【英语中国】钱荒凸显中国央行政策困局

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2013-12-28 09:23

小艾摘要: China’s financial markets are under pressure for the second time this year. Interbank rates and bond yields have been rising steadily for several weeks and spiked recently when the People’s Bank of ...
China’s financial markets are under pressure for the second time this year. Interbank rates and bond yields have been rising steadily for several weeks and spiked recently when the People’s Bank of China abstained from accommodating seasonal demand for cash.

The PBoC then relented before last weekend and this week. The immediate outlook, while probably volatile, is most likely manageable without too much fuss but the crunch in financial markets symbolises a major and unpredictable policy struggle over the medium-term to tame rapid credit creation, and allow a market-determined cost of capital to emerge.

The simple place to start is the seasonal demand for funds, and normal “window dressing” by banks as they prepare for regulatory assessment. This could last a few weeks and until lunar new year at the end of January. Other factors have also contributed to the tightening of financial market conditions. For example, the build-up in government deposits in the banking system is not being run down as normal to finance government spending growth. This is in keeping with the more sober fiscal stance announced recently after the Third Plenum. Further, financial liberalisation is creating funding demand for initial public offerings in the equity market, with about 50 in the pipeline. It is also driving competition for deposits away from traditional banks and to the relatively new wealth management industry, which originates higher yielding, short-maturity financial products, many of which are up for renewal around this time of year.

The main worry, though, is that China’s financial markets are in the crosshairs of much bigger issues – the credit cycle and economic reforms. Serial tensions in financial markets may, therefore, become the norm, reflecting attempts to damp down a virulent credit expansion at a time when the political drive towards financial liberalisation and a greater role for markets are supposed to be picking up speed.

China’s credit boom is still in full swing. Total credit in the economy (total social financing) showed a 40 per cent rise in November over the prior month and is on course for growth this year of almost 20 per cent. It is continuing to expand at twice the rate of nominal, or money, gross domestic product, and according to official data has pushed the credit to GDP ratio up to 215 per cent in 2013, and most likely more. It is clear that banking institutions, state-owned enterprises and local government financing vehicles have remained relatively insensitive to, or been able to circumvent, higher interest rates and bond yields, central government curbs on the shadow banking sector, and the rampant real estate and infrastructure markets.

Financial reform, which lies at the heart of China’s reform wishlist, embraces the eventual liberalisation of deposit rates, and the determination of interest rate levels by markets. But it is hard not to conclude that the authorities remain conflicted. They are happy for the financial sector to experiment with new products on- and off-balance sheet, allowing the system gently to displace state allocation of capital through decreed interest rates, loan quotas, loan-to-deposit ratios and specific credit restrictions.

On the other hand, they disapprove of financial institutions taking advantage of financial innovation and bypassing administrative and regulatory measures governing capital adequacy and loan-to-deposit ratios. The interbank market, where the interest rate crunch has taken root, has been central to the expansion of loan assets outside the conventional remit of loan regulation, and has been an important conduit for the build-up in non-financial and financial leverage and liquidity needs.

We should also note that the PBoC is not experienced when it comes to managing modern, complex financial markets, which are gradually being opened up to market forces, and to external impulses, such as the recent US tapering decision. The scope for operational and strategic error is considerable. The major operational problem for the PBoC is how to deploy its tools between targeting interest rates, and bringing down the rate of credit expansion.

A hitherto strong focus on managing interest rates, even with the occasional liquidity squall, has meant that credit growth and leverage have continued to rise rapidly. This is prolonging economic growth at current levels, but could lead to a solvency crisis in which an even higher debt burden and non-performing loans would eventually threaten both economic growth and financial reform. If China switched its focus to controlling credit expansion, on the other hand, the consequences would be much higher and more volatile interest rates. It could turn into a full-blown liquidity crisis, if political nerves held, and inevitably a cost to economic growth and to balance sheets, But this might lead to a speedier and more effective economic adjustment. These are the big issues, hinted at by the current hiatus in China’s money markets.

The writer is an economic consultant and the former chief economist of UBS

中国金融市场今年第二次遭遇资金压力。银行间利率和债券收益率接连几周保持平稳上升,但当中国央行(PBoC)不愿满足季节性资金需求时,这些指标急剧上升。

中国央行随后转变态度,在上周末前和本周分别采取了注资操作。金融市场近期可能还会有些波动,但结果很可能还是可控的,不会出现太多混乱场面。不过,金融市场的钱荒表明,中国正在采取重大但结果很难预测的政策努力,目标是在中期内抑制信贷的快速增长,并实现由市场决定资金成本。

关于钱荒,最简单的解释是季节性资金需求,以及银行为应对监管机构评估而采取的“装饰橱窗”行为。这种需求可能会持续几周,一直延续到明年1月底春节前为止。其他因素也导致了金融市场的资金紧张。比如,政府在银行体系中积累的存款并没有向往常那样被消耗一空,以满足政府开支增长。这与三中全会后宣布的更稳健财政政策是符合的。

另外,金融自由化催生了在股票市场进行首次公开招股(IPO)的融资需求——约有50家公司准备在近期完成IPO。自由化还使吸收储蓄竞争从传统银行业扩展到理财行业,这个新兴行业发行收益率较高、期限较短的金融产品,而在年末这个时节,很多理财产品都面临续期。

然而,最令人担心的是,中国金融市场可能面临更重大的问题——涉及到信贷周期和经济改革。金融市场连番出现的紧张状况可能会成为常态,原因是在本该加速从政治上推动金融自由化、让市场发挥更大作用之际,中国在试图控制危险的信贷扩张。

中国信贷繁荣仍然如火如荼。今年11月份,经济中的信贷总量(社会融资总量)比上月增长40%,全年增长率有可能接近20%。信贷增速继续保持在名义GDP增速的两倍。根据官方数据,2013年信贷总量与GDP之比可能高达215%,而实际数字还有可能更高。很明显,对于利率和债券收益率上升、央行限制影子银行发展以及过热的房地产和基建市场等问题,中国银行业机构、国有企业以及地方政府融资平台依然较不敏感,或者说它们有能力规避这些问题。

在中国改革的愿望清单中,金融改革处于核心位置,它包括最终实现存款利率自由化以及由市场决定利率水平。但人们很难不得出这样的结论,即主管部门依然存在矛盾。一方面,他们乐于看到金融行业试验表内和表外的新产品,允许金融体系通过限定利率、贷款配额、存贷比以及具体信贷限制等方式,温和地取代政府的资金分配职能。

而另一方面,他们不愿意金融机构利用金融创新绕过资本充足率和存贷比这些行政和监管措施。利率飙升的银行间市场在传统贷款监管领域以外的信贷资产扩张中处于核心位置,同时也是非金融和金融杠杆以及流动性需求增加的重要渠道。

还应指出,中国央行在管理现代复杂金融市场方面缺乏经验。中国金融市场越来越多地受到市场和外部因素影响,后者如最近美国宣布逐步退出量化宽松政策的决定。中国央行在操作和战略方面犯错误的可能性相当大。其在操作方面的主要问题是,如何把手中的工具应用于制定利率目标和降低信贷扩张速度。

中国央行迄今为止将重点放在管理利率上(即使偶尔会出现流动性紧张局面),这使得信贷扩张和杠杆继续快速增长。这得以让中国经济继续以当前水平增长,但有可能导致一场偿付危机——在这场危机中,更高的债务负担和不良贷款将最终威胁到经济增长和金融改革。另一方面,如果中国将重点转向控制信贷扩张,利率将会升高并且更加容易波动。如果政界人士不为所动的话,它还可能演变为一场全面的流动性危机,不可避免地对经济增长和资产负债表产生影响,但这或许会导致经济调整加快,而且也更为有效。从中国货币市场当前的资金紧缺状态来看,这些是大问题。

本文作者是一位经济顾问,曾担任瑞银(UBS)首席经济学家

译者/何黎

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