FlyTitle: The world economy

The economy is reeling from an unusual illness. Interest-rate cuts are only a partial remedy

不同寻常的疾病正在重创经济。仅靠降息并不能药到病除

经济学人双语版-染病的钞票 Sneezy money

IF THE FINAL week of February saw financial markets jolted awake to the dangers of a covid-19 pandemic, the first week of March has seen policymakers leaping into action. The realisation that global GDP will probably shrink for part of this year, and the looming risk of a financial panic and credit-crunch, has led central banks to slash interest rates at a pace last seen in the financial crisis of 2007-09.

如果说2月最后一周金融市场才猛然意识到新冠肺炎全球大流行的危险,那么到3月第一周,政策制定者已迅速采取了行动。认识到全球GDP可能会在今年部分时间里萎缩,加之金融恐慌和信贷紧缩的危险逐渐逼近,各国央行大幅降息。上一次如此迅猛的降息还是在2007至2009年的金融危机期间。

On March 3rd the Federal Reserve lowered its policy rate by 0.5 percentage points, two weeks before its scheduled monetary-policy meeting. Central banks in Australia, Canada, Indonesia and England have also cut rates. The European Central Bank is expected to follow. If the money-markets are right, more Fed cuts are in store. A composite measure of the global monetary-policy rate, compiled by Morgan Stanley, a bank, is expected to fall to 0.73% by June, from 1% at the start of the year and 2% at the start of 2019.

本月3日,距召开货币政策会议尚有两周,美联储将政策利率下调了0.5个百分点。澳大利亚、加拿大和印度尼西亚、英国的央行也纷纷下调了利率。预计欧洲央行也会跟上。如果货币市场状况尚可,美联储还会继续降息。摩根士丹利编制的全球货币政策利率的综合指标预计到6月将从今年初的1%降至0.73%,而2019年初是2%。

Yet there is an uneasy feeling that a flurry of rate cuts may not be the solution to this downturn. In part that reflects the fact that they are already so low. A golden rule of crisis-fighting is that in order to be credible you should always have more ammunition available. In 2008-10 the global composite policy rate fell by three percentage points. Today, outside America, rich-world interest rates are close to, at, or below zero. Even the Fed has limited scope to cut much further—one reason, perhaps, why share prices failed to revive in the hours after its latest move.

然而人们还是心神不宁,担心一连串降息可能无法逆转此次衰退。这种不安在一定程度上源自利率已然很低的事实。对抗危机的黄金法则是,要想策略令人信服,就得始终拥有更多弹药。从2008年到2010年,全球综合政策利率下降了三个百分点。如今,美国以外的富裕国家的利率不是接近零,就是已经为零,甚至低于零。就连美联储也缺乏进一步大幅降息的空间,这也许是在它最近一次降息后几小时内股价没有反弹的原因之一。

The tension also stems from the peculiarity of the shock that the economy faces—one that involves demand, supply and confidence effects. The duration of the disruption mainly depends on the severity of the outbreak and the public-health measures undertaken to contain it. Given those uncertainties, policymakers know that while interest-rate cuts are an option, they also need fiscal and financial measures to help business and individuals withstand a temporary but excruciating cash crunch.

这种紧张情绪还源于这一次经济面临的冲击具有特殊性——它对需求、供给和信心都有影响。冲击持续的时间主要取决于疫情的严重程度以及为遏制疫情采取的公共卫生措施。鉴于这些不确定因素,政策制定者明白,虽然他们可以选择降息,但也需要采取财政和金融措施,帮助企业和个人抵抗暂时却严峻的现金危机。

One way the virus hurts the economy is by disrupting the supply of labour, goods and services. People fall ill. Schools close, forcing parents to stay at home. Quarantines might force workplaces to shut entirely. This is accompanied by sizeable demand effects. Some are unavoidable: sick people go out less and buy fewer goods. Public-health measures, too, restrict economic activity. Putting more money into consumers’ hands will do little to offset this drag, unlike your garden-variety downturn. Activity will resume only once the outbreak runs its course.

病毒损害经济的方式之一是干扰劳动力、商品以及服务的供应。人们病倒;学校停课,迫使父母们也待在家里。隔离措施可能会强制工作场所完全关闭。与此相伴的是相当大的需求效应。有些是不可避免的:患病的人出门少,买东西也少。公共卫生措施也限制了经济活动。与一般的经济低迷不同的是,让消费者拿到更多钱并不能抵消疫情的拖累。经济活动只有在疫情结束之后才能恢复。

Then there are nasty spillovers. Both companies and households will face a cash crunch. Consider a sample of 2,000-odd listed American firms. Imagine that their revenues dried up for three months but that they had to continue to pay their fixed costs, because they expected a sharp recovery. A quarter would not have enough spare cash to tide them over, and would have to try to borrow or retrench. Some might go bust. Researchers at the Bank for International Settlements, a club of central banks, find that over 12% of firms in the rich world generate too little income to cover their interest payments.

然后是严重而棘手的溢出效应。企业和家庭都将面临现金紧张。来看看2000多家美国上市公司构成的样本。想象一下它们在三个月里没有收入,但仍必须继续支付固定成本,因为它们期望经济会强劲复苏。其中四分之一的公司没有多余的资金来渡过难关,只能尝试去贷款或紧缩开支。有些可能会破产。央行组织国际清算银行的研究人员发现,富裕国家和地区中超过12%的公司无法产生足够的收入来支付利息。

Many workers do not have big safety buffers either. They risk losing their incomes and their jobs while still having to make mortgage repayments and buy essential goods. More than one in ten American adults would be unable to meet a $400 unexpected expense, equivalent to about two days’ work at average earnings, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. Fearing a hit to their pockets, people could start to hoard cash rather than spend, further worsening firms’ positions.

许多劳动者也没有多少安全缓冲。他们可能会失去收入和工作,但仍然要还按揭及购买生活必需品。美联储的一项调查显示,超过十分之一的美国成年人无法负担400美元的意外开支,按平均收入水平计算这大概相当于两天的工资。由于害怕钱包承压,人们可能会开始多攒钱少花钱,这将进一步恶化企业的状况。

Modelling the resulting hit to economic activity is no easy task. In China, which is a month ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the outbreak, a survey of purchasing managers shows that manufacturing output in February sank to its lowest levels since factory bosses were first surveyed in 2004. It seems likely that GDP will contract in the first quarter for the first time since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

对经济活动因此受到的冲击建模并非易事。中国爆发疫情比世界其他地区早了一个月。在那里,一项针对采购经理的调查显示,2月份制造业产出跌至2004年首次启动该调查以来的最低水平。自1976年毛泽东去世以来,GDP很可能第一次在第一季度出现萎缩。

Forecasters are pencilling in sharp falls in output elsewhere (see chart 1). Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckons global GDP will shrink at an annualised rate of 2.5% in the first quarter. With luck the slump will end once the virus stops spreading. But even if that happens the speed and size of the economic bounce-back also depends on the extent to which those costly spillovers are avoided.

预测机构预计世界其他地方的产出将急剧下降(见图表1)。高盛估计,第一季度全球GDP的年化收缩率将达2.5%。幸运的话,衰退将在病毒停止传播时止步。但即便如此,经济反弹的速度和规模也取决于能在多大程度上避免那些代价高昂的溢出效应。

经济学人双语版-染病的钞票 Sneezy money

That is why central bankers and finance ministries are turning to more targeted interventions (see chart 2). These fall into three broad categories: policies to ensure that credit flows smoothly through banks and money markets; measures to help companies bear fixed costs, such as rent and tax bills; and measures to protect workers by subsidising wage costs.

因此,各国央行官员和财政部正在采取更具针对性的干预措施(见图表2)。这些措施分为三大类:确保信贷在银行和货币市场中平稳流动的政策;帮助企业承担租金和税收等固定成本的措施;通过补贴工资成本来保护劳动者的措施。

经济学人双语版-染病的钞票 Sneezy money

Start with credit flows. Central banks and financial regulators have tried to ensure that markets do not seize up, but instead continue to provide funds to those who need them. On March 2nd the Bank of Japan conducted ¥500bn ($4.6bn) of repo operations to ensure enough liquidity in the system. The People’s Bank of China has offered 800bn yuan ($115bn, or 0.8% of GDP) in credit to banks so long as they use it to make loans to companies badly hit by the virus. Banks have been asked to go easy on firms whose loans are coming due.

先说信贷流动。央行和金融监管机构已努力确保市场不会失灵,而能继续向有需求者提供资金。3月2日,日本央行进行了5000亿日元(46亿美元)的回购操作,以保证金融系统有足够的流动性。中国人民银行向银行提供了8000亿元(相当于GDP的0.8%)的信贷,让它们向在疫情中受重创的企业提供贷款。银行已收到指令对贷款即将到期的企业予以宽限。

Governments are also helping firms with their costs, the second kind of intervention. Singapore plans corporate-tax breaks, and rental and tax rebates for commercial property. Korea will give cash to small firms struggling to pay wages. Italy will offer tax credits to firms that experience a 25% drop in turnover. In China the government has told state landlords to cut rents and given private-sector landlords subsidies to follow suit.

各国政府也正在帮助企业负担运营成本,这属于第二种干预措施。新加坡计划减免公司税,并对商业地产减免租金和退税。韩国将向发不出工资的小企业提供现金支持。意大利将向营业额下降25%的企业提供税收抵免。在中国,政府已要求国有物业减免租金,并补贴私有物业让它们也减免租金。

The final set of measures is meant to protect workers by preventing lay-offs and keeping incomes stable. China’s government has enacted a temporary cut to social-security contributions. Japan will subsidise wages of people who are forced to take time off to care for children or for sick relatives. Singapore has announced cash grants for employers of affected workers.

最后一类措施旨在通过防止裁员和稳定收入保护劳动者。中国政府已宣布暂时减免社保缴费。日本将向不得不请假照看孩子或患病亲属的人给予工资补贴。新加坡已宣布向受影响职工的雇主提供现金补贴。

Today these policies are being sporadically announced, and their implementation is uncertain. As the virus spreads, expect more interest-rate cuts—but also the systematic deployment of a more complex cocktail of economic remedies.■ 

现在这些政策都是零星宣布的,具体实施情况还不确定。随着病毒进一步蔓延,可以预期会有更多降息举措,同时也应预期将系统性地部署更为复杂的综合经济拯救措施。