【英语财经】中国经济应戒“刺激药瘾” China’s crisis is coming – the question is only how big it will be

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2014-4-29 06:41

小艾摘要: Afinancial crisis in China has become inevitable. If it happens soon, its effects can be contained. But, if policy makers use further doses of stimulus to postpone the day of reckoning, a severe colla ...
China’s crisis is coming – the question is only how big it will be
Afinancial crisis in China has become inevitable. If it happens soon, its effects can be contained. But, if policy makers use further doses of stimulus to postpone the day of reckoning, a severe collapse will become unavoidable within a few years.

The country is in the middle of by far the largest monetary expansion in history. On one widely used measure, M2, its money supply has tripled in the past six years, an expansion four times as large as that of the US over the same period.

This unprecedented expansion is at least partly responsible for China’s extraordinary growth rate, which is now running up against a demographic constraint. Last year, for the first time, the working-age population declined, a trend set to continue for the next two decades. Unless the country can keep lifting the labour force participation rate (for example by getting more women into the workforce or persuading older people not to retire), China will struggle to expand its labour force by even 1 per cent per year. To sustain economic growth of more than 7 per cent, productivity would need to grow by 6-7 per cent a year across the entire economy. This would be a tall order in any country. In China, where the labour-intensive services and agriculture sectors make up half the economy, it is well-nigh impossible.

The country suffers from excess capacity in most industrial sectors. Yet investment in fixed assets continues to grow at double-digit rates. The steel sector is a case in point. China has about 1bn tonnes of annual steel-production capacity; about a third of it sits idle. Consequently, the growth statistics present a misleading figure. Output is being produced, sometimes even in the absence of any demand. A continuing burst of credit is needed to help fuel new capital spending to keep the factories busy – but that only adds to the stock of unused capital. It is a similar story with property investment. China is brimming with high-quality housing that is unaffordable. Sharp price declines are needed to clear the market. That will involve severe pain for banks that participated in the monetary expansion.

Observers often cite China’s closed capital account as a blessing that will stave off capital flight. But one consequence is a huge and persistent balance of payments surplus. Foreign money flows into the country to pay for exported goods and investment, and much less flows back out since there are few legal avenues for exit. China’s surplus over the past 10 years has been far larger than Japan’s was in the 1980s – the years when its disastrous asset price bubble was being inflated. This should have caused the currency to rise rapidly. But the renminbi has been pegged to the dollar for most of that period, accumulating a big pile of foreign reserves.

Compounding it all, Chinese investors believe that none of the country’s banks or financial products will go bust because the government stands behind them all. This is partly the legacy of the banking rescue mounted a decade ago, when about 40 per cent of loans belonging to four big government-owned banks were transferred (at face value) to asset-management companies. But the broader problem is the tendency of the party leadership to provide a policy stimulus every time growth dips.

Financial controls are gradually being relaxed. But the offshore market on which the renminbi is now allowed to trade is tiny – less than 5 per cent of the value of China’s foreign reserves. Opening the capital account fully is impossible; it would result in large flows of funds and a loss of control that policy makers cannot countenance.

In a country that already accounts for half of all capital-intensive production globally, and nearly a fifth of all US imports, the growth of manufacturing will inevitably slow. A thriving service sector could pick up some of the slack. But building more houses and railways is not the way to encourage it.

China’s economy is in an unbalanced state. It can stay that way for some time – but the longer it does, the worse the eventual outcome will be. The industrial sector is already plagued by falling prices. To avert a wider deflationary spiral, the country needs to wean itself off the false cure of perpetual policy stimulus.

The writer is founder of RealEconomics.com, an independent economic research firm

中国上演金融危机已是不可避免。如果危机在较短时间内发生,其后果可以得到控制。但假如政策制定者进一步实施刺激,试图推迟“清算日”,那么几年内发生严重崩盘将不可避免

中国正在经历史上最大的一次货币扩张。以广为使用的指标M2计,该国的货币供应量在过去6年已经增长两倍,增幅是美国同期的四倍。

这种史无前例的扩张,至少在一定程度上解释了中国经济的超高增速,但这种增速正遭受人口因素的制约。2012年,中国的劳动年龄人口首次下降,而这一趋势肯定将持续20年。除非中国能够不断提高劳动参与率(例如让更多女性进入劳动力大军,或是说服老年人不退休),中国劳动力增长的速度甚至难以达到每年1%。为了维持高于7%的经济增长率,整个经济的生产率需要以每年6%至7%的速度增长。这在任何国家都是难以完成的任务,而在劳动密集型的服务业和农业占据经济半壁江山的中国,这几乎是不可能的事。

中国大部分工业领域均遭受产能过剩,但固定资产投资仍以两位数增长。钢铁业便是典型的例子。中国每年的钢铁产能约为10亿吨,其中约三分之一闲置。因此,增长数据呈现出误导性。产出虽然产生了,有时却是没有相应需求的。信贷必须不断猛增,以推动资本支出,维持工厂运转——但这徒增闲置资本的存量。房地产投资也是类似的情况。中国充斥着价格超出人们承受范围的高品质住房。为了清理库存,需要大幅降价。而此举将给参与货币扩张的银行带来严重伤害。

观察人士常常表示,中国的幸运之处在于它的资本账户是封闭的,这可以避免资本外逃。但一个后果是巨大、持续的国际收支盈余。外国资金流入中国,支付购买中国的出口商品和在中国进行投资的款项,但回流到国外的资金却少得多,因为合法的流出通道太少。中国过去10年的盈余远超日本20世纪80年代的水平,而日本灾难性的资产价格泡沫膨胀正发生在那时。这本该导致货币快速升值。但中国在过去10年的大部分时间内将人民币与美元挂钩,积累了大量外汇储备。

更严重的是,中国投资者认为中国的银行或金融产品不会破产或违约,因为背后有政府的支持。这在一定程度上是十年前那场银行救助行动的结果——当时,四大国有银行约40%的贷款(按面值)转移至资产管理公司名下。但更大的问题是,每当增长下降时,共产党领导层就容易采取政策刺激。

金融管制正在逐步放松。但离岸人民币交易市场规模仍然太小——不到中国外汇储备价值的5%。完全开放资本账户是不可能的,这将引起资金大规模流动,随之而来的失控也是政策制定者不希望看到的。

中国已经占据了全球资本密集型产值的一半份额,占据了美国所有进口的近五分之一。在这样一个国家,制造业增长将不可避免地放缓。服务业的繁荣可以弥补制造业的一部分失速。但建造更多住房和铁路可不是促进服务业发展的办法。

中国经济处于不平衡状态。这种状态可以维持一段时间,但维持得越久,最终的结果就越糟糕。工业领域已经受到价格下跌的困扰。为了避免出现更大范围的通缩螺旋,中国应当戒除对反复采取政策刺激这一错误药方的依赖。

注:本文作者是独立经济研究公司RealEconomics.com的创始人

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