【英语财经】中国不应让人民币贬值 Guest post: don’t expect China to devalue the RMB

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2014-5-15 06:35

小艾摘要: Recently a number of economists, most of them foreign, have called for China to devalue the renminbi, arguing that the more than 30 per cent revaluation since 2005 has left it with an overvalued curre ...
Guest post: don’t expect China to devalue the RMB
Recently a number of economists, most of them foreign, have called for China to devalue the renminbi, arguing that the more than 30 per cent revaluation since 2005 has left it with an overvalued currency. This, they claim, has hurt Chinese exports and is holding back economic growth.

They are probably wrong about growth and almost certainly wrong about their evaluation of China’s currency regime. The policies of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) reflect a domestic debate that is as much political as it is economic.

Two main issues matter. First, capital flows are very sensitive to medium-term currency expectations. Any significant change in the direction or pace of capital inflows can hurt the banking system. For 20 years, China’s foreign currency reserves have soared because of net inflows. As the PBoC monetised these inflows, the country’s financial system developed around the consequent rapid money expansion. In recent years, while net inflows have remained high, the bulk of these inflows has switched from the current account to the capital account.

What drives reserve growth today, in other words, are capital inflows, of which a significant share may be speculative money seeking the positive interest carry on the renminbi plus currency appreciation. If the PBoC were credibly to change appreciation expectations without raising interest rates, speculative inflows could easily become outflows which, when combined with what may be significant flight capital, would put potentially dangerous pressure on the domestic financial system.

The second issue that matters concerns the role of the currency in China’s economic adjustment. The currency regime helps determine how the costs associated with China’s difficult rebalancing will be assigned among different sectors within the economy. Policies that boost growth in the tradable goods sector can easily come at the expense of growth in other sectors. Devaluing the renminbi, in other words, might not increase growth so much as transfer growth from the capital intensive, service or government sectors to the tradable goods sector.

This is something that has been missed by most analysts calling for renminbi devaluation. If China were suffering from unemployment, a cheaper currency would certainly boost export growth and, probably with it, GDP growth. Unemployment would also drop.

But unemployment levels in China are low and wages rising. Devaluing the renminbi, while boosting exports and constraining imports, would cause the tradable goods sector to bid up wages, so that its growth would come largely at the expense of non-tradable goods, most importantly the service sector. This is the opposite of what China needs and contradicts the rebalancing plan called for by Beijing during the Third Plenum last year.

Rebalancing requires that interest rates, wages and the currency rise in the aggregate in order to increase the household income share of GDP, along with higher direct and indirect transfers from the state to households. Only by sharply increasing household income can higher domestic consumption growth prevent a sharp downturn as Beijing reins in runaway investment.

But devaluing the renminbi puts even more pressure on the other transfer mechanisms. Whatever exporters would gain from a cheaper currency, the capital-intensive sector would lose from higher interest rates or the labour-intensive sector would lose from higher wages. This is likely to hurt economic growth in the aggregate as much as a cheaper currency will help higher exports spur economic growth.

This is how we must think about the currency regime – not in isolation but as part of the process of rebalancing the economy away from its over-reliance on investment and towards a greater role for consumption. If China were suffering from high unemployment, devaluing the currency, assuming that it does not increase trade tensions and invite retaliation, would boost GDP growth and lower unemployment.

Under current conditions, however, it merely reduces the share of the adjustment cost that must be borne by the tradable goods sector and increases the share that must be borne by other sectors. In the end there may be good reasons for doing so, but for now it isn’t obvious either that China should help exporters at the expense of non-exporters or that exporters are politically more powerful than other sectors of the economy.

The simple formula that says that a cheaper renminbi will spur exports and increase China’s growth – especially needed as Beijing weans the country off its addiction to investment – is misguided. Beijing’s choice of a currency regime must accommodate concerns about a destabilising shift in capital flows and about how the costs of economic adjustment are to be shared. These concerns are far more important than simply reducing export prices.

Michael Pettis is a finance professor at Peking University and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment.

近来,许多经济学家(多为外国经济学家)呼吁中国政府让人民币贬值。他们的理由是,自2005年以来人民币汇率重估幅度超过30%,目前已处于高估状态。他们声称,这损害了中国出口,并在妨碍经济增长

他们对增长的理解很可能有误,而他们对中国汇率制度的评价几乎肯定是错了。中国央行(PBoC)的政策反映了国内的一场辩论——既是一场经济辩论,在同样程度上也是一场政治辩论。

两个主要问题至关重要。第一,资本流动对中期汇率预期非常敏感。一旦资本流入方向或速度发生重大变动,就可能对中国银行体系构成伤害。20年来,由于资本净流入,中国的外汇储备已大幅攀升。中国央行买进流入的外汇并相应投放人民币,由此导致的货币迅速扩张便成了中国金融体系演进的主线。近些年来,资金净流入仍保持在高位,但大部分资金流入是来自资本账户,而不再是经常账户。

换言之,如今推动外汇储备增长的是资本流入,流入资本中可能有很大一部分是谋求套息收益和人民币升值的投机资金。倘若中国央行能可信地改变人民币升值预期,且不加息,则投机性流入可能很容易变成流出,再加上可能的大举资本外逃,将给国内金融体系带来潜在的危险压力。

第二个重要问题关系到汇率在中国经济调整中的角色。汇率制度可以帮助决定,与中国艰难再平衡相关的成本将如何在经济不同部门中进行分配。推动贸易商品部门增长的政策,可能很容易牺牲掉其他部门的增长。换言之,让人民币贬值,可能与其说是刺激增长,不如说是让增长从资本密集型、服务或政府部门转移到贸易商品部门。

这正是许多呼吁人民币贬值的分析人士所没看到的事情。倘若中国受失业困扰,人民币贬值将肯定会推动出口增长,并很可能同时推动国内生产总值(GDP)增长。失业率也将有所下降。

但目前,中国失业率水平很低,工资水平在上升。让人民币贬值,尽管会刺激出口、抑制进口,但将导致贸易商品部门提高工资,结果是该部门的增长基本是以牺牲非贸易商品部门——最重要的是服务部门——的增长为代价的。这与中国的需要正相反,与中国政府在去年中共十八届三中全会上呼吁的经济再平衡背道而驰。

经济再平衡要求利率、工资和汇率总体上升高,以提高居民收入在GDP中的比例,也要求政府提高向居民的直接或间接转移支付。在中国政府努力遏制投资失控的背景下,唯有大幅提高居民收入,才能靠居民消费的提高来防止经济大幅下滑。

但人民币贬值会对其他传导机制施加甚至更大的压力。无论出口商从人民币贬值中获得多少好处,资本密集型部门都将在利率升高中蒙受损失,或者劳动密集型部门将在工资升高中受害匪浅。这对经济增长的总体损害程度,可能与人民币贬值带来的出口增加对经济增长的刺激作用一样大。

这正是我们必须采取的看待中国汇率制度的方式,不要孤立地看问题,要把它放到经济从过度依赖投资向更加依赖消费转变的再平衡过程当中考察。倘若中国受困于高失业率,人民币贬值(假定不会加剧贸易紧张和招致报复)将刺激GDP增长,并降低失业率。

然而,在当前情形下,人民币贬值只会减少贸易商品部门所必须承担的调整成本份额,而增加其他部门所必须承担的份额。总有一天,中国可能会有充分的理由让人民币贬值,但目前看来,要说中国应当牺牲非出口商以支持出口商、或者出口商比其他经济部门有更大政治影响力,这两者的成立都不那么显而易见。

在中国政府努力让国家摆脱投资依赖的过程中,尤其需要经济保持增长。但“人民币贬值将刺激出口,并提高经济增长率”这个简单公式本身是站不住脚的。中国政府选择一种汇率制度时,必须既考虑资本流动变动会造成的不稳定,又考虑经济调整成本应该如何分担。这些考量比简单降低出口价格重要得多。

注:本文作者为北京大学(Peking University)金融学教授、卡内基国际和平基金会(Carnegie Endowment)高级研究员。

译者/邢嵬

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