【英语中国】泡沫破裂后中国将迎来长期增长 Hello 2014: biting the bullet in China

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-1-11 08:50

小艾摘要: The third plenum of the 18th Party Congress issued an ambitious reform program to transform China’s economy by 2020 into one that relies on market forces rather than government to allocate resources. ...
Hello 2014: biting the bullet in China
The third plenum of the 18th Party Congress issued an ambitious reform program to transform China’s economy by 2020 into one that relies on market forces rather than government to allocate resources. Launching the program, however, is hampered by the fragile nature of the economy today. Since 2008 China has depended on a vast property bubble to fund fixed asset investment that leads the economy. Ambitious structural reforms usually involve a period of economic slowdown. Doing so amidst a bubble economy may trigger a deep downturn. This is why financial markets have been focusing on the downside from bursting of the bubble rather than the upside from successful implementation of the reform program.

Reform without pain is possible if businesses increase investment in anticipation of more demand in future. That force could more than offset the retrenchment from the reform. When China revamped state-owned enterprises, privatized housing, and decided to join the WTO in late 1990s, the business response was massive, which soon absorbed all the downside from the economic restructuring. The bad loans, most property and mining assets from the previous cycle of over-investment, soon became good assets due to the rapid economic growth. Many are hoping the same response could boost the economy and make the reforms less painful.

I suspect that China won’t be able to repeat its experience from a dozen years ago. No significant investment response is likely before the reforms have been carried out and the bubble economy deflated. In the late 1990s, China had a massive labour surplus and low export market share. Foreign direct investment was waiting for a signal to pour in to take advantage of the situation. China joining the WTO was the signal that multinationals were waiting for. Today China’s export market is saturated, and overcapacity is widespread across most industries. Hence, even if the government manages to shift the economy to consumption from investment, there is no urgency to expand capacity now. Waiting for a better economy to begin reform is likely to be a long one.

Waiting is costly. At the heart of China’s bubble economy is the iron triangle of local governments, property developers, and banks. The former two mark up land prices through auctions. The later make loans to both with inflated land as collateral. As land prices rise much faster than the economy, credit becomes concentrated in local governments and developers. As they use money inefficiently, inflation has risen, essentially a tax on the household sector. This spiral of credit concentration and inflation is becoming wobbly over time due to its rising share in GDP. The share of fixed asset investment in GDP has risen by over ten percentage points since 2008 and is above half of the economy.

The latest economic works conference has put controlling debt risk as the top policy goal this year. Its substance must be stopping the bubble economy. Otherwise, the debt risk will only rise. The key to rolling back the credit bubble is to stop local governments from borrowing more with land as collateral. Even though banks have become cautious in lending to local governments, they have been able to borrow from the shadow banking system. Because they don’t mind paying high interest rate and rely on the perception that the central government would bail them out, financial market measures wouldn’t be useful. The central government must clarify on its position on bailout. I believe that the central government will clarify its position in 2014, which would lead to substantial credit contraction among most local governments. As their spendings are the driver for the economy, a substantial economic slowdown is likely.

An economic downturn wouldn’t threaten China’s social stability at all. Shortage of manual labour is widespread at present. A downturn would cool inflationary pressures and decrease living costs, which would enhance social stability. While college graduates have been struggling to find jobs, the solution is in restructuring the economy to increase demand for white-collar jobs.

The growth news from China may not be good in 2014. The opinion makers may spin it as the end of China’s growth story. My view is the opposite. I have been sounding the alarm on China’s bubble economy for many years. When the bubble bursts, it can only usher in a better future. China has a bright future. Its labour productivity is comparable to that in developed economies with wages at one seventh as much. The current per capita consumption is just one tenth of the OECD level. A virtuous cycle of consumption demand and productivity growth could take hold for two decades to come. China could easily become the largest economy in the world by 2030, if the system is not too inefficient.

I believe that, when the central government comes out with a plan to recapitalize the financial system, it will mark the bottom of the current cycle. Structural reforms would follow to make China’s economy more efficient and less dependent on investment and exports. A long growth cycle would follow afterwards. For investors and businesses, bad news in China is good news.

Andy Xie is an independent economist and consultant based in Shanghai.

中共十八届三中全会发布了一份雄心勃勃的改革计划,要在2020年以前实现中国经济的转型,转为主要依靠市场力量而非政府来进行资源配置。但这一计划一推出,就面临着当前脆弱经济局面的阻碍。自2008年以来,中国一直依靠巨大的房地产泡沫来为主导经济的固定资产投资提供融资。雄心勃勃的结构性改革通常会带来一段时期的经济增长放缓。而如果在经济泡沫期施行结构性改革,则可能导致经济增速显著下滑。正因为此,金融市场才一直在关注泡沫破裂可能带来的不利影响,而非成功推行改革计划可能带来的好处。

如果企业因预计未来需求增长而扩大投资规模,无痛改革是可能的。这股力量可以抵消改革带来的收缩效应,甚至推动经济增长。在中国改革国有企业、实行住房私有化,并在上世纪90年代末决定加入世贸组织(WTO)时,企业界以规模庞大的投资作为回应,很快吸收了经济结构调整导致的所有负面影响。不良贷款,主要是前一个过度投资周期留下的地产和矿业资产,很快在快速经济增长的拉动下变成了优质资产。很多人希望,企业界这次也能做出同样的反应,在提振经济的同时使改革变得不那么痛苦。

我怀疑,中国可能无法重现十几年前的经历。在改革措施实际推行以及经济泡沫缩小以前,不太可能出现大规模的投资反应。上世纪90年代末期,中国拥有大量剩余劳动力以及较低的出口市场份额。外国直接投资一直在等待一个信号,以大举涌入中国市场,利用上述有利形势。而中国加入世贸组织正是跨国公司企盼的信号。如今中国的出口市场已经饱和,产能过剩在绝大多数行业普遍存在。因此,即便政府能将经济从投资导向调整为消费导向,企业也不会急于在短期内扩大产能。如果要等待经济形势好转才开始改革,则很可能需要等待很长时间。

等待是有成本的。中国经济泡沫的核心问题在于地方政府、房地产开发商以及银行结成的铁三角。地方政府和房地产开发商通过竞价拍卖推高土地价格,银行则向这两者发放贷款,并将价格飞涨的土地作为抵押物。由于土地价格的上涨速度远远快于经济增速,信贷集中流向了地方政府和开发商。受这两者运用资金的效率低下影响,通货膨胀水平上升,这等同于对所有居民征税。随着时间的推移,这种信贷集中与通货膨胀的螺旋上升模式正变得摇摆不定,因其在国内生产总值(GDP)中所占比重越来越高。自2008年以来,固定资产投资在GDP中所占比例已经上升了超过10个百分点,并突破了50%。

在最近一次中央经济工作会议上,控制债务风险被列为了2014年的首要政策目标。其实质必然是阻止泡沫经济继续发展。若非如此,债务风险还将上升。压缩信贷泡沫的关键在于,阻止地方政府以土地为抵押物借入更多资金。即便银行在向地方政府发放贷款时已经变得愈加谨慎,地方政府还是可以通过影子银行体系融资。因为地方政府不介意支付高利率,并坚信中央政府将对它们施以救助,金融市场手段对其并不适用。中央政府必须就其在救助问题上的立场做出明确表态。我相信,2014年中央政府将会表明立场,这将导致多数地方政府出现大幅信贷萎缩。由于地方政府支出是驱动经济的主要引擎,经济可能显著放缓。

但经济下滑完全不会威胁到中国的社会稳定。目前劳动力紧缺的状况普遍存在。经济下行将给通胀压力降温,并降低生活成本,进而有利于促进社会稳定。鉴于高校毕业生就业难的问题持续存在,解决方法在于通过调整经济结构扩大白领工作岗位的用人需求。

2014年中国的经济增长数据可能不会太好看。意见领袖们或许会将其称为中国增长神话的终结。我的观点正好相反。多年来,我一直在提醒大家注意中国的经济泡沫。当泡沫破裂时,我们迎来的只会是更好的明天。中国的未来是光明的。中国的劳动生产率与发达经济体相当,而工资水平仅为其七分之一。目前中国的人均消费水平仅为经合组织(OECD)成员国的十分之一。消费需求与生产率上升的良性循环将在未来20年稳稳持续。只要中国经济体系的效率并非过于低下,中国就可以轻轻松松地在2030年之前成为全球第一大经济体。

我认为,当中央政府拿出一套改革金融体系的方案时,就将标志着当前经济周期见底。接下来的结构性改革将使中国经济变得更有效率,并减少对投资和出口的依赖。在此之后将出现一个长的增长周期。对于投资者和企业来说,关于中国的坏消息其实是好消息。

注:本文作者谢国忠(Andy Xie)是驻上海独立经济学家和咨询师。

译者/马拉

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