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巴曙松教授,博士,国务院发展研究中心金融研究所副所长,研究员,博士生导师,享受国务院特殊津贴。    巴曙松教授在银行、证券、基金、企业年金等领域有过10余年的实践工作经验,熟悉商业银行风险管理、基金与年金运作,参与中银香港海外重组上市项目,主持起草了《中银香港风险管理政策与流程》。目前的主要研究领域为金融机构风险管理与金融市场监管、企业融资问题与货币政策决策,出版了国内第一本系统研究巴塞尔新资本协议的《巴塞尔新资本协议研究》(中国金融出版社2003年版)

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美联储主席伯南克,研究之二  

2007-09-16 15:46:42|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Meanwhile, the aggregate current account surplus of emerging-market economies expanded about $350 billion, from $297 billion in 2004 to $643 billion in 2006; almost all the increase was attributable to a higher aggregate rate of saving.  A significant portion of this further growth is due to China, whose current account surplus swelled an additional $180 billion, rising from 3.6 percent of national output in 2004 to 9.4 percent in 2006.  The increase in the Chinese surplus can be attributed primarily to an increase in the saving rate between 2004 and 2006.  The increase in China's saving rate could, in part, be a consequence of the rapid pace of growth in the country.  That is, with income growing very rapidly, but with consumer credit not readily available and precautionary motives for saving remaining strong, consumption is failing to catch up.6  Also contributing to high saving rates was the authorities' decision to limit currency appreciation, thereby restraining import demand and boosting exports.

 

Oil exporters have also contributed significantly to the recent increase in the aggregate current account balance of developing countries.  The combined current account balance of the countries of the Middle East and the former Soviet Union (which include a number of large oil exporters) rose about $150 billion between 2004 and 2006.  Again, the increase is almost entirely reflected in higher saving rates, as the oil exporters continue to save a large portion of the increased revenue resulting from higher oil prices. 

 

In contrast to the situation in emerging markets, the aggregate current account surplus for industrial countries other than the United States declined recently, from almost $350 billion in 2004 to about $200 billion in 2006; most of the decline reflected a sharp drop in the euro-area balance.  Thus, unlike in the 1996-2004 period, industrial countries other than the United States have absorbed part of the increase in the net supply of capital coming from the emerging-market economies.  In aggregate, the recent decline in the current account balances of non-U.S. industrial economies reflects an increase in investment rates; saving rates have generally remained little changed.7  In short, in the emerging markets, realized saving and current account surpluses have increased since 2004.  In the industrial countries, over the same period, current accounts have moved further into deficit, primarily because of higher realized rates of investment.

 

What about real interest rates?  Since I discussed these issues in March 2005, real interest rates have reversed some of their previous declines.  For example, in the United States, real yields on inflation-indexed government debt averaged 2.3 percent in 2006 as compared with 1.85 percent in 2004.  In the past few weeks, that yield has averaged about 2.4 percent.  Inflation-adjusted yields in other industrial countries have also started to move back up after falling in 2005.8      

 

How does this all fit together?  My reading of recent developments is that although some of the details have changed, the fundamental elements of the global saving glut remain in place.  Most important, the emerging-market countries and oil producers remain large net suppliers of financial capital to global markets.  The mix of suppliers of funds and the factors motivating that supply have changed a bit:  China and the oil exporters account for a larger share of the developing countries' aggregate surplus, and developing Asia excluding China accounts for somewhat less.  Also, the further expansion of the region's net supply of saving in the past two years appears to reflect primarily an increase in desired saving by the emerging-market countries, whereas the previous increase in net saving also involved some decline in desired investment in East Asia after the financial crises of the 1990s.  Exchange rate policies in Asia have also influenced desired saving in that region.

 

Further increases in net capital flows from the developing economies, all else being equal, should have further depressed real interest rates around the world.  But as I have noted, in the past few years, real interest rates have moved up a bit.  This increase does not imply that the global saving glut has dissipated.  However, it does suggest that, at the margin, desired investment net of desired saving must have risen in the industrial countries enough to offset any increase in desired saving by emerging-market countries.  This characterization is certainly consistent with the pickup in investment rates in the industrial countries, which I noted earlier, and it is also consistent, more generally, with the recovery of domestic demand growth in Europe, Japan, and other parts of the industrial world.  In summary, economic growth over the past few years, especially in industrial countries, has apparently been sufficient to increase the net demand for saving and thus to raise global real interest rates somewhat.

 

Once again, however, I do not want to rely exclusively on this line of explanation for the behavior of long-term real interest rates, as other factors have no doubt been relevant.  In particular, term premiums appear recently to have risen from what may have been unsustainably low levels, in part because of the greater recent volatility in financial markets and investors' demands for increased compensation for risk-taking.

 

Are Current Account Imbalances a Problem?

This analysis of the sources of global imbalances does not address the critical normative question:  Are the current account imbalances that we see today a problem?  Not everyone would agree that they are, for several reasons. 

 

First, these external imbalances are to a significant extent a market phenomenon and, in the case of the U.S. deficit, reflect the attractiveness of both the U.S. economy overall and the depth, liquidity, and legal safeguards associated with its capital markets.9  Of course, some foreign governments have intervened in foreign exchange markets and invested the proceeds in U.S. and other capital markets, which most likely has led to greater imbalances than would otherwise exist.  But the supply of capital from foreign governments is not as large as that from foreign private investors.  From 1998 through 2001, even as the U.S. current account deficit widened substantially, official capital flows into the United States were quite small.  During the years 2002 through 2006, net official capital inflows picked up substantially but still corresponded to less than half (47 percent) of the U.S. current account deficit over the period.  On a gross basis, during the same period, private foreign inflows were three times official capital flows.10  Moreover, even public investors are motivated to some extent by the attractions of the U.S. economy and U.S. capital markets.

 

Second, current account imbalances can help reduce tendencies toward recession, on the one hand, or overheating and inflation, on the other.11  During the late 1990s, for example, the developing Asian economies that had experienced financial crises and consequent collapses in domestic investment benefited from being able to run trade surpluses, which helped strengthen aggregate demand and employment.  During that same period, the trade deficits run by the United States allowed domestic demand to grow strongly without creating significant inflationary pressures.  Until a few years ago, the euro area was growing slowly and thus also benefited from running trade surpluses; more recently, as domestic demand in Europe has recovered, the trade surplus has declined.

 

Third, although the U.S. current account deficit is certainly not sustainable at its current level, U.S. liabilities to foreigners are not, at this point, putting an exceptionally large burden on the American economy.  The net international investment position (NIIP) of the United States, although at a substantial negative 19 percent of GDP, is still smaller than the negative NIIP of several other industrial economies.  As a fraction of net household wealth, which totaled almost $56 trillion in 2006, the negative NIIP is even smaller--less than 5 percent.  Moreover, the U.S. investment income balance, which essentially represents the debt service on the NIIP, remains positive, at least for now.  Thus, even after years of current account deficits and corresponding increases in net liabilities, the United States continues to earn more on its foreign investments than it pays on its foreign liabilities.  And, as best we can tell, the share of U.S. assets in foreign portfolios does not seem excessive relative to the importance of the United States in the global economy.

 

All that said, the current pattern of external imbalances--the export of capital from the developing countries to the industrial economies, particularly the United States--may prove counterproductive over the longer term.  I noted some reasons for concern in my earlier speech, and they remain relevant today.

 

First, the United States and other industrial economies face the prospect of aging populations and of workforces that are growing more slowly.  These trends enhance the need to save (to support future retirees) and may reduce incentives to invest (because workforces eventually will shrink).  If the United States saved more, one likely outcome would be a reduction in the U.S. current account deficit and in the rate at which the country is adding to its liabilities to the rest of the world.

 

Second, the large U.S. current account deficit cannot persist indefinitely because the ability of the United States to make debt service payments and the willingness of foreigners to hold U.S. assets in their portfolios are both limited.  Adjustment must eventually take place, and the process of adjustment will have both real and financial consequences.  For example, in the United States, the growth of export-oriented sectors such as manufacturing has been restrained by the shifts in relative prices and foreign demand associated with the U.S. trade deficit.  Ultimately, the necessary reduction in the trade and current account deficits will entail shifting resources out of sectors producing nontraded goods and services to those producing tradables.  The greater the needed adjustment, the more potentially disruptive and costly these shifts may be.  Similarly, external adjustment for China and other surplus countries will involve shifting resources out of the export sector and into industries geared toward meeting domestic consumption needs; that necessary shift, too, will likely be less disruptive if it occurs earlier and thus less rapidly and on a smaller scale. 

 

On the financial side, if U.S. current account deficits were to persist at near their current levels, foreign investors would ultimately become satiated with dollar assets, and financing the deficit at a reasonable cost would become difficult.  Earlier reduction of global imbalances would reduce the potential strains associated with financing a large quantity of international liabilities and likely allow a smoother adjustment in financial markets.

 

Finally, in the longer term, the developing world should be the recipient, not the provider, of financial capital.  Because developing countries tend to have high ratios of labor to capital and to be away from the technological frontier, the potential returns to investment in those countries are high.  Thus, capital flows toward those countries should benefit both them and the countries providing the capital.

 

Prospects for Reducing External Imbalances

What are the prospects for a gradual and orderly rebalancing of spending and external accounts around the world?  The brief answer is that signs of progress have appeared but that most countries have only just begun to undertake the policy changes that will ultimately be needed.

 

Recently, the pickup in economic growth outside the United States, together with changes in the real exchange rate and other relative prices, has assisted the process of current account adjustment.  Notably, during 2006, foreign growth helped U.S. real exports of goods and services grow 9.3 percent, and exports of capital goods rose 10.8 percent.  Some of the gain in foreign growth is cyclical, but some is due to economic reforms (in both industrial and non-industrial countries) and thus may be more persistent.  Overall, we have seen some modest indications of improvement in the U.S. external balance recently.  For example, the non-oil trade deficit has declined modestly, from 3.7 percent of U.S. GDP in 2004 to 3.5 percent of GDP in 2006.  In addition, in 2006, net exports made a positive contribution to U.S. real GDP growth, the first year that had happened since 1995.  Net exports also contributed to U.S. growth in the first half of 2007.

 

As is well known, however, further progress on the U.S. current account seems unlikely without significant increases in public and private saving in the United States.  The U.S. federal budget deficit has declined recently and is officially projected to improve further over the next few years.  Unfortunately, as I have noted, the United States has already reached the leading edge of major demographic changes that will result in an older population and a more slowly growing workforce.  A major effort to increase public and private saving is needed to prepare for the economic consequences of this demographic transition and to address external imbalances.

 

 

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