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    美国经济正面临巨大风险,却无人关注

    美国经济正面临巨大风险,却无人关注

    Shawn Tully 2021年09月07日
    美国财政部的前部长拉里·萨默斯认为,债务规模和赤字规模的重要程度远不如债务成本。

    情况似乎好得难以置信。

    现在,美国有个难得的机会以非常低廉的利率借款,即便总债务负担迅速上升,总利息支出却在持续下降。美国可以为有价值的项目大手笔投钱,而不必承担通常会重创联邦预算的利息支出激增风险。

    但拉里·萨默斯明确指出,只有一个问题仍然需要保持警惕。萨默斯曾经在美国前总统比尔·克林顿政府担任财政部部长,他毫不掩饰地表达了自己对利用当今超低利率扩大联邦借贷,向基础设施、绿色能源和社会项目进行投资的支持。他认为,债务规模和赤字规模的重要程度远不如债务成本。

    萨默斯在他的蓝图上提出了关键的警告。美国财政部只有将战略重点放在以当前长期利率借款(目前利率处于历史最低水平),并且锁定遥远未来可承受的支出,才能够规避巨大风险。让萨默斯震惊的是,美国政府恰恰采取与之相反的危险策略,即用隔夜债务为长期债券融资。“实际上,政府现在拥有的是用浮动利率短期负债,而不是长期固定利率负债。”8月13日萨默斯接受彭博电视(Bloomberg Television)的《华尔街周报》(Wall Street Week)采访时表示。“在极度不确定的时刻,在很多人认为利率非常低的时刻,增加短债的决定似乎很奇怪。”

    萨默斯特别谈到了美联储的“量化宽松”(QE)政策,即利用日常借款工具购买当前发行的大量长期国债。购买规模高达每月800亿美元。美国每年可以省下数百亿美元,因为这些国债利息会以闭环方式直接返还给美国财政部。但该计划很容易适得其反。美国支付的隔夜利率极低,目的是防止新产生的、用于购买美国国债的资金流入新增贷款从而加剧通胀。具体而言,美联储正在吸引金融机构将“超额准备金”纳入其资产负债表。现在,美联储只需要支付0.15%的超低利息就能够增加货币供应量,同时还可以遏制通胀。

    然而这条路的前方有很大可能存在危险。经济从封锁中持续复苏,导致当今强大的通胀压力持续,甚至还可能恶化。美联储被迫为4.2万亿美元的银行准备金支付更高利率,才能够阻止大量资金流入汽车、住房和消费贷款从而推高物价。额外费用将大大增加联邦预算的利息支出。由于美联储将减少买入新发行债券,也会减少央行向财政部提供的实际“补贴”,进一步打破脆弱的平衡。到目前为止,史上最低的债券收益率,加上美联储购买大量新发行国债再将利息返还给财政部的招数,导致债务激增的同时美国国债收益率不断下跌。而且美联储的做法推动困境愈发迫近。只要出现一阵通货膨胀,就可能导致这一特别平衡举措的崩溃。

    历史上最大的可调整利率贷款(ARM)

    萨默斯所指的美联储“古怪”道路,只是造成高压状况极端危险的部分原因。美国财政部也在为应对新冠疫情承担的巨额刺激支出提供大量资金,短期国债到期时间短则四周,长则一年。总体来说,2019年年底以来美国联邦债务增长了30%,达到22.2万亿美元,其中约一半的支持基础为美联储隔夜借款、12个月或更短时间到期的债券或浮动利率证券。正如胡佛研究所(Hoover Institution)的经济学家约翰·科克伦所说:“美国当前面临的危险,与2006年房地产泡沫期间用可调利率抵押贷款买房的美国人一样。”

    现在,全球最大的经济体正在操作史上最大的可调整利率贷款。简言之,美国正在冒着巨大风险人为压低当前利息支出,使财政状况看起来比实际情况稳定些。萨默斯呼吁美联储“结束量化宽松”,主要因为该计划与快速滚动的信用支持多年期债券并不匹配。7月底的美联储会议上,联邦公开市场委员会(Open Market Committee)的大多数成员都主张从今年晚些时候开始逐渐退出量化宽松。嘉信理财(Charles Schwab)的经济学家预测,美联储将在11月开始逐渐退出,每月将买入的美元金额减少85亿美元。

    众所周知,美联储可以继续通过巧妙手段让美国保持当前的轨道。但前提是通货膨胀只是短期现象。7月,消费者价格指数(CPI)上涨5.4%,涨幅为2008年8月以来最大。美联储预测2021年全年CPI将增长3%,远高于2%的平均目标。除了促进充分就业,美联储的首要任务是确保物价稳定。如果通胀继续,要维持物价稳定可能会对美国的可调整利率贷款融资进行大规模利率调整。如此调整可能导致债务年度利息支出出现美国历史上最大规模的激增,从表面上合算变成惊人昂贵。拉里·萨默斯的警告便会成真。

    美国财政部短期内为大部分由新冠病毒推动的支出提供资金

    美国为抗击新冠疫情承担的新债务加大了未来的财政风险。尽管现在美国财政部正转向长期借款,但一两年后到期债务将增加数万亿美元,使得美国更容易受利率突然上浮影响。

    2019年12月底,联邦政府欠的“公众债务”达17.2万亿美元。此类债务包括个人、公司、外国政府和12家联邦储备银行持有的美国国债。其中,2.4万亿美元是期限为四周到一年的短期国债,占比14%。9.3万亿美元是至少两年期最长到基准10年期的中期国债,占比58%。20年期和30年期国债为2.4万亿美元,占债务总额14%。总的来说,美国超过72%的借款是中长期国债。

    美国为新冠疫情承担巨额突发开支和借款时,相对谨慎的形象发生了根本性转变。从2019年年底到2020年8月,美国财政部大幅亏空,发行了惊人的2.7万亿美元短期国债,平均每两个月滚动一次。其每4美元新借款中就有3美元为短期国债。相比之下,美国财政部只卖出了1.4万亿美元的中长期国债,收益只有风险更高的短期国债一半。(债券发行数据均为同期到期的美国国债净值。)

    截至2020年8月,短期国债借款总额所占份额跃升超过10个百分点,达到23.4%。加上浮动利率债券,一年期以内的国债和与短期利率挂钩的国债比例从四分之一跃升到未偿债务的三分之一以上。2020年前三个季度,联邦债券平均到期日从69个月降至62个月,为史上最大突然降幅之一。

    此后,美国财政部调整了方向,大幅减少发行一年内短期国债,并扩大期限较长的中长期国债发行规模,逐步恢复“未偿还债券”平衡。美国财政部的债务管理办公室(Office of Debt Management)在截至6月30日的联邦政府三季度更新报告中详细介绍了相关趋势。报告中包括了截至本财年9月底的新债务发行预测。据其预测,截至9月30日的12个月内,美国财政部将回收7420亿美元的短期国债,金额超过新发行短债。

    2021财年近2万亿美元的新增借款总额中,有1.45万亿美元将由到期时间为五年或五年以上的中期国债以及到期时间为20年和30年的长期国债提供。美国正在重新走上更保守也更传统的道路,依靠较长期债券筹集近四分之三新借款。弹指间,美国债务平均到期期限就已经回升至新冠疫情爆发前的69个月。

    虽然美国财政部将债券期限恢复到危机前水平是一件好事情。但问题是:即使比例保持在过去的水平,现在美国短期未偿债务还是比2019年年底多得多。看实际金额比看占比更重要。截至7月,美国欠下的短期国债金额达6.6万亿美元,还要加上浮动利率债务,比2019年12月持有的各类短债多出2万亿美元。由于短期国债比例已经恢复正常,四季度美国财政部将再次发行短期国债。

    从现在起,美国财政部可能继续出售短期国债和浮动利率债券,以维持公众持有总债务30%的份额。未来几年,财政部每年要借入约2万亿美元,为庞大赤字提供资金。因此,两个月至一年期美元债务和浮动利率债券将继续快速增长,原因都是新冠疫情应急资金大幅提升了整体负债水平。与18个月前相比,6.6万亿美元且不断增长的债务需要不断展期或重设利率,使得预算更容易受到通货膨胀爆发和利率上升影响。

    美联储可能面临银行准备金成本大幅提升,所以必须遏制通胀

    新增万亿短期借款给美国的财政路径造成了新风险。美联储为防止银行将新供应资金注入信贷体系而引发经济过热所采取的政策,可能导致利息负担急剧上升。如今,美联储以快速增加货币供应闻名,其挑战是阻止货币超级宽松时代万亿资金通常会产生的作用,即加剧通货膨胀。

    美国财政部通过向金融机构出售中长期债券筹集资金。与此同时,美联储将发行美元存入自己的账户,从而产生新资金,然后再用新资金从银行购买国债和抵押贷款支持证券,增加货币供应量,增加家庭和企业的信贷供应。如此一来,贷款人就有更多的流动性为信用卡余额和住房贷款融资。客户将美元存入支票账户,银行将新存款的一部分出借以获得更多的存款,从自身和竞争对手银行获得更多的贷款继而形成循环,扩大整个经济体内的消费者和商业支出。

    过去,如果金融机构刚从财政部买入国债再迅速发行,美联储不会买入。之前美联储购买的金额刚好够在经济复苏时提供额外信贷。通货膨胀迫在眉睫时,美联储以诱人的利率向银行出售国债,以收回争相竞购商品和服务的过剩美元。银行资产负债表上持有大量美国国债作为储备,贷款需求增加时将其中一部分出售给美联储。但2008年10月金融危机最严重时启动的量化宽松计划改变了这一模式。某种程度上,量化宽松的目标是将长期利率维持在极低水平,提振房屋、股票和其他资产价格,增加家庭和企业的财富。在量化宽松政策下,美国财政部发行了更大规模的中期国债(两年期至10年期)和长期国债(20年期至30年期),而美联储则吞下了其中绝大部分份额。

    截至2021年8月中旬的12个月内,美联储买入了9780亿美元的中长期国债。据我估计,在到期时间不低于五年的约1.2万亿美元国债中,美联储购买的份额超过了80%。总而言之,2016年年中以来,美联储持有的两类较长期债券金额已经翻了一番,达到4.7万亿美元。

    美联储买入的中长期国债都计在其规模庞大的资产负债表资产端。请记住,美联储从银行手中购入的国债就是银行刚刚从美国财政部买入的。实际上,银行只是将债券转售给美联储。金融机构很清楚,美联储将对刚刚收购的中长期国债进行清理,还提供中介佣金。“这是利率如此低廉的原因之一。”佛罗里达大西洋大学(Florida Atlantic University)的经济学和货币政策教授威廉·路德说。“银行都知道,美联储会立刻按当前高价买下银行想出售的美国国债。”

    美联储正在动用数以万亿计的新增资金从银行购买创纪录的美国国债。如果过去一年银行将美联储近1万亿美元的资金转化为新贷款,物价就会飙升。“美联储需要杠杆确保货币供应量大幅增加,且不会转化为新增银行信贷。”路德指出。“美联储的目标是钳制资金,避免资金流入信贷体系导致通货膨胀。”美联储强大的工具就是:支付存款利息。

    多年来,受准备金余额利率(IORB)波动影响,美联储为隔离资金而支付的费用差异巨大。金融危机之后六年里,该利率仅为0.07%到0.15%。但随着2018年经济好转,准备金余额利率跃升至2%,2019年1月至8月徘徊在2.4%之上。就在去年2月,该利率仍然为1.58%。去年将联邦基金利率削减至接近零,将准备金余额利率拉回到现在的0.15%左右。

    为什么银行愿意存入数万亿准备金只获得如此微薄的利息?路德指出,原因之一是银行别无选择。巴塞尔规则要求银行资本与风险加权资产比率非常高,风险加权资产也包括根据违约风险调整的贷款。第二个原因是,尽管准备金余额利率听起来很低,但美联储通常会做一些安排,使其略高于银行间借贷的联邦基金利率。此外,银行向美联储收取数万亿美元利息时,不用承担通常的风险。路德说:“银行放在美联储的准备金完全安全,这笔钱不存在违约风险也不需要提供服务。尽管其收益很低,但仍然具有竞争力。”

    “合并资产负债表”的魔力

    当前的财政故事,是美联储前所未有地出手援助美国财政部的传奇。美联储创造数以万亿计的新资金,在量化宽松政策下购买财政部出售给银行的创纪录的长期债务。如今,美联储持有4.7万亿美元的中长期国债。如此一来,美国财政部不用欠外人,而是欠美联储。两个部门都并入政府的综合资产负债表,也就是说美国欠自己的钱。美联储从财政部收取的利息,都会直接返还给财政部。这一安排将可能是巨额利息的账单最后变成了虚拟的洗牌。

    以下是我对美联储流向财政部资金流的估计。2020年,美国财政部向美联储支付了其持有4.7万亿长期国债的约2%收益,即940亿美元。对美联储来说,购买美国国债确实要付出代价,但就目前而言代价很小。美联储只有支付利息,防止其交给银行用于购买中期国债和短期国债的资金流入刺激通胀的信贷,才能够安全地产生用于积累债券的“免费”资金。现在,美联储只为4.2万亿美元的准备金支付了0.15%利息。实际上,美联储全额支持着通过新发货币购买的美国国债,每年仅耗资60亿美元(4.2万亿美元的0.15%)。

    2020年,美联储向财政部上缴了880亿美元的利润,其中包括从财政部收取的940亿美元利息,再减去支付的60亿美元准备金利息。对财政部来说,这笔交易太合算!财政部不用向银行、对冲基金和其他外部方面支付940亿美元利息,而是在美联储的帮助下将这笔钱转给自己。美联储协助财政部将美国的利息支出控制在940亿美元以下。但在向财政部提供巨大帮助的过程中,美联储要承担巨大的风险,因为美联储实际上是动用准备金支付隔夜债务从而为长期债融资。综合资产负债表的负面影响为,美联储坐上了易爆的飞船,一旦爆炸,损失将转嫁到财政部,最终影响联邦预算。

    通胀引发的危险

    如果短期利率飙升会怎样?最大的威胁是通货膨胀已经到来,而且将长期持续。为了控制物价,美联储需要提高准备金率。央行陷入困境。记住,美联储绝对不能让准备金流入新信贷,否则将加剧已经开始沸腾的通胀压力。

    比如说,通货膨胀率保持在当前的5%。美联储可能需要支付相当于两年前2.4%的费用。如果今年晚些时候像预期的一样开始退出量化宽松,美联储买入新发行债券将越来越少。

    但这将引发另一个不利于美联储底线的大变化。

    美联储不用再向财政部返还债券的利息。届时债券将由外部投资者持有,收取本应流回财政部的利息。因此,量化宽松将导致账面成本更高。但是也要考虑一下,由于美联储银行准备金利率大幅上升,每年近1000 亿美元的利息支出波动会如何影响联邦预算。

    2019年,美国为平均17.5万亿美元债务支付了3760亿美元的利息。从那时起,整个经济体利率大幅下降,新借债成本大幅降低。不过准备金利息大幅下降也起到了很大作用。令人惊讶的是,美国国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)预测,尽管债务将从2019年水平增长近40%,到2022年达到24.3万亿美元,美国支付的利息却奇迹般地大幅降低,仅为3040亿美元。想象一下,如果准备金利息增加1000亿美元会怎样。各项利息成本将增加33%。这还不仅仅是准备金利息问题。通胀率升高还将极大提高6.6万亿美元一年期内短期国债和浮动利率债务的成本。一夜之间,美国预算预测将陷入混乱。这就是萨默斯所说的危险。他说得没有错,我们不知道最强大融资武器何时调整,但能够想象它的破坏力有多大。(财富中文网)

    译者:冯丰

    审校:夏林

    情况似乎好得难以置信。

    现在,美国有个难得的机会以非常低廉的利率借款,即便总债务负担迅速上升,总利息支出却在持续下降。美国可以为有价值的项目大手笔投钱,而不必承担通常会重创联邦预算的利息支出激增风险。

    但拉里·萨默斯明确指出,只有一个问题仍然需要保持警惕。萨默斯曾经在美国前总统比尔·克林顿政府担任财政部部长,他毫不掩饰地表达了自己对利用当今超低利率扩大联邦借贷,向基础设施、绿色能源和社会项目进行投资的支持。他认为,债务规模和赤字规模的重要程度远不如债务成本。

    萨默斯在他的蓝图上提出了关键的警告。美国财政部只有将战略重点放在以当前长期利率借款(目前利率处于历史最低水平),并且锁定遥远未来可承受的支出,才能够规避巨大风险。让萨默斯震惊的是,美国政府恰恰采取与之相反的危险策略,即用隔夜债务为长期债券融资。“实际上,政府现在拥有的是用浮动利率短期负债,而不是长期固定利率负债。”8月13日萨默斯接受彭博电视(Bloomberg Television)的《华尔街周报》(Wall Street Week)采访时表示。“在极度不确定的时刻,在很多人认为利率非常低的时刻,增加短债的决定似乎很奇怪。”

    萨默斯特别谈到了美联储的“量化宽松”(QE)政策,即利用日常借款工具购买当前发行的大量长期国债。购买规模高达每月800亿美元。美国每年可以省下数百亿美元,因为这些国债利息会以闭环方式直接返还给美国财政部。但该计划很容易适得其反。美国支付的隔夜利率极低,目的是防止新产生的、用于购买美国国债的资金流入新增贷款从而加剧通胀。具体而言,美联储正在吸引金融机构将“超额准备金”纳入其资产负债表。现在,美联储只需要支付0.15%的超低利息就能够增加货币供应量,同时还可以遏制通胀。

    然而这条路的前方有很大可能存在危险。经济从封锁中持续复苏,导致当今强大的通胀压力持续,甚至还可能恶化。美联储被迫为4.2万亿美元的银行准备金支付更高利率,才能够阻止大量资金流入汽车、住房和消费贷款从而推高物价。额外费用将大大增加联邦预算的利息支出。由于美联储将减少买入新发行债券,也会减少央行向财政部提供的实际“补贴”,进一步打破脆弱的平衡。到目前为止,史上最低的债券收益率,加上美联储购买大量新发行国债再将利息返还给财政部的招数,导致债务激增的同时美国国债收益率不断下跌。而且美联储的做法推动困境愈发迫近。只要出现一阵通货膨胀,就可能导致这一特别平衡举措的崩溃。

    历史上最大的可调整利率贷款(ARM)

    萨默斯所指的美联储“古怪”道路,只是造成高压状况极端危险的部分原因。美国财政部也在为应对新冠疫情承担的巨额刺激支出提供大量资金,短期国债到期时间短则四周,长则一年。总体来说,2019年年底以来美国联邦债务增长了30%,达到22.2万亿美元,其中约一半的支持基础为美联储隔夜借款、12个月或更短时间到期的债券或浮动利率证券。正如胡佛研究所(Hoover Institution)的经济学家约翰·科克伦所说:“美国当前面临的危险,与2006年房地产泡沫期间用可调利率抵押贷款买房的美国人一样。”

    现在,全球最大的经济体正在操作史上最大的可调整利率贷款。简言之,美国正在冒着巨大风险人为压低当前利息支出,使财政状况看起来比实际情况稳定些。萨默斯呼吁美联储“结束量化宽松”,主要因为该计划与快速滚动的信用支持多年期债券并不匹配。7月底的美联储会议上,联邦公开市场委员会(Open Market Committee)的大多数成员都主张从今年晚些时候开始逐渐退出量化宽松。嘉信理财(Charles Schwab)的经济学家预测,美联储将在11月开始逐渐退出,每月将买入的美元金额减少85亿美元。

    众所周知,美联储可以继续通过巧妙手段让美国保持当前的轨道。但前提是通货膨胀只是短期现象。7月,消费者价格指数(CPI)上涨5.4%,涨幅为2008年8月以来最大。美联储预测2021年全年CPI将增长3%,远高于2%的平均目标。除了促进充分就业,美联储的首要任务是确保物价稳定。如果通胀继续,要维持物价稳定可能会对美国的可调整利率贷款融资进行大规模利率调整。如此调整可能导致债务年度利息支出出现美国历史上最大规模的激增,从表面上合算变成惊人昂贵。拉里·萨默斯的警告便会成真。

    美国财政部短期内为大部分由新冠病毒推动的支出提供资金

    美国为抗击新冠疫情承担的新债务加大了未来的财政风险。尽管现在美国财政部正转向长期借款,但一两年后到期债务将增加数万亿美元,使得美国更容易受利率突然上浮影响。

    2019年12月底,联邦政府欠的“公众债务”达17.2万亿美元。此类债务包括个人、公司、外国政府和12家联邦储备银行持有的美国国债。其中,2.4万亿美元是期限为四周到一年的短期国债,占比14%。9.3万亿美元是至少两年期最长到基准10年期的中期国债,占比58%。20年期和30年期国债为2.4万亿美元,占债务总额14%。总的来说,美国超过72%的借款是中长期国债。

    美国为新冠疫情承担巨额突发开支和借款时,相对谨慎的形象发生了根本性转变。从2019年年底到2020年8月,美国财政部大幅亏空,发行了惊人的2.7万亿美元短期国债,平均每两个月滚动一次。其每4美元新借款中就有3美元为短期国债。相比之下,美国财政部只卖出了1.4万亿美元的中长期国债,收益只有风险更高的短期国债一半。(债券发行数据均为同期到期的美国国债净值。)

    截至2020年8月,短期国债借款总额所占份额跃升超过10个百分点,达到23.4%。加上浮动利率债券,一年期以内的国债和与短期利率挂钩的国债比例从四分之一跃升到未偿债务的三分之一以上。2020年前三个季度,联邦债券平均到期日从69个月降至62个月,为史上最大突然降幅之一。

    此后,美国财政部调整了方向,大幅减少发行一年内短期国债,并扩大期限较长的中长期国债发行规模,逐步恢复“未偿还债券”平衡。美国财政部的债务管理办公室(Office of Debt Management)在截至6月30日的联邦政府三季度更新报告中详细介绍了相关趋势。报告中包括了截至本财年9月底的新债务发行预测。据其预测,截至9月30日的12个月内,美国财政部将回收7420亿美元的短期国债,金额超过新发行短债。

    2021财年近2万亿美元的新增借款总额中,有1.45万亿美元将由到期时间为五年或五年以上的中期国债以及到期时间为20年和30年的长期国债提供。美国正在重新走上更保守也更传统的道路,依靠较长期债券筹集近四分之三新借款。弹指间,美国债务平均到期期限就已经回升至新冠疫情爆发前的69个月。

    虽然美国财政部将债券期限恢复到危机前水平是一件好事情。但问题是:即使比例保持在过去的水平,现在美国短期未偿债务还是比2019年年底多得多。看实际金额比看占比更重要。截至7月,美国欠下的短期国债金额达6.6万亿美元,还要加上浮动利率债务,比2019年12月持有的各类短债多出2万亿美元。由于短期国债比例已经恢复正常,四季度美国财政部将再次发行短期国债。

    从现在起,美国财政部可能继续出售短期国债和浮动利率债券,以维持公众持有总债务30%的份额。未来几年,财政部每年要借入约2万亿美元,为庞大赤字提供资金。因此,两个月至一年期美元债务和浮动利率债券将继续快速增长,原因都是新冠疫情应急资金大幅提升了整体负债水平。与18个月前相比,6.6万亿美元且不断增长的债务需要不断展期或重设利率,使得预算更容易受到通货膨胀爆发和利率上升影响。

    美联储可能面临银行准备金成本大幅提升,所以必须遏制通胀

    新增万亿短期借款给美国的财政路径造成了新风险。美联储为防止银行将新供应资金注入信贷体系而引发经济过热所采取的政策,可能导致利息负担急剧上升。如今,美联储以快速增加货币供应闻名,其挑战是阻止货币超级宽松时代万亿资金通常会产生的作用,即加剧通货膨胀。

    美国财政部通过向金融机构出售中长期债券筹集资金。与此同时,美联储将发行美元存入自己的账户,从而产生新资金,然后再用新资金从银行购买国债和抵押贷款支持证券,增加货币供应量,增加家庭和企业的信贷供应。如此一来,贷款人就有更多的流动性为信用卡余额和住房贷款融资。客户将美元存入支票账户,银行将新存款的一部分出借以获得更多的存款,从自身和竞争对手银行获得更多的贷款继而形成循环,扩大整个经济体内的消费者和商业支出。

    过去,如果金融机构刚从财政部买入国债再迅速发行,美联储不会买入。之前美联储购买的金额刚好够在经济复苏时提供额外信贷。通货膨胀迫在眉睫时,美联储以诱人的利率向银行出售国债,以收回争相竞购商品和服务的过剩美元。银行资产负债表上持有大量美国国债作为储备,贷款需求增加时将其中一部分出售给美联储。但2008年10月金融危机最严重时启动的量化宽松计划改变了这一模式。某种程度上,量化宽松的目标是将长期利率维持在极低水平,提振房屋、股票和其他资产价格,增加家庭和企业的财富。在量化宽松政策下,美国财政部发行了更大规模的中期国债(两年期至10年期)和长期国债(20年期至30年期),而美联储则吞下了其中绝大部分份额。

    截至2021年8月中旬的12个月内,美联储买入了9780亿美元的中长期国债。据我估计,在到期时间不低于五年的约1.2万亿美元国债中,美联储购买的份额超过了80%。总而言之,2016年年中以来,美联储持有的两类较长期债券金额已经翻了一番,达到4.7万亿美元。

    美联储买入的中长期国债都计在其规模庞大的资产负债表资产端。请记住,美联储从银行手中购入的国债就是银行刚刚从美国财政部买入的。实际上,银行只是将债券转售给美联储。金融机构很清楚,美联储将对刚刚收购的中长期国债进行清理,还提供中介佣金。“这是利率如此低廉的原因之一。”佛罗里达大西洋大学(Florida Atlantic University)的经济学和货币政策教授威廉·路德说。“银行都知道,美联储会立刻按当前高价买下银行想出售的美国国债。”

    美联储正在动用数以万亿计的新增资金从银行购买创纪录的美国国债。如果过去一年银行将美联储近1万亿美元的资金转化为新贷款,物价就会飙升。“美联储需要杠杆确保货币供应量大幅增加,且不会转化为新增银行信贷。”路德指出。“美联储的目标是钳制资金,避免资金流入信贷体系导致通货膨胀。”美联储强大的工具就是:支付存款利息。

    多年来,受准备金余额利率(IORB)波动影响,美联储为隔离资金而支付的费用差异巨大。金融危机之后六年里,该利率仅为0.07%到0.15%。但随着2018年经济好转,准备金余额利率跃升至2%,2019年1月至8月徘徊在2.4%之上。就在去年2月,该利率仍然为1.58%。去年将联邦基金利率削减至接近零,将准备金余额利率拉回到现在的0.15%左右。

    为什么银行愿意存入数万亿准备金只获得如此微薄的利息?路德指出,原因之一是银行别无选择。巴塞尔规则要求银行资本与风险加权资产比率非常高,风险加权资产也包括根据违约风险调整的贷款。第二个原因是,尽管准备金余额利率听起来很低,但美联储通常会做一些安排,使其略高于银行间借贷的联邦基金利率。此外,银行向美联储收取数万亿美元利息时,不用承担通常的风险。路德说:“银行放在美联储的准备金完全安全,这笔钱不存在违约风险也不需要提供服务。尽管其收益很低,但仍然具有竞争力。”

    “合并资产负债表”的魔力

    当前的财政故事,是美联储前所未有地出手援助美国财政部的传奇。美联储创造数以万亿计的新资金,在量化宽松政策下购买财政部出售给银行的创纪录的长期债务。如今,美联储持有4.7万亿美元的中长期国债。如此一来,美国财政部不用欠外人,而是欠美联储。两个部门都并入政府的综合资产负债表,也就是说美国欠自己的钱。美联储从财政部收取的利息,都会直接返还给财政部。这一安排将可能是巨额利息的账单最后变成了虚拟的洗牌。

    以下是我对美联储流向财政部资金流的估计。2020年,美国财政部向美联储支付了其持有4.7万亿长期国债的约2%收益,即940亿美元。对美联储来说,购买美国国债确实要付出代价,但就目前而言代价很小。美联储只有支付利息,防止其交给银行用于购买中期国债和短期国债的资金流入刺激通胀的信贷,才能够安全地产生用于积累债券的“免费”资金。现在,美联储只为4.2万亿美元的准备金支付了0.15%利息。实际上,美联储全额支持着通过新发货币购买的美国国债,每年仅耗资60亿美元(4.2万亿美元的0.15%)。

    2020年,美联储向财政部上缴了880亿美元的利润,其中包括从财政部收取的940亿美元利息,再减去支付的60亿美元准备金利息。对财政部来说,这笔交易太合算!财政部不用向银行、对冲基金和其他外部方面支付940亿美元利息,而是在美联储的帮助下将这笔钱转给自己。美联储协助财政部将美国的利息支出控制在940亿美元以下。但在向财政部提供巨大帮助的过程中,美联储要承担巨大的风险,因为美联储实际上是动用准备金支付隔夜债务从而为长期债融资。综合资产负债表的负面影响为,美联储坐上了易爆的飞船,一旦爆炸,损失将转嫁到财政部,最终影响联邦预算。

    通胀引发的危险

    如果短期利率飙升会怎样?最大的威胁是通货膨胀已经到来,而且将长期持续。为了控制物价,美联储需要提高准备金率。央行陷入困境。记住,美联储绝对不能让准备金流入新信贷,否则将加剧已经开始沸腾的通胀压力。

    比如说,通货膨胀率保持在当前的5%。美联储可能需要支付相当于两年前2.4%的费用。如果今年晚些时候像预期的一样开始退出量化宽松,美联储买入新发行债券将越来越少。

    但这将引发另一个不利于美联储底线的大变化。

    美联储不用再向财政部返还债券的利息。届时债券将由外部投资者持有,收取本应流回财政部的利息。因此,量化宽松将导致账面成本更高。但是也要考虑一下,由于美联储银行准备金利率大幅上升,每年近1000 亿美元的利息支出波动会如何影响联邦预算。

    2019年,美国为平均17.5万亿美元债务支付了3760亿美元的利息。从那时起,整个经济体利率大幅下降,新借债成本大幅降低。不过准备金利息大幅下降也起到了很大作用。令人惊讶的是,美国国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)预测,尽管债务将从2019年水平增长近40%,到2022年达到24.3万亿美元,美国支付的利息却奇迹般地大幅降低,仅为3040亿美元。想象一下,如果准备金利息增加1000亿美元会怎样。各项利息成本将增加33%。这还不仅仅是准备金利息问题。通胀率升高还将极大提高6.6万亿美元一年期内短期国债和浮动利率债务的成本。一夜之间,美国预算预测将陷入混乱。这就是萨默斯所说的危险。他说得没有错,我们不知道最强大融资武器何时调整,但能够想象它的破坏力有多大。(财富中文网)

    译者:冯丰

    审校: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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