Friday, May 22, 2009
很难预知衰退结束的具体时间。 每天都会有一系列的经济数据对外发布。但在衰退末期，消息通常是喜忧参半，就像近期一样。好消息带来的乐观情绪可能因为显示经济依然痼疾难消的坏消息而转瞬即逝。 在美国经济去年秋季开始从糟糕走向可怕的这段不稳定时期过后，一系列情况出现好转的报告引燃了对美国已处于复苏前夜的希望。企业借款成本出现了下降。对企业和家庭的调查显示信心开始上升。劳动力市场也表现出了一些改善的迹象。投资者抓住美联储主席贝南克(Ben Bernanke)所说的这些“萌芽”，推动道琼斯工业股票平均价格指数从3月份的12年低点上涨了30%。 不过上周政府有关4月份零售额出现下降的报告打消了对消费支出出现增长的希望。当初播种下衰退种子的房地产市场依然低迷。简而言之，复苏的迹象还存在不确定性。 加州大学圣地亚哥分校经济学家哈密尔顿(James Hamilton)警告说，这些萌芽还太绿、太弱。 复苏对不同的人也有着不同的含义。经济学家预计国内生产总值(GDP)今年夏季将恢复增长。但对许多有工作或已失业的人来说，这并不意味着复苏。企业一般会等到确信业务出现复苏后才会再度开始招聘。 普林斯顿大学经济学家、前美联储副主席布林德(Alan Blinder)说，对大多数人而言，就算是GDP出现了上升，他们也不会认为底部已经过去，除非失业率开始下降。 非盈利组织美国国家经济研究局(National Bureau of Economic Research)对衰退的官方定义是，经济活动的大幅下降扩散至经济的各个领域，并持续几个月以上的时间。自本轮衰退2007年12月份开始以来，美国已经失去了570万份工作。在过去两个季度中，GDP折合成年率的萎缩速度超过了6%，本季度还有可能进一步收缩。由六名成员组成的美国国家经济研究局商业周期测定委员会(Business Cycle Dating Committee)可能会等到经济复苏至GDP回升到前期高点时的水平后才会宣布衰退结束。 哈佛大学经济学家、该委员会成员弗兰克尔(Jeffrey Frankel)说，除非GDP和就业状况好转，否则宣布获胜还为时尚早。 尽管如此，让弗兰克尔感到欣慰的是，信贷状况自去年9月份雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)破产以来已经出现了明显的改善。其中一个迹象是同业银行短期拆借利率已经出现了下降，虽然同美国国债利率相比依然较高。他说，如果拆借利率能回到正常水平，我们又能躲过新的不利因素的冲击，那么情况就会非常好。 金融市场也正在复苏。投资者也不再恐慌。公司债券的上扬带来了收益率的下降。投资者风险偏好的提高推低了美国国债的价格，造成了收益率的上升。其结果就是公司债券和美国国债之间息差的收窄，这种变化常常是经济复苏的先兆。投资者通常会嗅出衰退结束的气味，金融市场的上涨会给焦躁不安的消费者和企业高管带来明确的、增强信心的信号。 令乐观情绪更加高涨的是制造业采购经理人信心回升。供应管理学会(Institute for Supply Management)每月对该指标进行调查，并在政府数据出炉之前发布报告。4月份的调查发现，有迹象显示制造业的下滑势头已经减弱。表示订单增加的采购经理人超过了订单减少的经理人，这是一个好迹象。 就业市场上，能直接说明问题的指标之一是每周首次申请失业救济人数。尽管有大批克莱斯勒员工加入了暂时失业的行列，这个数字却仍低于今春早些时候的峰值。截至5月9日，消除了周度动荡的四周平均值为630,500人──虽然仍很高，但低于4月初658,750人的峰值。 西北大学经济学家、美国国家经济研究局商业周期测定委员会成员罗伯特•戈登(Robert Gordon)说，首次申请失业救济人数封顶一直是表明衰退将于6周内结束的可靠信号。他说，这个指标很准，就算你被关在黑屋子里，你也能预测衰退的结束。 戈登认为，在金融危机和由此引发的深度低迷的情况下，经济可能正处于一场几乎再普通不过的复苏的开始。这意味着信心的回升会引起销售好转，进而推动公司投资和就业的增加。 不过对遭受了至少25年来最严重的低迷打击的美国经济来说，仍有很多事可能出现问题。上个月美国就业岗位减少539,000个，是自去年10月以来最少的一个月，不过仍是极大幅度的减少。研究和贸易公司ITG经济学家罗伯特•巴贝拉(Robert Barbera)说，除了过去的6个月，4月份的就业数据是我职业生涯里见过的最糟糕的数据，所以很难对这样的数据感到乐观。 在就业市场回暖缓慢之际，如果家庭预计形势会好转，感觉有足够的信心增加支出，经济也能开始复苏。眼下的问题是，房价的持续暴跌打击了很多家庭的财务状况，紧缩贷款的放贷机构限制了家庭借款的能力。这令家庭更难以增加支出。 美国国家经济研究局商业周期测定委员会成员、哈佛大学的马丁•费尔德斯坦(Martin Feldstein)说，对最近很多统计数据的乐观诠释是错误的，过于乐观了；人们都想听好消息，但当你深入挖掘一下时，会发现消息其实并不好。 过去，经济走出衰退的一个信号是新屋（独户）开工数的上升，这常常是由于降息刺激了房屋建设。这次，房屋建设依然低迷。最新的数据显示，新屋开工数终于停止了下滑，不过仍比去年同期低50%，较2006年的高点低80%。 每次衰退中，经济都会打破一些规律。这次，打破的规律可能是首次申请失业救济人数的下降预示着复苏。或者是房屋市场必须复苏，解除警报的信号才会响起。尽管经济学家们希望所有指标的表现都能和理论上说的一样，但哈佛大学的弗兰克尔说，现实情况总是要复杂得多。 Justin Lahart It's hard to tell the moment when a recession ends. The economy spews forth a stream of data daily. But at a recession's end, news typically turns mixed, as it has lately. Optimism prompted by good news can vanish quickly when bad news suggests the economy is relapsing. After a queasy period when the U.S. economy went from bad to dreadful beginning last fall, a series of improved reports has fueled hopes that the country is on the cusp of recovery. Corporate borrowing costs have fallen. Surveys of businesses and households show increased confidence. The labor market is showing tentative signs of improvement. Investors have seized onto these 'green shoots,' as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called them, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 30% from its 12-year low in March. Yet last week's government report that retail sales fell in April sapped hopes that consumer spending is on the rise. And the housing market, where the seeds of recession were sown, remains distressed. In brief, the signs of recovery so far have been inconclusive. 'The shoots are still pretty green and pretty thin,' warns economist James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego. Recovery means different things to different people. Economists expect that gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, will resume growing this summer. But that won't feel much like a recovery to many workers with or without a job. Companies tend to wait until they are certain that business is picking up before hiring again. 'For most people, they're not going to think the bottom has been past until unemployment is falling, even if GDP is rising -- and why should they ' says Princeton University economist Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman. The official arbiters at the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research define recession as 'a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months.' Since the current one began in December 2007, the U.S. has lost 5.7 million jobs. GDP has contracted at more than a 6% annual rate the past two quarters, and is likely to contract further in the current quarter. The six-member NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee will probably wait to declare the recession over until the economy has improved to the point when GDP is restored to its former peak. 'Until GDP and employment turn around, it's premature to declare any kind of victory,' says Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard University economist and a committee member. Nevertheless, Mr. Frankel draws comfort that credit conditions have improved markedly since the Lehman Brothers failure last September. One sign is that the short-term rates that banks charge each other to borrow money have fallen, though they're still high, compared with rates of U.S. Treasury debt. 'If those get back to normal, and we dodge any new bullets, then things look very good,' he says. Financial markets are pointing to recovery. Investors are out of panic mode. A rally in corporate bonds has sent their yields lower. Investor willingness to take more risk has pushed down the prices of Treasury bonds, and thus pushed up their yields. The result is a narrowing in the gap between yields on corporate bonds and Treasurys, a development that is often a forerunner to economic recovery. Investors often sniff out the end to recession before it occurs, and rising markets often provide a confidence-boosting, all-clear signal to fretful consumers and business executives. Adding to optimism is the improving mood of manufacturing purchasing managers, surveyed monthly by the Institute for Supply Management in a report that precedes hard government data. The April survey found signs that the slowdown in manufacturing has eased. More purchasing managers said orders were picking up than said they were falling, a welcome sign. In the labor market, one of the nearly instant measures is the weekly tally of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits. Even with a flurry of Chrysler workers furloughed, that number is below the peak hit earlier this spring. The four-week average, monitored because it smoothes week-to-week volatility, was 630,500 as of May 9 -- still high, but down from early April's peak of 658,750. A cresting in that measure has been a reliable signal that a recession is within six weeks of ending, says Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon, who sits on the NBER committee. 'This thing does amazingly well,' he says of the indicator. 'Even if you were shut up in a dark room, you could forecast the end of the recession.' In the wake of the financial crisis and the steep downturn it provoked, the economy may be at the start of an almost 'garden-variety' recovery, thinks Mr. Gordon. That means improved confidence will yield a pickup in sales and, in turn, an increase in corporate investment and hiring. But for an economy battered by the worst downturn in at least a quarter-century, there is still plenty that could go wrong. The economy shed 539,000 jobs last month, less than any month since October but still a very sharp decline. 'It's hard to get euphoric about the snapshot for employment in April, since it was the worst number I've seen in my career, except for the last six months,' says economist Robert Barbera of research and trading firm ITG. A recovery can begin even if jobs are slow to come back -- if households feel confident enough to increase spending in anticipation of better times. The problem now is that a persistent collapse in house prices has hurt many households' finances and tight-fisted lenders have limited their ability to borrow. That makes it even harder for them to spend more. 'The optimistic interpretations of a number of recent statistics are incorrect -- too optimistic,' says Harvard's Martin Feldstein, an NBER committee member. 'There's a grabbing for good news, and when you dig down a little deeper, the news isn't good.' In the past, one signal that the economy was coming out of recession was an increase in the number of new single-family homes that builders started, often because lower interest rates prompted more building. This time, home building remains depressed. The latest data suggest that housing starts have stopped falling, finally, but they remain 50% below the year-earlier level and 80% below the 2006 peak. In every recession, the economy breaks some rule. This time around, it may be the rule that an ebb in unemployment claims presages recovery. Or that housing must recover for the all-clear signal to sound. While economists would like all the arrows to line up according to their theories, Harvard's Mr. Frankel says, 'the reality is always much more jagged than that.'