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量化宽松不是给穷人的福利

量化宽松不是给穷人的福利

Stephen Gandel 2014年01月21日
有观点认为,美联储推出量化宽松政策、购买债券给穷人带来的好处多于富人,这是个愚蠢的观点。实际情况是,根据最新的研究,本轮经济衰退以来,美国贫富差距扩大的速度已经超过了此前近20年的水平。

    劫富济贫?还不至于。

    美联储(Feb)是不是帮了穷人一把呢?

    量化宽松(quantitative easing)是美联储用来刺激经济的措施。仔细推敲一番后,人们通常会发现情况刚好相反:这项旨在降低利率的政策主要对有钱人有利。美国前财政部长拉里•萨默斯就对量化宽松提出过这样的批评。有一阵子,白宫似乎马上任命萨默斯为美联储主席了,但他最终还是落选了。萨默斯认为,量化宽松拉大了贫富差距。

    本周早些时候,《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)旗帜鲜明地抛出了相反的观点。这家报纸刊登的一篇文章认为,从量化宽松中得到最多好处的是年轻人和穷人。这篇文章的逻辑很简单,或者说过于简单,那就是年轻人和穷人负债最多。因此,他们是利率下降的最大受益者。富人拥有大量银行存款,得到的好处没有那么大。

    这样的效果是量化宽松的一部分吗?这项大政方针的目的是通过增加企业投资、促进个人消费和改善金融行业状况来提高经济增长率吗?还是说这样的效果只是非常规措施带来的蹩脚而又意外的财富再分配?

    让《华尔街日报》产生上述疑问的正是这篇文章中的观点,而这个观点本身也存在很多问题,其中最大的一个问题和股票有关。这篇文章几乎没有谈到股市,而其他关于美联储政策的文章都探讨过“资产价格”,而《华尔街日报》的文章对股市只是一带而过。其他文章不仅会写到股票,还会提及债券和房地产,以及各式各样的投资。也就是说,《华尔街日报》的这篇文章本打算说明量化宽松对美国人的财富造成了影响,但它却把占据美国人财富大头的因素抛到了九霄云外。

    你们知道谁的股票比较多吗?富人,而且他们的股票比穷人多得多(股市不就是这么回事吗?)。所以,如果相信量化宽松给穷人带来的好处多于富人,就只能得出这样的结论:要么过去几年股市一直在下跌——但实际情况并非如此(股市一直在上涨,而且涨幅巨大),要么量化宽松对股市没有任何影响。

    最近,麦肯锡(McKinsey)在一篇报告中提出了后一种观点,看来这是《华尔街日报》发表上述文章的动力。简单的逻辑——让我再说一次,异常简单的逻辑——就能说明麦肯锡这篇报告错了,那就是量化宽松的规模已经非常大,股市已经大幅上扬,因此量化宽松在推动股市上涨。

    但这篇发表于去年11月份的报告稍稍做了一些深度分析。它指出,如果量化宽松在影响股市,那么有关量化宽松的任何官方声明都应该造成股市上涨或下跌。这份报告的作者称,股市对于和量化宽松有关的消息一直反应温和,而且都是短期反应。报告举例说,6月中旬,美联储在官方公告中表示,它正在考虑压缩债券购买规模,但股市几乎没有下跌,而且很快就开始再次上涨。11月中旬,美联储宣布推迟对购债规模的压缩,股市的表现也是如此,只是顺序相反。

    不过,这篇报告选错了时间节点。伯南克首次对压缩债券购买规模作出暗示是在5月22日。从2013年初到5月22日,股市上涨了17%。从那一天到9月18日,也就是美联储宣布推迟削减购债规模的前一天,股市的涨幅只有3%。9月18日至今,股市又上涨了8%,但其中只有3个百分点的涨幅是出现在12月18日,也就是美联储真正开始压缩购债规模之后。

    Robin Hood? Not quite

    Did the Fed do the poor a solid?

    A common knock on quantitative easing, the Federal Reserve stimulus program, suggests just the opposite: The interest rate lowering program mostly benefited the rich. That was one complaint made by Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary who the White House seemed close to appointing as head of the Fed before he dropped out of the race. He said QE likely made inequality worse.

    Earlier this week, though, the Wall Street Journal staked out the contrary ground. The article said that the individuals who benefited the most from QE were the young and the poor. The article's simple logic -- too simple -- was that the young and the poor are the most in debt. So lower interest rates benefits them the most. Rich people with lots of money stashed in the bank, not so much.

    Were these effects part of a grand design to stimulate the economy through more corporate investment, household spending and a healthier financial sector, or a clumsy and unintended redistribution of wealth caused by extraordinary measures?

    There are a number of problems with the argument that leads the Journal to this dubious question, but the biggest one is this: Stocks. The article says almost nothing about the stock market, only making a passing reference to the fact that other articles about the Fed's policies have talked about "asset prices." And not just stocks, but also bonds and houses, and investments in general. In other words, an article that was trying to draw a conclusion about how QE affected Americans' wealth completely ignored the very thing that contains the bulk of Americans' wealth.

    And you know who holds more stocks than anyone else? The rich. A lot more than the poor. (That's how these things work.) So to believe that QE benefited the poor more than the rich, you have to conclude that stocks over the past few years have gone down, which they have not (they've gone up, by a lot) or that QE has had no impact on the market.

    The latter notion was argued in a recent McKinsey report, which appears to be the impetus for the WSJ article. Simple -- again, too simple -- logic would suggest the McKinsey report is wrong: We have had a lot of QE. Stocks have gone up a lot. QE made stocks go up.

    But the McKinsey report, which was published in November, dives a little deeper. If QE has been driving stocks, then any announcements about QE would cause stocks to jump or fall. They say the stock market reactions to news about QE have been mild, and temporary. For example, the report says the market barely dropped when the Fed made it official in mid-June that they were considering pulling back on bond purchases. The market quickly began to rise again. Same thing but in reverse in mid-September, when the Fed put off the taper.

    But the report is looking at the wrong dates. Bernanke first hinted about the taper on May 22. From the beginning of the year until then, the stock market was up 17%. From that time until September 18, the day before Fed put off the taper, the market rose just 3%. Since then, the market is up another 8%, of which just 3% of that return has occurred since December 18, when the Fed actually began to cut its bond purchases.

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