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中国威胁撤出美国债市真相揭秘

Bill Powell 2011年08月10日

标准普尔宣布下调美国信用评级之后,中国炮轰美国“借债成瘾”,并再次威胁减持美国国债。中国是美国最大的债主,中国的怒吼听起来自然令人美国人胆寒。但是中国不可能——绝无可能——放弃美国。

    “美国政府必须接受一个痛苦的事实,昔日靠借债就能轻松摆脱烂摊子的好日子已经一去不复返了……”——中国新华社(Xinhua News Agency).

    最近,我们的中国朋友心跳加速已经有好些日子了。北京的主流媒体同仁们一直加班加点,充满义愤地撰写各种评论,抨击美国政府在财政上挥霍无度,经济发展迟缓。毕竟,中国是新兴超级经济体。它出于好心借给美国钱的日子就要到头了。或者至少中国政府打算让大家确信这一点。

    作为美国政府最大的债主,中国发出的声音肯定听起来令人胆寒,不是吗?中国人深恐自己庞大的三万亿美元外汇储备——其中70%购买了美国国债——即将贬值,正打算拿回自己辛辛苦苦挣下的钱回老家。可恶的美国佬。

    不过,有件小事不得不提。这种情况没有可能——绝不可能——变为现实。

    围绕着中国购买美国国债这一主题的种种乱象令人震惊:大量的不实信息,无数紧张过度的头条新闻,还有对经济学知识的彻底无知。无论何时,当某些歇斯底里的广播访谈节目主持人或西装革履的政客开始慷慨激昂地大谈特谈中国是如何“支配我们”时,都必须牢记一些关键要点。首先,正如北京大学光华管理学院(Peking University's Guanghua School of Management)的金融学教授迈克尔•佩蒂斯最近在他的“中国金融市场通讯”(China Financial Markets)中所阐述的:“请记住,中国人民银行(the People's Bank of China)之所以购买巨额的美国政府债券并不是因为它手里的钱多得没地方花了。它购买美国国债纯属其行使交易政策的职能。”在全球众多呆瓜围绕这个议题所发出的一片喧哗中,迈克尔的见解可能是最为清醒的。

    其次,正如佩蒂斯再次提醒我们的:“除非是资本净输出国,否则不可能出现经常项目盈余。”别忘了,中国仍然有巨额的经常项目盈余。现状是,尽管中国的经常项目盈余占其经济总量的比例已不像数年前那么高了,那时经常项目盈余一度达到GDP的10%,但总量还是十分巨大。今年第一财季,经常项目盈余是282亿美元,且出口仍然是中国整体经济增长的关键驱动因素。(第一财季,商品与服务出口占中国GDP增长额约40%。)

    当然,中国可以将出口商们通过将商品挣来的美元都遣返回美国。但将所有这些钱送返美国意味着要将美元兑换成中国自己的货币——人民币,这就意味着人民币将对美元大幅升值。这种情形当然是教科书式的贸易和货币市场运作的方式。如果一国一直都处于贸易顺差的状态,最终其货币将会升值到某个临界点,到了这一点,其商品竞争力就会降低,贸易账户也会进行相应调整。然而,正因为出口是中国经济增长极其重要的组成部分,中国政府有意识地放缓了调整步伐。在过去五年间,人民币兑美元的汇率已从8.2:1变成现在的约6.5:1。换言之,人民币已经升值了,但是,如果政府没有有意介入放缓这一进程的话,这一升值进程可能会更快。中国人民银行按照市场价购买了尽可能多的美元,并且用人民币来支付。(正如佩蒂斯所说,它是通过在国内市场借贷人民币来购买的,或是通过迫使中国各家银行在央行储蓄准备金来实现的。)

    的确,过去十几年间,中国政府已经努力放缓其外汇储备快速增长的步伐。但是,正如中国人民银行的经济学家和顾问余永定上周所说:“这些举措都未见成效,因为它们并没有解决外汇储备快速增长的真正原因:即以控制人民币升值步伐为目标的政府干预。”

    中国政府基于美元的外汇储备正在贬值,因为一直以来,人民币兑美元缓慢但是确定无疑地在升值。这就是为什么余永定的观点值得肯定。他在《金融时报》(FT)上撰文称:“中国人民银行必须停止购买美元,并尽快允许人民币汇率由市场决定。”

    这一观点正确至极。然而,要实现这种转变,其可能性就像由我来代替姚明成为休斯顿火箭队核心主力一样。要中国政府在汇率政策上突然改弦易辙毫无可能。因为目前已然身处劳动力工资上涨和货币升值重压之下的中国出口企业将命悬一线。请记住,在中国,稳定高于一切。中国将尽一切可能避免突然、剧烈的经济政策冲击。

    当然,中国也有其他选择。它可以不再购买美国国债,转而购买其他国家的政府债券。你知道世界第二大和第三大最具流动性的国内债券市场是哪两国吗?日本和意大利。我们可以请中国外汇管理局((the State Administration of Foreign Exchange ,SAFE,掌管中国外汇储备的官方机构)的官员们做个举手表决。有多少人想要大幅度提高介入日本和意大利市场的程度?特别是考虑到现在欧洲央行(ECB)已开始把购买意大利国债作为最后一招。

    为保证收益,中国政府可能会增加日元的外汇储备,也会增加黄金储备。并且,毫无疑问的是,它将在美国和其他地方对“硬资产”(hard assets)加大投资。实际上,这么做对所有人都有好处(奥巴马政府应该对所有愿意出资10万美元或更多钱在美购买房产的中国公民发放签证)。但是请记得,仅仅是本年度的第一财季,中国政府就又增加了1,380亿美元的外汇储备。这么多钱需要找到用武之地。它们可以回到国内市场,或是需要进行再投资。无论如何,世界上唯一一个具有足够的规模和深度吸纳这些资金的市场正是美国政府债券市场。

    正如佩蒂斯所说:“过去几年间每半年我们就能听到同样的声音:”中国要把钱投到其他地方了。现在,特别是在标准普尔(S&P)发布了下调美国信用等级评级这一饱受争议的决定后,中国政府用前所未有的尖锐措辞重申了这一威胁。此举在中国国内外都赢得了一些政治认同。但是事实依然如同佩蒂斯所说:“这一切不会变成现实。”

    译者:清远

    "The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone..." -- China's state-owned Xinhua News Agency.

    It's been quite a few days of chest thumping for our friends in the Chinese government. The ruling Party's propagandists in Beijing have been working overtime, huffily putting out statements bashing the United States for its fiscal profligacy and economic sloth. China, you see, is the new economic super power. Its days of lending to the United States out of the goodness of its beneficent heart are just about over. Or so Beijing would have you believe.

    Coming from Washington's largest creditor, the noises out of Beijing now sure sound threatening don't they? The Chinese, afraid that their massive three trillion dollars portfolio of foreign reserves -- 70% of which is in Treasury debt -- is going to be devalued, are just going to take their hard-earned money and go home. Screw you, Uncle Sam.

    There's this one little thing, though. There is no chance -- none -- that this will happen.

    The amount of misinformation, the number of overwrought headlines and the fundamental economic illiteracy that surrounds the subject of China's purchase of U.S. Treasury debt continues to be astounding. There are a couple of key points to remember whenever some hysterical radio talk show host or uniformed politician starts ranting about how China "owns us." First, as Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management and perhaps the most lucid voice on this subject amidst a global cacophony of dunces, wrote recently in his China Financial Markets newsletter: "Remember that the People's Bank of China does not purchase huge amounts of U.S. government bonds because it has a lot of money lying around and doesn't know what to do with it. Its purchase of U.S. government bonds is simply a function of its trade policy."

    Second, as Pettis again reminds us, "you cannot run a current account surplus unless you are also a net exporter of capital." And China, lest anyone forget, is still running huge current account surpluses. Not, it is true, as massive a surplus as a share of its overall economy as it had a couple of years ago, when the current account surplus reached 10% of GDP, but huge nonetheless. It was $28.2 billion in the first quarter of this year, and exports continue to be a key driver of China's overall economic growth. (Exports of goods and services constituted about 40% of China's GDP growth in the first quarter.)

    China could, of course, repatriate all the dollars its exporters earn by selling stuff to the U.S. But bringing that money home means converting the dollars into its own currency, the Renminbi (RMB), which means the value would rise—sharply against the dollar. This, of course, is how text-book trade and currency markets are supposed to function. If you run persistent trade surpluses, eventually your currency appreciates to the point that your goods become less competitive and the trade accounts adjust accordingly. Precisely because exports are such a significant part of China's growth story, however, Beijing has purposefully slowed the adjustment process. The RMB over the last half-decade has gone from 8.2 to the dollar to about 6.5 now. It has appreciated somewhat, in other words, but as fast as it might have if the government hadn't purposefully intervened to slow the process. The PBOC buys as many dollars as the market offers at the price it sets, and it pays for those dollars in RMB. (As Pettis writes, it does so by borrowing RMB in the domestic market, or by forcing Chinese banks to place reserves on deposit at the central bank.)

    Beijing, it's true, has tried to slow down its rapid accumulation of foreign exchange reserves over the last couple of years. But as Yu Yongding, an economist and advisor to the PBOC said in a piece last week, "these policies failed because they did not address the real cause of the rapid increase in foreign exchange: namely, state intervention aimed at controlling the pace of Renminbi appreciation."

    The value of Beijing's dollar based foreign exchange reserves are eroding for China, as the RMB, slowly but surely, has crept against the dollar. Which is why Yu, to his credit, wrote in the FT that "the People's Bank of China must stop buying US dollars and allow the Renminbi exchange rate to be decided by market forces as soon as possible."

    That's exactly correct. The thing of it is, there's about as much chance of that happening as there is of me replacing Yao Ming as the Houston Rocket's center. There is no way Beijing is going to go cold turkey on exchange rates. Its exporters, already under pressure thanks to rising wages and some currency appreciation, would scream bloody murder. And remember, China is all about stability. Sudden, dramatic economic policy shocks are to be avoided if at all possible.

    China does have a few options, of course. It could, instead of U.S. Treasuries, buy other foreign government bonds. You know what the second and third largest, most liquid domestic bond markets are in the world? Japan and Italy. Let's have a show of hands of you folks at SAFE (the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which manages Beijing's foreign exchange reserves). How many of you want to significantly increase your exposure to Japan and Italy, particularly today with the ECB stepping in as a buyer of last resort for Italian debt?

    On the margins, Beijing may well increase its reserves held in Yen, as well as in gold. And it will no doubt continue to increase its investment in hard assets, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Indeed, that would be good for everyone else. (The Obama administration should be issuing free visas to any Chinese citizen willing to pay $100,000 or more to buy a house in the United States.) But remember that China, in the first quarter of this year alone, acquired an additional $138 billion in new foreign exchange reserves. That money needs to go somewhere. It can either come home, or it needs to be reinvested. And the only market in the world that has the size and depth to handle that kind of money is, for better or worse, the U.S. government debt market.

    As Pettis says, "every six months for the past several years we've heard the same thing:" China's going to take its money elsewhere. Now, Beijing is making that threat in ever more strident terms, particularly following the controversial S&P downgrade. It earns cheap political points, both at home and abroad, for doing so. But the truth is, as Pettis says, "it isn't going to happen."

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