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财政悬崖意外拉动美国经济

Stephen Gandel 2013年01月18日

各界曾经普遍担心,“财政悬崖”前景将严重威胁美国经济。然而,事实上,“财政悬崖”即将迫近的第四季度,美国的各类商业活动反而出现了一个活跃期。分析人士认为,原因在于企业希望提前行动,避免增税等不利影响。

    当前的普遍看法是,美国财政悬崖是阻碍美国经济发展的主要因素。但财政僵局的影响可能并没有像人们想象的那样严重。事实上,它们可能还对美国经济产生了有益的推动。

    上周五,富国银行(Wells Fargo)首席财务官蒂姆•斯隆称,包含增税减支的所谓“财政悬崖”迫近,对公司业务是件好事;财政悬崖本应于1月1日启动,在最后一刻达成的一项协议使它部分得以避免。斯隆说,第四季度富国银行的贷款显现加速,尤其是12月份,部分原因正是因为财政悬崖。抢在加税前,提前派息或交易的公司纷纷增加了借款。

    “财政悬崖事实上对我们的业务产生了积极的影响,”上周五斯隆对分析师们称。

    不光富国银行是这样。年底,投资银行家和律师们也比往年更为繁忙,抢在财政悬崖大限前完成交易。而且,除了华尔街,这些交易也给企业带来了好处。迪士尼(Disney)已经表态,计划增加卢卡斯影业(LucasFilms)的开支。去年10月底,迪士尼以40亿美元的价格收购了卢卡斯影业。但它其实只是众多受财政悬崖推动的交易之一。

    或许有人会说,这些交易本来就会发生,只是可能时间是在几个月之后。所以,财政悬崖所做的只是导致这些交易提前了。但经济刺激政策起到的效果往往也是如此。我们无从判断,如果没有财政悬崖,这些交易到底是否会发生。

    美国政府也会受益。Costco等很多公司都在2012年底提前支付了特别股息。虽然这些交易的本意是为了避免未来税负的上升,客观上仍能增加当前的税收,或许有助于减小赤字缺口。

    至少鲜有迹象显示“财政悬崖导致经济放缓”,虽然很多人曾经这样预测。2012年12月,美国企业增加用工超过150,000人,与近月来的增速差不多。但12月份的工作小时数增加了,这是一段时间以来该指标首次与薪水同步上升。它说明12月份企业活动增加了,而不是放缓了。

    唯一的一个可能说明“财政悬崖导致经济放缓”的指标是第四季度企业投资呈现下降。但这已是该指数连续第三个季度下行。因此,它似乎更大程度上是原有趋势的延续。原因可能是因为欧债问题,可能是因为担心中国经济硬着陆,但是与财政悬崖并无干系。

    结论是财政悬崖很可能没有像华尔街人士担心的那样糟糕。还记得吗,2011年夏天的时候,所有人都在说债务上限僵局是一场灾难?回顾看来,情况并没那么严重。自那以来,道琼斯工业平均指数已经上涨了约2,500点。目前利率仍处于低位。而且,复苏正在缓慢发生。我们或许无需对当前的债务上限僵局那么担心。当然,世事难料,一切皆有可能。(财富中文网)

    译者:早稻米

    It's conventional wisdom these days that Washington gridlock is the main thing holding back the economy. But the fiscal standoffs may not be as much of a headwind as people think. In fact, they might be good for the economy.

    On Friday, Wells Fargo's CFO Tim Sloan said that the so-called fiscal cliff, the mix of tax increases and spending cuts that were set to kick in January 1st but were partially averted in a last minute deal, was good for business. He said lending at the bank (WFC) picked up in the fourth quarter, particular in December, in part because of the fiscal cliff. Companies looking to pay out dividends early or do deals ahead of the planned tax increases borrowed money to do so.

    "The fiscal cliff actually had a positive effect on our business," Sloan told analysts on Friday.

    Wells was not alone. Investment bankers and lawyers were busier than usual at the end of the year, completing deals ahead of fiscal cliff deadline. And not all of those deals just mean more money for Wall Street. Disney (DIS) says it plans to beef up spending at LucasFilms, which it bought in late October for $4 billion -- one of the many deals that appear to have been pushed by the fiscal cliff.

    Some would argue that these deals would've happened anyway, just a few months later. So really all the fiscal cliff did was pull some activity forward. But that's what stimulus always does. It's impossible to know that all of these deals would have happened without the cliff drama.

    The government will benefit as well. A number of companies, Costco (COST) included, paid out special dividends at the end of 2012. And while those deals may have been done to avoid higher taxes in the future, they are still going to generate more tax revenue now, which could help to narrow the deficit.

    At the very least, there seems to be little indication that the fiscal cliff slowed the economy, as many predicted it would. Companies added just over 150,000 workers to their payrolls in December, which is about the pace of growth we have been on for months. But hours worked was up in December, and for the first time in a while pay was up as well. That suggests that companies were ramping up their activities in December, not slowing down.

    The one sign that the fiscal cliff might have slowed the economy came from business investment, which was down in the fourth quarter. But it was down in the third quarter as well. So that seems more like the continuation of a trend, perhaps inspired by debt problems in Europe or fears of a hard landing in China, rather than fiscal cliff-related.

    The takeaway is that Washington acrimony is most likely not nearly the negative that people on Wall Street think it is. Remember how everyone said the debt ceiling standoff back in the summer of 2011 was such a disaster? In retrospect, not so much. The Dow Jones industrial average is up about 2,500 points since then. Interest rates are still low. And the recovery is, slowly, still happening. So perhaps we shouldn't be as worried about the current debt ceiling standoff. Although, of course, you never know.

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