【英语财经】“人民币低估说”被夸大 Overvaluing the ‘Undervalued’ View of the Yuan

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2014-5-12 14:33

小艾摘要: MARK A. DEWEAVERSince Jan. 1 the yuan has fallen 2.9% against the dollar, reversing the Chinese currency's 2.9% appreciation in 2013. Such a dip would be a small fluctuation for a freely traded curren ...
Overvaluing the 'Undervalued' View of the Yuan
MARK A. DEWEAVER

Since Jan. 1 the yuan has fallen 2.9% against the dollar, reversing the Chinese currency's 2.9% appreciation in 2013. Such a dip would be a small fluctuation for a freely traded currency, but it's a big drop in China. The yuan hasn't fallen so much or for so long since July 2005, when Beijing introduced what it calls 'a managed floating exchange rate based on market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies.'

The U.S. Treasury Department has taken notice. In an April 15 report to Congress, Treasury called the yuan 'significantly undervalued' and urged Beijing to bring the currency to its 'equilibrium value.' Recent developments, Treasury warned, would 'raise particularly serious concerns, if they presage a retreat from China's announced policy of allowing the exchange rate to reflect market forces.'

Perhaps the yuan is indeed selling for less than it's worth. The Chinese currency would, of course, be considerably stronger absent the People's Bank of China's interventions in foreign-exchange markets, particularly since mid-February. In 2013 the PBOC accumulated $510 billion in foreign-exchange reserves, a record for a single year. Then it bought $120 billion more in the first quarter of 2014, bringing the total to almost $4 trillion. This buildup of international reserves pushes down the yuan's value by creating artificial demand for the dollar.

Treasury and others see this as part of an attempt to bolster China's recently sluggish GDP growth. Yet this is probably not the PBOC's primary objective. Rather, the central bank is likely laying the groundwork for the deposit-rate liberalization set to take place by the end of 2015. This will remove the current cap on deposit rates and allow commercial banks to set rates based on supply and demand.

The reform could cause China's interest rates to spike. State-set benchmark rates now range from 0.35% for current accounts to 4.75% for five-year deposits. Market forces would drive up these rates into the range of yields on wealth-management products sold by Chinese banks, which aren't under PBOC control. Currently those yields average from 4.7% for offerings with maturities of less than a month to 6% for those maturing in more than a year. Lending rates, which have already been liberalized, would also rise as banks passed on higher costs to borrowers.

Interest-rate increases of this magnitude would be a severe shock to the Chinese economy. The state sector, which is the main beneficiary of the current regime, would incur heavy losses. Private-sector firms would also suffer as higher rates at state banks pushed up already high rates in the informal lending sector. The residential property market could be especially vulnerable. As rates rose, households might keep wealth in bank accounts instead of investing in, say, new apartments or condominiums.

The PBOC will need to loosen monetary policy to mitigate these contractionary effects. The bank has two main tools to increase the money supply: outright dollar purchases and cuts in the Chinese banks' required reserve rate. Dollar purchases create new money because the central bank issues new yuan to pay for the dollars it buys. Reserve rate cuts free up funds for banks to lend, which expands deposits across the economy. The inevitable result, regardless of which approach the PBOC chooses, will be downward pressure on the yuan as its supply increases relative to the dollar.

Allowing the exchange rate to be set by market forces, as Treasury officials are urging, would require the PBOC to stop buying dollars altogether. All other things being equal, the result would be a stronger yuan. But all other things are not equal. In reality, the central bank would have to cut reserve rates even further to achieve the same reduction in market interest rates. Market forces would then move the currency lower, not higher.

In fact, the yuan has no real 'equilibrium value,' even if Treasury wishes it did. As the late-British economist Joan Robinson pointed out in 1947, nearly any exchange rate will be an equilibrium for some set of economic conditions. But economic conditions are always in flux, and so the 'equilibrium exchange rate,' as she famously put it, is a chimera. The yuan is a case in point. A move toward equilibrium may weaken the Chinese currency in the midst of the monetary easing required to smooth deposit-rate liberalization.

Treasury should be careful what it wishes for. The adjustment it's advocating might end up causing further yuan depreciation--the precise opposite of what Washington wants.

Mr. DeWeaver is manager of the emerging markets fund Quantrarian Asia Hedge and the author of 'Animal Spirits With Chinese Characteristics' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

MARK A. DEWEAVER

自从1月1日起,人民币兑美元已经累计下跌2.9%,与2013年一年内人民币累计升值2.9%的情况大相径庭。对于自由浮动的货币来说,2.9%的跌幅可能只是小幅波动,但是对于人民币来说却是大跌。自从2005年7月以来,人民币就没有在这么长的时间中创下过这么大的跌幅。2005年7月,中国采取了基于一篮子货币市场供需的有管理的浮动汇率制度。

Getty Images美国财政部已经对此表示关注。在4月15日提交给美国国会的报告中,财政部称人民币被严重低估,并敦促中国政府将人民币汇率恢复到平衡水平。财政部还警告称,若近期动向预示着中国从之前宣布的人民币汇率市场化政策出现倒退的话,则将尤为令人关切。

或许人民币确实被低估。但如果没有中国央行对外汇市场的干预,尤其是自从2月份中旬以来的干预,那么人民币显然会比现在大为坚挺。中国央行2013年外汇储备规模增加5,100亿美元,创出最高单年增幅。而在2014年第一季度,央行又买入了1,200亿美元,使得外汇储备总规模达到将近4万亿美元。增加外汇储备会人为地带来美元需求,并因此压低人民币的币值。

美国财政部和其他机构认为,这种方法是提振中国近期低迷的国内生产总值(GDP)增速的措施之一。然而,这可能并非中国央行最主要的目标。实际上,央行可能只是在为将于2015年年末放开存款利率做准备。届时,存款利率上限将被取消,商业银行将可以根据供需情况决定自身的利率水平。

放开存款利率或导致中国利率大幅上升。目前中国基准利率在0.35%(活期存款利率)至4.75%(五年期存款利率)之间。市场因素将令这些利率上升至中国银行业理财产品的收益率区间水平。这些理财产品并不受央行的控制,其平均收益率水平在4.7%(到期期限不足一个月)至6%(到期期限超过一年)之间。已经放开的贷款利率届时也将上升,因为银行会将成本的上升转移给借款人。

如此大幅度的利率上升将严重冲击中国经济。现行利率机制的主要受益者国有企业将蒙受重大损失。私营企业也将深受其害,因为国有银行利率上升将会进一步推高本就处于高位的非正规信贷利率。住宅房地产市场可能尤其脆弱。随着利率上升,家庭可能将资金存放在银行,而不是用来投资新住宅或者公寓。

中国央行需要放松货币政策以减轻上述紧缩效应。央行主要可以运用两种货币政策工具来增加货币供应量:直接买入美元或下调银行存款准备金率。购买美元将产生大量新增货币供应,因为央行需要发行新的人民币以支付其买入美元。存款准备金率下调将释放银行用于发放贷款的资金,这将增加整个经济中的贷款总量。不管央行选择哪种货币政策工具,人民币无疑都将面临下跌压力,因为与美元相比,人民币的供应量增加。

如果像美国财政部官员敦促的那样允许人民币汇率由市场决定,那么需要中国央行完全停止买入美元。在其他条件都不变的情况下,人民币将走高。不过,其他因素并非一成不变。实际上,要达到与降息同样的效果,存款准备金率调低的幅度要超过降息。这样一来,市场力量将推动人民币汇率走低而不是走高。

实际上,人民币并没有真正的均衡价值,虽然美国财政部希望如此。就像已故英国经济学家琼•罗宾逊(Joan Robinson)在1947年指出的,对于某些特定的经济条件来说,几乎任何汇率都是均衡的。不过经济形势总是在变化的,所以就像罗宾逊所说,均衡汇率是不存在的。人民币就是一个恰当的例子。为了平抑存款利率自由化带来的影响,需要放松货币政策,在这个过程中,实现均衡汇率可能会导致人民币走软。

美国财政部应当保持谨慎:他们提倡的调整可能最终导致人民币进一步贬值,而这恰恰是美国政府不愿看到的。

(DeWeaver负责管理新兴市场基金Quantrarian Asia Hedge,也是《具有中国特色的动物精神》(Animal Spirits With Chinese Characteristics)一书的作者)

(本文版权归道琼斯公司所有,未经许可不得翻译或转载。)

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