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中国面临利率挑战

2013-05-22 15:07

中国从中等收入国家向现代化、高收入国家的成功转变很大程度上取决于中国政府未来10年进行的改革。金融改革应是首要议题,以利率自由化为起点。但利率自由化风险和回报并存,有赢家,也有输家,所以决策者必须谨慎。

2012年,中国人民银行允许商业银行浮动存款利率上升10%,贷款利率下降20%。因此,如果中国央行设定的利率为3%,商业银行存款利率可高达3.3%。许多分析师认为,这一政策引入了商业银行之间的竞争,是中国将很快开放的一个迹象。

但任何向利率自由化迈进的步伐都存在潜在的成本和收益。中国决策者首先应该仔细衡量当前金融抑制的影响(维持利率低于市场均衡水平)。

一个国家金融抑制的程度可以通过平均名义国内生产总值(GDP)增长率和平均长期利率之间的差距进行估算,差距越大表明抑制越严重。在过去的20年中,中国的这项数据为8%,而新兴经济体的平均水平约为4%,利率完全实现市场化的发达经济体则大多接近为零。

发展中国家的央行人为的保持低利率以确保公共部门有足够的低成本融资,同时避免巨额财政赤字和高通胀。但是,从长远来看,这样的低利率也可能阻碍家庭储蓄,导致私人投资不足,最终导致整个经济投资不足,这曾发生在许多拉美国家。

在许多方面,中国打破了陈规。尽管存在严重的金融抑制,中国拥有极高的储蓄和投资,这主要是由于中国家庭强大的储蓄倾向和大规模政府推动的投资,尤其是地方政府。

在中国,金融抑制的副作用主要反映在经济失衡。低存款利率鼓励储户,尤其是家庭,投资固定资产,而不是将钱存入银行。这导致部分行业产能过剩——例如,中国日益增长的房地产泡沫——而其他部门投资不足。

更重要的是,金融抑制扩大了国有企业(SOEs)和中小型企业(SMEs)之间的差距,前者通常享有商业银行人为的低利率,后者被迫支付影子银行系统中较常高的利率(或无法获得外部融资)。

利率自由化——连同其他金融改革——将有助于提高资本配置的效率,优化经济结构。它也有可能成为中国深化金融市场的一个先决条件,尤其是债券市场。同时它将为浮动人民币汇率和中国进一步开放资本和金融账户——人民币国际化的先决条件——打下坚实的基础。

中小企业和家庭储蓄从利率自由化中的获利最大。但金融抑制的“赢家”——商业银行和国有企业——将面临新的挑战。

在现行体制下,存款利率和贷款利率之间的利差转化为商业银行的垄断利润。通过增加利息收入的竞争,减少净利率差异,放宽利率可能会降低银行的盈利能力,而国有企业可能由于更高的融资成本受损严重。

在中国,利率自由化的另一个主要风险源于公共债务的上升,尤其是地方政府债务在全球金融危机之后大幅增加。确定公共债务长期可持续性的一个关键参数是利率和名义GDP增长率之间的差距。在中国,目前总公共债务相当于国内生产总值的约60%-70%——可管理的负担。但是,利率自由化后,公共部门债务/ GDP比率预计将大幅增加。

鉴于这些挑战,中国领导人在利率自由化时必须采取谨慎的做法。逐步实行将允许失败者调整他们的行为以免为时过晚,同时维持在关键改革方面的势头,这应该是决策者的首要任务。毕竟,正如中国总理李克强所说的那样,“改革是中国最大的红利”。

China’s Interest-Rate Challenge

2013-05-22 15:07

China’s successful transformation from a middle-income country to a modern, high-income country will depend largely on the reforms that the government undertakes over the next decade. Financial reforms should top the agenda, beginning with interest-rate liberalization. But liberalizing interest rates carries both risks and rewards, and will create both winners and losers, so policymakers must be prudent in their approach.

In 2012, the People’s Bank of China allowed commercial banks to float interest rates on deposits upward by 10% from the benchmark, and on bank loans downward by 20%. So, if the PBOC sets the interest rate on one-year deposits at 3%, commercial banks can offer depositors a rate as high as 3.3%. Many analysts viewed this policy, which introduced a small degree of previously non-existent competition among commercial banks, as a sign that China would soon liberalize interest rates further.

But any further move toward interest-rate liberalization must account for all potential costs and benefits. Chinese policymakers should begin with a careful examination of the effects of current financial repression (the practice of keeping interest rates below the market equilibrium level).

The degree of financial repression in a country can be estimated by calculating the gap between the average nominal GDP growth rate and the average long-term interest rate, with a larger gap indicating more severe repression. In the last 20 years, this gap has been eight percentage points for China, compared to roughly four percentage points on average for emerging economies and nearly zero for most developed economies, where interest rates are fully liberalized.

Developing-country central banks keep interest rates artificially low to ensure sufficient low-cost financing for the public sector, while avoiding large fiscal deficits and high inflation. But, in the long run, such low interest rates may also discourage households from saving, lead to insufficient private-sector investment, and eventually result in economy-wide underinvestment, as occurred in many Latin American countries in the past.

In many ways, China is breaking the mold. Despite severe financial repression, it has experienced extremely high savings and investment, owing mainly to Chinese households’ strong propensity to save and massive government-driven investment, particularly by local governments.

The adverse effects of financial repression in China are reflected primarily in its economic imbalances. Low interest rates on deposits encourage savers, especially households, to invest in fixed assets, rather than keep their money in banks. This leads to overcapacity in some sectors – reflected in China’s growing real-estate bubble, for example – and underinvestment in others.

More important, financial repression is contributing to a widening disparity between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), with the former enjoying artificially low interest rates from commercial banks and the latter forced to pay extremely high interest rates in the shadow-banking system (or unable to access external financing at all).

Interest-rate liberalization – together with other financial reforms – would help to improve the efficiency of capital allocation and to optimize the economic structure. It might also be a prerequisite for China to deepen its financial markets, particularly the bond market, laying a solid foundation for floating the renminbi’s exchange rate and opening China’s capital and financial accounts further – a precondition for the renminbi’s eventual adoption as an international reserve currency.

SMEs and households with net savings stand to gain the most from interest-rate liberalization. But financial repression’s “winners” – commercial banks and SOEs – will face new challenges.

Under the current system, the fixed differentials between interest rates on deposits and those on loans translate into monopolistic profits for commercial banks. By creating more competition for interest income and reducing net interest-rate differentials, liberalized interest rates could reduce banks’ profitability, while SOEs will likely suffer the most, owing to much higher financing costs.

Another major risk of interest-rate liberalization in China stems from rising public debt, particularly local-government debt, which has grown significantly in the wake of the global financial crisis. A key parameter for determining the long-run sustainability of public debt is the gap between interest rates and the nominal GDP growth rate. In China, total public debt currently amounts to roughly 60-70% of GDP – a manageable burden. But, after interest rates are liberalized, the public sector’s debt/GDP ratio is expected to increase substantially.

Given these challenges, China’s leaders must take a cautious approach to interest-rate liberalization. Gradual implementation would enable the losers to adjust their behavior before it is too late, while sustaining momentum on pivotal reforms, which should be policymakers’ top priority. After all, as Premier Li Keqiang has put it, “reforms will pay the biggest dividend for China.”

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