Expect a U-shape for China’s current account

预计中国经常账户将呈U型增长

2019/06/06 10:54
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在这篇观点文章中,艾丽西亚•加西亚-埃雷罗讨论了我们应该预期中国经常账户会出现结构性赤字,还是会出现新的盈余。

As the US aims to reduce it's bilateral trade deficit, China's current-account surplus is back in the headlines. However, in reality China’s current-account surplus has significantly dropped since the 2007-08 global financial crisis. In this opinion piece, Alicia García-Herrero discusses whether we should expect a structural deficit or a renewed surplus for China's current-account.

由于美国的目标是减少双边贸易逆差,中国的经常账户盈余再次成为头条新闻。然而,实际上,自2007-08年全球金融危机以来,中国的经常账户盈余已大幅下降。在本文中,Alicia García-Herrero讨论了我们是否应该预期中国经常账户会出现结构性赤字,还是会出现新的盈余。

This opinion piece was first published in Asia Times.

这篇观点文章首先发表在《亚洲时报》上。

China’s current-account surplus is back in the spotlight amid the US quest to reduce its bilateral trade deficit with the Asian country. However, the reality is that China’s current-account surplus has dropped significantly from its peak during the 2007-08 global financial crisis.

在美国寻求减少对华双边贸易逆差之际,中国的经常账户盈余再度成为人们关注的焦点。然而,现实是,中国的经常账户盈余已从2007年至2008年全球金融危机期间的峰值大幅下降。

From China’s perspective, a narrower current-account balance may be helpful as it could ease the concerns of the rest of the world about China’s export machine. But it also has disadvantages, namely reducing China’s ability to respond to unexpected shocks, as the accumulation of foreign-exchange reserves from a trade surplus would in principle stop, if not retract. While most Western economists would argue that China’s external buffer, namely Forex reserves, are excessive, this might not be the view of China’s leadership, especially after the recent experiences with US-led disruptions and other types of tail risks.

从中国的角度来看,缩小经常账户余额可能是有益的,因为它可以缓解世界其他国家对中国出口的担忧。但它也有不利之处,即削弱了中国应对意外冲击的能力,因为贸易顺差积累的外汇储备即使不会减少,原则上也会停止。尽管多数西方经济学家会辩称,中国的外部缓冲(即外汇储备)过高。

Over and above the ongoing reduction of China’s current-account surplus, the US push for China to reduce its bilateral trade surplus puts even more weight on the – by now consensus – view that China’s current-account surplus is an issue of the past and that we should expect a structural deficit down the road.

中国的经常账户盈余是过去的一个问题,我们应该期待的是结构性赤字。

This prediction might not come true, however. The most obvious reason, at least in the short term, is the breakdown of trade negotiations between the US and China, but this is not the whole story. There are other important reasons, related to the very nature of China’s reduced current-account surplus, that lead us to expect a reversal of the current trend, back toward a renewed surplus.

然而,这一预测可能不会成真。至少在短期内,还有其他一些重要的原因,与中国经常账户盈余减少的本质有关,这些原因导致我们预计当前趋势将出现逆转,重新出现盈余。

In fact, trade in goods contributed to less than one-third of the shrinking current-account surplus, with services (especially tourism) explaining the rest. The rising tourism deficit appears to be easily explained by the large number of Chinese tourists overseas, but that too is not the full story. A comparison of China’s reported tourism deficit with its key trading partners’ reported tourism trade surplus shows that the former is significantly bigger than the latter, reflecting the reality that China’s reported tourism expenditure is not actually fully on the usual tourism-related means but actually has other objectives.

事实上,商品贸易对经常账户盈余大幅度减少的贡献还不到三分之一,剩下的部分由服务业(尤其是旅游业)解释。中国游客众多似乎很容易解释旅游赤字不断上升的原因,但这也不是全部原因。将中国报告的旅游赤字与主要贸易伙伴报告的旅游贸易顺差进行比较,发现前者明显大于后者,反映出中国报告的旅游支出实际上包括其他目的。

In fact, a large bulk of the deficit might be outright capital flight to circumvent capital-account restrictions. As such, measures to clamp down on tourism expenditure could eventually be taken if China did not manage to attract enough capital to counter the reduction in the current-account balance. This is especially so under the current managed exchange-rate mechanism, which requires enough Forex reserves to buffer RMB depreciation pressure. In other words, tourism is an obvious source of unrecorded capital outflows – equivalent to more than half of the goods trade surplus – and may be restricted to push up the current-account surplus.

事实上,很大一部分赤字可能是为了规避资本账户限制而直接的资本外逃。因此,如果中国无法吸引足够的资本来抵消经常账户余额的减少,最终可能会采取措施限制旅游支出。在当前有管理的汇率机制下尤其如此,这需要足够的外汇储备来缓冲人民币贬值的压力。换句话说,旅游业是未被记录的资本外流的一个明显缺口——相当于商品贸易顺差的一半以上。

From a long-term domestic perspective, a high savings rate is the key for China to keep its current account in surplus. But in recent years, China’s domestic savings rate has been on a downward trajectory. Corporate saving has slowed because of the leverage binge that Chinese companies have experienced since the massive stimulus Beijing has carried out since the global financial crisis. More recently, slower household income growth, the transformation toward a consumption-driven growth model and the strengthened social-security system have contributed to a decline in household savings as well. Finally, the decline in China’s government savings is due to the slower growth in fiscal revenues and the frequent need to stimulate the economy on the back of increasingly lower potential growth.

从国内长期来看,高储蓄率是中国保持经常账户盈余的关键。但近年来,中国国内储蓄率一直在下降。自全球金融危机后中国实施大规模刺激计划以来,中国企业经历了杠杆狂潮,企业储蓄放缓。最近,家庭收入增长放缓,向消费驱动型增长模式转变,此外,社会保障体系的加强也导致了家庭储蓄的下降。最后,中国政府储蓄下降的原因是财政收入增长放缓,在潜在增长日益放缓的背景下,中国经常需要刺激经济。

Down the road, all of the above structural factors are to remain, which should in principle push the current account toward a deficit. This consensus view, though, assumes that investment will remain high in China, and this is where we tend to disagree. In fact, investment has remained high artificially as a consequence of consecutive stimulus plans.

今后,上述所有结构性因素都将继续存在,这在原则上应该会推动经常账户出现赤字。然而,这种共识认为,中国的投资仍将保持高位,而这正是我们往往不同意的地方。事实上,由于连续实施刺激计划,投资人为地保持在高位。

Public investment has played an important buffering role every time private investment decelerated because of the worsening economic outlook. This has again been the case since the beginning of 2019, which explains the correction in the current-account surplus toward a deficit but, structurally, investment in China can only go down as the return on assets continues to fall. In other words, expect a smaller – if not negative – current-account balance in 2019, but not later, as investment cannot be maintained artificially high for ever.

每当私人投资因经济前景恶化而减速时,公共投资都起到了重要的缓冲作用。自2019年初以来,这种情况再次出现,这解释了经常账户盈余转为赤字的原因,但从结构上讲,中国的投资只能随着资产回报率继续下降而下降。换句话说,预计2019年经常账户余额即使不是负数也会减少,因为投资不可能永远保持人为的高水平。

The clampdown on tourism expenditure may be the trigger to turn the current-account deficit back to positive, which can only reflect a lower investment ratio down the road, even lower than the reduction in the savings ratio. This, of course, does not bode well for China’s potential but it does explain why China’s widely expected current-account deficit might be short-lived. It might, thus, be wiser to expect a U-shaped current-account balance for China down the road. The US negotiators dealing with China now might not like this, though.

抑制旅游支出可能是将经常账户赤字转为正值的触发因素,这只能反映出未来更低的投资比例,甚至更多的储蓄率下降。当然,这对中国的增长潜力并不是个好兆头,但它确实解释了为什么中国普遍预期的经常账户赤字可能是短暂的。因此,更明智的或许是,预计中国未来的经常账户余额将呈U形。

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