Thursday, July 24, 2014
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美联储的无能

美国剑桥— 美联储最近宣布将延长“扭曲操作”,在未来6个月中再购买2670亿美元的长期美国国债,使今年的国债购买总量达到6700亿美元,但这对利率和股价基本无影响。市场对此毫无反应便表明货币宽松已不再是促进经济活动的良药。

美联储一再声称将采取一切办法刺激增长,因此,它将至少保持短期零利率状态至2014年年底,同时实施大规模量化宽松,继之以扭曲操作(以短期国债替代长期国债)。

这些政策在降低长期利率方面确实收到了成效。目前10年期美国国债收益率为1.6%,2011年年初为3.4%。尽管很难知道如此下降有多少是因为风险厌恶的全球投资者对美国国债需求增加所致,但毫无疑问,美联储的政策在其中居功至伟。长期利率的下降促使标普500股票指数在同期上涨了4%。

美联储已不可能继续压低长期利率了。长期利率之低已使许多投资者大为担心,唯恐债券和股票价格产生泡沫。结果,长期利率可能会在市场力量下大幅上升,美联储将对此毫无办法。外国投资者投资组合不再偏好长期债券,这将很轻易地触发利率飙升。

此外,美联储的行动尽管对债券和股票所有者有利,但是否刺激了实体经济行为还未可知。美国经济仍然在极低增长率和极高失业率之间步履蹒跚。尽管三年来经济一直在增长,但GDP水平只比5年危机肇始时前高出1%。2011年GDP增长率只有1.7%,现在也好不到哪里去。事实上,最新数据表明,个人真实收入在下降,就业增长持续萎靡,零售额也在缩水。

货币宽松的主要影响通常是刺激住房需求,从而提振建筑量。但这一回尽管按揭利率降到了历史最低水平,房价仍在下跌,以真实水平衡量,比两年前低10%。住宅投资真实水平只有危机开始前的一半。美联储注意到,住房市场的结构性问题已损害了其通过这一渠道刺激经济的能力。

商业投资也非常萎靡,尽管大公司手握里握有大把现金。企业拥有如此巨大的内部流动性,对市场利率的下降将不甚敏感。与此同时,大量微小企业得不到信贷,因为它们所倚赖的本地银行因商业地产贷款损失的不断积累而导致资本不足。这些小企业也没有得到利率降低带来的好处。

美联储的货币宽松确实暂时地压低了美元,从而提振了净出口。但最近,美元的下跌势头因投资者抛弃欧元、逃向安全资产而发生了逆转。

即使未来几个月中美国经济持续萎靡,美联储也不可能在年底前有所作为。提振经济的下一步必须等11月大选尘埃落定后由国会和政府决定。

尽管如此,需要做什么已经显而易见。个人和企业所得税率将在2013年自动开始大增这一阴云必须移除。长期财政赤字增加预期必须通过阻止中产阶级退休者转移支付增长予以逆转。基本税收改革必须加强激励、减少扭曲性“税收开支”,同时增加岁入。最后,政府和企业当前的紧张关系必须缓解。

如果这些都在2013年得以实现,美国经济将能回到正常的经济扩张和就业增长之路上来。到那时,美联储便可以专注于其基本使命——防止通货膨胀。在此之前,美联储已力不从心。

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  1. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    I would like to draw attention to Per Jacobsson Lecture by Dr. Reddy dated 24th June, Professor Levine’s seminal paper on lack of independence of the financial regulatory authority and Robert Schiller’s allusion to the Code of Ethics for financial innovation in providing stewardship to the society’s assets.

    That regulatory capture is pervasive and comprehensive, there is enough evidence both in the run up to the crisis as well as after it had mellowed and even in periods of tranquil. The financial markets helped by central bank advances have amassed assets that have compounded annual growth rate of 9% (even after the painful adjustments), whereas the world economy has not even grown by 3%. This apparent dysfunctional arrangement had raised the doubt that financial markets instead of propounding systemic stability, consumer protection and risk mitigation practices to benefit large sections of people may have actually not served the lofty goals of bringing financial service access to greater majority of people, who go through the pains of adjustment more than the larger institutions; in providing the balance between serving those sections who have less knowledge of the products on offer that could advance credit and could be actually used judiciously through a mode of smoothening consumption (not excessive leverage), the larger focus had shifted to misallocation of resources to housing and consumer credit at an alarming rate which is not sustainable. People who need to keep their financial savings in safe custody actually succumbed in this process with large scale erosion of their net worth. But more importantly the competitive efficiency of the global financial markets whose benefits should have flown unequivocally to the larger sections of the society actually petered to an excessive financialization that made some of the sovereign back-stops insufficient. The question of sovereign insolvency, which was never in doubt, has become a very common word and the moral hazard has multiplied its preponderance in recent times.
    The over-financialization has led to housing market crash and it is probably going to take a decade to even out the effects of excessive supply stemming from extreme leverage, but the effect of the same in the commodity markets needs a careful scrutiny. The over-financialization of the equity markets may be the next step in the making.
    Excessive financialization of the commodity markets as is evident in the component of money supply that moved to this segment had served the dual purpose of creating a virtual demand through credit conditions and therefore supporting a real supply that may not be actually consumed. The net impact of this has left a gaping hole in the balance sheet of large corporations operating in these markets, through erosion of equity and reserves, while the solvency could be maintained through financial instruments.

    We are living in times where regulatory capture is complete.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  2. CommentedDave Friedel

    While Bernanke has skillfully navigated the current environment with the monetary tools afforded to him with some creative liberty, he understands a centralized global solution must be arrived at sooner than later. Removing the uncertainty around the tax code for US businesses is only a small part of the problem and a more global approach to growth must be undertaken by rethinking the role of currency and nations as a whole.

    The fundamental basis of globalization and the mechanisms that govern the species must be addressed if meaningful, sustained advancement is to be achieved without the constant disruptive booms and busts which are becoming more common place. The base must be integrated, involved and a system of visibility and accountability needs to reach as far as the corporations themselves instead of archaic solutions to a problem which no longer is homogeneous in nature which may resonate with those of past generations and provide temporary relief but ultimately will result in greater dissonance. Soon we may reach the point where incremental advances from competitiveness no longer propels us meaningfully forward and only through cooperation will we reach the next level. Whether the base is ready for such innovation has yet to be seen without some sort of catastrophe to bring about change.

  3. CommentedDavid Doney

    I think the prescription merits some adjustments.

    An overly-indebted private sector is not spending as it should as it pays down debt and worries about the future. Corporations are sitting on this savings rather than investing it, not because of a bad relationship with government but because they worry about the solvency of their customers and face a shortfall in demand for their goods.

    Richard Koo explained this situation well when he discussed balance sheet recessions.

    GDP = C + I + G + NX

    With the C and I engines of GDP cavitating, G has to step up. Or we bring the jobs home to reduce a negative NX with a ban on offshoring and requirement for a 10 year plan to bring home the jobs.

    The key is eliminating the private debt albatross. To get consumers spending, let's write down their debt. The Fed can print money or the Federal government can borrow money at very low rates to pay down $1 trillion in student loans and $3 trillion in mortgage debt.

    Some wage driven inflation would help pay off debt in more plentiful dollars, as we did after WW2. If nominal wages are going up but debt is fixed, that is a good thing.

    Removing the cap on the payroll tax should cover the Social Security shortfall; we can also make some minor retirement age and cost of living adjustments.

    Letting the Bush income tax cuts expire for the wealthy now and others later would return us to Clinton tax rates, when the economy was fine.

    Yes, some tax expenditure reduction is a good idea, provided it is done progressively.

    Medicare is the big long-term concern and we'll need to go after the dozen or so cost drivers of private healthcare costs.

    But most importantly, in the short-run, government should step up demand and debt reduction. Infrastructure, clean energy, education reimbursement, etc.

    Once C is working, the rest follows.

  4. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Monetary policy all along in times of crisis had been an approach towards experimenting with responses under different stimuli; it had never been a static continuation of instruments that have received the same set of responses, as in the present case, of heightened liquidity preference from corporates to the common man.

    I do not know how expansion of piles of cash in the balance sheet of S&P 500 and a market index that is buoyant by bond price escalation could be the primary indicator that reflect positivity of Fed actions while the real economic progress that comes from production and sales could be relegated to a tertiary activity in any economic analysis.

    The problem is too much liquidity chasing to few ideas in favor of economic progress.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  5. CommentedRichard Foosion

    >> The market’s lack of response was an important indicator that monetary easing is no longer a useful tool for increasing economic activity.>>

    That the Fed's inadequate actions did not do much does not mean that monetary easing is no longer a useful tool; it only means that inadequate actions are inadequate.

    >> The projected increase in the long-term fiscal deficit must be reversed by stemming the growth in transfers to middle-class retirees.>>

    The main issue here is healthcare costs. Transferring those costs from the government to retirees doesn't do anything for our overall economic health (govt plus citizenry). According to the CBO, costs would increase, mostly because Medicare has more buying power and lower overhead than alternatives.

    >> Fundamental tax reform must strengthen incentives, reduce distorting “tax expenditures,” and raise revenue. Finally, the relationship between government and business, now quite combative, must be improved.>>

    Business profits are at all time highs. That doesn't sound very combative to me.

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