【英语中国】FT社评:中国须戒“信贷瘾” China’s dangerous credit addiction

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2014-1-18 09:06

小艾摘要: For the past two decades China’s turbocharged growth has been the envy of the rich world as well as an aspiration for other emerging markets. Surging exports and intensive state-driven investment hav ...
China’s dangerous credit addiction
For the past two decades China’s turbocharged growth has been the envy of the rich world as well as an aspiration for other emerging markets. Surging exports and intensive state-driven investment have lifted millions out of poverty and propelled Beijing into the exclusive club of global economic superpowers.

More recently, however, doubts have emerged over the sustainability of this development model. In particular, critics point to China’s increasing addiction to cheap credit, which began when Beijing unleashed its large-scale monetary stimulus at the height of the financial crisis. Between 2008 and 2012, China’s total debt as a proportion of gross domestic product nearly doubled, jumping from 125 per cent to 215 per cent.

This rise would not have been so problematic if the cash had been used to fund profitable investment. However, the opposite is often true. The more vibrant segments of the private sector, including many small and medium-sized enterprises, are typically starved of cash. Meanwhile, the larger state-owned enterprises, as well as local governments, enjoy easy access to loans, which they then squander in redundant projects offering low rates of return.

At the third plenum of the Chinese Communist party’s 18th Central Committee last November, the leadership in Beijing vowed to let market forces play a bigger role in the economy, including in the way loans are allocated. Yet any reform is likely to be incremental. For this reason it is essential that the authorities keep a lid on the overall growth of credit. Were lending to spin completely out of control, Beijing could face a wave of defaults that would undermine financial stability.

Encouragingly, the Chinese government has taken several steps to shore up the system. Last summer Beijing launched an audit of China’s local authorities. The results, which were published in December, showed that the liabilities of China’s municipalities have risen by nearly 70 per cent in three years, reaching Rmb17.9tn ($2.95tn). Since no independent assessor was involved in the process, there is a risk that its results were politically massaged. Still, the exercise sends a powerful signal to local governments that the old borrowing ways are no longer acceptable.

Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China is also striving to squeeze liquidity out of the banking system, allowing money rates to rise. So far its results have been mixed. True, rates are significantly higher today than they were in the first half of 2013. But the central bank is discovering just how difficult it is to tighten monetary policy without creating a market panic. Last year, on two separate occasions – one in June, the other in December – a spike in the interbank lending market forced the monetary authorities to inject liquidity in order to ease the crunch.

Beijing faces a difficult conundrum: it will be hard to reconcile the desire to rein in credit with the aspiration to meet ambitious growth targets. The leadership wants the economy to expand by 7.5 per cent in 2014, which is roughly in line with the performance of 2013. And while local politicians have been told that they will be assessed against a wider set of indicators than purely growth, the precise ranking of objectives remains unclear.

Of course, Beijing cannot let its economy slow down too suddenly. This would trigger the very wave of defaults it is trying to avoid. But rather than fixating on a single figure as it has done so far, the government should put greater emphasis on the composition of growth. Since the third plenum, the leadership has raised expectations that it is serious about ending the country’s dependence on debt. Its credibility – and the future prosperity of China – hinges on actually meeting this goal.

过去20年,中国的超高速经济增长一直受到富裕国家的羡慕,同时也令其他新兴市场经济体立志效仿。出口激增和政府主导的密集投资使数以百万计的人脱离贫困,并推动中国跻身全球经济超级大国的专属俱乐部。

然而,近年来有人对这种发展模式的可持续性产生了怀疑。批评者特别指出中国越来越依赖廉价信贷,这种依赖始于北京方面在本次金融危机巅峰时期出台大规模货币刺激。2008年至2012年,中国债务总额与国内生产总值(GDP)之比几乎增加了一倍,从125%飙升至215%。

如果这些刺激资金被投资于有利可图的项目,这种增长原本不会带来多大的问题。可真实情况往往相反。更具活力的民营部门,包括许多中小企业,一般得不到融资。与此同时,大型国有企业以及地方政府却可轻松获得贷款,它们将资金投入重复建设和低回报率的项目,造成巨大浪费。

在去年11月的中共中央十八届三中全会上,中国领导层誓言要让市场力量在经济中发挥更大作用,包括在贷款的分配方式上。然而,任何改革都很可能是渐进的。出于这个原因,有关部门有必要控制住信贷的整体增长。如果放贷活动完全失控,北京方面可能会面临一波破坏金融稳定的违约。

令人鼓舞的是,中国政府已经采取了多项措施以巩固金融体系。去年夏天,中央政府启动了地方政府债务审计。审计结果在去年12月发布,显示全国地方政府的负债总额在三年里增长了近70%,至17.9万亿元人民币(合2.95万亿美元)。由于整个过程没有独立评估者参与,因此审计结果受政治因素影响的可能性是存在的。但话说回来,此举仍向地方政府发出了一个强大信号:原有的举债方式已变得不可容忍。

同时,中国央行也在努力从银行体系抽走流动性,允许货币市场利率上升。到目前为止,其结果有好有坏。没错,目前的货币市场利率显著高于2013年上半年的水平。但中国央行正意识到,要在不造成市场恐慌的情况下收紧货币政策有多么困难。在去年的两个不同场合(分别在6月和12月),银行间市场的利率飙升迫使货币当局注入流动性,以缓解资金短缺。

北京面临着一个棘手的困境:很难调和遏制信贷的渴望与达到雄心勃勃的增长目标的抱负。领导层希望中国经济在2014年增长7.5%,与2013的表现大致相当。同时,尽管地方官员已被告知其政绩考核标准将不再只是GDP增长,而是一套范围更广的指标,但这些指标的具体权重仍不为外界所知。

当然,北京方面不能让中国经济过于突然地放缓——那会触发它正竭力避免的违约潮。但是,与其像迄今所做的那样纠结于一个数字,中国政府不如更加注重增长的构成。自三中全会以来,中国领导层已令外界产生了一种期待:外界期待它对终结中国经济的债务依赖是认真的。中国政府的可信度——乃至中国未来的繁荣——有赖于切实实现这一目标。

译者/和风

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