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            美國經濟正面臨巨大風險,卻無人關注

            美國經濟正面臨巨大風險,卻無人關注

            Shawn Tully 2021年09月07日
            美國財政部的前部長拉里·薩默斯認為,債務規模和赤字規模的重要程度遠不如債務成本。

            情況似乎好得難以置信。

            現在,美國有個難得的機會以非常低廉的利率借款,即便總債務負擔迅速上升,總利息支出卻在持續下降。美國可以為有價值的項目大手筆投錢,而不必承擔通常會重創聯邦預算的利息支出激增風險。

            但拉里·薩默斯明確指出,只有一個問題仍然需要保持警惕。薩默斯曾經在美國前總統比爾·克林頓政府擔任財政部部長,他毫不掩飾地表達了自己對利用當今超低利率擴大聯邦借貸,向基礎設施、綠色能源和社會項目進行投資的支持。他認為,債務規模和赤字規模的重要程度遠不如債務成本。

            薩默斯在他的藍圖上提出了關鍵的警告。美國財政部只有將戰略重點放在以當前長期利率借款(目前利率處于歷史最低水平),并且鎖定遙遠未來可承受的支出,才能夠規避巨大風險。讓薩默斯震驚的是,美國政府恰恰采取與之相反的危險策略,即用隔夜債務為長期債券融資?!皩嶋H上,政府現在擁有的是用浮動利率短期負債,而不是長期固定利率負債?!?月13日薩默斯接受彭博電視(Bloomberg Television)的《華爾街周報》(Wall Street Week)采訪時表示?!霸跇O度不確定的時刻,在很多人認為利率非常低的時刻,增加短債的決定似乎很奇怪?!?/p>

            薩默斯特別談到了美聯儲的“量化寬松”(QE)政策,即利用日常借款工具購買當前發行的大量長期國債。購買規模高達每月800億美元。美國每年可以省下數百億美元,因為這些國債利息會以閉環方式直接返還給美國財政部。但該計劃很容易適得其反。美國支付的隔夜利率極低,目的是防止新產生的、用于購買美國國債的資金流入新增貸款從而加劇通脹。具體而言,美聯儲正在吸引金融機構將“超額準備金”納入其資產負債表?,F在,美聯儲只需要支付0.15%的超低利息就能夠增加貨幣供應量,同時還可以遏制通脹。

            然而這條路的前方有很大可能存在危險。經濟從封鎖中持續復蘇,導致當今強大的通脹壓力持續,甚至還可能惡化。美聯儲被迫為4.2萬億美元的銀行準備金支付更高利率,才能夠阻止大量資金流入汽車、住房和消費貸款從而推高物價。額外費用將大大增加聯邦預算的利息支出。由于美聯儲將減少買入新發行債券,也會減少央行向財政部提供的實際“補貼”,進一步打破脆弱的平衡。到目前為止,史上最低的債券收益率,加上美聯儲購買大量新發行國債再將利息返還給財政部的招數,導致債務激增的同時美國國債收益率不斷下跌。而且美聯儲的做法推動困境愈發迫近。只要出現一陣通貨膨脹,就可能導致這一特別平衡舉措的崩潰。

            歷史上最大的可調整利率貸款(ARM)

            薩默斯所指的美聯儲“古怪”道路,只是造成高壓狀況極端危險的部分原因。美國財政部也在為應對新冠疫情承擔的巨額刺激支出提供大量資金,短期國債到期時間短則四周,長則一年??傮w來說,2019年年底以來美國聯邦債務增長了30%,達到22.2萬億美元,其中約一半的支持基礎為美聯儲隔夜借款、12個月或更短時間到期的債券或浮動利率證券。正如胡佛研究所(Hoover Institution)的經濟學家約翰·科克倫所說:“美國當前面臨的危險,與2006年房地產泡沫期間用可調利率抵押貸款買房的美國人一樣?!?/p>

            現在,全球最大的經濟體正在操作史上最大的可調整利率貸款。簡言之,美國正在冒著巨大風險人為壓低當前利息支出,使財政狀況看起來比實際情況穩定些。薩默斯呼吁美聯儲“結束量化寬松”,主要因為該計劃與快速滾動的信用支持多年期債券并不匹配。7月底的美聯儲會議上,聯邦公開市場委員會(Open Market Committee)的大多數成員都主張從今年晚些時候開始逐漸退出量化寬松。嘉信理財(Charles Schwab)的經濟學家預測,美聯儲將在11月開始逐漸退出,每月將買入的美元金額減少85億美元。

            眾所周知,美聯儲可以繼續通過巧妙手段讓美國保持當前的軌道。但前提是通貨膨脹只是短期現象。7月,消費者價格指數(CPI)上漲5.4%,漲幅為2008年8月以來最大。美聯儲預測2021年全年CPI將增長3%,遠高于2%的平均目標。除了促進充分就業,美聯儲的首要任務是確保物價穩定。如果通脹繼續,要維持物價穩定可能會對美國的可調整利率貸款融資進行大規模利率調整。如此調整可能導致債務年度利息支出出現美國歷史上最大規模的激增,從表面上合算變成驚人昂貴。拉里·薩默斯的警告便會成真。

            美國財政部短期內為大部分由新冠病毒推動的支出提供資金

            美國為抗擊新冠疫情承擔的新債務加大了未來的財政風險。盡管現在美國財政部正轉向長期借款,但一兩年后到期債務將增加數萬億美元,使得美國更容易受利率突然上浮影響。

            2019年12月底,聯邦政府欠的“公眾債務”達17.2萬億美元。此類債務包括個人、公司、外國政府和12家聯邦儲備銀行持有的美國國債。其中,2.4萬億美元是期限為四周到一年的短期國債,占比14%。9.3萬億美元是至少兩年期最長到基準10年期的中期國債,占比58%。20年期和30年期國債為2.4萬億美元,占債務總額14%??偟膩碚f,美國超過72%的借款是中長期國債。

            美國為新冠疫情承擔巨額突發開支和借款時,相對謹慎的形象發生了根本性轉變。從2019年年底到2020年8月,美國財政部大幅虧空,發行了驚人的2.7萬億美元短期國債,平均每兩個月滾動一次。其每4美元新借款中就有3美元為短期國債。相比之下,美國財政部只賣出了1.4萬億美元的中長期國債,收益只有風險更高的短期國債一半。(債券發行數據均為同期到期的美國國債凈值。)

            截至2020年8月,短期國債借款總額所占份額躍升超過10個百分點,達到23.4%。加上浮動利率債券,一年期以內的國債和與短期利率掛鉤的國債比例從四分之一躍升到未償債務的三分之一以上。2020年前三個季度,聯邦債券平均到期日從69個月降至62個月,為史上最大突然降幅之一。

            此后,美國財政部調整了方向,大幅減少發行一年內短期國債,并擴大期限較長的中長期國債發行規模,逐步恢復“未償還債券”平衡。美國財政部的債務管理辦公室(Office of Debt Management)在截至6月30日的聯邦政府三季度更新報告中詳細介紹了相關趨勢。報告中包括了截至本財年9月底的新債務發行預測。據其預測,截至9月30日的12個月內,美國財政部將回收7420億美元的短期國債,金額超過新發行短債。

            2021財年近2萬億美元的新增借款總額中,有1.45萬億美元將由到期時間為五年或五年以上的中期國債以及到期時間為20年和30年的長期國債提供。美國正在重新走上更保守也更傳統的道路,依靠較長期債券籌集近四分之三新借款。彈指間,美國債務平均到期期限就已經回升至新冠疫情爆發前的69個月。

            雖然美國財政部將債券期限恢復到危機前水平是一件好事情。但問題是:即使比例保持在過去的水平,現在美國短期未償債務還是比2019年年底多得多??磳嶋H金額比看占比更重要。截至7月,美國欠下的短期國債金額達6.6萬億美元,還要加上浮動利率債務,比2019年12月持有的各類短債多出2萬億美元。由于短期國債比例已經恢復正常,四季度美國財政部將再次發行短期國債。

            從現在起,美國財政部可能繼續出售短期國債和浮動利率債券,以維持公眾持有總債務30%的份額。未來幾年,財政部每年要借入約2萬億美元,為龐大赤字提供資金。因此,兩個月至一年期美元債務和浮動利率債券將繼續快速增長,原因都是新冠疫情應急資金大幅提升了整體負債水平。與18個月前相比,6.6萬億美元且不斷增長的債務需要不斷展期或重設利率,使得預算更容易受到通貨膨脹爆發和利率上升影響。

            美聯儲可能面臨銀行準備金成本大幅提升,所以必須遏制通脹

            新增萬億短期借款給美國的財政路徑造成了新風險。美聯儲為防止銀行將新供應資金注入信貸體系而引發經濟過熱所采取的政策,可能導致利息負擔急劇上升。如今,美聯儲以快速增加貨幣供應聞名,其挑戰是阻止貨幣超級寬松時代萬億資金通常會產生的作用,即加劇通貨膨脹。

            美國財政部通過向金融機構出售中長期債券籌集資金。與此同時,美聯儲將發行美元存入自己的賬戶,從而產生新資金,然后再用新資金從銀行購買國債和抵押貸款支持證券,增加貨幣供應量,增加家庭和企業的信貸供應。如此一來,貸款人就有更多的流動性為信用卡余額和住房貸款融資??蛻魧⒚涝嫒胫辟~戶,銀行將新存款的一部分出借以獲得更多的存款,從自身和競爭對手銀行獲得更多的貸款繼而形成循環,擴大整個經濟體內的消費者和商業支出。

            過去,如果金融機構剛從財政部買入國債再迅速發行,美聯儲不會買入。之前美聯儲購買的金額剛好夠在經濟復蘇時提供額外信貸。通貨膨脹迫在眉睫時,美聯儲以誘人的利率向銀行出售國債,以收回爭相競購商品和服務的過剩美元。銀行資產負債表上持有大量美國國債作為儲備,貸款需求增加時將其中一部分出售給美聯儲。但2008年10月金融危機最嚴重時啟動的量化寬松計劃改變了這一模式。某種程度上,量化寬松的目標是將長期利率維持在極低水平,提振房屋、股票和其他資產價格,增加家庭和企業的財富。在量化寬松政策下,美國財政部發行了更大規模的中期國債(兩年期至10年期)和長期國債(20年期至30年期),而美聯儲則吞下了其中絕大部分份額。

            截至2021年8月中旬的12個月內,美聯儲買入了9780億美元的中長期國債。據我估計,在到期時間不低于五年的約1.2萬億美元國債中,美聯儲購買的份額超過了80%??偠灾?,2016年年中以來,美聯儲持有的兩類較長期債券金額已經翻了一番,達到4.7萬億美元。

            美聯儲買入的中長期國債都計在其規模龐大的資產負債表資產端。請記住,美聯儲從銀行手中購入的國債就是銀行剛剛從美國財政部買入的。實際上,銀行只是將債券轉售給美聯儲。金融機構很清楚,美聯儲將對剛剛收購的中長期國債進行清理,還提供中介傭金?!斑@是利率如此低廉的原因之一?!狈鹆_里達大西洋大學(Florida Atlantic University)的經濟學和貨幣政策教授威廉·路德說?!般y行都知道,美聯儲會立刻按當前高價買下銀行想出售的美國國債?!?/p>

            美聯儲正在動用數以萬億計的新增資金從銀行購買創紀錄的美國國債。如果過去一年銀行將美聯儲近1萬億美元的資金轉化為新貸款,物價就會飆升?!懊缆搩π枰軛U確保貨幣供應量大幅增加,且不會轉化為新增銀行信貸?!甭返轮赋??!懊缆搩Φ哪繕耸倾Q制資金,避免資金流入信貸體系導致通貨膨脹?!泵缆搩姶蟮墓ぞ呔褪牵褐Ц洞婵罾?。

            多年來,受準備金余額利率(IORB)波動影響,美聯儲為隔離資金而支付的費用差異巨大。金融危機之后六年里,該利率僅為0.07%到0.15%。但隨著2018年經濟好轉,準備金余額利率躍升至2%,2019年1月至8月徘徊在2.4%之上。就在去年2月,該利率仍然為1.58%。去年將聯邦基金利率削減至接近零,將準備金余額利率拉回到現在的0.15%左右。

            為什么銀行愿意存入數萬億準備金只獲得如此微薄的利息?路德指出,原因之一是銀行別無選擇。巴塞爾規則要求銀行資本與風險加權資產比率非常高,風險加權資產也包括根據違約風險調整的貸款。第二個原因是,盡管準備金余額利率聽起來很低,但美聯儲通常會做一些安排,使其略高于銀行間借貸的聯邦基金利率。此外,銀行向美聯儲收取數萬億美元利息時,不用承擔通常的風險。路德說:“銀行放在美聯儲的準備金完全安全,這筆錢不存在違約風險也不需要提供服務。盡管其收益很低,但仍然具有競爭力?!?/p>

            “合并資產負債表”的魔力

            當前的財政故事,是美聯儲前所未有地出手援助美國財政部的傳奇。美聯儲創造數以萬億計的新資金,在量化寬松政策下購買財政部出售給銀行的創紀錄的長期債務。如今,美聯儲持有4.7萬億美元的中長期國債。如此一來,美國財政部不用欠外人,而是欠美聯儲。兩個部門都并入政府的綜合資產負債表,也就是說美國欠自己的錢。美聯儲從財政部收取的利息,都會直接返還給財政部。這一安排將可能是巨額利息的賬單最后變成了虛擬的洗牌。

            以下是我對美聯儲流向財政部資金流的估計。2020年,美國財政部向美聯儲支付了其持有4.7萬億長期國債的約2%收益,即940億美元。對美聯儲來說,購買美國國債確實要付出代價,但就目前而言代價很小。美聯儲只有支付利息,防止其交給銀行用于購買中期國債和短期國債的資金流入刺激通脹的信貸,才能夠安全地產生用于積累債券的“免費”資金?,F在,美聯儲只為4.2萬億美元的準備金支付了0.15%利息。實際上,美聯儲全額支持著通過新發貨幣購買的美國國債,每年僅耗資60億美元(4.2萬億美元的0.15%)。

            2020年,美聯儲向財政部上繳了880億美元的利潤,其中包括從財政部收取的940億美元利息,再減去支付的60億美元準備金利息。對財政部來說,這筆交易太合算!財政部不用向銀行、對沖基金和其他外部方面支付940億美元利息,而是在美聯儲的幫助下將這筆錢轉給自己。美聯儲協助財政部將美國的利息支出控制在940億美元以下。但在向財政部提供巨大幫助的過程中,美聯儲要承擔巨大的風險,因為美聯儲實際上是動用準備金支付隔夜債務從而為長期債融資。綜合資產負債表的負面影響為,美聯儲坐上了易爆的飛船,一旦爆炸,損失將轉嫁到財政部,最終影響聯邦預算。

            通脹引發的危險

            如果短期利率飆升會怎樣?最大的威脅是通貨膨脹已經到來,而且將長期持續。為了控制物價,美聯儲需要提高準備金率。央行陷入困境。記住,美聯儲絕對不能讓準備金流入新信貸,否則將加劇已經開始沸騰的通脹壓力。

            比如說,通貨膨脹率保持在當前的5%。美聯儲可能需要支付相當于兩年前2.4%的費用。如果今年晚些時候像預期的一樣開始退出量化寬松,美聯儲買入新發行債券將越來越少。

            但這將引發另一個不利于美聯儲底線的大變化。

            美聯儲不用再向財政部返還債券的利息。屆時債券將由外部投資者持有,收取本應流回財政部的利息。因此,量化寬松將導致賬面成本更高。但是也要考慮一下,由于美聯儲銀行準備金利率大幅上升,每年近1000 億美元的利息支出波動會如何影響聯邦預算。

            2019年,美國為平均17.5萬億美元債務支付了3760億美元的利息。從那時起,整個經濟體利率大幅下降,新借債成本大幅降低。不過準備金利息大幅下降也起到了很大作用。令人驚訝的是,美國國會預算辦公室(Congressional Budget Office)預測,盡管債務將從2019年水平增長近40%,到2022年達到24.3萬億美元,美國支付的利息卻奇跡般地大幅降低,僅為3040億美元。想象一下,如果準備金利息增加1000億美元會怎樣。各項利息成本將增加33%。這還不僅僅是準備金利息問題。通脹率升高還將極大提高6.6萬億美元一年期內短期國債和浮動利率債務的成本。一夜之間,美國預算預測將陷入混亂。這就是薩默斯所說的危險。他說得沒有錯,我們不知道最強大融資武器何時調整,但能夠想象它的破壞力有多大。(財富中文網)

            譯者:馮豐

            審校:夏林

            情況似乎好得難以置信。

            現在,美國有個難得的機會以非常低廉的利率借款,即便總債務負擔迅速上升,總利息支出卻在持續下降。美國可以為有價值的項目大手筆投錢,而不必承擔通常會重創聯邦預算的利息支出激增風險。

            但拉里·薩默斯明確指出,只有一個問題仍然需要保持警惕。薩默斯曾經在美國前總統比爾·克林頓政府擔任財政部部長,他毫不掩飾地表達了自己對利用當今超低利率擴大聯邦借貸,向基礎設施、綠色能源和社會項目進行投資的支持。他認為,債務規模和赤字規模的重要程度遠不如債務成本。

            薩默斯在他的藍圖上提出了關鍵的警告。美國財政部只有將戰略重點放在以當前長期利率借款(目前利率處于歷史最低水平),并且鎖定遙遠未來可承受的支出,才能夠規避巨大風險。讓薩默斯震驚的是,美國政府恰恰采取與之相反的危險策略,即用隔夜債務為長期債券融資?!皩嶋H上,政府現在擁有的是用浮動利率短期負債,而不是長期固定利率負債?!?月13日薩默斯接受彭博電視(Bloomberg Television)的《華爾街周報》(Wall Street Week)采訪時表示?!霸跇O度不確定的時刻,在很多人認為利率非常低的時刻,增加短債的決定似乎很奇怪?!?/p>

            薩默斯特別談到了美聯儲的“量化寬松”(QE)政策,即利用日常借款工具購買當前發行的大量長期國債。購買規模高達每月800億美元。美國每年可以省下數百億美元,因為這些國債利息會以閉環方式直接返還給美國財政部。但該計劃很容易適得其反。美國支付的隔夜利率極低,目的是防止新產生的、用于購買美國國債的資金流入新增貸款從而加劇通脹。具體而言,美聯儲正在吸引金融機構將“超額準備金”納入其資產負債表?,F在,美聯儲只需要支付0.15%的超低利息就能夠增加貨幣供應量,同時還可以遏制通脹。

            然而這條路的前方有很大可能存在危險。經濟從封鎖中持續復蘇,導致當今強大的通脹壓力持續,甚至還可能惡化。美聯儲被迫為4.2萬億美元的銀行準備金支付更高利率,才能夠阻止大量資金流入汽車、住房和消費貸款從而推高物價。額外費用將大大增加聯邦預算的利息支出。由于美聯儲將減少買入新發行債券,也會減少央行向財政部提供的實際“補貼”,進一步打破脆弱的平衡。到目前為止,史上最低的債券收益率,加上美聯儲購買大量新發行國債再將利息返還給財政部的招數,導致債務激增的同時美國國債收益率不斷下跌。而且美聯儲的做法推動困境愈發迫近。只要出現一陣通貨膨脹,就可能導致這一特別平衡舉措的崩潰。

            歷史上最大的可調整利率貸款(ARM)

            薩默斯所指的美聯儲“古怪”道路,只是造成高壓狀況極端危險的部分原因。美國財政部也在為應對新冠疫情承擔的巨額刺激支出提供大量資金,短期國債到期時間短則四周,長則一年??傮w來說,2019年年底以來美國聯邦債務增長了30%,達到22.2萬億美元,其中約一半的支持基礎為美聯儲隔夜借款、12個月或更短時間到期的債券或浮動利率證券。正如胡佛研究所(Hoover Institution)的經濟學家約翰·科克倫所說:“美國當前面臨的危險,與2006年房地產泡沫期間用可調利率抵押貸款買房的美國人一樣?!?/p>

            現在,全球最大的經濟體正在操作史上最大的可調整利率貸款。簡言之,美國正在冒著巨大風險人為壓低當前利息支出,使財政狀況看起來比實際情況穩定些。薩默斯呼吁美聯儲“結束量化寬松”,主要因為該計劃與快速滾動的信用支持多年期債券并不匹配。7月底的美聯儲會議上,聯邦公開市場委員會(Open Market Committee)的大多數成員都主張從今年晚些時候開始逐漸退出量化寬松。嘉信理財(Charles Schwab)的經濟學家預測,美聯儲將在11月開始逐漸退出,每月將買入的美元金額減少85億美元。

            眾所周知,美聯儲可以繼續通過巧妙手段讓美國保持當前的軌道。但前提是通貨膨脹只是短期現象。7月,消費者價格指數(CPI)上漲5.4%,漲幅為2008年8月以來最大。美聯儲預測2021年全年CPI將增長3%,遠高于2%的平均目標。除了促進充分就業,美聯儲的首要任務是確保物價穩定。如果通脹繼續,要維持物價穩定可能會對美國的可調整利率貸款融資進行大規模利率調整。如此調整可能導致債務年度利息支出出現美國歷史上最大規模的激增,從表面上合算變成驚人昂貴。拉里·薩默斯的警告便會成真。

            美國財政部短期內為大部分由新冠病毒推動的支出提供資金

            美國為抗擊新冠疫情承擔的新債務加大了未來的財政風險。盡管現在美國財政部正轉向長期借款,但一兩年后到期債務將增加數萬億美元,使得美國更容易受利率突然上浮影響。

            2019年12月底,聯邦政府欠的“公眾債務”達17.2萬億美元。此類債務包括個人、公司、外國政府和12家聯邦儲備銀行持有的美國國債。其中,2.4萬億美元是期限為四周到一年的短期國債,占比14%。9.3萬億美元是至少兩年期最長到基準10年期的中期國債,占比58%。20年期和30年期國債為2.4萬億美元,占債務總額14%??偟膩碚f,美國超過72%的借款是中長期國債。

            美國為新冠疫情承擔巨額突發開支和借款時,相對謹慎的形象發生了根本性轉變。從2019年年底到2020年8月,美國財政部大幅虧空,發行了驚人的2.7萬億美元短期國債,平均每兩個月滾動一次。其每4美元新借款中就有3美元為短期國債。相比之下,美國財政部只賣出了1.4萬億美元的中長期國債,收益只有風險更高的短期國債一半。(債券發行數據均為同期到期的美國國債凈值。)

            截至2020年8月,短期國債借款總額所占份額躍升超過10個百分點,達到23.4%。加上浮動利率債券,一年期以內的國債和與短期利率掛鉤的國債比例從四分之一躍升到未償債務的三分之一以上。2020年前三個季度,聯邦債券平均到期日從69個月降至62個月,為史上最大突然降幅之一。

            此后,美國財政部調整了方向,大幅減少發行一年內短期國債,并擴大期限較長的中長期國債發行規模,逐步恢復“未償還債券”平衡。美國財政部的債務管理辦公室(Office of Debt Management)在截至6月30日的聯邦政府三季度更新報告中詳細介紹了相關趨勢。報告中包括了截至本財年9月底的新債務發行預測。據其預測,截至9月30日的12個月內,美國財政部將回收7420億美元的短期國債,金額超過新發行短債。

            2021財年近2萬億美元的新增借款總額中,有1.45萬億美元將由到期時間為五年或五年以上的中期國債以及到期時間為20年和30年的長期國債提供。美國正在重新走上更保守也更傳統的道路,依靠較長期債券籌集近四分之三新借款。彈指間,美國債務平均到期期限就已經回升至新冠疫情爆發前的69個月。

            雖然美國財政部將債券期限恢復到危機前水平是一件好事情。但問題是:即使比例保持在過去的水平,現在美國短期未償債務還是比2019年年底多得多??磳嶋H金額比看占比更重要。截至7月,美國欠下的短期國債金額達6.6萬億美元,還要加上浮動利率債務,比2019年12月持有的各類短債多出2萬億美元。由于短期國債比例已經恢復正常,四季度美國財政部將再次發行短期國債。

            從現在起,美國財政部可能繼續出售短期國債和浮動利率債券,以維持公眾持有總債務30%的份額。未來幾年,財政部每年要借入約2萬億美元,為龐大赤字提供資金。因此,兩個月至一年期美元債務和浮動利率債券將繼續快速增長,原因都是新冠疫情應急資金大幅提升了整體負債水平。與18個月前相比,6.6萬億美元且不斷增長的債務需要不斷展期或重設利率,使得預算更容易受到通貨膨脹爆發和利率上升影響。

            美聯儲可能面臨銀行準備金成本大幅提升,所以必須遏制通脹

            新增萬億短期借款給美國的財政路徑造成了新風險。美聯儲為防止銀行將新供應資金注入信貸體系而引發經濟過熱所采取的政策,可能導致利息負擔急劇上升。如今,美聯儲以快速增加貨幣供應聞名,其挑戰是阻止貨幣超級寬松時代萬億資金通常會產生的作用,即加劇通貨膨脹。

            美國財政部通過向金融機構出售中長期債券籌集資金。與此同時,美聯儲將發行美元存入自己的賬戶,從而產生新資金,然后再用新資金從銀行購買國債和抵押貸款支持證券,增加貨幣供應量,增加家庭和企業的信貸供應。如此一來,貸款人就有更多的流動性為信用卡余額和住房貸款融資??蛻魧⒚涝嫒胫辟~戶,銀行將新存款的一部分出借以獲得更多的存款,從自身和競爭對手銀行獲得更多的貸款繼而形成循環,擴大整個經濟體內的消費者和商業支出。

            過去,如果金融機構剛從財政部買入國債再迅速發行,美聯儲不會買入。之前美聯儲購買的金額剛好夠在經濟復蘇時提供額外信貸。通貨膨脹迫在眉睫時,美聯儲以誘人的利率向銀行出售國債,以收回爭相競購商品和服務的過剩美元。銀行資產負債表上持有大量美國國債作為儲備,貸款需求增加時將其中一部分出售給美聯儲。但2008年10月金融危機最嚴重時啟動的量化寬松計劃改變了這一模式。某種程度上,量化寬松的目標是將長期利率維持在極低水平,提振房屋、股票和其他資產價格,增加家庭和企業的財富。在量化寬松政策下,美國財政部發行了更大規模的中期國債(兩年期至10年期)和長期國債(20年期至30年期),而美聯儲則吞下了其中絕大部分份額。

            截至2021年8月中旬的12個月內,美聯儲買入了9780億美元的中長期國債。據我估計,在到期時間不低于五年的約1.2萬億美元國債中,美聯儲購買的份額超過了80%??偠灾?,2016年年中以來,美聯儲持有的兩類較長期債券金額已經翻了一番,達到4.7萬億美元。

            美聯儲買入的中長期國債都計在其規模龐大的資產負債表資產端。請記住,美聯儲從銀行手中購入的國債就是銀行剛剛從美國財政部買入的。實際上,銀行只是將債券轉售給美聯儲。金融機構很清楚,美聯儲將對剛剛收購的中長期國債進行清理,還提供中介傭金?!斑@是利率如此低廉的原因之一?!狈鹆_里達大西洋大學(Florida Atlantic University)的經濟學和貨幣政策教授威廉·路德說?!般y行都知道,美聯儲會立刻按當前高價買下銀行想出售的美國國債?!?/p>

            美聯儲正在動用數以萬億計的新增資金從銀行購買創紀錄的美國國債。如果過去一年銀行將美聯儲近1萬億美元的資金轉化為新貸款,物價就會飆升?!懊缆搩π枰軛U確保貨幣供應量大幅增加,且不會轉化為新增銀行信貸?!甭返轮赋??!懊缆搩Φ哪繕耸倾Q制資金,避免資金流入信貸體系導致通貨膨脹?!泵缆搩姶蟮墓ぞ呔褪牵褐Ц洞婵罾?。

            多年來,受準備金余額利率(IORB)波動影響,美聯儲為隔離資金而支付的費用差異巨大。金融危機之后六年里,該利率僅為0.07%到0.15%。但隨著2018年經濟好轉,準備金余額利率躍升至2%,2019年1月至8月徘徊在2.4%之上。就在去年2月,該利率仍然為1.58%。去年將聯邦基金利率削減至接近零,將準備金余額利率拉回到現在的0.15%左右。

            為什么銀行愿意存入數萬億準備金只獲得如此微薄的利息?路德指出,原因之一是銀行別無選擇。巴塞爾規則要求銀行資本與風險加權資產比率非常高,風險加權資產也包括根據違約風險調整的貸款。第二個原因是,盡管準備金余額利率聽起來很低,但美聯儲通常會做一些安排,使其略高于銀行間借貸的聯邦基金利率。此外,銀行向美聯儲收取數萬億美元利息時,不用承擔通常的風險。路德說:“銀行放在美聯儲的準備金完全安全,這筆錢不存在違約風險也不需要提供服務。盡管其收益很低,但仍然具有競爭力?!?/p>

            “合并資產負債表”的魔力

            當前的財政故事,是美聯儲前所未有地出手援助美國財政部的傳奇。美聯儲創造數以萬億計的新資金,在量化寬松政策下購買財政部出售給銀行的創紀錄的長期債務。如今,美聯儲持有4.7萬億美元的中長期國債。如此一來,美國財政部不用欠外人,而是欠美聯儲。兩個部門都并入政府的綜合資產負債表,也就是說美國欠自己的錢。美聯儲從財政部收取的利息,都會直接返還給財政部。這一安排將可能是巨額利息的賬單最后變成了虛擬的洗牌。

            以下是我對美聯儲流向財政部資金流的估計。2020年,美國財政部向美聯儲支付了其持有4.7萬億長期國債的約2%收益,即940億美元。對美聯儲來說,購買美國國債確實要付出代價,但就目前而言代價很小。美聯儲只有支付利息,防止其交給銀行用于購買中期國債和短期國債的資金流入刺激通脹的信貸,才能夠安全地產生用于積累債券的“免費”資金?,F在,美聯儲只為4.2萬億美元的準備金支付了0.15%利息。實際上,美聯儲全額支持著通過新發貨幣購買的美國國債,每年僅耗資60億美元(4.2萬億美元的0.15%)。

            2020年,美聯儲向財政部上繳了880億美元的利潤,其中包括從財政部收取的940億美元利息,再減去支付的60億美元準備金利息。對財政部來說,這筆交易太合算!財政部不用向銀行、對沖基金和其他外部方面支付940億美元利息,而是在美聯儲的幫助下將這筆錢轉給自己。美聯儲協助財政部將美國的利息支出控制在940億美元以下。但在向財政部提供巨大幫助的過程中,美聯儲要承擔巨大的風險,因為美聯儲實際上是動用準備金支付隔夜債務從而為長期債融資。綜合資產負債表的負面影響為,美聯儲坐上了易爆的飛船,一旦爆炸,損失將轉嫁到財政部,最終影響聯邦預算。

            通脹引發的危險

            如果短期利率飆升會怎樣?最大的威脅是通貨膨脹已經到來,而且將長期持續。為了控制物價,美聯儲需要提高準備金率。央行陷入困境。記住,美聯儲絕對不能讓準備金流入新信貸,否則將加劇已經開始沸騰的通脹壓力。

            比如說,通貨膨脹率保持在當前的5%。美聯儲可能需要支付相當于兩年前2.4%的費用。如果今年晚些時候像預期的一樣開始退出量化寬松,美聯儲買入新發行債券將越來越少。

            但這將引發另一個不利于美聯儲底線的大變化。

            美聯儲不用再向財政部返還債券的利息。屆時債券將由外部投資者持有,收取本應流回財政部的利息。因此,量化寬松將導致賬面成本更高。但是也要考慮一下,由于美聯儲銀行準備金利率大幅上升,每年近1000 億美元的利息支出波動會如何影響聯邦預算。

            2019年,美國為平均17.5萬億美元債務支付了3760億美元的利息。從那時起,整個經濟體利率大幅下降,新借債成本大幅降低。不過準備金利息大幅下降也起到了很大作用。令人驚訝的是,美國國會預算辦公室(Congressional Budget Office)預測,盡管債務將從2019年水平增長近40%,到2022年達到24.3萬億美元,美國支付的利息卻奇跡般地大幅降低,僅為3040億美元。想象一下,如果準備金利息增加1000億美元會怎樣。各項利息成本將增加33%。這還不僅僅是準備金利息問題。通脹率升高還將極大提高6.6萬億美元一年期內短期國債和浮動利率債務的成本。一夜之間,美國預算預測將陷入混亂。這就是薩默斯所說的危險。他說得沒有錯,我們不知道最強大融資武器何時調整,但能夠想象它的破壞力有多大。(財富中文網)

            譯者:馮豐

            審校:夏林

            It almost seems too good to be true.

            Right now, the U.S. has a rare opportunity to borrow at such slender rates that our total interest expense will keep falling even as our total debt load rises rapidly. The U.S. gets to lavish money on worthwhile initiatives without risking a surge in interest expense that, at most times, would swamp the federal budget.

            But there’s just one problem, one that Larry Summers singles out. President Clinton’s Treasury secretary is an outspoken champion of exploiting today’s super-low interest rates to expand federal borrowing for investment in infrastructure, green energy, and social programs. The size of the debt and deficits, he has argued, is much less important than the costs of carrying that debt.

            But Summers stamped a key caveat on his blueprint. The strategy would only skirt big risks if the Treasury centered its strategy on borrowing at today’s long-term rates, now at their narrowest in history, locking in affordable payments far into the future. Summers is appalled that the U.S. government is going in precisely the opposite direction, pursuing the notoriously dangerous tack of essentially funding its bonds at longer maturities with overnight debt. “In effect, the government now has a floating rate, short-term liability outstanding rather than long-term, fixed interest rate liability,” Summers told Bloomberg Television’s Wall Street Week on Aug. 13. “At a moment of super uncertainty, at a moment when many people think rates are remarkably low, a decision to fund more short seems bizarre.”

            Summers was specifically addressing the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” (QE) campaign of deploying day-to-day borrowings as a vehicle for buying the vast bulk of the long-dated Treasuries now being issued. Those purchases are famously running at $80 billion a month. The U.S. is saving tens of billions a year because it’s sending the interest payments on those Treasuries right back to the Treasury in a closed loop. But the program could easily backfire. The U.S. is paying ultracheap overnight rates to keep the newly created money that it’s using to buy those Treasuries from leaking into new lending that would stoke inflation. Specifically, the central bank is luring financial institutions to park their “excess reserves” on its balance sheet. Right now, the Fed gets to hike the money supply and still hold off inflation by simply paying a minuscule 0.15% to sequester all those trillions.

            Here’s a road map for the journey to peril, and it’s all too plausible. The economy continues to roar back from the lockdown, causing today’s strong inflationary pressures to persist or worsen. The Fed is forced to pay much higher rates on those $4.2 trillion in bank reserves to stanch the flood of money from flowing into car, home, and consumer loans, and driving prices higher. That extra expense would greatly increase the interest payments on the federal budget. Since the Fed would be buying fewer newly issued bonds, tapering would further upset the fragile balance by shrinking the effective “subsidy” the central bank is handing the Treasury. Until now, a remarkable blend of the lowest bond yields in history and the Fed’s trick of buying gobs of newly issued Treasuries and rebating the interest to the Treasury has kept that bill falling as our debt load explodes. The Fed’s walking a slippery tightrope to make that happen. A gust of inflation could send the extraordinary balancing act tumbling.

            History’s biggest ARM

            What Summers labels as the Fed’s “bizarre” path accounts for only part of what makes the high wire so treacherous. The Treasury is also funding a big portion of the huge stimulus outlays shouldered to counter the COVID crisis with Treasury bills due in four weeks to a year. All told, around half of U.S. federal debt that has expanded 30% since the close of 2019 to a towering $22.2 trillion, is now backed by the Fed’s overnight borrowing, bonds due in 12 months or less, or floating rate securities. As economist John Cochrane of the Hoover Institution puts it: “The U.S. is facing the same danger as Americans who bought homes during the 2006 housing bubble with adjustable-rate mortgages.”

            Today, the world’s largest economy is harboring the equivalent of history’s biggest ARM. Put simply, the U.S. is courting major risks to hold today’s interest expense artificially low and make the fiscal picture look less precarious than it really is. Summers is calling on the Fed to “bring QE to an end,” in part because of the program’s mismatch of fast-rolling credit backing multiyear bonds. At the Fed’s meeting in late July, a majority of its Open Market Committee members advocated that tapering commence later this year. Economists at Charles Schwab predict that the Fed will start doing so in November, lowering the dollar amount of its purchases by $8.5 billion per month.

            As we’ll see, the Fed can conceivably keep the U.S. on its current course by continuing its artful acrobatics. But that’s only if inflation is transitory. In July, the consumer price index waxed at 5.4%, matching the largest jump since August of 2008. The Fed is already predicting a 3% increase for all of 2021, well above its average target of 2%. Besides promoting full employment, the central bank’s top job is ensuring stable prices. If inflation is here to stay, fulfilling that mission could unleash a giant rate-reset on America’s ARM-style funding. That reset could take the annual interest tab for the biggest debt run-up in U.S. history from a seeming bargain to staggeringly expensive. The Larry Summers warning is right on.

            The Treasury financed much of the COVID-driven spending boom on a short-term basis

            The fresh debt the U.S. shouldered to battle the pandemic is making our fiscal future much riskier. Even though the Treasury is now shifting to longer-term borrowing, the extra trillions due in a year or two make the U.S. far more vulnerable to a sudden rise in rates.

            At the end of December 2019, the federal government owed “debt held by the public” of $17.2 trillion. That category encompasses all Treasuries held by individuals, corporations, foreign governments, and the twelve Federal Reserve banks. Of that total, $2.4 trillion or 14% were in T-bills with maturities of four weeks to a year. The bulk at 58% or $9.3 trillion were T-notes starting with two-year terms extending to the benchmark 10-year at the long end. T-bonds at 20- and 30-year maturities accounted for $2.4 trillion, or 14% of all debt. Overall, more than 72% of U.S. borrowings sat in longer-dated T-notes and T-bonds.

            That relatively prudent profile shifted radically when the U.S. undertook gigantic emergency spending and borrowing to combat the COVID-19 crisis. From the close of 2019 to August of last year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury went short in a big way. It issued an astounding $2.7 trillion in T-bills, securities rolling over, on average, every couple of months. The Treasury deployed T-bills for three out of every four dollars in new borrowing. In contrast, it sold just $1.4 trillion in longer dated T-notes and T-bonds—only half the proceeds from far riskier T-bills. (All figures for bonds issuance are expressed net of Treasuries that matured in the same periods.)

            As of August 2020, the share of total borrowings in T-bills jumped by over 10 points to 23.4%. Add floating rate bonds, and the portion of less-than-one-year Treasuries and those indexed to short-term rates jumped from one-quarter to over one-third of all federal debt outstanding. The average maturity on federal bonds in the first three quarters of 2020 fell from 69 months to 62 months, one of the sharpest sudden drops in history.

            Since then, the Treasury has reversed course. It’s been restoring the balance in its “outstandings” by originating far fewer T-bills that mature in less than a year, and gunning the volumes of new, longer-dated T-notes and T-bonds. The trends are detailed in a recent report from the Treasury’s Office of Debt Management updated through the federal government’s third quarter ended June 30. It includes projections for fresh debt issuance through the September close of the fiscal year. The Treasury forecasts that for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, it will retire $742 billion more in T-bills than it sells.

            Of total new borrowing of almost $2 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year, $1.45 trillion will be funded by T-notes at maturities of five years or more, as well as T-bonds at 20 years and 30 years. The U.S. is returning to a much more conservative, traditional course by raising almost three-quarters of new borrowing at longer-dated maturities. In a jiffy, the average maturity of U.S. debt has jumped back to its pre-COVID level of 69 months.

            It’s a good thing that the Treasury has restored the array of different maturities to their pre-crisis weights. The problem: Even if the proportions remain at their traditional levels, the U.S. now has much more short-term debt outstanding than at the close of 2019. The dollars matter more than the pieces of the pie. As of July, the U.S. owed $6.6 trillion in T-bills due in a year or less, plus floating rate debt. That’s $2 trillion more than it held across those categories in December of 2019. Now that the proportion of T-bills is back to normal, the Treasury began issuing them again in its fourth quarter.

            From now on, the Treasury is likely to keep selling T-bills and floating rate bonds at a pace that maintains their current 30% share of total debt held by the public. The Treasury will need to borrow around $2 trillion annually in future years to fund our gigantic deficits. Hence, dollars owed in two-month to one-year and floating rate bonds will keep mounting rapidly—all from the much higher plateau established by COVID emergency funding. The need to constantly roll over or reset rates on that $6.6 trillion-and-growing nut makes the budget far more exposed to an inflation outbreak and rising rates versus just 18 months ago.

            The Fed could face much higher costs on the bank reserves it must corral to forestall inflation

            The new trillions in short-term borrowing plant fresh hazards in America’s fiscal path. But the Fed’s policy of paying whatever is necessary to keep the banks from pumping its newly minted money into loans that would overheat the economy could also cause a sharp rise in the nation’s interest burden. Today, the Fed is famously swelling the money supply at a rapid rate. Its challenge is blocking all those trillions from doing what they usually do in a super–easy-money era, fueling inflation.

            The Treasury raises funding by selling T-notes and T-bonds to financial institutions. At the same time, the Fed is sprouting new money by crediting funds to its own account. It increases the money supply, and the availability of credit to families and businesses, by purchasing Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities from the banks with that new money. The lenders then have more liquidity to finance credit card balances and home loans. Their customers deposit the dollars in their checking accounts, and the banks lend part of those new deposits to seed more deposits that spawn more loans from themselves and rival banks in a cycle that expands consumer and business spending across the economy.

            Traditionally, the Fed didn’t buy most of the newly issued Treasuries from the financial institutions that just bought them from the Treasury. It purchased just enough to provide additional credit when the economy’s clicking. When inflation was looming, it sold Treasuries to the banks at attractive rates to dial back the excess dollars chasing goods and services. The banks held a large portion of Treasuries on their balance sheets as reserves, and sold some of them to the Fed when demand for loans increased. But the QE program that started in October 2008 at the height of the Great Financial Crisis changed that paradigm. In part, the campaign is designed to lift home, stock, and other asset prices by holding longer-term rates extremely low, raising the wealth for families and corporations. Under QE, the Fed is devouring gigantic chunks of the Treasury’s even more gigantic issuance of T-notes (two to 10 years) and T-bonds (20 and 30 years).

            In the 12 months to mid-August 2021, the Fed bought an epic $978 billion in T-notes and T-bonds. By my estimate, it purchased well over 80% of the total of around $1.2 trillion in those securities maturing in five years or more. All told, the Fed’s holdings of the two longer-dated classes has doubled since mid-2016 to $4.7 trillion.

            That trove of T-notes and T-bonds sits on the asset side of the Fed’s famed balance sheet. Keep in mind that the Fed is buying those Treasuries from banks that just bought the same Treasuries from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In effect, the banks are just flipping the bonds to the Fed. The financial institutions know that the central bank will hoover all the T-notes and T-bonds they just acquired, rewarding them with commissions for serving as middlemen. “That’s one reason rates are so low,” says William Luther, a professor of economics and monetary policy at Florida Atlantic University. “The banks know that the Fed will instantaneously buy all the Treasuries they want to sell at today’s high prices.”

            The Fed is using trillions in newly generated money to buy Treasuries from the banks in record amounts. If the banks turned the Fed’s fount—almost $1 trillion in the past year—into fresh loans, prices would rocket. “The Fed needs a lever to ensure that huge increase in the money supply doesn’t translate into extra bank credit,” says Luther. “The Fed’s goal is to ring-fence that money so that it doesn’t flow into loans that cause inflation.” The Fed’s power tool: paying interest on deposits.

            What the Fed pays to isolate those funds has varied greatly over the years. It’s called the interest on reserve balances or IORB rate. In the six years following the Great Financial Crisis, the number was a minuscule 0.07% to 0.15%. But as the economy improved in 2018, the rate jumped to 2% and hovered at 2.4% from January to August of 2019. As recently as February of last year, it stood at 1.58%. The slashing of the Federal funds rate to nearly zero last year drove the IORB back to around today’s level of 0.15%.

            Why would the banks park trillions in reserves at such a paltry return? One reason, Luther points out, is that they don’t have a choice. The Basel regulations require that the banks maintain a far higher ratio of capital to risk-weighted assets, including their loans adjusted for the risk of default. A second motive: Though the IORB sounds extremely modest, the Fed typically arranges matters so that it’s just slightly higher than the Fed funds rate at which the banks lend to one another. In addition, the banks are taking none of the usual risks on the trillions collecting interest at the Fed. “The reserves the banks hold at the Fed are totally safe,” says Luther. “That money doesn’t risk defaults or require servicing. And it earns a competitive return, though that return is now tiny.”

            The magic of the “consolidated balance sheet”

            Today’s fiscal story is the saga of the Fed aiding the Treasury as never before. The Fed is creating trillions in new money and, under QE, using it to buy the record amounts of longer-term debt that the Treasury is selling to the banks. Today, the Fed owns $4.7 trillion in those T-notes and T-bonds. Instead of owing all the money to outsiders, the Treasury instead owes it to the Fed. Because both arms fall under the government’s consolidated balance sheet, the U.S. owes that money to itself. Hence, all the interest the Fed collects from the Treasury it sends right back to the Treasury. That arrangement turns what could be a huge interest bill into a virtual wash.

            Here’s my estimate of the money flow from the Fed to the Treasury. In 2020, the Treasury paid around 2% to the Fed on that $4.7 trillion that the Fed owns in long-dated Treasuries, or $94 billion. Buying all those Treasuries does come at a price to the Fed, but for now, it’s a small one. The central bank can only safely generate the “free” money available to amass those bonds if it also pays interest to keep the money it hands the banks for the T-notes and T-bills from rushing into inflation-spurring credit. Right now, the Fed’s paying a tiny 0.15% on the $4.2 trillion in reserves. In effect, it’s backing all those Treasuries bought via new money by debt that cost just $6 billion a year (0.15% of $4.2 trillion in reserves).

            Last year, the Fed sent the Treasury $88 billion in profit, consisting of the $94 billion in interest that it collected from the Treasury, minus the $6 billion in interest it paid on reserves. What a deal for the Treasury! Instead of paying $94 billion in interest to banks, hedge funds, and other outsiders, the Treasury shuttled that money to itself, courtesy of the Fed. The Fed helped the U.S. Department of the Treasury keep America’s interest expense $94 billion lower than it otherwise would have been. But in providing that epic lift to the Treasury, the Fed is bearing big risks by effectively financing long-term bonds with the overnight debt it’s paying on reserves. The downside of the consolidated balance sheet: The Fed is taking a flier that could easily blow up, and if so, it will pass the damage to the Treasury, and on to the federal budget.

            The danger if inflation ignites

            Indeed, what happens if short-term rates spike? The big threat is that inflation has already arrived, and it’s settling in. To keep prices in check, the Fed will need to raise interest on reserves. The central bank is stuck. Remember, it absolutely cannot afford to let those reserves ooze into new credit that would inflame inflationary pressures that are already starting to boil.

            Say inflation keeps running at 5%, where it is now. The Fed might need to pay as much as the 2.4% charge that prevailed just over two years ago. If tapering begins as expected later this year, the Fed will be purchasing smaller and smaller amounts of newly issued bonds.

            But that will trigger another big change that’s also bad for the Fed’s bottom line.

            It will no longer be rebating the interest payments on those securities to the Treasury. Instead, they will be owned by outside investors who will collect the coupons that used to go back to the Treasury. So QE would contribute to higher carrying costs as well. But let’s just consider how a swing of almost $100 billion in yearly interest expense, caused by much higher rates on bank reserves at the Fed, would ripple through the federal budget.

            In 2019, the U.S. paid $376 billion in interest on average debt of $17.5 trillion. Since then, rates across the economy have cratered. That made new borrowing a lot cheaper. But the big drop in interest paid on reserves also helped a lot. Amazingly, the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that although debt will grow by almost 40% from 2019’s level to $24.3 trillion in 2022, the U.S. will miraculously be paying far less in interest, just $304 billion. But imagine that interest on reserves rises by $100 billion. That’s a 33% increase in all interest costs. And it won’t just be interest on reserves. Higher inflation will also hugely raise the costs of the $6.6 trillion in T-bills due in less than a year and floating rate debt. Overnight, the nation’s budget projections would be thrown into turmoil. That’s the peril Summers was talking about. He’s right. We don’t know when the greatest of all ARMs will reset. But we can picture the wreckage when it does.

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