【英语财经】美国应叫停汇率操纵报告 End the currency manipulation debate

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2014-5-22 06:34

小艾摘要: The US Treasury department recently completed its semi-annual ritual of examining whether America’s trading partners have been manipulating their exchange rates to increase their trade surpluses. Not ...
End the currency manipulation debate
The US Treasury department recently completed its semi-annual ritual of examining whether America’s trading partners have been manipulating their exchange rates to increase their trade surpluses. Not surprisingly, the Treasury focused on China. And once again it complained that the Chinese renminbi is undervalued but stopped short of accusing Beijing of currency manipulation in order to avoid automatically triggering a penalty on China.

That ritual has been repeated for more than 20 years since Congress passed the legislation ordering the Treasury analysis. It is now time to bring it to an end.

The entire exercise is based on the false premise that the US current account deficit is caused by the exchange rate policies of foreign governments. But as every student of economics knows, or should know, the current account balance of each country is determined within its own borders and not by its trading partners.

A nation has a current account deficit if its national savings exceeds its investment in equipment and structures. If a country spends more on equipment and structures than it saves, it must fill the gap with imports from the rest of the world.

Conversely, a country such as Germany in which national saving exceeds spending on equipment and structures has extra output to export to the rest of the world.

The US has a current account deficit because the US national savings rate is very low. Household savings fell to just 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product last year and corporate savings to just 4.6 per cent. More than three-quarters of these private savings were offset by the 6.1 per cent of GDP dissaving by the federal, state and local governments. So even with a relatively low level of business investment and residential construction, the excess of national investment over national savings resulted in a current account deficit of 2.3 per cent of GDP.

Exchange rates do matter even though they do not alter overall current account balances. A country that manipulates its real exchange rate influences the international composition of its imports and exports but not its total current account balance. That balance is unambiguously determined by the levels of national saving and investment. Of course raising national saving relative to national investment can depress GDP if it is not accompanied by a more competitive exchange rate. But even when higher savings depress GDP, it remains true that the current account balance is equal to the difference between savings and investment.

The 1988 Omnibus Trade Act that mandated the Treasury’s semiannual search for manipulators was allowed to expire twice in the past and was twice reinstated. Since there are no longer the large current account surpluses of China and Japan that motivated the legislation and sustained it in recent years, now is politically the time to repeal it permanently.

China’s current account surplus has declined from a peak of 10 per cent of its GDP in 2007 to just 2.1 per cent of GDP in 2013 and is predicted to be even lower this year. The overall trade-weighted value of the renminbi has not changed in the past decade but the Chinese currency has strengthened by 30 per cent relative to the dollar during those 10 years. Looking ahead, China is moving to a more market-determined exchange rate and is shifting its economy from a heavy reliance on exports to a growth strategy based on increases in urbanisation and domestic services.

Japan’s current account surplus fell from almost 5 per cent of its GDP in 2008 to a less than 1 per cent rate this year. Its imports of goods have actually exceeded its exports since late 2011.

The US is also in no place to criticise the currency manipulation of others after it adopted unconventional monetary policy. Although the Federal Reserve’s large scale asset purchases (that peaked last year at an annual rate of more than $1tn) and the continued policy of promising low short-term rates is not specifically designed to reduce the value of the dollar, critics around the world have accused the US of lowering interest rates to make its currency weaker than it would otherwise be.

But the primary reason that the US should not be prodding other countries to reduce their current account surpluses is that those surpluses finance their purchases of American government bonds. When China’s small current account surplus becomes a current account deficit, it will no longer be able to be a net investor in foreign securities. And if China wants to continue to purchase oil and other natural resources around the world and to invest in overseas businesses, it will then have to sell some of its existing portfolio of foreign bonds. That could cause US long-term interest rates to rise sharply.

The US Treasury would do better to focus on reducing America’s future fiscal deficits so it no longer has to depend on the foreign current account surpluses that it now criticises.

The writer is professor of economics at Harvard University, president emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and President Ronald Reagan’s chief economic adviser

美国财政部最近完成了其例行的半年度汇率报告,该报告旨在审查美国的贸易伙伴国是否通过操纵汇率增加贸易顺差。不出所料的是,美国财政部重点提到了中国。它再次抱怨称,人民币被低估,但它不再指责中国政府操纵汇率,以避免自动触发一项针对中国的惩罚机制。

自美国国会通过立法,要求财政部对各国是否操纵汇率进行分析以来,这种例行报告已经发布了20多年。现在是时候结束这种分析了。

整个分析过程基于错误的前提,即美国经常账户赤字是外国政府的汇率政策导致的。但正如每个经济学专业的学生知道(或者应该知道)的那样,每个国家的经常账户余额是由本国内部经济状况决定的,而不是由其贸易伙伴决定的。

如果一个国家的国民储蓄超过该国在设备和建筑物上的投资额,那这个国家的经常账户就会出现赤字。如果一个国家在设备和建筑物上的支出大于国民储蓄,那它就得从其他国家进口来填补缺口。

反过来,德国这些国民储蓄水平超过设备和建筑物投资额的国家拥有向其他国家出口的富余产能。

美国之所以出现经常项目赤字,是因为美国的国民储蓄率非常低。去年美国家庭储蓄降至国内生产总值(GDP)的3.3%,企业储蓄与GDP之比也仅为4.6%。在这些私人储蓄中,逾四分之三被联邦、州以及地方政府占GDP 6.1%的“负储蓄”(指投资大于储蓄的差额)抵消。因此即便企业投资和居民住房建设投资保持在较低的水平,国民投资超过国民储蓄也导致了经常项目赤字占到GDP的2.3%。

汇率的确重要,即便它们不会改变整体的经常账户收支情况。一个操纵实际汇率的国家影响的是其进出口的国际构成情况、而非总体经常账户收支情况。经常账户收支情况完全由国民储蓄和投资水平决定。当然,如果没有较具竞争力的汇率,提高国民储蓄与投资的比例可能影响GDP增长。但即便在较高储蓄率影响GDP增长的时候,经常项目余额依然等于储蓄与投资之差。

美国于1988年通过的《综合贸易与竞争法》(Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act)要求财政部每隔半年提交汇率操纵报告。该法在过去曾两次被废除,后来均被恢复。该法出台并在近几年得以延续的理由是中国和日本拥有巨额的经常账户盈余,既然现在这种情况已不复存在,那么就应在政治上永久废除它。

中国的经常账户盈余与GDP的比例从2007年的10%峰值,降至2013年的2.1%,预计今年的这一比例会进一步下降。按整体贸易加权汇率计算,人民币价值在过去十年没有改变,但相对于美元,人民币在这十年升值了30%。展望未来,中国正在建设更多由市场决定的汇率机制,并且从严重依赖出口的增长模式转向基于加快城镇化进程和发展国内服务业的增长策略。

日本的经常账户盈余与GDP的比例从2008年的近5%,降至今年的不足1%。自2011年末以来,日本进口的商品价值实际上已经超过了其出口商品的价值。

在出台非传统货币政策之后,美国也不再有资格指责其他国家操纵汇率。尽管美联储(Fed)庞大的资产购买举措(去年达到年化1万亿美元以上的峰值),以及继续承诺保持较低短期利率并非旨在压低美元汇率,但各国批评人士已经指责美国通过降低利率让美元价值低于其本身应有价值。

但美国不应逼迫其他国家减少经常账户盈余的主要理由是,那些盈余为这些国家购买美国政府债券提供了资金。当中国的小额经常账户盈余转变为经常账户赤字时,它将不再是外国证券产品的净投资者。如果到时中国希望继续在世界各地购买原油以及其他自然资源,并投资于海外企业,那它将不得不将其现有的外国债券投资组合卖掉一部分。这可能导致美国长期利率急剧飙升。

美国财政部不如把精力放在削减美国未来的财政赤字上,那样它就不用再依赖其眼下抨击的外国经常账户盈余了。

本文作者是哈佛大学(Harvard University)经济学教授、美国国家经济研究局(National Bureau of Economic Research)名誉局长,他曾担任白宫经济顾问委员会(Council of Economic Advisers)主席,以及罗纳德?里根(Ronald Reagan)总统的首席经济顾问

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