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欧洲的经济困境

坎布里奇—欧洲面临严重的问题。尽管经济活动最近有所活跃,但欧元区已经丧失了应对下一次衰退的能力。这是一个必然结果。

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过去几年中所实现的经济改善应该归功于欧洲中央银行。在2014年怀俄明州的杰克森霍尔(Jackson Hole)央行行长年会的讲话中,欧洲央行行长德拉吉(Mario Draghi)说了三个能够改善欧洲经济表现的因素:

  • 有能力进行财政扩张的国家(德国)实施财政扩张;
  • 意大利和法国实施结构性改革;
  • 货币政策有所变化。

但德拉吉跟着预测,德国不会出现财政赤字,意大利和法国也不会实施必要的结构性改革。他下结论说,欧洲央行必须通过降息刺激增长。降息能够让欧元更有竞争力,从而增加净出口。

此后,欧洲央行将短期利率下降到了负区间,即从2014年8月的0.2%下降到目前的-0.3%。欧洲央行还用自己的组合购买长期债券,将其持有量从2014年的2.2万亿欧元增加了一倍多。欧元-美元汇率从2014年的1.39美元下探至2016年1.04美元的低点,随后反弹到目前的1.18美元。欧洲央行的负利率政策还刺激了商业投资和其他对借贷成本比较敏感的支出。

但欧洲央行的政策也意味着它已经没有弹药可用来对付下一场衰退,这场衰退可能因为资产价格崩盘而引发,首当其冲的将是长期债券价格。德国十年期债券价格目前非常高,隐含收益率还不到0.5%。美国股票和债券价格的下跌——目前也已经偏离了历史经验水平——可能导致欧洲资产价格的同步下跌。

或者,欧洲出口可能因为亚洲或中东的地缘政治事件而下降,抑制欧洲的总体经济活跃度。美国扩张的结束——目前这一扩张期已经持续到第九年——可能拖累欧洲的需求。尽管美国经济目前表现出色,但资产价格水平过高——这是十年来利率接近于零的结果——严重威胁着稳定。

不管下一场衰退原因为何,在过去起到帮助作用的欧洲央行政策都不再可用。常规响应手段——削减利率不再可能,因为当前欧元区国家短期利率已经接近于零或为负数。

诚然,欧洲央行可以扩大其长期债券购买量。但这样做无法产生和过去一样的效果。大规模购买债券,即所谓的量化宽松的目标之一是压低长期利率从而刺激商业投资和住房建设。目前,长期利率已经接近于零,购买债券无法进一步降低它们。

降低长期债券收益率的另一个目标是刺激股票需求。股价上涨降低了股权融资的商业投资的成本,也增加了家庭财富,从而刺激了消费。在这一点上,欧洲一直不如美国成功,后者的股票所有权分布得更加广泛。但如今,长期债券收益率已经接近于零,无法如法炮制。

简言之,欧洲央行无法再通过降低利率和购买长期债券来应对经济衰退了。而如果失去了降低利率的能力,欧洲央行也将无法通过降低欧元价值来刺激净出口。

美国可以用财政刺激应对新的衰退,但欧洲很难实现这一点。欧元区没有财政当局。当然,各成员国可以减税增支。但这些刺激的大部分都将通过增加进口溢出到贸易伙伴国。结果是国家国民债务增加,而国内需求相对来说几无变动。

应对这一困境的一个合适的方案是协调性财政扩张政策。各国必须达成一致,根据经济衰退的规模采取联合减税和增加政府支出。等到衰退发生再去规划这一协调响应措施将是一个错误。所有欧元区国家政府应该未雨绸缪地将与欧洲伙伴国的财政协调列为重点事项。

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