The old-world charms of perpetual bonds
永续债券的古老魔力

【双语】达西与债务 Darcy and debt-书迷号 shumihao.com

EVERYBODY AGREES that Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a love story. A truth less universally acknowledged is that it is also about money. When Mr Darcy first enters the Meryton assembly, the stir he causes owes something to his looks and bearing. But it owes a lot more to the fast-circulating report of his £10,000 a year. Darcy’s money is old money. It comes neither from commerce nor the professions, but from Pemberley, the family pile in Derbyshire.

地球人都会同意,简·奥斯汀的《傲慢与偏见》是一部爱情小说。而一个不那么被公认的事实是,它也是一部关于财富的小说。达西第一次在麦里屯舞会上亮相时,他引起的骚动和他的相貌风度有一些关系,但一个重要得多的原因是他年收入一万英镑的传言不胫而走。达西的财富源自家产继承。它既非经商所得,也非职业收入,而是源自德比郡的彭伯里庄园这一家族地产。

In Jane Austen’s day, wealth was measured by the yearly income it provided. The reckoning for sovereign debt was similar. Britain financed the Napoleonic wars by issuing “consols”—bonds that could not be redeemed but which, like Darcy’s estate, promised payments in perpetuity. There are now demands for consols to be revived as a means to manage the escalating fiscal costs of the coronavirus. Francesco Giavazzi and Guido Tabellini of Bocconi University have called for a perpetual-bond issue to be jointly backed by euro-zone countries. George Soros has echoed this.

在简·奥斯汀那个时代,财富的多少是以它每年带来的收入衡量的。主权债务也用了同样一本账。英国发行了“统一公债”为拿破仑战争筹集资金——这种债券不可赎回,但正如达西的财产一样,承诺永久付息。现在有人呼吁恢复发行统一公债,以应对因疫情导致的财政成本不断攀升。博科尼大学(Bocconi University)的弗朗西斯科·贾瓦齐(Francesco Giavazzi)和吉多·塔贝利尼(Guido Tabellini)主张发行欧元区国家联合担保的永续债券。乔治·索罗斯表达了支持。

Any scheme that adds to fiscal firepower without adding to the measured stock of debt might be especially welcome in euroland. But it is quite wrong to view consols as a means to circumvent fiscal discipline. Perpetual bonds are an ideal form of debt. Many bondholders care far more about how much income a bond pays than its capital value. You might call this the Darcy doctrine.

任何能够增强财力而又不增加债务规模的计划在欧元区可能尤其受欢迎。但若把统一公债视为规避财政纪律的手段,就大错特错了。永续债券是一种理想的债务形式。许多债券持有人对债券能带来多少收入的关心远远超过对债券本身资本价值的关心。我们可以称之为达西主义。

To understand it, consider the goals of public-debt management. One is to finance budget deficits at the least cost consistent with steady taxes and spending. Another is to supply safe and liquid financial assets. The more able governments are to meet the demand for securities, the lower and more stable is the long-run cost to the taxpayer. The need to keep costs down leads them to issue short-term bills, which are usually in high demand and carry the lowest interest rates. The need to keep costs stable and predictable leads them to issue long-term bonds.

要理解这种形式,来看看公共债务管理的目标。一是在税收和支出保持稳定的前提下,以最低的融资成本为预算赤字筹措资金。另一个是提供安全、流动的金融资产。政府越有能力满足对证券的需求,纳税人付出的长期成本就越低也越稳定。为了保持低成本,政府会发行短期票据,这些票据通常需求巨大,利率最低。而为了保持成本的稳定和可预测性,政府就会发行长期债券。

These goals can be met at least as well by issuing consols. In a thought-provoking paper in 2015*, John Cochrane of the University of Chicago proposed that the entire stock of American public debt should be made up of two securities. The first would have a fixed value of $1 forever and a coupon payment that is set in line with overnight interest rates. The second would have a fixed coupon payment of $1 forever and a price that is determined by market forces. The fixed-value, floating-rate bond would meet the need for a safe, trusted and highly liquid security. It would have the same qualities as a Treasury bill. The fixed-coupon security would have the character of long-term debt.

发行统一公债也可以实现这些目标,而且效果毫不逊色。芝加哥大学的约翰·科克伦(John Cochrane)在2015年发表的一篇发人深省的论文*中提出,美国应该只发行两种公共债务。第一种价值固定,永远为1美元,但支付的息票根据隔夜利率浮动。第二种息票固定,永远付息1美元,但其价格由市场力量决定。固定价值、浮动利率的债券将满足对安全、可靠及高流动性证券的需求,具有和短期国债一样的性质。而定息证券则会具备长期债券的特征。

Perpetual bonds have several advantages. A big one is liquidity. America’s sovereign debt is currently divided up into hundreds of distinct securities with different maturities. A 30-year bond that is issued in one year becomes a 29-year bond the next. The more individual bond issues there are, the less liquid each one is. By contrast, perpetual bonds are identical. A consol issued today is the same as a consol issued last year. And there is never the need to roll it over.

永续债券具有几大优势。流动性是一大优点。美国国债现在分成了成百上千种期限各异的独立债券。某一年度发行的30年期债券到了下一年就变成了29年期债券。单独发行的债券数量越多,每支债券的流动性就越低。相比之下,永续债券都是完全相同的。今天发行的统一公债与去年发行的一样。而且永远不需要展期。

There are advantages for bondholders, too. A floating-rate perpetual would be a super-liquid, super-safe asset. A fixed-rate perpetual, meanwhile, would be in high demand from pension funds with promises to retirees that stretch into the indefinite future. Ideally the coupon would be inflation-protected.

对于债券持有人而言也有好处。浮动利率的永续债券将是一种超高流动性、超级安全的资产。与此同时,固定利率的永续债券会受到养老基金的追捧,因为它为退休者提供了在未来无限期付息的承诺。理想情况下,息票还会有抗通胀的功能。

A bond that pays the same in real terms for many years is the quintessential Darcy asset, say Victor Haghani and James White of Elm Partners, a fund-management firm.** Much of people’s wealth—their human capital; their pension benefits; their homes—is akin to an inflation-protected long-lived bond. It is judged by income, just as Austen saw it.

基金管理公司Elm Partners的维克多·哈冈尼(Victor Haghani)和詹姆斯·怀特(James White)表示,长年支付按实值计算固定的利息的债券就是典型的达西资产。**人们大部分的财富——他们的人力资本、养老金、住房——都类似于一种抗通胀的长期债券。正如奥斯汀的看法,衡量标准是它带来的收益。

Why, then, is so much debt made up of bonds with a principal that is paid back at a relatively short, set maturity? Credit risk is part of the explanation. In a company bankruptcy or when a country defaults on its foreign-currency debt, bondholders are paid back some fraction of the principal value of the bonds. But consols have no principal. Only countries with pristine reputations might be trusted to stand behind them.

那么,为什么现在大量的债务都是由在相对较短的固定期限内偿还本金的债券组成呢?原因之一是信用风险。在公司破产或者国家外币债务违约时,债券持有人可以收回一定比例的债券本金价值。但统一公债并无本金。只有那些信誉卓著的国家才有可能获得信任来为这种债券提供担保。

Prejudice is a potential barrier to perpetual bonds. But they should be judged on how well they meet debt-management goals. On that basis, they are useful tools. Why not use them?

偏见可能是永续债券面对的一大障碍。但应该从实现债务管理目标的角度来评价它们。而从这一点上看,它们是有益的工具。为什么不用呢?

* “A New Structure of U.S. Federal Debt” (May 2015).

* 《美国联邦债务的新结构》(2015年5月)

** “Reviving a 19th Century Perspective on Financial Well-Being” (May 2020).

** 《重拾19世纪的财务健康观念》(2020年5月)