【英语财经】负利率是经济痼疾的表征而非病因 Negative rates are a symptom of our ills

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所属分类:双语财经

2016-4-15 23:24

小艾摘要: Almost nine years after the west’s financial crisis started, interest rates remain ultra-low. Indeed, a quarter of the world economy now suffers negative interest rates. This condition is as worrying ...
Negative rates are a symptom of our ills
Almost nine years after the west’s financial crisis started, interest rates remain ultra-low. Indeed, a quarter of the world economy now suffers negative interest rates. This condition is as worrying as the policies themselves are unpopular.

Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the asset manager, argues that low rates prevent savers from getting the returns they need for retirement. As a result, they are forced to divert money from current spending into savings. Wolfgang Sch?uble, Germany’s finance minister, has even put much of the blame for the rise of Alternative für Deutschland, a new nationalist party, on policies introduced by the European Central Bank.

“Save the savers” is an understandable complaint by an asset manager or finance minister of a creditor nation. But this does not mean the objection makes sense. The world economy is suffering from a glut of savings relative to investment opportunities. The monetary authorities are helping to ensure that interest rates are consistent with this fact. Ultimately, market forces are determining what savers get. Alas, the market is saying that their savings are not worth much, at least at the margin.

Why does such a savings glut exist? That is the important question. Given its current account surplus of almost 9 per cent of gross domestic product — that is, savings far in excess of what it absorbs domestically, even at ultra-low interest rates — Germany might ask what its domestic interest rate would be if it had to absorb this glut at home. Unfortunately, the rest of the world cannot absorb these savings easily either.

The savings glut (or investment dearth, if one prefers) is the result of developments both before and after the crisis. Even before 2007, real long-term interest rates were in decline. Since then, weak private investment, reductions in public investment, a slowing trend growth of productivity and the debt overhangs bequeathed by the crisis have interacted to lower the equilibrium real rate of interest. For a while, strong post-crisis demand in emerging economies partially offset these trends. But now that has also faded away.

Some will object that the decline in real interest rates is solely the result of monetary policy, not real forces. This is wrong. Monetary policy does indeed determine short-term nominal rates and influences longer-term ones. But the objective of price stability means that policy is aimed at balancing aggregate demand with potential supply. The central banks have merely discovered that ultra-low rates are needed to achieve this objective.

Another objection is that ultra-low, even negative, real rates are counterproductive, even in terms of demand. One rejoinder to this argument is that the ECB raised rates in 2011, with disastrous results. The broader objection is that higher rates shift incomes from debtors to creditors. It is highly likely that the former would cut spending more than the latter would raise it. Furthermore, by impairing the creditworthiness of borrowers, the policy would have two further malign effects: it would force borrowers into bankruptcy, with bad consequences for intermediaries and creditors; and it would reduce the expansion of credit. Thus, the argument that raising interest rates would be expansionary is highly implausible. Naturally, savers argue the opposite. They would, wouldn’t they?

In brief, we must regard ultra-low rates as symptoms of our disease, not its cause. Yet it is right to question whether the monetary treatment employed is the best one. Here, three points can be made. One is that, given the nature of banking institutions, negative rates are unlikely to be passed on to depositors and, if so, are likely to damage the banks. A second is that there is a limit to how negative rates can go without limiting the convertibility of deposits into cash. Finally, for these reasons, this policy might do more damage than good. Even supporters agree there are limits.

It is possible to answer such criticisms. Nevertheless, such an exceptional policy could undermine confidence more than strengthen it. Would this mean monetary policy is exhausted? Not at all. Monetary policy’s ability to raise inflation is essentially unlimited. The danger is rather that calibrating monetary policy is more difficult the more extreme it becomes. For this reason, fiscal policy should have come into play more aggressively. Indeed, it is hard to understand the obsession with limiting public debt when it is quite as cheap as it is today.

The best policies would be a combination of raising potential supply and sustaining aggregate demand. Important elements would be structural reforms and aggressive monetary and fiscal expansion. The International Monetary Fund argues that structural reforms work best in such an expansionary context. This is particularly true of labour market reforms. The US has been more successful in delivering a more balanced set of policies than the eurozone.

Germany always has the option of abandoning the euro. But the outcome would be a huge appreciation of the recreated D-Mark, losses on foreign assets, in domestic terms, a damaged financial sector, accelerated outward investment, deflation and hollowed-out manufacturing. Alternatively, Germany could stay inside the eurozone. But it must understand that its monetary policy cannot be for the benefit of creditors alone. A policy that stabilises the eurozone must help the debtors, too. Furthermore, the overreliance on monetary policy is a result of choices, particularly over fiscal policy, on which Germany has strongly insisted. It is also the result of excess savings, to which Germany has substantially contributed. It should stop complaining about the ECB’s attempts to deal with these dilemmas and help fix problems it has, in part, itself created.

西方金融危机爆发近九年后,利率仍保持在超低水平。实际上,世界经济的四分之一如今都在忍受负利率政策。这种情况令人担忧的程度如同这些政策本身不受欢迎的程度。

资产管理公司贝莱德(BlackRock)首席执行官拉里?芬克(Larry Fink)认为,低利率使储户无法得到他们退休所需的收益。因此,他们不得不省下当前开支进行储蓄。德国财长沃尔夫冈?朔伊布勒(Wolfgang Sch?uble)甚至把新民族主义政党——德国新选择党(Alternative für Deutschland)的崛起归咎于欧洲央行(ECB)所实施的政策。

“拯救储户”是资产管理公司或债权国财长口中合乎情理的诉求。但这并不意味着反对低利率就言之有理。世界经济正遭受储蓄过剩(相对于投资机会)的困扰。货币当局正在帮助确保利率水平符合这一事实。最终,市场力量将决定储户得到什么。可惜,市场正在发出的信号是,他们的储蓄并不是很有价值,至少就边际回报而言。

为何会出现如此规模的储蓄过剩?这是一个重要问题。鉴于德国经常账户盈余占国内生产总值(GDP)的近9%——也就是说,即便利率处于超低水平,储蓄还是远远超出了国内可以吸纳的数量——德国或许应该问:如果不得不在国内吸纳这些过剩储蓄的话,其国内利率将低到什么程度?遗憾的是,世界其他地区也无法轻易地吸纳这些储蓄。

储蓄过剩(如果喜欢的话,也可以称之为投资不足)是金融危机之前与之后形势发展共同作用的结果。即使在2007年之前,实际长期利率也已经处于下滑状态。自那以来,私人投资疲软、公共投资削减、生产率趋势增长放缓以及金融危机遗留下来的巨额债务相互作用,拉低了均衡实际利率。一段时间里,后危机时代新兴经济体的强劲需求部分地抑制了这些趋势。但如今,这部分需求也已逐渐减退。

有人或许会表示反对,认为实际利率下降完全是货币政策而非市场力量的结果。这是不对的。货币政策的确可以决定短期名义利率,并影响长期利率。但稳定价格的目标意味着,货币政策旨在实现总需求与潜在供给的平衡。各国央行只是发现,需要超低利率才能实现这一目标。

另一种反对意见是,超低甚至负实际利率会产生与预期相反的结果——甚至在需求方面。对这种观点的一种反驳是,2011年欧洲央行提高了利率,但带来了灾难性后果。更广泛的反驳是,较高利率将收入从债务人转移至债权人。它很有可能使债务人削减的支出超过债权人提高的支出。此外,高利率政策会损害借款人的信用度,进一步带来两大恶果:迫使借款人破产,给中介机构和债权人都带来痛苦的结果;使信贷扩张放缓。因此,提高利率可以刺激经济扩张的说法非常站不住脚。当然,储户认为恰恰相反。他们会提出相反的观点,不是吗?

【秒懂】日本为何也吞下负利率“猛药”?

简言之,我们必须把超低利率视作经济痼疾的表征,而非病因。当然,人们有理由质疑当前所采取的货币疗法是否是最佳疗法。这里可以讲三点。首先,鉴于银行机构的性质,负利率不大可能传递到储户身上,同时,如果是这样的话,负利率很可能让银行遭受损失。第二,如果不限制将存款兑换成现金的话,负利率政策会有一个极限。最后,由于这些原因,这一政策的结果可能会弊大于利。即便负利率的支持者也认可存在局限。

可以对此类批评进行回应。然而,如此特殊的政策可能会削弱而非加强信心。这意味着货币政策正在耗尽吗?完全不是。货币政策提高通胀的能力实际上是无限的。更准确地说,危险在于,货币政策变得越极端,对其进行校准就越困难。因此,财政政策本应更积极地发挥作用。实际上,在借债成本像如今这样低的时候,很难理解为什么要痴迷于限制公共债务。

最好的政策是将提升潜在供给和维持总需求结合起来。重要的手段包括结构性改革、积极的货币和财政扩张政策。国际货币基金组织(IMF)认为,在积极的货币和财政扩张政策背景下,结构性改革可以取得最好效果。对劳动力市场改革而言,尤其如此。美国在出台更加平衡的政策组合方面比欧元区做得更加成功。

德国一直拥有放弃欧元的选项。但结果将是重新启用的德国马克巨幅升值、以本币衡量的外汇资产发生损失、金融部门受损、对外投资加快、通缩、以及制造业空心化。或者,德国可以留在欧元区。但它必须明白,其货币政策不能只为了债权人的利益。稳定欧元区的政策必须也要帮助债务人。此外,对货币政策的过度依赖是选择的结果,尤其与德国强烈支持的财政政策两相比较进行选择的结果。这种过度依赖也是过度储蓄的结果,而德国对过度储蓄的贡献巨大。德国应当停止抱怨欧洲央行解决这些困境的努力,而着手帮助解决一定程度上由德国自身制造的问题。

译者/隆祥

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