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2009年市场充满未知数

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Exploring 2009's Darker Market Landscape

At the start of this new year, investors find themselves in a new world where vast swaths of territory are marked 'unknown.'

There is always uncertainty in investing. This year, however, the availability of capital -- one of the most important variables in the functioning of an economy -- can no longer be taken for granted. Meanwhile, shell-shocked investors around the globe have become significantly risk-averse.

That is markedly different than in recent years, when billions of dollars were sloshing around global financial markets. If one wave of money pulled out, it seemed that another was always coming in to fill the void.

Over the course of 2008, the credit crisis that began with securities backed by home loans engulfed virtually every market that could be tapped by borrowers -- individuals, corporations and investors. Although there have been some signs of improvement in recent weeks, such as in the market for interbank lending, the cost of borrowing by even the most highly regarded companies remains unusually high. For borrowers without pristine credit, the credit markets are nearly closed.

'The credit-creation machine is semi-permanently impaired,' says Jason DeSena Trennert, chief investment strategist at Strategas Research Partners. 'It's almost like a switch was turned off.'

The effects on the economy and the stock market have been dramatic; major stock indexes posted the steepest declines since the Great Depression.

The challenge now facing investors is to assess to what degree the pool of available capital has been drained, and how successful governments and central banks such as the Federal Reserve will be in reversing the tide. The Fed has cut interest rates to near zero and announced a series of unprecedented measures to stabilize the financial markets.

Complicating matters is the world-wide nature of the economic crisis. Europe is facing a significant recession. Japan, despite its hoard of savings, is sinking fast. Even the Chinese economic powerhouse is slowing.

Meanwhile, now that oil prices have collapsed, cash-rich sovereign wealth funds are focused on supporting their own economies rather than seeking out investments on the other side of the globe.

For now, any predictions are little more than guesses. In a recent report about the Fed's aggressive steps to flood the financial system with credit, Anatole Kaletsky of Hong Kong-based GaveKal Research, posed the question: 'What happens when an irresistible force' -- the Fed's actions -- 'hits an immoveable object' -- the paralyzed global economy?

'The correct answer is that there is no answer,' Mr. Kaletsky wrote. Eventually, the Fed's moves are likely to fuel a rebound in economic activity, he says, but 'nobody yet has any idea how much permanent damage may have been done to the structural underpinnings of U.S. and global capitalism.'

Among other unanswered questions: Might a cash-starved world mean a prolonged period when interest rates for corporate borrowers stay well above historic levels? Will there be a protracted retrenchment among heavily indebted consumers who carry mortgages bigger than the value of their homes? What kind of a premium will investors pay for stocks that reliably churn out scarce cash in the form of dividends? Will having governments as shareholders of banks and brokerage firms impair the risk-taking that fuels a vibrant economy?

For years, Yale University professor John Geanakoplos has been talking about cycles of leveraging and deleveraging -- taking on debt and cutting back -- and the resulting economic impact. He argues that the current risk today is an extended period when the cost of capital remains historically high.

The problem, he says, starts with the fact that buyers, whether of homes or securities, are faced with much bigger collateral requirements than in the past. Meanwhile, he says, 'with this overhang of depressed asset prices, every risk-taker is buying old assets. Why would you bother to make a new mortgage when you can buy an old one that only costs 55 cents on the dollar?'

It's a similar story in the corporate-bond and equity markets. Until policies are put in place that directly address prices of assets such as houses, 'we're going to see the cost of capital remain high,' says Mr. Geanakoplos.

There are still more unknowns. 'What does it mean to our economy that people can no longer buy a car or lease a car with no money down, or what does it mean that the equity line of credit won't get extended?' asks Basil Williams, chief executive of hedge-fund managers Concordia Advisors. 'How much of a contraction in demand will we have because if people want to have something they'll have to save money before they buy?'

Then there's the impact of scarce capital on the financial markets themselves. With banks and brokerage firms forced to conserve cash, there is less capital available to support trading. That means wider spreads between the prices at which investors can buy and sell stocks or bonds. That in turn can lead to heightened volatility, which often diminishes the appetite for risk-taking.

For investors itching to be the first to call a bottom in the stock market and start buying, it isn't just an academic exercise. It has the potential to mean a big change in terms of which strategies will work for years to come.

It could mark an end the nearly single-minded focus on corporate income statements and quarterly earnings that has dominated the stock market. 'The determining factor in terms of growth for equity investors will be the availability and the cost of debt capital,' says Strategas's Mr. Trennert. 'Companies that have access to the credit markets will have a decided advantage.'

Expensive and scarce capital translates into lower profit margins and market values, says Steven Romick, manager of the FPA Crescent Fund. He notes that while stocks may appear cheaper than they've been in years, that's compared to a period of record profit margins and an economy supported by the credit boom. 'We're looking at [the ratio of stock prices to earnings] being much lower than what people expect,' he says.

Investors are also likely to demand higher returns for owning for riskier assets such as stocks, which usually means lower prices. 'If somebody is married and they have a horrible divorce, then they aren't going to be so quick to get married again,' says Mr. Romick.

新年到来之际,投资者发现他们身处一个新世界,其中大片大片的地段上竖立着“未知”的标示。

投资总是存在着变数。不过,今年对获得资金的便捷性不能再抱着想当然的态度,而资金的便捷性一直是经济运行中最为重要的变量之一。与此同时,备受打击的全球投资者也都越来越不愿冒险。

这明显不同于最近几年,当时数十亿美元在全球金融市场上到处兴风作浪。如果一波资金退出,似乎总有另外一批资金来填补空白。

Cathy Gendron在2008年之中,始于住房抵押贷款支持证券的信贷危机吞没了个人、企业和投资者可以利用的所有市场。尽管近几周来银行同业拆借等市场出现了一些改善的迹象,但即使是许多名声显赫的大企业借款的成本依然居高不下。对于信用状况并未完美无暇的借款人来说,信贷市场几乎对他们关上了大门。

Strategas Research Partners首席投资策略师特恩纳特(Jason DeSena Trennert)说,创造信用的机器已经受到了半永久性的损害,这就像是开关已经关掉了一样。

经济和股市受到了非常明显的影响;主要股指创出了大萧条以来的最大跌幅。

投资者目前所面临的挑战是,评估可用资金池已经耗尽到了何种程度,以及各国政府和美国联邦储备委员会等央行如何能够成功地扭转这一趋势。美联储已经将利率下调到接近零的水平,并宣布了一系列前所未有的措施,以稳定金融市场。

令事情变得更为复杂的是全球经济危机的性质。欧洲正面临严重的衰退。日本尽管囤积了大量的储蓄,但其经济也快速下滑。甚至是强劲的中国经济也在放缓。

与此同时,由于油价暴跌,现金充裕的主权财富基金已将重点放在了支持本国经济上,而不是到地球其它角落寻找投资机会。

现在,任何预测都同猜测差别不大。香港GaveKal Research的凯尔斯盖(Anatole Kaletsky)在最近分析美联储向金融市场注入大量信贷的文章中,提出了这样一个问题,当不可抗拒的力量──美联储的行动──碰上了无法移动的物体──陷入瘫痪的全球经济──时会发生什么?

凯尔斯盖写道,正确的答案是没有答案。他说,最终,美联储的举措可能推动经济活动的反弹,但迄今为止还没有人知道美国和全球资本主义的结构性基础受到了多少永久性的损害。

其它悬而未决的问题有:在企业借款利率仍大大高于历史水平之际,一个现金紧张的世界是否意味着紧张的期限将会延长?那些抵押贷款额超过了房屋价值的负债累累的消费者,是否会长期节衣缩食?对那些以股息形式可靠地提供稀有现金的股票,投资者愿意支付什么样的溢价水平?让政府作为银行和经纪公司的股东,是否会损害促进经济活力的冒险精神?

多年来,耶鲁大学教授约翰·吉纳考普劳斯(John Geanakoplos)一直在谈论杠杆化和去杠杆化的周期──即借债和削减债务──以及它们对经济造成的影响。他认为,如今面临的风险是资金成本长期处于历史高位。

他说,这个问题始于这样一个事实,即房屋或证券的买家面临比过去更高的抵押要求。与此同时,他说,面对资产价格低迷的局面,每一个接受风险的人都在购买旧资产。每一美元的旧资产,现在只花55美分就可以买到,你为什么要自寻烦恼获得新的抵押贷款呢?

公司债券和股票市场也是同样的情况。吉纳考普劳斯说,除非直接解决房屋等资产价格问题的政策出台,否则我们还将继续面临资本成本居高不下的困境。

还有更多的未知因素。对冲基金管理公司Concordia Advisors的首席执行长威廉姆斯(Basil Williams)说,如果人们不付定金就不能再买车或租车,这对我们的经济意味着什么?或如果股票信用额度不能延长意味着什么?如果因为人们需要攒钱才能购买他们想要的东西,我们的需求将面临多大的萎缩呢?

其次是资本稀缺对金融市场本身的影响。随着银行和经纪公司被迫储备现金,用于支持交易的资金就会减少。这意味着投资者买卖股票或债券时价差的扩大。这反过来又可能导致波动加剧,而这往往会削弱冒险的意愿。

对于渴望成为最先发现股票市场触底并开始买进的投资者而言,这不仅仅是一种学术行为。就未来多年里将发挥作用的策略而言,它有可能意味着一个巨大的变化。

这可能标志着只关注主导股市的公司利润和季度收益的单一思维模式将终结。Strategas的特恩纳特说,对于股票投资者来说,增长的决定性因素将是公司借债的便捷性和借债成本,能够进入信贷市场的企业将具有明显的优势。

FPA Crescent基金的经理罗米克(Steven Romick)说,资本昂贵又稀缺,意味着利润率和市场价值的下降。他指出,尽管股票看来比前些年便宜了,但这是相对于这样的时期而言的:利润率创纪录,经济得到信贷繁荣的支持。他说,我们看到市盈率已经比人们预计的水平更低了。

投资者对持有股票等风险更高的资产也可能要求更高的回报率,这就通常意味着更低的价格。罗米克说,如果有人结婚了,然后又经历了可怕的离婚,那么他们不会很快再次结婚。
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