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商业 - 金融

美国:房租大涨会让美联储主席难以承受?

Nin-Hai Tseng 2012年05月07日

从全美范围来看,由于拥有自有住房的家庭减少,房租已经快速上涨,今年前3个月,房租值为每月721美元,较上年同期上涨5.6%。房租大涨,无论是对通胀,还是对美联储主席本•伯南克的保持低通胀计划,都是个坏消息。

    我们大多数人都不愿支付更高的价格,但近来关于“我们是否应当允许通胀小幅走高以帮助美国经济增长”的争论逐渐升温。

    本周早些时候,获得诺贝尔奖的经济学家罗伯特•恩格尔与另一名诺贝尔奖得主保罗•克鲁格曼共同分析了物价快速增长的情景。他们认为,这将帮助降低失业。而且克鲁格曼认为,为提振经济,美联储(Federal Reserve)需要容忍最高4%的通胀率。这是美联储主席本•伯南克所设定通胀目标的近两倍。伯南克一直表示,高于这一水平将“十分危险”,可能折断美国的经济复苏之路。

    伯南克也许说得对,但经济学家们呼吁提高通胀的观点也值得考虑。

    房屋和公寓租金上涨将成为推动通胀的一大动力。毕竟,房租在消费者价格指数中占比相对较高(31%)。在剔除价格波动较大的食品和能源商品的核心通胀率中,房租占比就更高了,达到41%左右。

    从全美范围来看,由于拥有自有住房的家庭减少,房租已经快速上涨。美国商务部(U.S. Commerce Department)本月早些时候发布的数据显示,今年前3个月,房租要价中位值为每月721美元——较上年同期上涨5.6%。与此同时,即便当前是买房最便宜的时期,住房自有率已跌至65.5%,低于2005年的峰值69.2%。

    确实,房屋租赁市场可以很快推高通胀。如果有可能,当然没人愿意多付钱给房东。但房租上涨的确可能有利于房地产市场和整体经济增长。正如一些经济学家所指,房租应涨至令购房相对更便宜的水平。一旦这种情况发生,可以帮助扭转房地产市场的颓势。

    但Trulia最新的租买指数显示,这种情况事实上在美国很多城市早就发生了。房地产市场的确在恢复,但远未复苏,房价仍在下跌,银行继续收紧放贷标准。

    当然,通胀加速分析并不限于房地产市场。如果价格小幅攀升,这些资产的价值理论上也会增长。工资也是一样,可以让消费者感觉更富有一些。而且,收入增加可以让家庭更容易偿还债务。另外,由于企业和家庭都预计价格上涨,些许通胀可以让他们提早(而不是延后)支出和投资。等等,诸如此类。

    但经济不是这样简单地运行。鉴于一系列不利于市场的因素,显然这样的理论是基于一些非常大胆的假设之上。比如,《财富》(Fortune)杂志的史蒂芬•甘德尔本周早些时候就指出,去年大部分时间都保持增长的美国大银行放贷在2012年前3个月出现了下降。

    所有这些都使得伯南克的工作错综复杂(仿佛这还不够明显一样)。即便如今经济增长看来有了更为坚实的基础,这位央行行长仍坚持至少在2014年底前保持超低短期利率。当然,如果房租上涨开始把通胀推高至2%的目标水平之上,超低短期利率将更难保持。

    在这一点上,美联储可能需要问的是,如果允许物价上涨,失业率有望下降多少?或者,更重要的是,这样做会有什么风险?

    译者:早稻米

    Most of us don't want to pay higher prices, but there's a growing debate over whether we should allow inflation to edge a little higher to help the U.S. economy grow.

    Earlier this week, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Engle joined fellow prize winner Paul Krugman in building the case for rapidly rising prices. They say it could help reduce joblessness, with Krugman suggesting that the Federal Reserve tolerate inflation of up to 4% to boost the economy. That's about double what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been targeting. Anything higher than that, Bernanke has said, would be "very reckless" and could potentially derail the economic recovery.

    He might be right, but economists urging higher prices also have a point worth considering.

    Increased rates for rental homes and apartments will serve as a big drive of a rise in inflation. After all, rents make up a relatively significant share (31%) of the consumer price index. And when it comes to core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy items, rents make up an even larger share of about 41%.

    Nationwide, the price for rentals has risen rapidly as fewer people own homes. During the first three months this year, the median asking price for rentals was $721 per month -- up 5.6% from a year earlier -- the U.S. Commerce Department reported earlier this week. Meanwhile, even as it's one of the cheapest times to buy, homeownership has fallen to 65.5% from its 2005 peak of 69.2%.

    Indeed, the rental market could soon push inflation higher. Nobody wants to pay their landlords more if they can avoid it. But higher rents could actually be a good thing for both the housing market and the broader economy. As some economists see it, the price of rentals would rise to the point where it becomes cheaper to buy. And if that happens, that could help reverse the housing market's malaise.

    But that has already happened across many U.S. cities, according to Trulia's latest rent vs. buy index. And the housing market, while indeed healing, is still far from revived, as home prices continue to fall and banks tighten their lending standards.

    Of course, the case for more inflation goes beyond the real estate market. If prices rise by just a little, the value of those assets would theoretically rise too. And so could wages, which could leave consumers feeling a little richer. And such a pay bump could make it a little easier for households to pay down their debts. What's more, as businesses and households expect prices to rise, a little inflation could get them to spend and invest sooner rather than later. And so on.

    But the economy doesn't work this neatly. Given the litany of factors working against the market, it's easy to see how such theories are based on some very bold assumptions. For instance, as Fortune's Stephen Gandel highlighted earlier this week, lending by the big banks dropped during the first three months of 2012 after rising for most of last year.

    All this makes Bernanke's job terribly complicated (as if that wasn't already obvious). Even as the economy appears to be on firmer footing, the central banker has held his course toward keeping short-term interest rates ultra low until at least the end of 2014. Of course, this might be harder to do if higher prices for rentals start pushing up inflation beyond his 2% target.

    At that point, the Fed will probably need to ask how much unemployment might fall if they allowed prices to rise. And, perhaps more importantly, what are the risks of such a move?

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