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即将到来的大宗商品价格噩梦

即将到来的大宗商品价格噩梦

Colin Barr 2011年05月03日
这里又有一个迹象说明,我们面临的通胀问题可能远远超过本•伯南克。

价格总体下跌?

    过去六个月我们不停抱怨的大宗商品价格上涨,并非始于去年8月美联储(Fed)主席首次开始谈论量化宽松政策时,而是始于整整八年前——当时伯南克只是一位联储银行行长,而房地产泡沫在艾伦•格林斯潘的眼中也只是微光乍现。

    曾帮助创立了波士顿GMO资产管理公司的价值经理杰瑞米•格雷厄姆如是说。格雷厄姆不仅是一个精明的选股者,长期以来也对人口增长和资源稀缺保持担忧,这两个严峻的主题是其最新季度报告的重点。

    虽然关于发展中世界对全球增长的贡献已有颇多著述,格雷厄姆指出了增长的成本,增长成本可用飙升的大宗商品价格来衡量。他写道,中国、印度和巴西的崛起给世界带来的变化,我们尚没有完全搞清楚——这种变化至少一定程度上可以食品、金属和能源价格的飙升来衡量。

    不同于很多专家,他们认为只要伯南克略微上调联邦基金利率,汽油价格就会立即跌回1.13美元/加仑,格雷厄姆并不指望问题很容易就能得到解决,美好时代重现——至少持续时间不会很久。

    是的,他说,大宗商品市场的泡沫已随时会破灭——泡沫程度甚至可能已超过了2000年的股市。如果你打算将大量资金投入大宗商品期货账户,赌定银价将达到60美元/盎司,可要小心了。

    但如果在一个痴迷于增长的世界中,期待油价、铜价等长期下跌(这意味着消费者的压力持续上升,经济增长放缓),你一定是个傻瓜。

    “我相信我们正处于经济历史上一个巨大的拐点处,”他写道,“全球正在以惊人的速度耗尽其自然资源,这已导致自然资源价值发生了永久性改变。”

    过去随着材料利用率提高(用石膏板取代抹灰泥)或用其他材料替代价格上涨的材料 (铝和塑料的运用使得汽车比过去更轻了),大宗商品的价格总体趋于下降。正如右边GMO图所示,一个世纪以来包含33种大宗商品(石油除外)的指数年降幅为1.2%。

    这意味着食品、服装和其他商品的实际价格长期趋于下降,这让人们有更多的钱购买其他东西——在美国,越来越多的情况是购买他们根本不需要的东西。

    但现在看来,这样的日子早已结束。2002年以来,大宗商品通缩趋势已全盘逆转。在过去这个时有战争、信贷泡沫的十年,大宗商品价格已收复了过去一个世纪的跌幅。

    这至少不是一个好兆头。格雷厄姆写道,市场“向我们传递出了价格信号。直到2002年的100年,所有重要商品(石油除外)的价格都在下跌,平均跌幅70%。但从2002年到现在,前100年的跌幅已被更大的涨幅所抹去,涨幅甚至超过了二战期间。”

    The commodity price boom we've all been bellyaching about for the past six months started not in August, when the Fed chief first started talking about quantitative easing, but a full eight years earlier – when Bernanke was but a Fed governor and the housing bubble was a mere gleam in Alan Greenspan's eye.

    So says Jeremy Grantham, the value manager who helped found the Boston-based GMO asset management firm. Not just a savvy stock picker, Grantham is also a veteran worrier about the implications of population growth and resource scarcity, the sore subjects that are the focus of his latest quarterly letter.

    Though much has been made of the developing world's contributions to global growth, Grantham points to the cost of that growth, as measured via soaring commodity prices. The world, he writes, has been changed in ways we don't fully understand by the ascent of China, India and Brazil – a shift that is measurable at least in part by the surging price of food, metals and energy.

    Unlike so many pundits who would have you believe gas would instantly go back to $1.13 a gallon if only Bernanke would raise the fed funds rate a little bit, Grantham has no illusions about easy fixes bringing happy days back here again -- at least not for long.

    Yes, he says, commodity markets are easily bubbly enough to crash -- perhaps even bubblier than stocks were in 2000. If you are putting huge sums in commodity futures accounts and betting the ranch on $60 silver, take heed.

    But in a growth-addicted world you'd be a fool to expect the price of oil and copper and things like that to stay down for long -- which means an ever-rising tax on consumers and slower economic growth.

    "I believe that we are in the midst of one of the giant inflection points in economic history," he writes. "The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value."

    Until recently commodity prices tended to fall over time as we used materials more efficiently – drywall rather than plaster -- or substituted other goods for those whose prices rose (aluminum and plastic mean cars are lighter now than they were in the good old days). Over the course of a century, an index of 33 commodities other than oil dropped at a 1.2% annual clip, as displayed in the GMO chart at right.

    This meant that food and clothes and other things, over time, tended to get cheaper in real terms, which gave people more money to buy other stuff – increasingly, in this country, stuff they often didn't need anyway.

    But it is starting to look like we are all done with that extra money thing. Since 2002, the commodity-deflation trend has reversed altogether. In a war-infested, credit bubbly decade, commodity prices have recouped all their declines over the past century.

    This is, to say the least, an ominous sign. The market, Grantham writes, "is sending us the mother of all price signals. The prices of all important commodities except oil declined for 100 years until 2002, by an average of 70%. From 2002 until now, this entire decline was erased by a bigger price surge than occurred during World War II."

细细看来

    这确实是一个很大的涨幅,而格雷厄姆选择的趋势转变时间点正巧是其他评论人士认为的大宗商品市场分水岭事件(即2001年中国加入世界贸易组织,见上图)发生后的一年,中国对食品、金属和其他提高生活水平的商品需求十分旺盛。

    格雷厄姆认为这不是巧合。他指出,中国的水泥消费量占全球一半以上,铁、煤、铅、锌、铝和猪肉消费量占全球近一半。

    这样旺盛的需求持续推高了价格——格雷厄姆强调,推高价格的是供需因素,而不是讨厌的投机者或不负责任的央行。

    货币至上论者可能会将整个上涨归因于低利率。现在,即便是我都知道低利率对股价波动有很大影响(至少在有道德风险时),但短期内,真实世界中无股价遏制因素,而且低利率往往很不可靠。但生产和购买大宗商品的是严肃的专业人士,对他们而言今天的价格就是生与死。实际供需确实是主要影响因素。

    对于美国家庭而言这基本上是个坏消息,正如我可能提到过一、两次,2000年以来他们的工资降了约5%。这意味着用于购买日益涨价的食品和汽油的钱少了。

    或者,至少大部分是在涨价。呈现抛物线的市场,正如许多大宗商品那样,往往会隔一段时间就会在较低水平整固一下。格雷厄姆大胆预测大宗商品市场的价格飙升——以及这些市场对中国需求的依赖——可能会在明年某个时候导致价格大跌,如果2011年的天气不再这样异常或者中国增长开始放缓。

    如果中国经济增长遇挫,或者全球天气好于预期,我认为大宗商品价格大跌的概率是80%。但如果这两种情况同时发生,大宗商品市场很可能崩盘。就像金融危机一样。

    那些目前在大宗商品期货市场下注的人可能会把裤子都输掉。大跌眼镜。

    但如果那时我们还没有改吃虫子,之后价格将恢复上行,我们将再度开始抱怨高涨的汽油价格——至少在我们的政客们能协同一致,制定一些降低能耗、开发新能源的政策之前将是这样。

    “我们都需要调整我们的行为,适应新环境,”格雷厄姆写道,“如果我们动作快些,会有帮助。”

    你认为华盛顿现在那帮人会马上这么做?期待听到约翰•博纳宣布大量明智的能源政策?

    不,因为即便过去十年市场令大批美国人收入缩水,我们仍相信市场。总有一天,我们会知道除了怪才约翰•鲍尔森,每个人都会一文不名。但短期内不会。

    That is a big price surge indeed, and the date Grantham picks for the shift just happens to be a year after an event other commentators have already cited as a watershed for commodities: 2001 was when China, with its massive appetite for food and metals and other higher-living-standards stuff, joined the World Trade Organization (see chart).

    Grantham notes that this is no coincidence. China, he points out, accounts for more than half the world's consumption of cement, and nearly half its use of iron, coal, lead, zinc, aluminum and, oink oink, pigs.

    That voracious demand relentlessly pushes up prices – and Grantham emphasizes that supply and demand, rather than evil speculators or feckless central bankers, are the driving forces here, whatever posture our president might choose to take.

    The Monetary Maniacs may ascribe the entire move to low interest rates. Now, even I know that low rates can have a large effect, at least when combined with moral hazard, on the movement of stocks, but in the short term, there is no real world check on stock prices and they can be, often are, psychologically flakey. But commodities are made and bought by serious professionals for whom today's price is life and death. Realistic supply and demand really is the main influence.

    That is mostly bad news for American families, which as I may have mentioned once or twice have seen their wages fall some 5% since 2000. This means the less money to pay an ever-rising food and gas bill.

    Or, at least mostly rising. Markets that have gone parabolic, as the ones for many commodities have, are apt to, um, consolidate every once in a while at lower levels. Grantham ventures that the commodity markets' surging prices – and these markets' dependence on Chinese demand – are likely set us up for a huge price plunge at some time over the next year when if the weather turns less Armageddonish in 2011 or if Chinese growth starts to flag.

    If China stumbles or if the weather is better than expected, a probability I would put at, say, 80%, then commodity prices will decline a lot. But if both events occur together, it will very probably break the commodity markets en masse. Not unlike the financial collapse.

    So those who are now betting the ranch in commodity futures markets are likely to lose their shirts. Big surprise there.

    But afterward prices will resume their upward march, assuming we aren't all eating bugs by then, and we will all resume complaining about high gas prices -- at least till our politicians get their act together and devise some policies that will reduce our energy use and push us toward more enlightened sources.

    "We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment," Grantham writes. "It would help if we did it quickly."

    Think that's happening any time soon with the current group in Washington? Expecting to hear a lot of sensible energy policies out of John Boehner, are you?

    No, because even after a decade that has bankrupted whole swaths of America, we still put our faith in the markets. Some day, we will learn that the outcome there is everyone but the odd John Paulson character ends up broke and utterly exasperated. But not any time soon.

 

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