred to proportionality in a recent opinion on gun control, provoking scholarly excitement.
In the meshing of the German constitution with European law, proportionality provides a lubricant. Each side is jealous of its prerogatives but eager to avoid confrontation. Since 1974 Karlsruhe has made the transfer of powers to Europe conditional on the protection of Germans’ basic rights; if these are infringed, the court insists, it can reclaim them. The ECJ, meanwhile, acts as the “motor of European integration” (and on human-rights issues Strasbourg has the last word). Think of an Alexander Calder mobile rather than a pyramid, suggests Renate Jaeger, the German judge on the human-rights court. Occasionally there are conflicts. Strasbourg told the German court that its pro-paparazzi ruling in a case brought by Princess Caroline of Monaco struck the wrong balance between press freedom and privacy. In February the ECJ upheld an EU directive on data collection, using defence of the single market as justification for what looked to Germans like a public-security matter. That raised hackles in Germany.
Lisbon, if ratified, will change things, by giving the European Commission and the ECJ a bigger role in justice and security affairs. Rainer Nickel of the University of Frankfurt foresees a “quantum leap” in the erosion of the Constitutional Court’s powers. But judges are more sanguine. European courts collaborate closely and there is little reason for this to change, whether Lisbon is ratified or not. “It’s a shared learning process,” Mr Vosskuhle argues.
He will become the court’s youngest-ever president when Mr Papier retires next year. Karlsruhe, he thinks, will have its hands full coping with the implications of new technologies such as genetic engineering, with “sustainability issues” like demography and climate change and with growing threats to “equal living conditions” across Germany, another constitutional issue. It seems certain that there will be life after Lisbon.
发表于10:26 | 阅读全文 | 评论 1 | 编辑 | 分享 0中国建议结束美元时代2009-04-01[2009.03.26] Handle with care 小心应对
[2009.02.26] The dollar as a reserve currency 以美元作为储备货币
Handle with care小心应对
Mar 26th 2009 |
From The Economist print edition
China suggests an end to the dollar era
IN FUTURE, changes to the international financial system are likely to be shaped by Beijing as well as Washington. That is the message of an article by Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the People’s Bank of China. Mr Zhou calls for a radical reform of the international monetary system in which the dollar would be replaced as the main reserve currency by a global currency. It is a delicate issue, however. When Tim Geithner, America’s treasury secretary, discussed the proposal in New York on March 25th, his remarks sent the dollar tumbling before he made clear that, naturally, he thought the greenback should remain the dominant reserve currency.
Mr Zhou’s proposal is China’s way of making clear that it is worried that the Fed’s response to the crisis—printing loads of money—will hurt the dollar and hence the value of China’s huge foreign reserves, of which around two-thirds are in dollars.
He suggests that the international financial system, which is based on a single currency (he does not actually cite the dollar), has two main flaws. First, the reserve-currency status of the dollar helped to create global imbalances. Surplus countries have little choice but to place most of their spare funds in the reserve currency since it is used to settle trade and has the most liquid bond market. But this allowed America’s borrowing binge and housing bubble to persist for longer than it otherwise would have. Second, the country that issues the reserve currency faces a trade-off between domestic and international stability. Massive money-printing by the Fed to support the economy makes sense from a national perspective, but it may harm the dollar’s value.
Mr Zhou suggests that the dollar’s reserve status should be transferred to the SDR (Special Drawing Rights), a synthetic currency created by the IMF, whose value is determined as a weighted average of the dollar, euro, yen and pound. The SDR was created in 1969, during the Bretton Woods fixed exchange-rate system, because of concerns that there was insufficient liquidity to support global economic activity. It was originally intended as a reserve currency, but is now mainly used in the accounts for the IMF’s transactions with member countries. SDRs are allocated to IMF members on the basis of their contribution to the fund.
Mr Zhou’s plan could win support from other emerging economies with large reserves. However, it is unlikely to get off the ground in the near future. It would take years for the SDR to be widely accepted as a means of exchange and a store of value. The total amount of SDRs outstanding is equivalent to only $32 billion, or less than 2% of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, compared with $11 trillion of American Treasury bonds.
There are also big political hurdles. America would resist, because losing its reserve-currency status would raise the cost of financing its budget and current-account deficits. Even Beijing might want to rethink the idea. Mr Zhou praised John Maynard Keynes’s proposal in the 1940s for an international currency, the “Bancor”, based on commodities. But as Mark Williams of Capital Economics says, central to Keynes’s idea was that a tax be imposed on countries running large current-account surpluses, to encourage them to boost domestic demand.
该项提议同时也面临巨大的政治障碍。由于失去储备货币的地位将会提高融资预算成本和导致经常帐户赤字，美国将会抵制这项提议。就连中方可能也要重新考虑这一想法。周先生称赞凯恩斯在二十世纪四十年代所提倡的基于商品定值的国际性货币“ Bancor ”的建议。但资本经济学家马克.威廉姆斯说，凯恩斯的建议的实质是，对那些拥有经常账户巨大盈余的国家征税，来鼓励他们扩大内需。
发表于10:25 | 阅读全文 | 评论 1 | 编辑 | 分享1中国反垄断法:拒外国公司之门外2009-03-24
[2009.03.18] Squeezed out 拒之门外
Coca-Cola in China
Mar 18th 2009 | HONG KONG
From The Economist print edition
China indicates the real targets of its anti-monopoly law: outsiders
LAST August, after 14 years of debate, the Chinese government at last imposed what was informally referred to as its “economic constitution”, a broad anti-monopoly law for a country rife with state-imposed
monopolies. In the subsequent months, people have wondered how the law would be applied, and whether it would advance China’s transformation into a market economy, or serve as an impediment to genuine competition. On Wednesday March 18th an answer emerged with the rejection of the largest outright acquisition by a foreign company, a $2.4 billion offer by Coca-Cola for China Huiyuan, the country’s largest juice company.
When the deal was announced last September, it was at a price three times Huiyuan’s valuation at the time. Since then, as global markets have collapsed, it has only become more appealing. Huiyuan is a private company and juice had previously been free of government control, so theoretically it should have been available for purchase. “It is a very unfortunate outcome in an industry that has no economic or national-security significance,” says Lester Ross of WilmerHale, a law firm, in Beijing.
The most benign interpretation of the rejection being bandied about
by lawyers and bankers is that it reflects a political response to critical comments by America’s new administration—a warning, of sorts, that could dissipate
quickly if the economic relationship between China and America can find a firm footing. The more dire interpretation is that even as China publicly urges other countries to commit to opening their markets to Chinese investment and trade, it is imposing yet another barrier to outsiders. Worse still, the barriers are in its domestic consumer sector, one of the rare global economic bright spots.
Adding irony to the decision, it comes just as the Chinese government is indicating that it is actively encouraging, if not forcing, consolidation and greater market concentration in a number of areas, including steel, cars and airlines, and just after it imposed a new oligopoly in telecommunications. No domestic Chinese transaction has fallen foul
of the new monopoly law.
Signs that foreign companies might be the primary targets of the law began to emerge in November, when a merger between two brewers, America’s Anheuser-Busch and Belgium’s InBev, was endorsed by Chinese regulators only on the condition that the combined firm’s existing interest in several domestic breweries be frozen. In particular, Anheuser-Busch’s non-controlling 27% stake in Tsingtao, a leading Chinese brewer, was largely liquidated
in January after what is presumed to be pressure from the government.
The Coca-Cola Company holds as much as half of the domestic Chinese market for carbonated beverages, but the juice business is highly fragmented. Estimates are not particularly reliable, but various accounts suggest the two companies would control more than of 20% of the juice business. In a brief statement, China’s ministry of commerce said Coke’s “dominant status” might “imperil” small competitors and force consumers to face higher prices and less choice.
After the decision was announced, investment banks were left wondering, in the words of one employee, whether “a key plank in their business had just blown up
.” Coke has spent years developing its presence in China, and has invested heavily, presumably making it one of the world’s more acceptable buyers. It is also one of the few companies able to finance a big deal in today’s difficult circumstances. If Coke was not acceptable to the Chinese authorities, then who is? The rejection will inevitably be used as evidence of non-reciprocity,and the collusion between the country’s state and private sectors, by anyone opposed to China’s recent efforts to buy companies abroad.
Deepening the gloom, another new Chinese law comes into effect on May 1st, subjecting
any transfer of a state-controlled asset to yet another layer of review, this time by a local commission. Theoretically this is not aimed at any particular kind of acquirer, and would not block well-conceived deals, but that, of course, was said about the monopoly law as well. The new law had not received much attention. It will now.
发表于13:39 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享1