【英语中国】中国应汲取日本教训 Watchful China should do as Japan says not as it did

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2014-5-20 06:32

小艾摘要: If there is any country where bureaucrats, bankers and economists might want to learn from Japan’s mistakes right now, it is China.It would not be the first time. A decade ago, I wrote a book about t ...
Watchful China should do as Japan says not as it did
If there is any country where bureaucrats, bankers and economists might want to learn from Japan’s mistakes right now, it is China.

It would not be the first time. A decade ago, I wrote a book about the 1990s Japanese banking crisis that became a bestseller in China. At the time, it came as a great surprise (not least because I never sold the rights to anyone in mainland China). But, in retrospect, it has turned out to be symbolic.

Never mind the fact that China is experiencing a spectacular explosion in credit and property prices that echoes that of 1980s Japan just before the bubble burst. Like 1980s Japan, China is also trying to transform a bank-centred, state-controlled financial system into something more centred on free capital markets. And, while that shift is needed as its economy matures, this creates huge risks.

So it makes sense that some senior Chinese officials have been quietly asking what they can learn from Japan’s mistakes – and that, even amid the wider diplomatic chill, the countries’ central banks have been discretely debating the issue of deregulation and bad debts too.

So what lessons should Chinese investors and policy makers learn? There are at least half a dozen; call them, if you like, the six Ds.

First, deceleration can hurt. Back in the 1980s, when Japan’s economy was booming, bank loans performed well. But, when the economy decelerated in the 1990s, bad loans soared. That might seem obvious but it took Japanese banks and bureaucrats by surprise. Chinese officials should take note, given that their growth rate seems to be falling below 7 per cent.

Deflation is deadly, particularly for banks. When prices fall, debt burdens rise. So, usually, do bad loans. Once again it is obvious but Japanese banks were unprepared for that, too. Alarm bells should ring if China ever slips into deflation: although the country’s consumer prices are positive, producer prices have been falling for 26 months.

Denial is damaging. Japanese banks were notorious for concealing bad loans (in 1992 they said bad loans were a mere Y8tn; by 2000 they had revised this to Y100tn.) That denial delayed a crunch but it made the eventual shock much bigger. China should pay attention, particularly given that its banks are already using financial trickery to flatter their books (look at how some are using opaque structures such as “trust beneficial rights” to conceal bad loans, to cite just one example). Indeed, their reported bad loan numbers seem hopelessly optimistic (officially they are about 1 per cent of assets; independent observers, such as Oxford Economics, say 10-20 per cent.)

Dominos can fall. Until the mid-1990s, investors assumed that Japan’s financial institutions were implicitly backed by the government and corporate partners via the so-called keiretsu system of close-knit conglomerates. So when a couple of small institutions failed, investors no longer knew what to believe and lost faith in the entire system. China should heed this fact: its system also depends on ill-defined, implicit guarantees – for banks and shadow banks alike. A collapse of several trust banks, say, could also create contagious panic.

Deposit insurance matters. As BoJ officials have recently pointed out, Japanese officials learnt in the 1990s that it is hard to contain panic with deposit insurance. China claims to understand this and recently announced plans to introduce its own deposit insurance scheme. But it is not yet in place, and Beijing has muttered about introducing it several times in the past decade.

Decision-making matters, too. One problem that bedevilled Japan’s financial system was that the political economy created a power limbo. The capital markets were not strong enough to enforce meaningful oversight of banks but state bureaucrats were no longer able to impose rapid decisions either. Investors need to watch carefully who is actually making decisions today in China and ask whether they have the powers to enforce unpopular moves. The leaders are not united.

Of course, there is a seventh D, which matters enormously, too, and which might even offset those first six points: the vast dollar reserves (and stores of other cash) that China holds. After all, another lesson from Japanese history is that if a country has plenty of financial fire, it can recapitalise its banks and ease the economic shock if a bubble bursts. China has already done that once in 1999, with a mini banking crunch; if the present bubble bursts, it may do so again. “The Chinese seem more willing to listen [to the lessons from Japan] than the Americans were [in 2007],” observes one Japanese policy maker. “That may be good.”

But the sad fact is that the bigger China’s credit bubble grows, the trickier it will be to mop up the aftermath; particularly given that data points to slowing growth. Better just hope that the Chinese keep learning the right lessons from the financial history books; if not, Japanese officials may soon need to translate the phrase: “We told you so.”

如果说哪个国家的官僚、银行家和经济学家现在可能需要从日本的错误中汲取教训,那就是中国。

这将不是中国第一次以日本为鉴。十年前,我就写过一本有关上世纪90年代日本银行业危机的书,这本书在中国成为畅销书。当时,我感到非常惊讶(主要是因为,我从未向中国内地出售该书的版权)。但现在回想起来,那本书颇有象征意义。

与上世纪80年代泡沫破灭之前的日本相似的是,如今中国的信贷与房地产价格也在大幅飙升,不过这并不重要。重要的是,与当时的日本一样,中国眼下也在努力把以银行为中心、政府控制的金融体系,转型为更多以自由资本市场为核心的金融体系。尽管随着经济逐渐成熟,中国有必要进行这种转变,但它会带来巨大的风险。

因此一些中国高官私下里询问他们能从日本的错误中汲取些什么教训,这是明智的。同样明智的是,尽管中日外交关系冷淡,但两国央行一直在谨慎地争论去监管化和坏账的问题。

那么中国投资者和政策制定者应该汲取何种教训呢?这里至少有6个教训。

首先,经济减速可能造成不利影响。在上世纪80年代,日本经济蓬勃发展,银行贷款表现良好。但在90年代经济减速之际,坏账大幅飙升。这似乎是显而易见的事情,但它让日本的银行和官员们感到措手不及。鉴于中国经济增长率似乎要降至7%以下,中国的官员们应该当心。

其次,通缩是致命的,尤其是对银行而言。当价格下跌时,债务负担上升。通常而言,坏账也会上升。这也是显而易见的,但日本的银行同样毫无防备。中国应该警惕陷入通缩的可能性:尽管中国消费者价格指数目前仍在上涨,但生产者价格指数已经连续26个月下降。

第三,隐瞒是有害的。日本的银行以隐瞒坏账出名——1992年,他们说坏账只有8万亿日元,结果到了2000年将该数据修正为100万亿日元。这种隐瞒延迟了危机的到来,但它让最终来临的冲击变得严重得多。中国应该当心这一点,尤其是考虑到中国各银行已经在使用财务伎俩来粉饰它们的账簿(看看某些银行是如何使用“信托受益权”这类不透明结构来隐瞒坏账的,即可见一斑)。实际上,它们报告的坏账数字似乎乐观到荒谬的程度——官方数据显示,它们的坏账只占资产的1%左右;而牛津经济研究院(Oxford Economics)等独立观察机构表示,该比例在10%至20%之间。

第四,多米诺骨牌可能倒塌。直至上世纪90年代中期,投资者还认为日本金融机构通过所谓“经连体系”(Keiretsu System,由联系紧密的企业集团组成),受到政府和企业合作伙伴的隐性支持。因此当一些小机构倒闭时,投资者不再知道还有什么可以相信,进而对整个体系失去信心。中国应该警惕如下事实:中国金融体系也依赖模糊的隐性担保,不论是银行和还是影子银行都是如此。比如说,几家信托机构倒闭就可能引起蔓延性的恐慌。

第五,存款保险制度至关重要。正如日本央行(BoJ)的官员们最近指出的那样,日本官员们在上世纪90年代明白,如果没有存款保险制度就很难遏制恐慌蔓延。中国声称明白这一点,而且在最近宣布准备推出自己的存款保险制度。但存款保险制度迄今仍未出台,而北京方面在过去十年已经这么说过好多次了。

第六,决策也非常重要。曾经困扰日本金融体系的一个问题是,政治经济局势产生了一种权力不稳。当时日本的资本市场还没有强大到对银行实施有效监督的地步,但政府官员们也不再能快速做出决定。现在投资者需要密切关注,如今中国真正的决策者是谁,并考虑他们是否拥有权力实施不受欢迎的举措。这些领导人并不团结。

当然这里还有第七点,它同样至关重要,甚至有可能抵消前六点的影响:中国持有的庞大美元储备(以及其他现金储备)。毕竟,日本历史的另一个教训是,如果一个国家拥有庞大的金融火力,当泡沫破裂时它就可以重组银行并缓解经济冲击。中国已经在1999年这么做过一次,当时银行业受到了很小的冲击;如果当前的泡沫破灭,中国很可能再次这么做。一位日本政策制定者表示:“与(2007年的)美国人相比,如今的中国人似乎更愿意倾听(来自日本的教训)。这可能是好事。”

但不幸的是,中国的信贷泡沫吹得越大,善后的难度就越大,尤其是考虑到数据显示经济增长放缓。我们最好希望中国人不断从金融历史书籍中汲取正确的教训,如果他们未能汲取教训,日本官员可能很快就得翻译这个短语了:“We told you so(我们告诉过你了)”。

译者/邹策

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