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不要事事怪罪中國

Good news from China's markets

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核心提示:再一次,金融市場描繪出一幅過于簡單化的畫面,用來講述一個非常復雜的故事。從最近的全球股市下跌,到下一輪可能發生的衰退,中國被認為是導致各種問題的原因。

再一次,金融市場描繪出一幅過于簡單化的畫面,用來講述一個非常復雜的故事。從最近的全球股市下跌,到下一輪可能發生的衰退,中國被認為是導致各種問題的原因。

不能低估中國的規模及其跨境關聯性,但其全球影響卻微弱得多。在起作用的是兩大因素的“拉鋸”:中國長期宣稱的朝著新增長模式的轉變;健全的金融基礎設施的必需建設。

與普遍看法相反,中國在第一方面正在取得相當良好的進展,尤其是在推動經濟結構從以制造業為中心轉向以服務業為中心方面。這些轉變比人們過度執迷的總體GDP數字重要得多。過分在意總體增長的統計準確性也會忽視這個關鍵點。

大宗商品“超級周期”終結的后果更嚴重。動量驅動型(momentum-driven)投資者——以及巴西、俄羅斯、澳大利亞和加拿大等資源型經濟體——未能及時認識到中國轉變大宗商品密集型增長模式的重要性。

石油是一個最明顯的例子。沒錯,在中國能源消耗結構中,煤炭占到大約70%。但中國在推動世界石油需求增長方面也起到關鍵作用。在截至2014年的十年里,全球石油需求的增長有48%是中國拉動的。

隨著中國增長放慢、轉向以低碳服務業為主導,中國的石油消費量下降。這是造成近期原油價格大跌的原因之一。類似的影響從賤金屬及其他工業材料的價格變動上也可以看到。

盡管中國在實體經濟再平衡上取得了初步進展,在金融改革的道路上卻遇到了很大挫折。頭號挫折就是2015年中國股市的慘跌——而且在2016年頭幾天愈演愈烈并對其他主要股市產生強烈溢出效應。

2015年上半年中國股市生成大泡沫時,監管者和高層官員還沾沾自喜。而隨著泡沫破裂,在過去6個月里,他們又手忙腳亂地試圖穩定股市。國家指示的購股計劃、股市熔斷機制以及其他控制措施反反復復,監管者一頭霧水,信譽大失。

更深層次的問題不是泡沫破裂本身,而是泡沫破裂對金融改革計劃的影響。長期以來,中國信貸流動太過依賴銀行,通過資本市場開發新融資渠道已被作為優先工作。由于處在發展初期的債券市場規模太小,不足以填補這一空缺,發展一個穩健的股市成為焦點。而隨著股市出現動蕩,這種觀點如今也受到了懷疑。對于曾公開承諾要讓市場化改革起決定性作用的中國領導人來說,這令人非常失望。

中國的匯率政策則完全是另外一碼事。投資者正在得出一個錯誤的結論,認為人民幣兌美元匯率近期的貶值,預示著新一輪競爭性貶值的開始,可能會引發一場全面貨幣戰爭,上世紀90年代末亞洲金融危機期間的情景將重演,當時那次危機讓亞洲陷入深度衰退,并差一點令全球也陷入衰退。

發生這種情況的可能性非常小。在經過十年大幅貶值后,人民幣匯率如今更接近公允價值。中國原本過高的經常項目順差也已減少,減輕了迫使匯率進一步調整的壓力。事實上,盡管自去年7月以來人民幣兌美元匯率降低了6%,它仍比2005年中的水平高了25%。相對由中國貿易伙伴貨幣組成的籃子來說,人民幣的所謂實際有效匯率仍比十年前高出大約50%。

盡管這意味著中國有充分的理由緩和人民幣近年來的急劇升值趨勢,出現更具破壞性的逆轉行情的可能性依然很低。首先,在疲軟的全球經濟環境下,要想借大幅提振出口抵消中國其他領域的下行壓力,人民幣貶值的幅度還要大得多。其次,這樣的貶值不符合中國政府將經濟從出口主導型轉向國內消費主導型的核心戰略。

最后,激進的貶值可能導致人們強烈反對國際貨幣基金組織(IMF)最近將人民幣納入其特別提款權(SDR)的決定。

中國當然還有其他許多挑戰,比如債務過重、房地產市場失衡、工業領域產能過剩和環境退化。幸運的是,在國內政策爭論中,這些問題被擺在了突出位置上。一個更重大的任務是兼顧經濟及金融改革。如果資本市場的改革繼續躊躇不前,經濟再平衡進程將會受阻。

與此同時,全球市場需要深吸一口氣。好消息在于,有關中國硬著陸的擔憂是過慮了。對于超跌的市場,這可能會讓人大松一口氣。而壞消息則是,各國央行正開始撤掉多年來通過空前量化寬松政策給市場提供的人為支持。最終,這個問題可能比新一波的中國恐慌要嚴重得多。

once again, financial markets are painting an oversimplified picture of a very complex story. China is being blamed for everything from the recent rout in global equity markets to the next recession.

While China’s scale and cross-border connectivity are not to be minimised, its global impacts are far more subtle. At work is a tug-of-war between two powerful forces: the country’s long telegraphed transition to a new growth model and the necessary development of a robust financial infrastructure.

Contrary to widespread opinion, China is making reasonably good progress on the first count, especially in shifting the structure of its economy from manufacturing to services. These shifts are far more important than the inordinate fixation on headline gross domestic product. A misplaced obsession with the statistical accuracy of total growth misses this crucial point as well.

The demise of the commodity supercycle is a tougher repercussion. Momentum-driven investors — as well as resource economies such as Brazil, Russia, Australia and Canada — were slow to see the significance of China’s shift from commodity-intensive growth.

Oil is the most obvious example. Yes, coal accounts for about 70 per cent of total Chinese energy consumption. But the country’s role in driving world oil demand is also crucial. In the decade ending in 2014, growth in Chinese consumption accounted for 48 per cent of the total growth in global oil demand.

China’s reduced consumption of oil, as it shifts to slower growth led by low-carbon services, explains much of the recent collapse in crude prices. A similar effect can be seen on the prices of base metals and other industrial materials.

Notwithstanding China’s early progress in the rebalancing of its real economy, there have been significant setbacks on the road to financial reform. China’s equity market fiasco of 2015, which has intensified in the early days of 2016 and spilled over to other major bourses with a vengeance, tops that list.

The country’s regulators and senior officials were complacent as a monstrous bubble inflated in the first half of 2015. They have bungled attempts to stabilise the market as the bubble burst in the past six months. On-off attempts at state-directed equity purchases, stock market circuit-breakers and other controls have left regulators confused and discredited.

The deeper problem is not the bursting of the bubble itself but what it means for financial reform imperatives. Chinese credit flows have long been too reliant on banks and development of alternative funding through capital markets has been made a priority. With a nascent bond market too small to fill that void, focus turned to the development of a sound equity market. With the stock market unhinged, that option has now been discredited. For a leadership that made a public commitment to the decisive role of market-based reforms, this is a big disappointment.

Beijing’s currency policy is a different matter altogether. Investors are drawing the incorrect conclusion that the recent depreciation of the renminbi versus the dollar portends a new round of competitive devaluations, which might spark a full-blown currency war reminiscent of Asia’s lethal contagion during the crisis of the late 1990s that pushed the region into deep recession and threatened to do the same to the world.

This is highly unlikely. After a decade of sharp appreciation, the renminbi is now closer to fair value. China’s formerly outsized current account surplus has been reduced, taking pressure off the currency to force further adjustments. Indeed, while the renminbi is down 6 per cent against the dollar since July last year, it is still up 25 per cent relative to mid-2005. Against a broad basket of China’s trading partners the so-called real effective exchange rate remains about 50 per cent above levels a decade ago.

While this suggests there is ample justification for China to temper the sharp renminbi appreciation of recent years, the likelihood of a more disruptive reversal remains low. First, in a sluggish global economy, it would take a considerably larger depreciation to boost exports enough to offset downward pressures elsewhere in China. Second, such a devaluation would contradict Beijing’s core strategy of moving from exports toward domestic consumption.

Finally, aggressive depreciation could spark a backlash against the recent decision of the International Monetary Fund to include the renminbi in its special drawing rights regime.

China certainly has many other challenges, from excess debt and property market imbalances to industrial over挀愀瀀愀挀椀琀礀 and environmental degradation. Fortunately, these problems figure prominently in internal policy debates. The far bigger task is the balancing act between economic and financial restructuring. Progress in economic rebalancing will be stymied if capital markets reforms continue to flounder.

Meanwhile, global markets need to take a deep breath. The good news is that fears of a Chinese hard landing are overblown. For oversold markets, that could provide welcome relief. The bad news is that central banks are starting to wean markets from the artificial support of years of unprecedented quantitative easing. In the end, that could prove far more problematic than another China scare.

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