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量化宽松为什么不管用

量化宽松为什么不管用

Stephen Gandel 2012年12月13日
本周三,美联储宣布推出第四轮量化宽松,但业界对该政策的前景并不看好。前几轮量化宽松并未达到预期效果,企业正在用这些成本低廉的融资偿还旧债,或干脆把钱存了起来,而不是用来招聘新员工、建造工厂或进行其他类型的商业投资。一句话,因为公司管理层认为,经济疲软的情况还将延续。

    《玩具总动员》里巴斯光年那句著名的口头禅可以借给美联储用一下:飞向无限!

    本周,美联储召开碰头会。伯南克宣布,将加大近期购买债券的力度。而这一购买行为已被市场称为“无限量化宽松”(QE Infinity)。所谓的量化宽松,就是一国央行购买本国国债的货币政策,它往往会使银行利率走低。而低利率据信能刺激经济增长。

    但这么做并没有取得预期效果。经济确实正在复苏,但考虑到伯南克三年多前就推出了首轮量化宽松政策,目前的复苏速度并不像人们预期的那么快。然而企业又确实在利用低利率政策大举借贷。因此,美联储的政策似乎部分奏效了。

    但问题在于,企业正在用这些成本低廉的融资偿还旧债,或干脆把钱存了起来,而不是用来招聘新员工、建造工厂或进行其他类型的商业投资,而这些做法才是低利率刺激经济发展的常规表现。

    为什么会出现这种情况呢?花旗集团(Citigroup)的首席全球股权策略师罗伯特•巴克兰对此给出的解释很有意思。简单说来,伯南克是在将股市变为债市,或者至少让人开始觉得是这么回事。

    伯南克推出量化宽松政策所希望的效果之一是,推动那些平时只买债券及其他风险较小的资产的投资者进入风险更高的资本市场,比如股市。而这看起来实现了。标普500指数(S&P 500)今年上涨了近13%,比实体经济表现要好得多。据信这会让美国民众对实体经济更满意,从而花钱也更大方。

    可惜的是,伯南克称,让所有厌恶风险的债券投资者全部涌进股市也有坏处。企业高管也会变得更厌恶风险,不希望疏远企业那些更保守的投资者。这就是为什么这些企业没有把钱花在并购或扩张上。

    这种说法颇有意思,不过笔者并不完全赞同。如果情况真是这样的话,那我们就会发现更多的首席执行官直接向股东派发现金了。可事实上,企业财务报表上的现金却一直在增加。进一步来说,就像我的同事斯科特•森德罗斯基最近所指出的,尽管有传言说各公司赶在“财政悬崖”(fiscal cliff,形容布什当政期间所制定的减税法案、以及现任总统奥巴马危机期间制定的减税法案,将同时于2013年1月1日集中到期所出现的政府开支被迫巨幅减少的现象——译注)到来之前争相向股东派发红利,但股票分红实际却并未明显增加。

    绝大多数首席执行官都是极其自信的人,很难让他们突然变得害怕风险。而一群新股东完全可能把他们认为冒了太大风险的管理团队扫地出门。不过这么做也需要时间。而实际上收益投资者大概是在去年才开始对股票产生兴趣的。所以,就算巴克兰所描述的场景真的会发生,可能性也很小。这种描述可能有助于说明现在的经济状况,但却很难很好地解释,为什么经济衰退结束已经快三年半了,却只能提供146,000个工作岗位。

    我想,公司不愿意花钱的理由可能很明显——管理层认为经济将会继续疲软下去。这就使得人们更难把疲弱的经济归咎于伯南克和他的宽松货币政策了。这么表述不如巴克兰的说法有意思,但却丝毫不影响它的正确性。

    译者:清远

    The Federal Reserve may soon steal a catch phrase from Buzz Lightyear: To infinity and beyond.

    The Federal Reserve is meeting this week, and it looks likely that Bernanke & Co. will announce that it will boost its latest bond buying effort, which has been dubbed QE Infinity. So called quantitative easing, which is what happens when a central bank buys its own country's debt, is supposed to drive down interest rates. And low interest rates are supposed to stimulate the economy.

    But it hasn't quite worked out that way. The economy is indeed improving, but not nearly as fast as one might have expected given that Bernanke kicked off the first round of quantitative easing more than three years ago. Companies are indeed borrowing, taking advantage of the lower rates. So that part of the Fed's plan seems to be working.

    The problem is that companies appear to be using that cheap money to pay off old debts, or just hoarding it, instead of spending it on new hires, building factories or other types of business investments, which is normally the way low-interest rates boost the economy.

    The question is, why? Robert Buckland, the chief global equity strategist at Citigroup (C), has an interesting answer. In short, Bernanke is turning the stock market into the bond market, or at least it may be starting to feel that way.

    One of Bernanke's hopes from quantitative easing is to push investors who normally would buy bonds and other less-risky assets into riskier assets, namely stocks. And that appears to be happening. The S&P 500, which is up nearly 13% this year, is performing much better than the actual economy. That's supposed to make us all feel better about the actual economy, and spend more money.

    Unfortunately, Buckland says that pushing all those risk-averse bond investors into the stock market has a downside, too. Corporate executives get more risk-averse, too, not wanting to alienate their new more conservative investors. That's why they haven't been spending money on acquisitions or expansions.

    It's an interesting argument, but I don't fully agree with it. If this was the case, you would see more CEOs returning cash to their shareholders. Instead, the amount of cash on corporate balance sheets has continued to grow. What's more, as my colleague Scott Cendrowski recently pointed out, despite talk of companies rushing to do shareholder payouts ahead of the fiscal cliff, dividends are not up that much.

    Most CEOs are pretty confident people, and it would be hard to suddenly make them overwhelmingly afraid of risk. A new group of shareholders could throw out corporate management teams that they thought were taking on too much risk. But that would take time. And stocks have only truly become interesting to income investors within the last year or so. So if what Buckland describes is happening, it's probably only happening at the margin, which might matter, but isn't a great explanation why the economy is only producing 146,000 jobs, nearly three and a half years after the recession ended.

    I think the reason companies aren't spending money is probably the obvious one - because executives think the economy will continue to be weak. That makes it harder to pin the weak recovery on Bernanke and his loose money policies. And it's less interesting than Buckland's theory, but that doesn't mean it's incorrect.

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