环球外汇讯息频道

央行“品牌”受威胁

2013-06-05 15:26

现代央行“品牌”开始于80年代早期的美国,沃尔克(Paul Volcker)担任美联储(Fed)主席的时候。面临高通胀势头,沃尔克对其宣战——并获得胜利。为了提供长期反通胀情境,他不止改变了预期和经济行为。他也极大地增强了美联储在公众、金融市场和决策圈中的地位。

沃尔克的胜利通过立法和实践制度化,使央行获得了更大的自治权,在某些情况下,不受长期政治约束的限制。对许多人来说,央行现在代表可靠性和负责任。简单地说,人们相信央行将做正确的事;他们也这样做了。

任何企业高管都会告诉你,品牌将间接驱动行为。本质上,品牌是一个承诺;强大的品牌持续履行承诺——基于质量、价格、或经验。在某些情况下,消费者会受到品牌的影响,甚至购买采购不大了解的产品。

事实上,品牌发送出的信号便于手头任务的完成。在一些特殊的情况下——想想苹果公司、伯克希尔?哈撒韦公司、Facebook和谷歌——他们充当了重要的行为变动催化剂。在这个过程中,他们经常从本质上将定价和基本面区分开来。

基于沃尔克的成功,西方央行使用其品牌来维持低而稳定的通货膨胀。通过发出遏制价格压力的信号,他们改变通胀预期——从基本上说服公众和政府来承担这个重任。

然而,在过去的几年里,通货膨胀威胁已不是问题。相反,西方央行不得不面对市场失灵,金融体系支离破碎,货币政策传导机制堵塞以及产出和就业的缓慢增长。由于在实现预期结果方面面临着更大的挑战,他们基本上把政策和品牌力量推向极限。

这在央行积极强调沟通和政策指导方面表现得尤为明显。这两方面都被更广泛的使用——事实上,已达到极端的水平——以在流动性陷阱的背景下辅助非常规扩张的资产负债表。

现在,公司高管还将告诉你,品牌管理是一件棘手的事。在大众情绪过激的时候,维持或控制你的品牌特别困难。

苹果公司股票今年就出现了这种状况。苹果公司的品牌本质上创造了一种“魔力”。以市场观点来看,苹果不仅不断创新,也抵挡住了任何竞争对手,投资者将该公司股价推升至令人眩晕的高度。

在加州,Facebook发现其品牌推动推动了该公司首次公开发行(IPO)的宣传。鼓励投资者兴奋,令他们超额认购,承销商将IPO的价格提高至远远高于先前认定的合理价位。

在这两个案例中,品牌力量不仅仅导致价格行为脱离基本面,也造成了过度的危险,当价格行为转变时,损害了品牌。

不论多么强大,品牌不能永远将定价从基本面中区分出去。因此,尽管股市上行使许多个股创下新高,苹果和Facebook目前正在纪录水平的一半区域交投。他们的优势和影响力不再是毋庸置疑的。

西方央行应该花点时间反思这些经验。一些人积极鼓励市场将许多金融资产的价格推升至不受基本面保障的水平。其他人消极旁观。事实上,似乎只有将要退休的央行行长,如英国央行(BOE)行长金恩(Mervyn King),公开表示担忧。

这种行为是可以理解的。央行行长们基本上是希望金融市场炒作可以帮助提升基本面。即价格行为将会同时触发“财富效应”和“动物精神”,从而诱导消费者花更多的钱,公司大量投资。

远离最优政策世界,央行行长们被迫长期依赖不完美的方法。这将导致间接损害风险上升和意想不到的后果。

市场信号更加扭曲,加剧了资源的不当配置。由于日益升高的价格,投资者正在累积更多的风险。在日益定价过高的金融世界里,基于基本面的投资让位给疯狂的廉价投资探索之旅。

如果央行配得上负责任的机构的声誉,兑现自己的承诺,这一切对经济的影响不会太大。但如果他们不这样——因为他们没有从政客和决策者那得到足够的支持——结果就不仅仅是失望了。他们将损害自身地位和未来政策立场的有效性。

由于远超出了舒适区域,央行面临着不同寻常的品牌管理风险。他们之前兑现承诺和期望的能力使得金融市场的预期定价水平超过了央行可以实现的水平。

言下之意不是央行应该立刻停止他们的超级激进主义非常规措施。而是他们应该对政策效果的固有局限性更开放。

西方央行需要变得更加直言不讳,在向政治家和决策者施压时更有说服力。否则,冒着损害品牌的风险,他们最终将成为下一代面临的众多挑战中的一员。

The Threat to the Central-Bank Brand

2013-06-05 15:26

The “branding” of modern central banking started in the United States in the early 1980’s under then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. Facing worrisomely high and debilitating inflation, Volcker declared war against it – and won. In delivering secular disinflation, he did more than change expectations and economic behavior. He also greatly enhanced the Fed’s standing among the general public, in financial markets, and in policy circles.

Volcker’s victory was institutionalized in legislation and practices that granted central banks greater autonomy and, in some cases, formal independence from long-standing political constraints. To many, central banks now stood for reliability and responsible power. Simply put, they could be trusted to do the right thing; and they delivered.

As any corporate executive will tell you, brands can be consequential drivers of behavior. In essence, a brand is a promise; and powerful brands deliver on their promise consistently – be it based on quality, price, or experience. In some cases, consumers have been known to act on the strength of brand alone, even purchasing a product with relatively limited knowledge about it.

Indeed, brands send signals that facilitate the task at hand. In some special cases – think of Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Facebook, and Google – they have also acted as a significant catalyst for behavioral modification. In the process, they often insert a wedge that essentially disconnects fundamentals from pricing.

Building on Volcker’s success, Western central banks have used their brand to help maintain low and stable inflation. By signaling their intention to contain price pressures, they would alter inflation expectations – and thus essentially convince the public and the government to do the heavy lifting.

In the last few years, however, the threat of inflation has not been an issue. Instead, Western central banks have had to confront market failures, fragmented financial systems, clogged monetary-policy transmission mechanisms, and sluggish growth in output and employment. Facing greater challenges in delivering desired outcomes, they have essentially pushed both policies and their brand power to the limit.

This is apparent in central banks’ aggressive emphasis on communication and forward policy guidance. Both have been used more widely – indeed, taken to extreme levels – to supplement the unconventional expansion of balance sheets in the context of liquidity traps.

Now, corporate executives will also tell you that brand management is a tricky affair. It is particularly hard to maintain or control your brand when popular sentiment overshoots.

This is what happened to Apple’s stock this year. As brilliantly explained by Guy Kawasaki in his book on the company, the brand essentially created “enchantment.” Extrapolating this into a market view that Apple could not only innovate continuously, but also fend off any and all competitors, investors took the company’s share price to dizzying heights.

Elsewhere in California, Facebook found its brand fueling enormous hype for the company’s initial public offering. Encouraged by investor excitement and indications of over-subscription, underwriters hiked the IPO’s price well above what they had first deemed reasonable.

In both of these cases, and in many others, brand power did more than lead to price behavior that was disconnected from fundamentals; it also caused a dangerous overshoot, which, when subsequently reversed, damaged the brand.

However powerful, brands cannot divorce pricing from fundamentals entirely and forever. Accordingly, and despite a significant market rally that has taken many individual stocks to record highs, Apple and Facebook currently trade at almost half their record levels. Their dominance and influence are no longer unquestioned.

Western central bankers should spend some time reflecting on these experiences. Some have actively encouraged markets to take the prices of many financial assets to levels no longer warranted by fundamentals. Others have stood by passively. Indeed, it seems that only retiring central bankers, such as Mervyn King of the Bank of England, are willing to raise concerns publicly.

This behavior is understandable. Central bankers are basically hoping that financial-market hype by itself can help pull fundamentals higher. The idea is that price action will trigger both the “wealth effect” and “animal spirits,” thus inducing consumers to spend more and companies to invest in future capacity.

Far from a world of optimal policy, central bankers have been forced into prolonged reliance on imperfect approaches. From my professional vantage point, I sense a mounting risk of collateral damage and unintended consequences.

Market signals are more distorted, fueling resource misallocations. Investors are piling on more risk at increasingly elevated prices. Fundamentals-based investing is giving way to a frantic search for relative bargains in an increasingly overpriced financial world.

All this will not matter much if central banks live up to their reputation as responsible and powerful institutions that deliver on their economic promises. But if they do not – essentially because they are not getting the required support from politicians and other policymakers – then the downside will involve more than just disappointed outcomes. They will have materially damaged their standing and, consequently, the future effectiveness of their policy stance.

By extending well beyond their comfort zone, today’s central banks face unusual brand-management risks. Their prior ability to deliver on promises and expectations has made today’s financial markets take the forward pricing of the economy to levels that exceed what central bankers alone can reasonably deliver.

The implication is not that central banks should immediately halt their hyper-activism and unconventional measures. It is that they should be much more open about the inherent limitations of their policy effectiveness in current circumstances.

Western central bankers need to become much more vocal and, one hopes, more persuasive in placing pressure on politicians and other policymakers. Otherwise, risking major brand damage, they will end up adding yet another item to an already-overloaded plate of challenges for the next generation.

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