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什么是量化寬松,為什么大家都在等它救市?

Bob Sellers 2019年11月21日

很多華爾街人士并不認為,新一輪的量化寬松會刺激經濟的進一步增長。

美聯儲于兩周前再次宣布降息,這已經是美國今年第三次降息了。消息一經傳出,立即引起了各大媒體的關注。但是除了降息之外,華爾街(和華盛頓)也在爭論美聯儲是否應該祭出另一個“大殺器”——量化寬松,以及它能否使美國的經濟增長保持到第11個年頭——而且這一年恰恰還是美國的大選年。

IVOL ETF基金的投資組合經理、Quadratic Capital公司的創始人南希·戴維斯表示:“量化寬松是傳統工具失效后,才會使用的一種非常規的貨幣政策工具。”這種非常規工具幫助我們走出了上一輪經濟危機,但2019年畢竟不是2008年了,很多人認為,量化寬松已經不再是一劑靈丹妙藥。

這里的“很多人”并不包括美國總統特朗普。他曾經多次呼吁美聯儲采取降息政策。比如今年春天,他不僅呼吁美聯儲降息,還敦促美聯儲實施量化寬松,以提振經濟和股市。他在4月5日的一條推特中說:“(如果實施了量化寬松),你會看到經濟就像坐火箭一樣。”而這還是在美國第一季度的GDP增長了3.1%之后。據兩周前公布的消息,美國今年第三季度的GDP增速下降至1.9%,這也讓特朗普再次打起了降息的主意,并點名批評美聯儲主席杰羅姆·鮑威爾沒有跟上其他國家的降息步伐。

2008年,美國銀行業一度到了崩潰的邊緣。就在這時,美聯儲放出了量化寬松的大招,如同一個英雄踏著七色祥云拯救了這一切。當時的美聯儲主席本·伯南克是“大蕭條”的學生,他通過量化寬松政策增加了金融系統的流動性和儲備金。量化寬松是如何起作用的?南希·戴維斯解釋道:“美聯儲會購買特定數額的金融資產,從而抬高了這些金融資產的價格,降低了它們的收益率。”

具體來說,美聯儲購買了大量由抵押貸款支持的證券——當時很多金融機構連碰都不想碰這些證券——以及大量國債和其他債券。總的來說,這種做法確保了金融機構手里不至于只剩下一些毫無價值的債務工具(比如一些抵押貸款證券)。美聯儲通過這種大規模的購買行為(是為“量化”),全面壓低了利率,降低了消費者和企業的借貸成本(是為“寬松”)。戴維斯表示:“量化寬松的理念,是讓企業和個人可以在較長時間里以很低的成本借錢,從而刺激經濟。”

到了2014年,在經歷了三輪量化寬松之后,美聯儲的資產負債表總值接近4.5萬億美元。而在經濟危機之前的2006年,這個數字還不到9000億美元。不過量化寬松政策確實奏效了。那么應該如何退出量化寬松政策呢?答案就是讓美聯儲“縮表”。

2017年,在美聯儲主席珍妮特·耶倫的領導下,美聯儲開始對資產負債表進行“正常化”,不再在債務證券到期時將收益(資金)進行再投資。沒有了美聯儲作為金融市場的客戶,債券發行者只得提高收益率和降低價格以保持競爭力。不過由于“正常化”的過程持續了好幾年(直到最近的一次波動,我們將在稍后討論),這個過程對利率并沒有產生太大影響。回歸“正常化”也使得美聯儲可以在未來形勢必要時再次啟動量化寬松政策。而至于什么樣的形勢才是啟動量化寬松所“必要”的,各方的爭論還在持續。

量化寬松會刺激經濟增長嗎?

很多華爾街人士并不認為,新一輪的量化寬松——甚至是繼續直接下調聯邦儲備金利率,會刺激經濟的進一步增長。仲量聯行(JLL)的首席經濟學家瑞安·塞維里諾指出:“你不能說‘我們正處于有史以來最好的經濟時期,但我們需要量化寬松來改善我們的境況。’” 塞維里諾認為,降息并不能夠解決經濟增長疲軟的問題。“今年第二季度,企業的投資出現了下跌。阻礙企業投資的主要是政策的不確定性,包括貿易的不確定性,而不是利率問題。”他還擔心當下一次經濟衰退到來時,量化寬松的效果將會有所減弱。“很可能我們使用了很多貨幣武器,卻并不會產生很大的影響。”

上個月,關于量化寬松的爭論再次有所抬頭。由于成員銀行的隔夜交易流動性不足,當時美聯儲不得不向金融體系注入現金。由于利率的短暫飆升,加之美聯儲出手安撫市場,最終導致美聯儲主席鮑威爾宣布,美聯儲將每月購買600億美元的短期債券。在很多人看來,這聽起來就像是量化寬松了。

不過南希·戴維斯表示,這并不是量化寬松,因為美聯儲購買的是短期債券,而不是長期債券。“實際上,這種買入行為絕不能與我們在金融危機后實施的大規模資產購買計劃相混淆。”

總之,新一輪的量化寬松很可能不會有太大的效果。一些商業調查顯示,多數企業的首席執行官對降息并不感冒,而是更加關心貿易政策上是否有明確的方向,因為它對經濟和商業投資行為的影響更大。塞維里諾表示:“如果企業變得過于悲觀,最終會影響到招聘行為和工資增長,進而會影響到消費者。”

美國多年不溫不火的GDP增長率表明,經濟增長并非只是降息那么簡單。在這里,塞維里諾引用了馬斯洛的一句名言:“如果你唯一的工具是個錘子,那么你看什么都像釘子。”

量化寬松可能是一個強有力的“貨幣錘子”,但目前還算適度增長的經濟,則未必是一個合適的釘子。它只不過在某些人看來像一個釘子罷了。(財富中文網)

譯者:樸成奎

The Federal Reserve lowered interest rates again at two weeks ago, for a third time this year, and that got the headlines. But beyond the headlines there’s an argument taking place on Wall Street (and in Washington) over whether another tool in the Fed’s arsenal—quantitative easing—could help keep the economy expanding into an eleventh year, which also happens to be an election year.

“Quantitative easing is an unconventional monetary policy tool used after conventional tools have become ineffective,” says Nancy Davis, Portfolio Manager of the IVOL ETF and Founder of Quadratic Capital. The unconventional tool helped get us out of the Great Recession, but 2019 is not 2008, and there are many who believe QE is no longer a magic elixir.

That doesn’t include President Trump, who has repeatedly called on the Fed to lower interest rates, including in the spring, when he also pushed for the Fed to employ quantitative easing in order to give the economy and stock market a boost. In an April 5th tweet he said, “You would see a rocket ship.” And that was after a first quarter GDP of 3.1%. Two week’s ago, GDP print of 1.9% compelled him to return to the topic of lower rates again, calling out Fed Chief Jerome Powell for not keeping pace with other countries in lowering their key rates.

There was a time when quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve was like the cavalry riding in to save the day. Then-Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, a student of Great Depression, utilized the approach to add liquidity and reserves to the financial system when it looked like the banking industry was on the verge of collapse in 2008. Nancy Davis explains how QE works. “The Fed buys specified amounts of financial assets, thus raising the prices of those financial assets and lowering their yields.”

Specifically, the Fed bought Mortgage-backed securities—at a time when many institutions wouldn’t touch them—as well as Treasury notes and bonds. Collectively, these actions made sure that financial institutions wouldn’t be left with worthless debt instruments (like some of the MBS’s). It pushed down interest rates across the board with such large (“quantitative”) actions, making borrowing cheaper for consumers and businesses alike (that’s the “easing” part). “The idea,” says Davis, “is that individuals and corporations could borrow money cheaply for a long time, stimulating the economy.”

By 2014, following three rounds of QE, the Fed’s balance sheet was approaching $4.5 trillion, compared to a pre-financial crisis balance sheet in 2006 of less than $900 billion. The approach had worked. But how do you undo quantitative easing? By shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet.

In 2017, under the guidance of Chair Janet Yellin, the Fed started to “normalize” its balance sheet by not reinvesting the proceeds (money) when the debt securities matured. Without the Fed as a customer in the financial markets, issuers had to raise yields and lower prices to be competitive. Fortunately the effects on interest rates have been modest because the normalization has occurred over a number of years (until a recent blip, which we’ll address in a moment). The return to “normal” allows the Fed to use QE again in the future if conditions call for it. The debate continues over what those qualifying conditions are.

Will QE stimulate growth?

Many on Wall Street don’t believe that another round of QE—or even continuing to lower the Fed Funds rate directly—will stimulate more growth. Ryan Severino, Chief Economist at JLL, puts it this way: “You can’t say we’re in the best economy we’ve ever seen but we need quantitative easing to improve our situation.” Severino believes that lower interest rates are not the issue with tepid economic growth. “Investment by businesses fell in the 2nd quarter. The things that are holding them back are policy uncertainties, including trade uncertainties—not interest rates.” And he worries that when the next recession comes, QE will be less effective. “We’d be using a lot of our monetary artillery where it won’t have a lot of impact.”

The QE argument also reared its head last month when the Fed had to infuse the financial system with cash when there was a shortage of liquidity for member banks in overnight transactions. The momentary spike in rates, and the entry of the Fed to calm the markets down, led Chairman Powell to announce that the Fed will be buying $60 billion of short term debt each month. To a lot of people that sounds like quantitative easing.

Nancy Davis says it’s not QE because the Fed will be buying short term, not long term, debt. “In reality, those purchases should in no way be confused with the large-scale asset purchase programs that we deployed after the financial crisis.”

Another round of QE might not have much of an effect anyway. Business surveys show that CEO’s are less interested in lower interest rates and more interested in a clear direction on trade policy because of how it affects the economy and business investment. “If companies become too pessimistic,” says Severino, “it’ll eventually spill over into hiring and wage increases. That could affect the consumer.”

Several years of tepid GDP growth proves that the formula for growing the economy is not always as simple as lowering interest rates. “But if the only tool you have is a hammer,” says Severino, quoting Maslow, “then everything looks like a nail.”

QE may qualify as a monetary hammer, but today’s moderately growing economy is not necessarily a nail. It just looks like one to some people.

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