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高盛称经济衰退风险上升

Colin Barr 2011年07月20日

经济衰退“明显有可能”。高盛不久之前还是美国复苏最忠实的支持者,如今却再次调低美国经济发展预期。

    7个月前,高盛一直高呼美国将迎来比预期更为强势的经济复苏。然而现在,它预计美国第二季度的增长仅能维持在1.5%这一蜗牛爬速,第三季度为2%,也算不上劲头十足。

    周五的这一预测让经济师让•哈特久斯颇感失望,他在5月份曾预测第二季度能达到2%,第三季度达到3.5%——然而现实数据却与公司在年初预测的开门红差了不少。

    Goldman Sachs, which just seven months ago was the loudest voice for a stronger than expected U.S. recovery, now expects U.S. output to creep ahead at a snaillike 1.5% clip in the second quarter and a less than vigorous 2% in the third.

    Friday's call stands as quite a comedown for economist Jan Hatzius, who in May forecast a 2% expansion in the second quarter and a 3.25% gain in the third quarter – numbers that themselves represented a retreat from the firm's bullish start-of-the-year forecast.

经济衰退?

    

    当然经济不会只是因为预测降级就走下坡路,但是,我们有充分的理由相信一个深层次隐患已然发作:上个月消费者信心“一落千丈”,美国银行(Bank of America)经济师乔治瓦•丹纳雷周五在给他客户的信中写道,最近的数据显示这一指数已跌落近20个百分点。这让消费者信心指数倒退至2009年的水平。当时花旗银行(Citi C)濒临倒闭,美国股市价格仅有现在的一半。

    丹纳雷希望将这一现象归罪于悬而不决的债务上限问题,但是哈特久斯注意到今年上半年的总销售额不温不火地上升了0.5%,尽管如此,这一数字也难以让人欣慰。即便华盛顿的疯子们不会以“对财政负责”为由拖垮经济,但销售疲软往往是经济收缩的前兆。

    二次探底,我们来了。

    哈特久斯写道:“像这么疲软的需求增长在战后非经济衰退时期只有过一次先例。”

    即便最终经济不会下滑,缓慢的经济增长速度将意味着今后很长时间内失业率将高居不下——因此这跟经济下滑没有本质的区别。高盛预计明年年底的失业率较今年会有略微下降,也就是从最近的9.2%下降为8.75%。今年早些时候,高盛曾预计2012年底的失业率为8.25%,虽然当时预测的这个数字也不值得庆贺,但这一数字现在看起来已是相当漂亮。

    如果衰退的确来临,美联储(Federal Reserve)可能会实施新一轮的刺激计划,尽管本•伯南克已经对故伎重演感到十分厌倦。

    “如果经济再次陷入衰退——这并不是我们的预测,但是鉴于最近的一些数字,这是很有可能的——联邦官员无疑会重新启动量化宽松政策,即使通胀已经接近预期目标,”哈特久斯写道。

    哈特久斯的这番话是一个180度的转弯。去年秋天,他是首批力挺美国强势复兴论的预测人之一。去年12月,他还撰写了一篇文章进一步阐释他调高增长预期的理由。文章中提到,即便抛开政府刺激和库存的影响,有机的经济活动也即将展翅高飞。

    即使他所说的经济复苏的确一度走上正轨,这一趋势在今年春天又再次脱轨,罪魁祸首就是能源价格上涨以及使日本经济边缘化的大地震。高盛曾一度预测今年及2012年的美国经济将增长3.5%-4%。鉴于现状,该公司却改口说,除非经济数据能有较大起色,否则将不得不调低其第四季度和2012年的增长预期。

    因此,不管预测结果如何, 9%的失业率将持续很长一段时间。如果说求职者等不到什么好消息,那再想想经济学家们吧,他们今年的日子更不好过。伯南克和哈特久斯共同纠结的问题在于,他们的模型并没有说明到底是什么削弱了这一起初他们认为会增长的需求。常识告诉我们,一个花了将近10年形成的信贷泡沫不会轻易地在3、4年间消失得无影无踪,当然,也并没有公式证明这个常识就一定是对的。这只是郁闷的经济学家之间的不解之谜而已。

    “令人感到‘恐怖’的是,我们仍不能确定2011年至今经济放缓的确切原因,这与我们去年年底所做的2011年增长加速的论断截然相反”,哈特久斯写道,“从逻辑上来说,对此事的解释涉及以下因素的共同作用:a)始料未及的日本地震及原油市场的影响,再加上b)美国经济的脆弱性超过预期,还因为c)房产及信贷市场对于私有领域资产负债的影响比我们想象的时间更久远”。但是,很难理清这些因素孰轻孰重,而对这一问题的判断不同,对未来前景的预期也会有天壤之别。

    也或许完全没影响。真正重要的是很多人手头拮据,而且对于明年能否找到工作依然忧心忡忡,所以没有人敢花钱。也许有一天,经济学家们会睁开眼睛,正视这些现实情况,但不会是现在。尽管美国经济停滞不前,欧洲正处在崩溃边缘,他们每天除了一厢情愿还是一厢情愿。

    

    A forecast downgrade alone doesn't spell economic downturn, of course, but there is ample reason to suspect a deeper malaise is at work: Consumer confidence fell "off a cliff" last month, Bank of America economist Joshua Dennerlein wrote in a note to clients Friday, dropping almost 20% in the most recent reading. That puts the consumer sentiment index at a level last seen in 2009, when Citi (C) was assumed to be bankrupt and the stock market fetched half its current price.

    Dennerlein wants to blame that plunge on the debt ceiling debacle, but Hatzius notes less soothingly that final sales rose at a sub-tepid 0.5% clip in the first half. That is almost always a sign of economic contraction, even when nuts in Washington aren't trying to blow up the economy for the sake of appearing "fiscally responsible."

    Double dip, here we come.

    "There is only one precedent in the postwar period for such weak demand growth outside the immediate vicinity of a recession," Hatzius writes.

    Even if we don't end up with an economic downturn, slower growth means unemployment will stay higher for longer -- which will make it hard to tell the difference. Goldman now expects joblessness to fall just slightly by the end of next year, to 8.75% from a recent 9.2%. Earlier this year the firm was predicting end-of-2012 joblessness of 8.25%, which is not exactly something to celebrate but actually looks pretty good now.

    And if a recession does take hold, it could mean another round of Federal Reserve stimulus, as much as Ben Bernanke might like to stop running that particular play.

    "If the economy returns to recession—not our forecast, but clearly a possibility given the recent numbers—Fed officials would undoubtedly ease anew even if inflation is close to their target," Hatzius writes.

    That kind of talk marks quite a reversal for Hatzius, who last fall was among the first forecasters to throw his weight behind a stronger-than-expected U.S. recovery. He wrote in upgrading his growth forecasts last December that so-called organic economic activity, excluding government stimulus and inventory effects, was starting to lift off.

    But if that recovery was ever on track, it was derailed this spring by the surge in energy prices and the earthquake that relegated Japan to the economic sidelines for a few months. Accordingly, Goldman – which at one point was predicting U.S. output would rise at a 3.5%-4% clip this year and in 2012 – is now saying economic numbers will have to show "substantial improvement" just to keep the firm from cutting its fourth-quarter and 2012 growth forecasts.

    That could mean 9% unemployment will be here for some time, whatever forecasters claim. But if good news for job seekers is hard to come by, consider for a moment how hard this year has been for economists. One bit of frustration shared by Bernanke and Hatzius is that their models aren't saying what exactly is sapping the demand that they expected to pick up. Common sense might well dictate that a credit bubble that took the better part of a decade to build up wouldn't necessarily be squared away in just three or four years, but apparently there is no formula that says this is so. This is what passes for mystery among dismal scientists.

    "The 'bugbear' is that we are still unsure about the precise reasons for the slowdown in 2011 to date, which is sharply at odds with our expectation at the end of last year that growth would accelerate in 2011," Hatzius writes. "Logically, the explanation presumably has to involve a combination of a) unforeseen shocks from the Japan earthquake and the oil market, coupled with b) more vulnerability to these shocks, because c) the housing and credit market downturn is weighing on private-sector balance sheets for even longer than we thought. But the relative importance of these issues is exceptionally difficult to sort out, and it makes a great deal of difference for the outlook."

    Or rather, it makes no difference to the outlook. What makes a difference there is that lots of people have no money and even more lack confidence they will be employed a year from now, so no one is spending. One day economists may decide to open their eyes to these obvious truths, but not just yet. Even with the economy at stall speed and Europe on the verge of collapse, wishful thinking carries the day.

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