Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Las falsas ilusiones de la política monetaria de Shinzo Abe

NEW HAVEN – La politización de los bancos centrales continúa sin cesar. La resurrección de Shinzo Abe y del Partido Liberal Democrático, pilares del sistema político que ha dejado la economía japonesa atrapada en dos decenios perdidos y lo que seguirá, es tan sólo el último ejemplo.

Las recientes elecciones en el Japón versaron decisivamente sobre las opiniones de Abe acerca de la política monetaria del Banco del Japón (BdJ). Sostuvo que un tímido BdJ debía aprender de sus homólogos más resueltos, la Reserva Federal de los EE.UU. y el Banco Central Europeo. El argumento es el de que, así como estos últimos han salvado la situación, al parecer, mediante su heterodoxa y atrevida relajación cuantitativa (RC), Abe cree que ha llegado el momento de que el BdJ haga lo propio.

Desde luego, parece que se saldrá con la suya. Como el mandato del Gobernador del BdJ, Masaaki Shirakawa, acaba en abril, Abe podrá seleccionar a un sucesor –y dos gobernadores adjuntos, además– para llevar a cabo su propósito.

Pero, ¿dará resultado? Si bien, ahora se acepta de forma generalizada la política monetaria experimental como procedimiento operativo habitual en la actual época posterior a la crisis, su eficacia es dudosa. Casi  cuatro años después de que el mundo tocara fondo a raíz de la crisis financiera mundial, los efectos de la RC han sido sorprendentemente asimétricos. Aunque las inyecciones de liquidez en gran escala fueron eficaces para acabar con la paralización de los mercados crediticios y detener las peores consecuencias de la crisis, como lo demuestra el papel desempeñado al respecto por la primera ronda de RC de la Reserva Federal en el período 2009-2010, las medidas posteriores no han logrado nada parecido a una recuperación cíclica normal.

La razón no es difícil de entender. Entorpecidas por los graves daños causados a los balances del sector privado y del público y con unos tipos de interés de cero o casi, las economías posteriores a la burbuja han estado empantanadas en una clásica “trampa de liquidez”. Están más centradas en saldar el excesivo endeudamiento acumulado antes de la crisis que en cargar con nueva deuda e impulsar la demanda agregada.

El triste caso del consumidor americano es un ejemplo clásico de cómo se desarrolla semejante proceso. En los años anteriores a la crisis, dos burbujas –inmobiliaria y crediticia– alimentaron una orgía de consumo personal sin precedentes. Cuando las burbujas estallaron, las familias se centraron, comprensiblemente, en la reparación de sus balances: a saber, saldar la deuda y constituir de nuevo ahorros personales, en lugar de volver a los hábitos de gasto excesivo.

De hecho, pese a una triplicación sin precedentes de los activos de la Reserva Federal hasta los tres billones, aproximadamente, de dólares –y probablemente camino de los cuatro billones en el año próximo–, los consumidores de los EE.UU. se han echado atrás como nunca. En los 19 trimestres desde el comienzo de 2008, el aumento anualizado del gasto de los consumidores ajustado para tener en cuenta la inflación ha sido de tan sólo 0,7 por ciento por término medio, casi tres puntos porcentuales inferior a los aumentos tendenciales de 3,6 por ciento registrados en el período de once años que concluyó en 2006.

Tampoco el BCE tiene razones para estar satisfecho con su variedad de relajación cuantitativa. Pese a la duplicación de su balance, hasta poco más de tres billones de euros (cuatro billones de dólares), Europa ha vuelto a caer en la recesión por segunda vez en cuatro años.

No sólo es limitada la capacidad de la RC para hacer arrancar unas economías constreñidas por sus balances y destrozadas por la crisis, sino que, además, corre el grave riesgo de desdibujar la distinción entre política monetaria y política fiscal. Los bancos centrales que compran deuda soberana emitida por las autoridades fiscales anulan la disciplina impuesta por los mercados con los costos del endeudamiento, con lo que en realidad subvencionan el derroche del sector público.

Lamentablemente, parece que el Japón ha olvidado muchas de las enseñanzas que se desprenden de su propio caso, en particular la decepcionante experiencia del BdJ con los tipos de interés cero y la RC a comienzos del decenio de 2000, pero también ha perdido de vista el decenio de 1990, el primera de sus denominados decenios perdidos, cuando las autoridades hicieron todo lo posible para prolongar la vida de los bancos insolventes y de muchas grandes empresas no financieras. Se mantuvieron con vida artificialmente unas empresas semejantes a zombis con la falsa esperanza de que el tiempo por sí solo las resucitaría. Hasta el final del decenio, cuando se reorganizó el sector bancario y se alentó la reestructuración empresarial, no logró el Japón avances en el largo y arduo camino de reparación de los balances y transformación estructural.

Las autoridades de los EE.UU. han sucumbido a las mismas tentaciones de estilo japonés. De la relajación cuantitativa a unos déficits presupuestarios federales sin precedentes, pasando por rescates sin precedentes, han hecho todo lo que estaba en su poder para enmascarar la dureza de la reparación de los balances y el ajuste estructural. A consecuencia de ello, los Estados Unidos han creado su propia generación de zombis: en este caso, consumidores zombis.

Como en el caso del Japón, la curación de los Estados Unidos posterior a la burbuja ha sido limitada, aun con las desmesuradas inyecciones de liquidez de la Reserva Federal. En el tercer trimestre de 2012, la deuda de las familias representaba el 112 por ciento de los ingresos: inferior a los niveles sin precedentes de 2006, pero aún casi 40 puntos porcentuales superior al 75 por ciento de lo normal en los tres últimos decenios del siglo XX. De forma semejante, la tasa de ahorro personal, que ascendió a tan sólo 3,5 por ciento en el período de cuatro meses que concluyó en noviembre de 2012, ascendió a menos de la mitad del 7,9 por ciento, por término medio, del período 1970-1999.

Lo mismo es aplicable a Europa. Las medidas extraordinariamente atrevidas del BCE han logrado poca cosa con miras a la transformación, esperada durante tanto tiempo, en esa región. Las economías periféricas europeas, destrozadas por la crisis, siguen padeciendo cargas de deuda insostenibles y graves problemas de productividad y competitividad. Y un sistema bancario europeo fragmentado sigue siendo uno de los eslabones más débiles de la cadena regional.

¿Es ésa la “cura” que Abe quiere de verdad para el Japón? Lo último que la economía japonesa necesita en este momento es retroceder en materia de reformas estructurales. Sin embargo, al forzar al BdJ a seguir los extraviados pasos de la Reserva Federal y del BCE, ése es precisamente el riesgo que Abe y el Japón van a afrontar.

Las inyecciones de liquidez en gran escala aplicadas por los mayores bancos centrales del mundo –la Reserva Federal, el BCE y el BdJ– no están logrando impulsar sus respectivas economías reales ni facilitando la reparación de los balances y el cambio estructural. Eso hace que haya por ahí una enorme suma de exceso de liquidez en los mercados de valores mundiales. Adonde vaya la seguirá inevitablemente la próxima crisis.

Traducido del inglés por Carlos Manzano.

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  1. Commentedlaurie gravelines

    In the absence of aggressive fiscal policy, monetary authorities are experimenting with ever increasingly 'exotic' instruments. frankly they have pushed monetary policy to unexpected levels. They are to be complemented. But it can only be pushed so far, the ultimate dangers are well documented, yet governments refuse all but the most timid fiscal levers. Indeed some move fiscal policy pro-cyclical and amplify the recession. I find it difficult to criticize aggressive central banks, when governments have abandoned the challenge. And I do agree, a great future price may be paid.

  2. CommentedMerijn Knibbe

    It seems that there is more to Shinzo Abe than meets the eye. Deflation in Japan in the fourth quarter of 2012 was as high (low?) as -4% (GDP deflator) which must be rated as a massive failure of central bank policy: http://rwer.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/graph-of-the-day-a-deflation-shock-in-japan/

  3. Commentedpieter jongejan

    Central banks are no longer serving the general interests, but the short term interests of the financial sector, the political sector and the criminal sector. In the short run these sectors are benefitting most from almost zero interest rates. In the long run low interst rates will lead to a low profit rate (due to high real estate prices) and low investment an thus low economic growth and high unemployment. The winners in the long run are in my opinion the criminal sector and the populists.
    They benefit from increased poverty due to stagnant economic growth.

  4. CommentedJoshua Ioji Konov

    The Japanese QE may well be compared to the US policies whereas it is farther than the EU sterilized and not expanding their balance sheet, and very much conditional on austerity measures and strict EU policies.
    Both ways there is need of structural micro and macro economic changes to improve liquidity transmission-ability if these policies to be affective indeed..
    SEE
    How Globalization affects Market Economy

    If a Market Economy is considered the balance between Demand-to-Supply (in the currently used Economics it is Supply-to-Demand) for goods, services, resources and employment, the most recent changes of ongoing Globalization and rising Productivity have prompted, boosted and accelerated its role to some new levels never experienced through history. By including some huge marketplaces such as China, India, Brazil, Vietnam, and the expanding EU and by the rapid industrialization some of these countries are succeeding. High technologies in manufacturing and communications, the Internet and the open boarders trade, the open employment policies in EU, the high level education in India that give medical doctors and software specialists knowledge and skills to compete in US, and many more make the Global marketplace a common ground for competition well beyond any imagination in the past. However, these processes show the incredible vitality of the supply founded economics of Capitalism to fill any demand wherever and however such occurs elsewhere in the world. Hence, Market Economy is in its apogee, perhaps, only under the increasing sustained pace of economic development.

    Many economists associate Market Economy and Market Economics with the Supply-to-Demand trickle down economics of the Capitalism, and almost no one can even imagine major changes in the system. Regional and global lending founded on relatively high interest rate and relatively short term payoff could well help individuals and businesses live through short term economic turbulences, which approaches work very well when the term of such turbulence as long as economic activities returns to normal then the borrowers might payback and swim through. The supply founded Market Economy in theory self adjust economic turbulences and thus even improves the over all social and business environment by cutting off dead branches of over production, excessive financing, “artificial businesses”, crowded administration, and thus improves economies and marketplaces. This is the magic of the self-adjusting Market Economy of the Capitalism.

    However, many countries discovered that Market Economy, as explained by trickle-down economics, does not maintain best development and many business regulations and laws, and tax brakes and social programs are added to the powers of the Market Economy to distribute and redistribute wealth, to create jobs, and to balance demand-to-supply. Powerful socialization and governmental involvement into financial and business market operations prompted by the last Great Recession had more governments more involved into the Market Economy trying to save their economies from collapse. By pouring massive capital into financial institutions, or by taking over large corporations, or by implementing more social and employment generating programs the governments interfered with market forces and replacing such with vengeance.

    Market Economy is associated with a few indicators:
    • free flow of goods and services;
    • flow of free capital and trickle-down concentration of capital
    • return on invested capital;
    • free relocation and outsourcing of manufacturing that grew up into services and financial sectors;
    • large intercontinental corporations a main source for employment and the following fiscal reserves;
    • free employment marketplace based on demand and supply;
    Thus, the goods and services in a marketplace under the pressure of demand and supply balance prompt employment, whereas financing and capital being private or public, or both accelerate the spirals of economic growth and development.

    In the modern day Global Marketplace, the Market Economy is global too, where forces of demand-to-supply work globally and goods and services from one side and demand for such from another should prompt employment and supported by crediting, financing should accelerate growth and development.

    In a pro supply marketplace currently used instruments of economics it would be nothing wrong with this picture, however the conditions in the global marketplace of China’s and constantly rising Productivity prompted substantially different motors to maintain global balance. In case the pro supply-to-demand marketplace is in a progress to a pro demand-to-supply such, the distribution of wealth which always has been a minor problem for economic growth even in the opposite prompted by trickling-down such growth is becoming very contra-productive. Under these new economic conditions, such “stoppers” growth and development as Social and Infrastructural expenses that prompted inflations and market instability, in the past, are becoming more like a balance to rising unemployment and lack of growth of the present. In addition, the “shady” business practices of the past that prompted rapid growth are becoming more like a burden of the present, which instead of helping SME are making them not lend-able, while SME (small and medium enterprises) are the main still in place employer. Same with the financial system of speculative banks, exchanges and financial institutions, that use to help the trickle-down capital to concentrate and such boost business, in the past, now these are becoming more like additional burden to the small and medium investors and the middle class. By taking away 401s and 501s and not providing them with so much needed ROI (return on investment) that could be one of the free economic vehicles for wealth distribution and redistribution of the present.

    The industrialization of the past that built-up the most aggressive economic growth and development with prosperous middle class of the very developed economies of North Americas, Japan and Western Europe may not be successful anymore to perform. The high technologies are limiting needed manpower in manufacturing, China is becoming increasingly industrial super power able to fill any demand for industrial goods, whereas industrial production is either outsourced or moved already elsewhere. However, under the currently used economics industrial production adds the most to any country’s GDP (general domestic product); thus when some highly industrialized economies as the US are losing their abilities to maintain industrial growth the rest of the world of underdeveloped or developing countries with very few exceptions are losing any probability to startup such industrial production, indeed.

    Environmental changes caused by industrial pollution and the exhausting Earth resources are becoming more of pressing issues with which all countries must promptly deal. These are becoming more of economic issues than even the rest, because it is obvious that these issues affect any economy and the global market place directly. E.g., the high technologies for renewable energies are quite expensive, changing old polluting autos is expensive too, i.e. the Earth pollution, the deforestation going on in any poverty rotten country of Eastern Europe, Africa, South America are affecting the global environment in a progressive harmful overall.

    Thus, if the changing market environment brings new issues and developments than the modern world must deal with appropriately. The economics should change too, to accommodate all of the above new developments. An economics of Marketism being able to abstract all the best from the Capitalism should be implemented promptly, because under the arising conditions only another alternative is a massive socialization and governmental take over, and such for sure would not bring prosperity to no one. Bureaucracy, diminishing liberties, dependence on social security could not balance properly market demand-to-supply, as the history has shown, but free entrepreneurships and personal freedoms must be saved then the appointed new arriving economics issues must be dealt promptly and properly with.

    New market economics is about low interest lending and subsidizing, because under the new conditions the recessions are not self-adjusting and short in time, therefore any high interest lending is not feasible instead financial instrument (law interest loans and subsidies) should prompt employment and SME activities for which as written above should be supported by higher “security” (by enhanced business laws, regulations, financial market regulations, risk management personal liability). Hence, financial instruments should prompt growth by using monetary and fiscal initiatives on a lower interest rate and subsidies the “old” system of national and global lending must be moderated to these new conditions. The World Bank, IMF, and WTO should promote growth on a global scale by using these new instruments and by changing their role of general lenders into general controllers. The main issue under these new conditions is for these institutions to use monetary and fiscal quantities to balance the global market demand-to-supply “as it comes: as it goes” approach of Quantum Factor. The market agents and tools are more as “parameters” in attempt of preventing economic turbulence, than setup of chaotic self-adjusting instruments to prompt productivity.

    The market economy of the 21st Century is a vivid fluctuating development dealt on a practical operational basis. Market economics is statistically formulated way for using economic agents and tools as parameters balancing market demand-to-supply and dispersing negative economic buildups.

    Hence, the Globalization affects Market Economy by establishing new conditions of demand-to-supply marketplace that require changing the ways economic instruments are used from the ideological approaches of the Capitalism to practical approaches of the Marketism.
    © Joshua Konov, 2010

  5. CommentedMukesh Adenwala

    Insufficiency of Monetary Policy in changing the perceptions of economic agents, enabling them to see a rosier picture is perhaps the cause of its failure. Perhaps direct measures at repairing major parts of balance sheets of financial institutions could go a long way in mending such insufficiency. The key could be as under:
    If economies decide to offer foreclosed assets for `winning' through lottery, rather than for `buying' - draw to be held only after enough amount has been collected through sale of lottery tickets so that financial institutions would cover book value of their assets - the size of market for such assets would increase manifold. If such assets change hands for cash, the banks would be free of toxic assets several times over because derivatives created on the basis of such assets would regain their value, and the insurance companies like AIG that had insured single asset many times over, would recover their losses. This would repair the balance sheets of major financial institutions to a large extent and restore the confidence in the markets and agents.
    Yes, there would be moral implications of such measures and also question of equity would need to be closely examined before such a scheme can be implemented.

  6. CommentedSean Slater

    Wasn't the Fed's injection of liquidity a reaction to the need for liquidity in the failing financial sector not to create an increase in consumption?

  7. Portrait of Michael Heller

    CommentedMichael Heller

    My memory may be short, but I don't remember having read a more important article at Project Syndicate. In a nutshell Stephen S. Roach captures the present predicament caused by monetary crankery and procrastination over structural reform.

  8. CommentedPaul Jefferson

    ECB quantitative easing? What about Europe's widely hated austerity programs? And what about the weak EU members being deprived of currency flexibility, as they are constrained by the common euro currency they have adopted? These factors make Europe an inappropriate example for comparison with Japan.

    As for the USA, QE seems to have at last jump-started the real estate market, which should make a huge difference for US banks, and the economy as a whole.

    Also, if QE has sustained the economy while US consumers de-leveraged, all the better. Anyway, American consumers need to spend less on Chinese imports.

    Sustained American QE should eventually force the Chinese to value the yuan more fairly against the US dollar, which should reduce Chinese imports, and support US domestic job growth. Hence, QE is good for the USA. So how would it be bad for Japan?

    Abe's QE will devalue the yen, and thus he will have won the biggest battle. The high yen has been the root of Japan's economic problems for years. A lower yen will make Japan's products competitive again, and will boost domestic employment. Clearly, Abe is on the right track.

  9. Portrait of Pingfan Hong

    CommentedPingfan Hong

    In fact, BOJ has never been more timid than its counterparts in Europe and the US: BOJ was the first to use quantitive easing among major central banks. Measured by the ratio of assets purchased by the central bank to GDP, BOJ is leading ECB and the Fed in the scale of the QE so far: 30%, 27%, and 20% respectively for these three central banks.

    The only thing BOJ could not match its counterparts is that both ECB and the Fed have recently made their open ended: undefined total amount and duration of the new round QE for ECB and the Fed. BOJ is expected to follow the suit soon.

    However, as the author of this article pointed out correctly, all these QEs cannot substitute for painstaking balance sheet adjustment and restructuring of the real economy, as attested by the decade-long experience of QE by BOJ.

    1. CommentedAndrew Purdy

      Abe is going to do something that the USA has not yet done - outright monetization of deficits. When the CB buys up government debt, the Treasury still has to pay interest. If the deficit is covered with pure seigniorage, no interest is ever paid.

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