Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Τις τελευταίες μέρες έχει προκληθεί ανησυχία στην κοινή γνώμη (και όχι μόνο), από την υποβάθμιση της πιστοληπτικής ικανότητας της Ελλάδας. Μια από αυτές έγινε από τον οίκο Fitch.
Ενα μεγάλο ερώτημα που τίθεται είναι η πηγή από την οποία οι οίκοι αυτοί αντλούν την εξουσία με την οποία μπορούν ακόμα και να "γονατίσουν" οικονομικά μια χώρα και ποιά πρέπει να είναι η αντιμετώπισή τους.
Αφορμή για τις σκέψεις αυτές μου έδωσε ένα άρθρο που δημοσιεύθηκε προχθές σε μια από τις εγκυρότερες εφημερίδες του κόσμου, τους TIMES του Λονδίνου. Το υπογράφει ένα φιλελεύθερος βουλευτής, ο οποίος ίδρυσε τον συγκεκριμένο οίκο Fitch. Είναι δηλαδή κάποιος που ξέρει καλύτερα από τον καθένα τα πράγματα "από μέσα".
Είναι φανερό ότι οι άνθρωποι αυτοί έχουν τρομερή εξουσία. Αρκεί να διαβάσει κανείς το άρθρο για να το καταλάβει.
Ποιά είναι η λύση του προβλήματος; Οπως λέει ο συγγραφέας του άρθρου, δεν είναι οι "νομοθετικές ρυθμίσεις". Απέτυχαν στην Ιαπωνία. Είναι η ΔΙΑΦΑΝΕΙΑ. (ποιοί τους πληρώνουν, με ποιούς έχουν συμβάσεις κλπ.).
Διαπιστώνουμε λοιπόν ότι η σταυροφορία του Έλληνα Πρωθυπουργού στην διαφάνεια δεν πρέπει να σταματήσει σε όσα συμβαίνουν στην χώρα μας. Εχει υποχρέωση να παλέψει την ανάγκη για διαφάνεια σε όλους τους διεθνείς οργανισμούς, με όλες του τις δυνάμεις. Γιατί, δυστυχώς ή ευτυχώς, η διαφάνεια δεν αφορά μόνο την χώρα μας.
Αντιγράφω το μέρος του άρθρου της εφημερίδας που αναφέρεται στην Ελλάδα.
At the end of last week George Papandreou, the Prime Minister of Greece, gave assurances that his country would not default.
Mr Papandreou's statement came after the lead analyst of Greece at Fitch Ratings -- a former colleague of mine, a diffident Welshman who does not stand out on the bus from his home in North London --downgraded the Greek Government's credit rating. The result was to push up its cost of borrowing by 0.4 per cent in a week.
That may not sound like a lot, but it has been enough to make him a hate figure on Greek television. If the same were to happen here, the cost of interest on this year's UK deficit and of refinancing old debt
coming due would rise by about £850 million a year. As it is, the cost of financing, measured by the key ten-year British bond, rose by 0.24 per cent last week.
Το άρθρο καταλήγει: The key is surely transparency in these mysterious but important institutions. Greater openness is the path to honesty in the use of power.
Το πλήρες κείμενο:
Last week Moody’s — one of the big three international ratings agencies — warned that the UK’s top bond rating would be under threat if Britain failed to sort out its public finances in the next three years. For the first time in decades, British Chancellors have to worry about the bond market.
Welcome to the club. Across the world, Prime Ministers and finance ministers are trying to shore up the price of their bonds — tradeable debt — because the costs of financing record budget deficits will soar if they do not. At the end of last week George Papandreou, the Prime Minister of Greece, gave assurances that his country would not default.
Mr Papandreou’s statement came after the lead analyst of Greece at Fitch Ratings — a former colleague of mine, a diffident Welshman who does not stand out on the bus from his home in North London — downgraded the Greek Government’s credit rating. The result was to push up its cost of borrowing by 0.4 per cent in a week.
That may not sound like a lot, but it has been enough to make him a hate figure on Greek television. If the same were to happen here, the cost of interest on this year’s UK deficit and of refinancing old debt coming due would rise by about £850 million a year. As it is, the cost of financing, measured by the key ten-year British bond, rose by 0.24 per cent last week.
The bond market is little known because for many years it has been a market for banks, pension funds and insurance companies. Small investors were scared off by the defaults of the Great Depression, and the inflation of the postwar years. They have long preferred shares.
But the bond market is vast, global and powerful, as it sets the tone for all the other markets, including shares. Within the bond market, there is no more crucial part than the market for government bonds because they are traditionally regarded as the safest. Hence their UK name: gilt-edged securities, or gilts. If sovereign debt becomes riskier, it affects everyone else’s debt, too. Even share prices often fall.
As James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun political strategist of the Clinton Administration, said when he discovered the awe in which the bond market was held in the US Treasury: “I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the President or the Pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”
Like every other market, there are argumentative buyers and sellers, but the most powerful players are the rating agencies. In countries without AAA ratings from Azerbaijan to Uruguay, an agency visit is a time to roll out the red carpet. Investment bank advisers fly from New York or London to coach the finance minister and central bank governor on what to say — and what not to say.
I remember first rating Poland on its re-entry to the bond market after the fall of communism. The team — agency analysts go in pairs or more, to raise the cost of bribery — was taken out to dinner on the first night of our week-long visit by the affable Deputy Finance Minister along with his nervous advisers. I asked the classic rating agency question: “What’s the worst thing that could go wrong?” To the consternation of the attendant bankers, the minister looked suicidally gloomy and said: “Russian tanks on the Vistula.”
The ratings agencies do not claim to pinpoint when a borrower will default, but to assess the likely chance that they may. The notations — from the top AAA down to C — reflect the probability of default.
There is a long history of corporate and bank borrowing against which defaults can be assessed. The difficulty arises in those areas — including government bonds — where there are not so many issuers and the history is patchy. Analysts then have to use their judgment, and we know that they can get things horribly wrong, as they did during the credit crunch.
That was particularly the case with the ratings on “structured finance” — the special bonds backed by other loans such as junk mortgages. The theory was that by putting together — “securitising” — enough rubbish, you could spread your risk and emerge with a good quality bond.
This was partly the operation of Huhne’s theorem of financial innovation, which is that new financial gizmos always disguise more risk than the markets take into account. In each upturn, there is usually some new instrument — in this crisis, securitised lending, but in the Eighties crisis it was multi-bank syndicated lending — which people think is far less risky than anything that went before.
We do not discover the error until the next crisis. During the boom, the risk of the innovation is systematically under-priced, helping bankers and brokers to make the most dangerous case in markets: “This time it is different.” Rating agencies ought to be immune, but sadly most people who work for them are human. This might account for why they are so vigorously rattling their chains today: hell hath no fury like an agency analyst caught out being a softie.
The agencies also have financial interests. As private research institutes, the agencies find it hard to get investors to pay for their knowledge. There is simply too much free research. So they ask for fees from the banks, companies and governments they rate. In theory, lots of checks and balances have been introduced to stop fees affecting ratings, and no one fee accounts for much revenue.
But those fees do undermine judgment, because the boss’s pay packet depends on growth and success. Throughout the last upturn, structured finance was the go-go sector of the bond market, coining billions for bankers and agencies. No one wanted to kill the golden goose.
What is the solution? Regulation would merely backfire, as it has done in Japan. The Japanese agencies’ ratings are now a regulatory requirement, but have as much credibility as a government-run newspaper. Competition works slowly, if at all, as it takes years for an agency to establish a track record and credibility to move the market.
Rating agencies have a narrow but enormous power, able to make and break governments and companies. Like any other powerful entity, their power should be held to account. The best option would be to insist that the agencies publish every year exactly how much they receive — or do not receive — from each bond issuer. Academics could then check whether there was a relationship between fees, ratings and rating changes. Agencies that wanted to keep their reputations would happily bite the hand that feeds them.
The key is surely transparency in these mysterious but important institutions. Greater openness is the path to honesty in the use of power.
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh, founded the sovereign group at Fitch Ratings, and was group managing director
Posted by ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ ΠΑΝΑΡΕΤΟΣ at 11:53 pm