FlyTitle: Free exchange

Economists hope yield-curve control can fight the next recession, but it may not be enough

经济学家希望能靠收益率曲线控制抵御下一次衰退,但这可能还不够

翻箱倒柜 Rummaging in the toolbox-书迷号 shumihao.com

MANY HAZARDS complicate the job of Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, from meddling presidents to pandemics. At the press conference following the Fed’s monetary-policy meeting on January 29th, he was grilled on its likely response to all of these. But Mr Powell’s biggest problem is a more enduring and global one: interest rates are stubbornly low. In recent months, members of the Fed’s Board of Governors have spoken about the need to prepare for future downturns. The Fed’s main policy rate will almost certainly be cut to zero, forcing it to rely once more on its “unconventional” tools. Mr Powell has said he is open to considering yield-curve control, a new approach borrowed from Japan. It is a promising innovation, but also a timid one, given the challenges the next recession will probably bring.

从爱指手画脚的总统到流行病的爆发,多种危险让美联储主席杰罗姆·鲍威尔的工作愈加复杂。在1月29日美联储货币政策会议后的新闻发布会上,他被追问美联储对所有这些问题可能的应对措施。但鲍威尔面临的最大问题是一个更持久、更全球性的问题:利率持续低位。近几个月来,美联储的理事们已经谈到了需要为未来的经济衰退做准备。几乎可以肯定,美联储的主要政策利率将被降至零,迫使它再次依赖其“非常规工具”。鲍威尔曾表示愿意考虑收益率曲线控制,这是借鉴自日本的一种新方法。鉴于下一次经济衰退可能带来的挑战,这是一项有前途的创新,却也是一项胆怯的创新。

During the global financial crisis the hope was that when recovery arrived overnight interest rates—central banks’ preferred policy lever—would rise, restoring business as usual. In fact, despite a resilient global expansion, few rich-world countries have left zero behind. America, the most obvious exception, discovered last year that it could not sustain an overnight rate above 2%, even with low unemployment and a government-budget deficit approaching 5% of GDP. Some economists reckon low rates are only a minor inconvenience. In a recent lecture Ben Bernanke, a former Fed chairman, argued that the unconventional tools used during and after the crisis worked reliably and effectively, and could do so again. Others would prefer to have more powerful, and comprehensible, monetary policy ready for the next downturn.

全球金融危机期间,人们曾希望等到经济复苏时,作为各国央行首选政策杠杆的隔夜利率将会上升,助力经济恢复正常。实际上,尽管全球恢复经济增长,但几乎没有几个发达国家的利率摆脱了零。最明显的例外是美国。不过,即使去年美国失业率较低,政府预算赤字接近GDP的5%,其隔夜利率也无法维持在2%以上。一些经济学家认为低利率只是一个小麻烦。在最近一次演讲中,前美联储主席本·伯南克认为,危机期间和之后使用的非常规工具很可靠也很有效,而且还可能再次发挥作用。另一些人则希望有更强大、更容易理解的货币政策来应对下一次衰退。

The natural extension of interest-rate policy would be to cut overnight rates into negative territory, as central banks in Europe and Japan have already done. But the room for manoeuvre is limited. Economists worry that even modestly negative rates risk destabilising the financial system, as banks become reluctant to pass on interest-rate cuts for fear that depositors will yank their savings out. Fewer worries attach to quantitative easing (QE), the Fed’s unconventional tool of first resort, though it too has its downsides.

利率政策的自然延伸是将隔夜利率降至负值,就像欧洲和日本的央行已经做的那样。但回旋的空间有限。经济学家担心,即使是小幅的负利率也有可能破坏金融体系的稳定,因为银行担心储户会把存款取出,所以不愿把降息传递下去。量化宽松是美联储首选的非常规工具,尽管它也有不利之处,但人们对它的担忧较少。

Before the crisis, the Fed traded bonds to keep overnight interest rates within a desired range. With QE, by contrast, bond purchases are an end in themselves. Rather than announce changes to rates, central bankers inform markets of the quantity of bonds they will buy (hence “quantitative”) with newly created money. When investors sell long-term government bonds to the central bank, the thinking goes, they use the cash they receive to buy other assets, such as corporate bonds or equities. Higher stock and bond prices in turn encourage firms to invest, boosting the economy.

危机前,美联储通过债券交易将隔夜利率维持在一个理想区间内。相比之下,使用量化宽松时,购买债券本身就是目的。央行官员不会宣布调整利率,而是通知市场他们将用新发行的货币购买的债券数量(因此叫做“量化”)。这种方式预计投资者在向央行出售长期政府债券后,会用收到的现金购买其他资产,如公司债券或股票。更高的股票和债券价格反过来再鼓励公司投资,促进经济增长。

Some evidence suggests that QE is subject to diminishing returns, however, and works best when credit markets are in crisis, which is not the case in most recessions. Asset-purchase programmes can also be difficult for investors to interpret. In 2013, for example, when the Fed signalled that it might curtail purchases, markets spasmed. In November Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve Board governor, noted that the Fed’s announcements regarding QE often wrong-footed markets. This confusion may have put the Fed off using QE as aggressively as the economy required.

然而,一些证据表明量化宽松遵从收益递减的规律,而且在信贷市场陷入危机时效果最好,但大多数经济衰退期的情况并非如此。资产购买计划也可能很难让投资者理解。例如,2013年当美联储暗示可能缩减购债时,市场出现了痉挛。去年11月,美联储理事莱尔·布雷纳德(Lael Brainard)指出,美联储有关量化宽松的声明常常让市场措手不及。这种混乱可能导致美联储在使用量化宽松时未能达到经济所需的大胆程度。

Yield-curve control would allow a central bank that has cut its overnight rate to zero to set rates for bonds of longer maturities. Keeping rates down at any horizon should stimulate investment and consumption, helping the economy. The Bank of Japan began its programme by targeting a yield of 0% for ten-year Japanese government bonds; an American version might begin by capping the rate for one-year bonds, then adding in longer durations as needed. No announcements regarding the buying or selling of bonds would be necessary; the Fed would simply transact in the bond market to keep yields on target, as it does for overnight rates. And this would be easier for markets to parse than tweaks to QE.

收益率曲线控制让已经将隔夜利率降至零的央行能够设定较长期债券的利率。在任何期限上保持低利率应该都能刺激投资和消费,从而助力经济。日本央行这个项目的开端是为10年期日本政府债券收益率设定0%的目标。美国的方案可能会从限制一年期债券的最高利率开始,然后根据需要增加更长的期限。债券的买卖无需公告,美联储只需要通过在债券市场交易来将收益率维持在目标水平,就像对隔夜利率一样。而对市场来说,这比调整量化宽松更容易理解。

A commitment to defend interest-rate pegs unnerves some economists. Mr Bernanke warns that America’s government-bond market is so large and liquid that the Fed might have to purchase huge quantities of Treasuries to hit its target. But if markets found the yield-curve policy credible, the Fed might not need to buy many bonds at all; its commitment to intervene would deter investors from selling bonds at yields outside its target. And it might reinforce the central bank’s promises about the future path of short-term interest rates. The Bank of Japan, which conducted QE before switching to its yield-curve control policy, has kept yields at its desired level while buying fewer bonds than before.

保卫利率固定的承诺让一些经济学家感到不安。伯南克警告说,美国政府债券市场规模庞大,流动性强,美联储可能得购买大量国债才能达到目标。但如果市场认为收益率曲线政策可信,那美联储可能根本不需要购买大量债券,它对干预的承诺就会阻止投资者以高于目标收益率的价格出售债券。而这可能会强化美联储对短期利率未来走势的承诺。日本央行在实施了量化宽松后转向收益率曲线控制政策,它已经将收益率保持在了预期水平,而购买的债券数量减少了。

Still, even successful yield-curve control could underwhelm. Long-term rates are already low, limiting the stimulus to be had from reductions. In Japan a pancake-flat yield curve has not pushed inflation up to the central bank’s 2% target, and low government-bond yields seem to be encouraging insurers and pension funds to load up on dangerously risky assets. Bolder change, like a shift to a higher inflation target, might offer a sustainable route away from low interest rates. But getting there might require more firepower than a central bank alone can muster.

不过,即便是成功的收益率曲线控制也可能令人失望。长期利率已经很低,这限制了降低利率的刺激效果。在日本,平坦的收益率曲线并没有将通胀推高至央行2%的目标,而较低的政府债券收益率似乎在鼓励保险公司和养老基金增持危险的风险资产。而更大胆的改变,比如转向更高的通胀目标,可能会提供一条摆脱低利率的可持续道路。但要实现这一目标,可能需要比央行单独行动更强大的火力。

Bonds away

放弃债券

Government spending packs a powerful punch, and sustained low rates of interest are sapping political opposition to large budget deficits. Even so, American-style deficits worry economists, who fear that markets will eventually lose their appetite for bonds. Under yield-curve control, however, the central bank would in effect guarantee the government’s low borrowing costs.

政府支出是一剂强心针,而持续的低利率削弱了巨额预算赤字面对的政治阻力。即便如此,美国式的赤字水平还是让经济学家们忧心忡忡,他们担心市场最终会对债券失去兴趣。然而,在收益率曲线控制下,央行实际上会保证政府的低借贷成本。

America has controlled its yield curve before—in the 1940s, when the Fed held down the government’s borrowing costs during the second world war. Few economists would endorse such a strategy outside wartime. But yield-curve control cannot fight the next recession alone. Without bigger changes to monetary policy, it will need to be paired with fiscal stimulus. Blurring the line between monetary and fiscal policy may once again become imperative. ■

美国曾经控制过自己的收益率曲线:上世纪40年代美联储压低了政府在二战期间的借贷成本。很少有经济学家会在非战争时期支持这样的策略。但是,单靠收益率曲线控制不足以应对下一次衰退。如果不对货币政策做出更大的改变,就需要同时实施财政刺激。模糊货币和财政政策之间的界限可能再次成为当务之急。