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中国的2万亿美元难题

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小编摘要:美中两国相互依赖的程度是否可能比我们想象的还要高?

On Wednesday Fed chief Ben Bernanke became the first American official in recent memory to admit just how deep a hole we have dug ourselves with our biggest creditor.

Bernanke said China holds at least $2 trillion of U.S. government bonds. That is more than double the widely cited official figure, which is published monthly by Treasury.

As staggering as Bernanke's number is, his coming clean comes as a relief. As ugly as our debt problem is, it creates problems for China too -- what to do with all that paper?

And maybe, just maybe, the more facts that are out there, the better decisions policymakers will eventually make. Emphasis on eventually.

"The monthly Treasury series is wildly inaccurate, but it's good that someone's finally willing to say so with the doors open," said Derek Scissors of the Heritage Foundation. "Perhaps with a reasonable figure available, we can see more clearly the implications of China's dependence on the dollar."

Officials in the two countries have been trading jabs lately over each other's unpopular policies. Both have been easy with money in a bid to spur growth, but Bernanke has taken a beating in China and elsewhere for the recent spike in global food inflation.

For its part, China has spent years holding down the value of its currency to boost exports – a program that is drastically out of favor here with unemployment at 9%.

The dollars it has purchased in pursuing that policy now expose it to big risks: Scissors notes that China stands to lose hundreds of billions of dollars on its Treasury purchases should the yuan appreciate significantly, as U.S. policymakers would like.

Of course, there is also the question of just how the U.S. will pay off on all its promises. Testifying before the House Budget Committee, Bernanke said in response to a question from Rep. Tom McClintock that China holds as much as a quarter of outstanding U.S. government debt – "more than $2 trillion" of Treasury securities.

The comment drew a double-take from McClintock, a California Republican. Apparently referring to the latest official count released by Treasury, McClintock asserted that China's holdings amounted to around 9.5% of outstanding U.S. government bonds.

McClintock is apparently referring to the latest official count, publicized monthly in Treasury's major foreign holders table. Those figures, from November, show that China owns $896 billion of Treasurys.

Both McClintock's and Bernanke's figures foot fairly well with the $9 trillion of Treasury debt outstanding at the end of the third quarter, according to the Fed's Flow of Funds report.

But Bernanke's figure is far more revealing, in that it sheds light on the true size of China's stake in keeping the U.S. economy rolling. It is in line with the estimate made by China watchers such as Scissors, who says Chinese holdings of Treasury and agency debt – that issued by the mortgage investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – likely range between $2 trillion and $2.5 trillion.

Why do the Chinese hold so many U.S. bonds? It's not because they like us, sad to say. The huge Treasury hoard is a function of China's huge trade surplus – Scissors estimates China's 2010 balance of payments surplus at $471 billion, or $39 billion a month – and the lack of an alternative to the dollar.

"There is no unified European bond market, and Japan is closed to large Chinese purchases," he writes. "The only market large enough to absorb such huge surpluses is American bonds."

Scissors has been questioning the official Treasury tally for some time. He has noted, for instance, that China's official Treasury holdings remained static over the past year – ranging between $846 billion and $929 billion – even as the country ran its massive surplus. How is that possible?

Scissors contends it did so in part by purchasing Treasurys through other countries. Over the past year, Treasury's tally of Treasurys held in the U.K. – including in the tax havens of the Channel Islands – has surged by $355 billion.

Those sorts of purchases will only continue till China changes its ways -- which isn't going to happen tomorrow, not with a national leadership change set for next year.

"China will not break the yuan's peg to the dollar until it can resolve the matter of soaring dollar holdings, and that can be done only through financial reform," Scissors writes.


上周三,美联储主席本?伯南克承认,美国给自己及其最大的债权国捅了大篓子,成为近期首次做出这种表态的美国官员。

伯南克表示,中国至少持有2万亿美元的美国国债。这一水平超过广为援引的官方数据的两倍,后者由美国财政部每月发布。

伯南克的数据令人难以置信,不过他这番坦承令美国人稍感慰藉。美国的债务问题糟糕,也给中国造成了问题——该怎么处置这堆纸票?

也许(仅仅是也许),曝光的事实越多,决策者们最终做出的决定将会更好。注意,重点是“最终”。

美国传统基金会(Heritage Foundation)的德里克?西瑟斯表示:“美国财政部的月度数据在很大程度上并不准确,但终于有人愿意打开天窗说亮话来谈论这个,这很好。也许有了合理的数据,我们能更清楚地看到中国依赖美元的含义。”

美中两国的官员最近一直你来我往地互相抨击对方不得人心的政策。双方都一直维持宽松货币政策以期刺激经济增长,但伯南克因近期全球食品价格上涨受到中国和其他国家的指责。

多年来,中国一直在压低自身货币币值,以促进出口,这一政策在失业率高达9%的美国很不受欢迎。

中国在推行这项政策的过程中买入的美元如今正给它带来重大风险:西瑟斯指出,如果人民币如美国决策者们希望的那样大幅升值,中国将在其购买的美国国债上损失数千亿美元。

当然,美国将如何还清自己欠下的所有债务也是个问题。伯南克在美国众议院预算委员会(House Budget Committee)前作证时,就共和党议员汤姆?麦克林托克提出的问题回答称,中国已持有多达美国未偿政府债券总数的四分之一,即“超过2万亿美元”的美国国债。

这一说法使得加州共和党议员麦克林托克十分惊讶并对该数据进行了复核。麦克林托克显然援引了美国财政部最新公布的官方统计数据,他称中国持有的未偿美国政府债券占总数的9.5%左右。

麦克林托克很显然是在援引最新的官方统计数据,该数据每月发表在美国财政部的“主要外国持有人一览表”中。11月份的数据显示,中国持有8960亿美元美国国债。

根据美联储的“资金流向报告”,麦克林托克和伯南克的数据均与第三季度末9万亿未偿美国国债十分吻合。

但伯南克的数据更能揭露真相,因为它揭示了中国在使美国经济保持运转上有多大的利害关系。这与西瑟斯等中国观察家的估算相一致,西瑟斯认为中国持有的由抵押贷款投资人房利美和房地美发行的美国国债和机构债券可能在2万亿至2.5万亿美元之间。

中国为何持有如此多的美国债券?很不幸,这并不是因为他们喜欢美国。巨额美国国债持有量是中国巨额贸易顺差(西瑟斯估算2010年中国的国际收支顺差额为4710亿美元,折合每月390亿美元)以及缺乏美元替代品这两个因素共同作用的结果。

西瑟斯写道,“没有统一的欧洲债券市场,日本也不允许中国大举购买其债券。足以吸收如此巨额顺差的大型市场只有美国债券。”

一段时间以来,西瑟斯始终质疑官方的美国国债账目。比如他就指出,中国一直存在顺差,然而美国官方公布的中国对美国国债的持有量在去年却保持不变,规模介于8460亿美元和9290亿美元之间。这怎么可能?

西瑟斯声称,在某种程度上,中国通过从其他国家购买美国国债做到了这一点。去年一年,美国财政部给出的英国(包括海峡群岛这些避税地区)持有美国国债的官方统计数额猛增3550亿美元。

这种购买在中国改变方式之前只会持续,短期内不会改变。而中国定于明年进行国家领导人换届选举。

西瑟斯写道:“在解决美元持有量不断飙升这个问题之前,中国不会取消人民币与美元挂钩的机制,而美元持有量飙升的问题只有通过金融改革才能解决”。
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2011-02-15 11:01 编辑:kuaileyingyu
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