漫长经济复苏未必是好事

英国《金融时报》 拉娜•福鲁哈尔
2019.07.01 12:00

7月初,美国当前这一轮经济扩张将正式成为自1854年美国国家经济研究局(National Bureau of Economic Research)开始发布商业周期数据以来最长的一次。失业率处于49年来的低点。资产价格接近历史高点。然而美联储(Federal Reserve)上周再次暗示,由于经济前景的“不确定性”以及低迷的通胀,它倾向于降息。

当你考虑到当前地缘政治的动荡程度,以及此轮经济复苏的分化程度(主要有利于大型跨国公司和拥有大量资产的个人)时,这在直觉上是有道理的。

但美联储从收紧货币政策转向放松政策的速度之快也是相当令人震惊的。同时,无论下一次衰退何时来临,美联储都将从历史低位的利率基数开始应对,这相当令人担忧。

更令人不安的是,此轮出奇之长的经济周期并非个例。德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)的一份研究论文研究美国在过去165年的34次经济扩张,发现过去4个商业周期的持续时间长于平均。事实上,它们占了6个最长周期中的4个。自1982年以来,较长的经济周期已成新常态。

这是为什么呢?乐观主义者会说,经济衰退不那么频繁是积极的结构性转变和更好的政策选择的结果,这些因素降低了美国经济出现低迷的可能性。高盛(Goldman Sachs)在今年1月发表的一份研究报告指出,库存和供应链管理改善(在很大程度上是技术进步的结果),以及美国经济中周期性较强行业的占比不断下降(在一定程度上归功于制造业迁至海外)。与此同时,美国页岩气行业的增长降低了油价冲击的风险和影响;油价冲击曾经是引发衰退的一大因素。

对经济周期延长的其他解释突显出世界经济演变的方式。技术进步和全球化,特别是中国重新融入市场体系以及较高水平的跨境贸易,都推动了生产率和经济增长,同时抑制了通胀。

与此同时,布雷顿森林(Bretton Woods)汇率体系的终结,赋予了美国央行更大的自由来延长经济周期,因为它不必再费心维持美元与金价之间的固定关系。

结果是经济衰退次数减少,但同时公共和私人债务攀升——世界各国政府能为更多的赤字支出筹措资金,而企业能利用央行官员们设定的低利率;在保罗•沃尔克(Paul Volcker)在上世纪80年代驯服通胀后,这些央行官员们可以较少关注价格稳定。

近年来,债务掩盖了美国经济的无数问题,从不平等加剧到薪资水平停滞。它还帮助调解了不同政治利益集团之间的纷争。自上世纪80年代以来,共和党和民主党基本上都接受了“市场最懂”(markets know best)的理念,因为这使得他们避免了在分割国家财富蛋糕时做出不得人心的选择。

当你可以只是解除市场管制、放开金融业,并希望不断上涨的资产价格可以让你无需应对棘手问题时,为什么要在枪支和黄油之间做出选择呢?

所有这些都令人不禁要问:商业周期是不是真的持续越久越好?衰退是资本主义的天然和正常的一部分,而不是需要不惜一切代价避免的问题。的确,德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)的经济学家们辩称,要不是货币政策人为延长了美国的商业周期,生产率会更高,美国人的创业热情会更强。

但经济扩张持续时间越长,拿走“大酒钵”的难度就越大。我承认,在2008年雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)破产后,政策制定者的确不得不出手干预,以避免更大规模的衰退——人类代价已经过高了。但我不像一些乐观主义者那样,认为“这次不一样”。

长期扩张必然会导致过高的杠杆,随后是调整,通常是衰退。非金融企业债务水平(通常会不断上升,直至衰退袭来)已经超过了此前的峰值,而且与美国国内生产总值(GDP)之比已经从1985年的35%升至如今的46%。然而,过去15年来,企业债券违约率一直处于非常低的水平。

我担心的是,当投资者和交易员把这两个事实联系起来,然后开始把违约率上升计入价格时,会发生什么情况。这让我希望,或许美国政策制定者本来应该选择更小、更频繁的痛苦,而不是“酿造”史上持续最久的经济扩张。

白宫希望至少在2020年大选前保持歌舞升平。唐纳德•特朗普(Donald Trump)总统不久前在Twitter上抨击欧洲央行行长马里奥•德拉吉(Mario Draghi)“不公平地”承诺“出台更多刺激措施”,然后暗示,如果美联储主席杰伊•鲍威尔(Jay Powell)不采取同样的举措,他可能会将其降职。特朗普的唠叨让我想起了我的孩子们——当我让他们熬夜并且吃太多冰淇淋的时候。或许,技术推动的生产率飙升最终会到来,并将此轮由市场驱动的复苏周期转变为某种能够更广泛传播繁荣的格局。更有可能的是,延续派对太久酿成沉重代价。

译者/马柯斯

原文:A long economic recovery is not necessarily a better one

By Rana Foroohar

At the beginning of July, the US’s current economic expansion will officially become its longest one since 1854, the year National Bureau of Economic Research data on business cycles started. Unemployment is at a 49-year low. Asset prices are near record highs. And the US Federal Reserve signalled yet again last week that it was leaning towards lowering rates due to “uncertainties” in the economic outlook and muted inflation.

That intuitively makes sense when you consider how rocky geopolitics are at the moment, and how bifurcated this recovery has been, mostly favouring large multinational companies and individuals with lots of assets.

But it is also rather stunning how quickly the Fed has gone from tightening monetary policy to preparing to ease it, and concerning that the central bank will be working from a historically low rate base as it attempts to navigate the next recession, whenever it comes.

Even more disturbing, this oddly long economic cycle is not singular. A Deutsche Bank research paper looked at 34 US economic expansions over the past 165 years and found that the past four business cycles have been longer than average. In fact they account for four of the six longest cycles. Since 1982, longer cycles have become the new normal.

Why is this? Optimists would say that less frequent recessions are a result of positive structural shifts and better policy choices that have made the US economy less prone to downturns. A January Goldman Sachs research paper points to better inventory and supply chain management (much of it the result of technological improvements) and the declining share of the US economy that is linked to more cyclical sectors, thanks partly to offshoring of manufacturing. At the same time, the growth of the US shale industry has reduced the risk and impact of oil price shocks, once a major recession trigger.

Other explanations of the lengthening economic cycle highlight the ways the world economy has evolved. Technological advances and globalisation, particularly China’s reintegration into the market system and higher levels of cross-border trade, have increased productivity and growth while dampening inflation.

Meanwhile, the end of the Bretton Woods exchange rate system gave US central bankers more freedom to extend economic cycles, because they no longer had to worry about maintaining a fixed relationship between gold and the dollar.

The result was fewer recessions but also a rise in both public and private debt, as governments worldwide were able to fund more deficit spending, and companies took advantage of low rates set by central bankers who could be less focused on price stability, once Paul Volcker tamed inflation in the 1980s.

Debt has papered over myriad problems in the US economy in recent years, from rising inequality to stagnant wages. It also helps mediate squabbles between various political interest groups. Both Republicans and Democrats have largely embraced a “markets know best” approach since the 1980s because it allowed them to avoid making unpopular choices about dividing up the national wealth pie.

Why choose between guns and butter when you could simply deregulate markets, unleash the financial sector, and hope rising asset prices would let you turn the other way?

All this begs the question of whether longer really is better when it comes to business cycles. Recessions are a natural and normal part of capitalism, not something to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, the Deutsche Bank economists argue that productivity would be higher and American entrepreneurial zeal stronger if the US business cycle had not been artificially prolonged by monetary policy.

But the longer the period of expansion, the harder it is to take away the punch bowl. I agree that policymakers did have to intervene after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers to avoid a bigger downturn — the human costs were already too high. But I also do not believe, as some optimists do, that “this time is different”.

Long periods of expansion invariably result in too much leverage, followed by a correction, and usually a recession. Non-financial corporate debt, which tends to rise until a recession hits, has exceeded prior peaks and gone from 35 per cent of US gross domestic product in 1985 to 46 per cent today. Yet corporate bond default rates have been at very low levels for a decade and a half.

I worry about what will happen when investors and traders put those two facts together and start pricing in a rise in defaults. It makes me wish that perhaps US policymakers had opted for smaller, more frequent doses of pain rather than brewing up history’s longest expansion.

The White House wants to keep the music playing at least through the 2020 election. President Donald Trump this week blasted the European Central Bank head Mario Draghi on Twitter for “unfairly” promising “more stimulus” and then hinted he might demote Fed chair Jay Powell if he failed to do the same. Mr Trump’s tirades remind me of my kids when I’ve let them stay up too late and eat too much ice cream. Maybe a tech productivity surge will eventually come along and turn this market-driven recovery cycle into something that spreads prosperity more widely. More likely there will be hell to pay for leaving the lights on too long.

发帖时间: news

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