罗奇:相比短期通胀压力 我更担心美元贬值带来的金融风险

  斯蒂芬·罗奇:相比短期通胀压力,我更担心美元贬值带来的金融风险

  来源:中国金融四十人论坛 

  美国宽松政策仍在继续。

  继1.9万亿美元财政救助计划之后,一项可能高达3万亿美元的基建计划正在拜登政府的考虑之中。尽管白宫试图澄清类似的报道“过早”,但市场早已对此做出心理准备。此外,在上周的议息会议上,美联储“鸽声”依旧,而十年期美债利率一度向上突破了1.75%。

  与之形成对比的是新兴市场国家“提前”加息。3月18-19日,土耳其央行、巴西央行和俄罗斯央行先后上调基准利率,市场预计,印度、韩国、马来西亚、泰国等经济体也将进入加息通道。人们开始担忧新兴经济体恐将暴露尾部风险。

  究竟如何评估美国大手笔财政刺激政策所带来的影响?如何理解美联储的鸽派表态?加息操作何时到来?新兴经济体风险几何?放眼全球金融市场,风险点到底在哪?中国又会受到哪些影响?

  聚焦以上问题,摩根士丹利亚洲区前主席、耶鲁大学高级研究员斯蒂芬·罗奇(Stephen Roach)近日接受CF40研究部访谈。

罗奇:相比短期通胀压力 我更担心美元贬值带来的金融风险

  问:3月11日,美国总统拜登正式签署1.9万亿美元刺激计划。但是对于这一财政刺激规模究竟是“过大”(可能导致恶性通胀),还是“不够”(美国经济面临衰退风险,还需要加码刺激),仍然存在争议。您更赞同哪种观点?

  罗奇:为了走出疫情引发的经济衰退,我认为美国是需要推出救助计划的。美国的疫情有很大好转,疫苗的供应和分配也得到极大改善,相应地也产生了高昂的成本,美国政府需要为这些疫情救助提供必要的资金。很多企业依然在这次历史性的经济衰退的余波中挣扎,所以拜登政府推出大规模的救助方案是合适的。与其称为“刺激”(stimulus),我认为这项法案更合适的叫法是为疫情危机冲击下的美国经济提供的“救助”(relief)。

  问:您对未来三年美国经济复苏和通胀变化前景有何预期?是否有一些具体的预测数值可以分享?

  罗奇:我认为今年上半年美国经济会强劲复苏,但到了下半年或者明年,增长可能会放缓。目前我们采取的很多措施都是暂时性的,等到这些政策逐渐退出时,美国经济预计会恢复到疫情前的增长水平。

  疫情期间积累的需求中有些已经释放、有些正在释放。今年一些领域的消费,尤其是汽车、家具、家电等耐用品的消费已经在回升,但这种回升可能一定程度上是在“透支”原本在今年下半年或者明年初才会释放的需求。因此,美国今年的经济增长可能会呈现“前重后轻”的特点,到了后半年我们是否能维持现在的救助力度还存在很大的不确定性。

  我们可以看到,债券市场很担心通胀加剧,但我认为这样的担忧有点过度了。今年上半年的通胀确实会上升,但很大一部分原因是去年通胀水平很低。不过我认为未来几年,潜在通胀率可能总体还是处于2%或者略低的水平。即使我这个预测不准确,我觉得通胀率也不会攀升至远高于2%的水平,我认为最高不会超过2.5%。

  美联储已表示,过去八九年来,通胀一直都比目标水平低很多,所以这几年即使通胀在一定程度上超过目标值,也是可以接受的,不会因此大幅收紧货币政策。虽然债券市场看来对此持不同看法,但鲍威尔在最近一次议息会议上还是坚持这个策略,而且我认为除非有证据显示通胀预期将严重恶化,他不会改变立场。

  问:根据媒体报道,1.9万亿美元刺激计划之后,拜登政府还在考虑一项规模可能在数万亿美元的基建计划,与此同时,可能大幅增加联邦税。另一方面,美国政府债务占GDP比重已经达到历史最高水平,美债供应过剩问题引发担忧。

  您对新一轮基建计划规模有何预期?美国财政刺激的空间还有多大?增税是否能有效解决财政支出的资金来源问题?如何评估美国政府出现债务危机的可能性?

  罗奇:现在比较热议的一个话题是拜登政府所谓的“重建美好”(build back better)的基础设施建设倡议。美国确实有很多年头较久的基建设施需要更新和重建,包括公路、铁路、桥梁、港口等。

  美国需要基建投资是毋庸置疑的,但至于基建计划的规模会有多大,拜登政府尚未就这方面规划进行详细说明。一般我们所说的基建计划项目,规模大多是在1万亿美元左右,但这个猜测也是基于以往计划的基建项目的规模给出的,很多可能要追溯到奥巴马政府时期了。奥巴马政府当时也是想加大基建投资的,但后来国会没有通过。

  那我们承担得起基建带来的大规模支出吗?这是个大问题。现在美国债务占GDP的比例已经攀升至二战后的新高。但很多民主党人和现代货币理论(MMT)的推崇者觉得不用担心,因为目前联邦债务的利息费用很低,几乎是历史最低,利息费用占GDP的比重仅为1-2%,当然具体数值也因计算方法而异。低利率与现代货币理论无关。美联储现在是把利率锚定在一个极低的水平,目的是帮助把利息支出维持在低水平,否则就会产生大量的利息费用,那样的话就会对经济产生很不利的影响。

  美联储已经成为美国财政冒险行为的一个合作者。美国现在债务占GDP的比重非常高、而且很可能会因为基建投资需求而继续攀升,因此极度宽松的货币政策是非常必要的。所以货币与财政政策的配合对于预防债务危机至关重要。只要美联储把利率维持在当前这样的低水平,美国就不会出现债务危机。但当下债务占GDP的比重处于历史新高,即使货币政策不收紧,政府债务也已经是个挺大的问题了。

  问:上周三,美联储FOMC维持基准利率在近0区间,鲍威尔在记者会上表示,美联储需要看到通货膨胀在一段时间实质性超过2%目标,随后才会开启紧缩政策。但另一方面,美联储又上调了未来三年的通胀预期,将今年的名义PCE预期上调至2.4%。

  结合上述两个情况来看,对鲍威尔有关通胀的表述应该如何理解?他所说的“足以开启紧缩政策的通胀标准”,具体可能是通胀达到什么水平?持续多长时间?

  罗奇:关于这两个表述的理解有几点。

  去年夏天美联储推出了一种新的货币政策方法,叫做“平均通胀目标制”(average inflation targeting),主要是为了解决过去八九年以来美国通胀长期低于目标通胀水平的问题。美联储设定的以‘个人消费支出平减指数’衡量的物价稳定目标是2%,而过去八九年来的平均通胀率接近1.5%。平均通胀目标制认为,美联储将多年平均通胀目标设置为2%,所以即使一两年内通胀高于2%,只要幅度不算过于剧烈,3-5年内的平均通胀依然可以保持在2%或低于2%的水平,因此也就不需要收紧货币政策。

  但是如果美联储认为通胀率有可能升至并维持在2.5%以上,那就像鲍威尔在议息会议上说的,美联储就会提前向市场发出收紧货币政策的信号,然后再采取行动,以防止几年之前的“缩减恐慌”(taper tantrum)重演。我认为美联储这种做法可能有点问题。你们问我鲍威尔接下来会怎么做,我觉得他已经很明确地告诉我们在平均通胀目标制下他会怎么做。

  问:一些观点担心,按照鲍威尔现在的表述,恐怕美联储缩减购债规模或考虑加息时,为时已晚,经济已经过热,也就是担心美联储反应滞后。您是否同意这样的看法?如果美联储反应滞后,可能会有哪些后果?

  罗奇:在平均通胀目标制之下,其实美联储是在告诉市场,它就是想滞后反应。问题在于滞后反应会有什么后果呢?如果经济严重过热,比如,美国重回充分就业,失业率重新回到疫情前的3.5%左右,同时有迹象显示商品市场压力加剧,GDP增长也远高于3-3.5%的长期趋势,那可能美联储再采取行动就真的为时已晚了。届时,收益率曲线会变得非常陡峭,美联储就会铸成大错。

  但如果美国经济总体走势不那么强,比起疫情前,就业市场、商品市场没有特别紧张,那么即使通胀暂时超过2%的目标,美联储晚点采取行动或许也没有问题。

  问:10年期美国国债收益率一度升破1.75%。美联储是否有必要采取扭曲操作,在什么情况或时机下可能触发扭曲操作?除了扭曲操作外还有哪些工具,您对这些工具效果有何预期?

  罗奇:2008年金融危机发生后,在2011年,美联储曾在第二两波量宽之后尝试了扭曲操作,结果喜忧参半。但是当然,就像日本央行一样,美联储为了调控长期利率可以对资产购置的结构进行调整,但只有在市场不担忧通胀急剧加速的情况下这种操作才有效,如果通胀预期开始显著恶化,扭曲操作可能就失效了。

  所以,现在鲍威尔在尝试另一种工具,试图说服债券市场不必那么担心通胀上升。这是联储的一种政策沟通方式,即向市场“喊话”(jaw-boning),利用自己的舆论影响力,劝说债券市场不必担心通胀,这种做法到底能不能奏效还尚不可知,但我们看到发布会的第二天,市场就对鲍威尔的这一判断提出了严重质疑。最终,市场对通胀会做出自己的判断。

  同样,收益率曲线变陡峭,反映出市场认为在目前通胀上升的环境下,美联储的应对并不妥当,对此,美联储也会做出自己的判断。

  问:目前来看,市场对于美联储加息时点的预期已经从2024年初提前到2023年甚至2022年。您认为,美联储加息操作可能在什么时点到来?以及,对全球金融市场而言,会否再现2013年的“缩减恐慌”?2021年是否可能爆发全球性金融危机?或者,有哪些局部风险值得关注?包括中国在内的新兴市场经济体是否会出现较大的资本外流压力?

  罗奇:美联储对于市场动荡风险还是很警惕的,所以鲍威尔在记者会上也专门表示美联储很清楚2013年缩减恐慌带来的风险、会注意不重蹈覆辙,还多次强调在货币政策调整之前一定会释放充足的信号。

  但央行在遏制金融风险上的作为总归还是有局限的。我个人认为美国现在的形势已经在往让人担忧的方向发展,尤其是经常账户赤字不断扩大。现在经常账户赤字占GDP的比重约为3.5%,而且因为财政预算赤字很高,经常账户赤字还在继续上升。出现这种情况时,一般不是利率上升,就是汇率下降。

  美联储越晚调整利息,美元面临的压力就越大。美元估值之前是比2020年3月的水平下降了12%左右,现在回升了2个百分点,所以整体是从一年前的高位下降了10%左右。

  但今年以及明年初美元是可能继续走弱的,比起意外的短期通胀上升,美元走弱可能会给全球金融市场带来更大的风险。过去20年来我们经历过的一些金融风险让全球经济受到了极大影响,包括互联网泡沫的破裂、房市泡沫的破裂、信贷泡沫的破裂等。从很多方面来看,美元贬值的风险可以看作是这些问题的后续,都反映出货币政策长期处于过度宽松状态所带来的问题。

  在过去20年间,联储重复了一个错误,就是没有将泡沫后的货币政策常态化。例如,20世纪初,美联储曾把联邦基金利率下调至1%,而且长期维持在这个极低的水平。当时,互联网泡沫破裂,美联储害怕重蹈日本的覆辙,认为当时的事态已经严重到需要把基准政策利率下调至“紧急”(emergency)水平。但当紧急事态结束后,美联储仍然维持着低利率。

  全球金融危机以后,故事重演,即使几年后危机结束,美联储还是把利率维持在很低的水平。现在,美联储又在做同样的事情。

  这表明美联储其实是缺乏勇气把货币政策恢复常态,而且这就让市场在未来面临着未来更多风险。下一次风险的表现形式很可能就是美元严重走弱。如果美元严重走弱,人民币等其他货币可能就会走高。其实过去十多年来人民币汇率一直在稳步上升,但美元严重走弱会加速人民币升值,那么中国的出口商可能就会有比较大的压力。

  问:疫情以来,美国宏观经济政策步入财政政策主导、货币政策配合的时代,为何会出现这样的转变?这将如何影响全球财政和货币政策走向?您认为,中国货币政策是否应该早于全球其他国家收紧?

  罗奇:这种情况出现的一个主要原因是货币政策已经几乎“弹尽粮绝”了。政策利率降至零,美联储的资产负债表占GDP比重处于历史高点,而且说实话这些政策到底起到了多大作用也很难说。

  央行弹尽粮绝,那么除了在危机时期提供紧急借贷计划,能做的可能就是把利息支出维持在一个超低水平,其占GDP的比重也在不断下降,为大规模的财政刺激计划提供支持。当前货币政策的角色,我认为是为财政政策实施“创造条件”(enabling role),创造一种极度宽松的融资环境,帮助财政部门以前所未有的规模扩张开支。

  但这么做是有后果的,不同国家后果不一样,仅论美国的话,我认为结果就是经常性账户赤字居高不下、不断攀升,最终导致美元贬值。

  我和中国官员、央行以及其他政府机构交流的时候发现,中国非常重视极度宽松的货币政策可能带来的风险,所以中国人民银行没有把政策利率压到零,也没有采取过激的量宽政策,而且会更加重视在宽松周期结束后的货币政策常态化。

  所以我觉得其实发达国家的央行应该从中国汲取一些经验,因为西方国家更倾向于在货币政策上铤而走险,这可能就会产生很多严重的问题。现在没有严重的问题并不代表以后没有。过去20年来,我们其实有很多问题就是非常规的刺激性货币政策直接导致的。

  问:您认为还有哪些需要关注的问题?

  罗奇:围绕通胀的走势有很多问题:为什么此前通胀水平很低?通胀是否会短期内剧烈上升?这些问题很重要,但说实话我们对通胀问题并没有深入的理解。

  我就补充一点,在疫情发生前,美国经济其实已经很热,失业率达到50多年来的最低水平,但同时通胀也没有显著上升。

  这可能是因为,在供应链布局全球化、技术发展日新月异的今天,通胀其实已经是一个全球性的现象,而不是某个国家的、局部的、区域性的问题了。但我们现在的货币政策很多还是只考虑本国情况,而没有放在全球的背景下去思考,我们往往只是考虑自己国内的通胀水平,而不是全球范围内的通胀水平。

  所以我们必须更深刻地理解全球性因素对通胀走势和货币政策的影响。

  英文实录

  Q:On March 11,President Biden formally signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. It is still in dispute whether this round of stimulus is too much that may lead to raging inflation or insufficient that may plunge the US into the risk of recession.What is your view on this and why?

  A:It’s appropriate to provide relief to the United States which is still struggling to come out of this COVID recession. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in the incidence of the disease, we have significant increases in vaccine supply and distribution. While all of these actions are very expensive, the government certainly needs to provide the resources to fund these covid relief actions.Many businesses are still struggling in the aftermath of this record plunge in the economy. So, it’s appropriate to enact this type of a relief bill. I hesitate to call it a stimulus. It’s more of a relief for a covid- and crisis-battered US economy.

  Q:What are your expectations for US economic recovery in the next 3 years? How do you expect inflation to change? Do you have any forecast to share?

  A:I think the economy is going to be very strong in the first half of 2021. But I suspect that the growth rate will slow as we move through the course of the year and into 2022. Many of the actions that are being put in place right now are temporary, and so as they wear off the economy will go back to its pre-covid growth rate.

  I also fear and I’ve written about this recently that a lot of the pent-up demand that has been deferred during the crisis has already been released or is in the process of being released right now. So, in many respects, especially when looking at consumer spending on durable goods like cars, furniture and appliances, a lot of the spending that has occurred and is occurring right now is borrowing from demand that would have been evident later this year or early 2022. So, I think the growth rate is front-loaded and the support down the road is still very much in question.

  As for rising inflation, the bond market is certainly concerned about that possibility. I think those fears are overblown, however. Yes, there will be a pickup in the inflation rate in the first half of this year but in large part that is because the comparisons with a year earlier are very favorable. But I think the underlying inflation rate is still going to remain at or even slightly below 2% over the next several years. Even if I’m wrong, the inflation rate would not be appreciably above that. The worst I could see would be maybe 2.5%.

  The Federal Reserve Board has indicated that because inflation has been so much lower than it had been targeting for about 8 or 9 years, that it is willing to tolerate above-target inflation for a few years without a major tightening of monetary policy. The bond market seems to be disputing that, but Fed Chair Jerome Powell made a very strong defense of that strategy at the conclusion of this week’s FOMC meeting. I think he will stand by his position — barring new evidence of a more serious shift in inflationary expectations.

  Q:The Biden administration is considering further stimulus measures, including trillions of USD on infrastructure construction, in addition to the $1.9 trillion plan.Moreover, the government is also considering a major federal tax increase. However,the proportion of US government debt to GDP has reached a record high, and the oversupply of US debt has caused concerns.

  What are your expectations for the scale of the infrastructure projects? How much more space is there for fiscal stimulus? Can tax increases effectively supply enough funds for fiscal expenditures? How do you see the possibility of a debt crisis in the US government?

  A:There is a lot of discussion about the so-called “build back” program that focuses on infrastructure. America desperately needs to improve its ageing infrastructure in so many areas, including roads, highways, bridges, and port facilities.

  There is no question about the need. But the order of magnitude remains unknown, and the Biden administration has not detailed its intentions in this area yet. Typically,when we talk about infrastructure plans, we usually speak of programs somewhere around a trillion dollars. But that is just a guess based on earlier proposals dating back to the Obama administration, which wanted to do it but was unable to get that through the US Congress.

  Can we afford yet another large spending program? That’s the biggest question. We have debt-to-GDP ratios right now that are higher than there have been at any point since the end of WWII. But the Democrats and those advocates of the so-called Modern Monetary Theory say “don’t worry.” They say that because interest expenseson the federal debt are exceedingly low right now, almost at record lows, as a share of GDP — somewhere around 1-2%, depending upon which measure of net interest that you’ve used.

  Of course, there is no secret to why they are low. It has nothing to do with Modern Monetary Theory — it simply is that the Federal Reserve Board is anchoring interest rates at exceedingly low levels. That means that the Fed is subsidizing what might otherwise have been a massive overhang of interest payments that otherwise would have been very problematic for the US economy.

  The Fed has become a partner in America’s fiscal adventures. Its policies of extraordinary monetary accommodation are absolutely essential for the US with its outsized debt-to-GDP ratio and ambition to take that ratio even higher because of unmet infrastructure needs. That means the interplay between fiscal and monetary policy is absolutely essential to prevent anything close to a debt crisis.

  As long as the Fed keeps interest rates as low as they are, we will not have a debt crisis, but given the record debt-to-GDP ratio, it will not take much of a Fed tightening to cause that to be a serious problem.

  Q:The FOMC declared on last Wednesday to maintain the benchmark interest rate at around 0. Fed Chair Powell said the Fed will not tighten policies until there is substantial inflation that sustain at over 2%. But on the other hand, the Fed has raised its inflation expectation and increased the expected PCE inflation to 2.4%.

  Combining the above two statements,how do you understand the Fed’s stance on inflation? In what situation will the Fed start to tighten policies, and how long will it last?

  A:There are a few pieces to the puzzle you’ve just identified.

  Last summer the Fed adopted a new strategy for the conduct of monetary policy called average inflation targeting. This is aimed at addressing the surprisingly low, below-target outcome for US inflation over the last 8 to 9 years. The Fed has had a 2% price stability target as measured by the so-called PCE deflator, and the average inflation rate over that period has been close to 1.5%. Average inflation targeting says that the Fed is now using a 2% averageas a multi-year target. Consequently, an overshoot in any one or two years would still keep the three-to-five year inflation rate at or below 2%, which is not of actionable consequences for monetary policy.

  If,however, they see the inflation rate on a trajectory that seems to be moving to well above 2.5% and likely to stay there, then they will begin, as Chair Powell said at the FOMC meeting, to prepare the markets for tightening of monetary policy. He was very clear that to avoid the type of chaos that we had several years ago with the so-called taper tantrum, that he would send that warning well in advance of the Fed’s moves on policy. I happen to think that the Fed is making a mistake here. But you asked me what he is going to do, and I think he is very clear in what he is intending to do in light of their new operating procedure of average inflation targeting.

  Q:Powell’s statements have led some to worry the Fed will act too late – the economy will already be overheated when one day it finally starts to cut down bond purchase or raise the interest rate.Do you share this concern? What may happen if the Fed acts too late?

  A:Under average inflation targeting, it is important to stress that the Fed is telling the markets that it wants to act too late. There’s just the question of the consequences of what “too late” means. If the economy is seriously overheated— say we’ve gone back toward full employment of around 3.5%, as it was pre-COVID and there are additional signs of strains in product markets, and GDP growth is well above its long-term trend of 3-3.5%, then it would be too late.The yield curve would have steepened a lot and the Fed would have made a serious mistake.

  But if the economy is settled back to a rate of performance in terms of growth and signs of pressure in labor and product markets that are not nearly as tight as they were prior to the onset of COVID, then the Fed may not be “too late” even if the inflation has overshot temporarily its 2% price stability target.

  Q:The 10-Year Treasury bond now has a yield of nearly 1.7%. Is it necessary for the Fed to adopt Operation Twist to control it? What scenario or timing may trigger the Operation Twist? What other tools are available? What are the possible effects of these tools?

  A:Operation twist is something that the Fed tried in 2011 after QE2 following the global financial crisis. It had mixed results. Certainly the Fed, like the Bank of Japan, could tilt the composition of its asset purchases more toward the long end of the yield curve in an effort to control long-term interest rates. But that succeeds only if the markets are not fearful of a sharp acceleration of inflation. If inflationary expectations really start to deteriorate, operation twist will not succeed.

  So,Chair Powell is using another tool right now to try to convince the bond market that their concerns over a sustained rise in inflation are overblown. This is an aspect of communication  policy called “jaw-boning” — using the Fed’s“bully pulpit” to try to make the case to the bond market that it should not worry about inflation. It is too soon to tell if these efforts have been successful or not, but the day after Powell’s press conference, the markets raised serious doubts about the wisdom of his assessment.

  Ultimately be up to the market as to how it views the inflation outcome. It will also be up to the Fed to decide how it feels about a steepening of the yield curve that reflects the fact that the markets think that the US central bank is lagging the appropriate stance of should be required in a rising inflationary environment.

  Q:At present, market expectations for the timing of the Fed‘s interest rate hike have shifted forward from the beginning of 2024 to 2023 or even the end of 2022. In your opinion, when will the Fed raise interest rates? Will the global financial market suffer the taper tantrum of 2013 again? Will there be a global financial crisis in 2021, or what are the local risks worthy of attention? Will emerging markets including China face greater pressure of capital outflow?

  A:The Fed is very sensitive to the risk of market disruptions, and so Chair Powell in his press conference went out of his way to indicate that he is aware of what happened during the taper tantrum of 2013. I suspect that he will make every effort to avoid that in the current instance. He stressed several times in his press conference that he would provide ample warning of any normalization of monetary policy.

  But there is a limit to what the central bank can do to address some of the forces that could destabilize financial markets. I happen to believe right now the United States is moving into a very worrisome period with a widening current account deficit. When countries get into a problem with their current account deficit – our deficit right now is about 3.5% of GDP and getting a lot wider because of our enormous budget deficits – one of the two things that usually happen: interest rates go up or the currency goes down.

  The longer the Fed resists adjusting interest rates, the greater the pressure you’ll see on the value of the US dollar. The dollar had come down about 12% from its level in March 2020. It’s now backed up about 2 percentage points, so it’s down, on balance about 10% from its highs of a year ago.

  But there is a real risk that it could fall a lot further over the balance of this year and into 2022. That could actually be more disruptive to world financial markets than a short-term inflation surprise. It just underscores the fact that by keeping monetary policy so extraordinarily loose for so long, the real risk here is one of financial instability. We’ve seen several instances of financial instability in the last 20 years that have been very disruptive to the world –the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the housing bubble, the credit bubble, and so on. In many respects the risk of the dollar is part of that same continuum of problems, a reflection of monetary policy that stays far too easy for far too long.

  What the Fed has failed to do repeatedly over the last 20 years is to normalize post-bubble monetary policy. For example, in the early 2000s, it took the federal funds rate down very very low to 1% and held it there for too long. The  Fed did that after the dotcom bubble because it was afraid that the US would turn into the next Japan. It felt that possibility was serious enough to require pushing its benchmark policy rate down to “emergency”levels. Yet when the emergency passed, the Fed still kept rates very low.

  The same thing occurred after the global financial crisis, another emergency shift in monetary policy. Once again, the emergency ended a few years later but the Fed kept rates low for a very long time. Now, it is doing the same thing again.

  Unfortunately,that means the Fed doesn’t have the courage to return its policy to more normal settings. That sets markets up for yet another about of financial instability.And I fear this time that will show up in a sharp weakening of the US dollar.

  If the dollar goes down sharply then other currencies will rise, including the Renminbi.The RMB in real terms has been rising steadily for over ten years. But with a sharp dollar decline, that increase will be exaggerated and that could prove difficult for Chinese exporters.

  Q:Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the US macroeconomic policy has entered an era where fiscal policy plays a dominating role and monetary policy coordinating one. Why has such a change occurred? How will this affect fiscal and monetary policies in other countries? Should China tighten its monetary policy (including raising interest rate) earlier than the rest of the world?

  A:One of the main reasons that the roles have reversed with fiscal policy becoming more dominant is that monetary policy is at its limit. The policy rate is zero, the Fed balance sheet is at a record share of GDP. Yet, to be perfectly honest, there is a big debate as to whether or not these extraordinary actions are even working.

  But with central banks out of ammunition, the only role they are really playing here other than creating emergency lending programs during periods of crises is to enable massive fiscal stimulus by keeping net interest payments exceedingly low and falling as a share of GDP. You’ve asked me if monetary policy is playing more of a coordinating role to support more activist fiscal authorities. But I would say it’s playing more of an enabling role where it creates the very easy financing conditions for the fiscal authority to boost government spending as big as never before.

  There are consequences in that. There are different consequences for different nations and economies. But in the case of the United States, the consequences are, as I said earlier, a widening and large current account deficit, with important implications for a weaker US dollar.

  Is there a lesson that China can learn from this? I think China has learned a lesson from this because when I speak to Chinese officials and central bankers, they are very mindful of the risks and financial instability that have occurred during this period of ultra-easy monetary policy. Partly as a result, the People’s Bank of China has not taken its policy rate to zero, or embraced an aggressive quantitative easing. China has been more aware of the need to restore policy to more normal settings once an easing cycle is concluded.

  So,quite honestly, I think central banks in the developed world could actually learn a lesson from China, rather than China learning a lesson from us. In the West, we’re taking great risk with monetary policies that could create serious problems down the road. Just because there doesn’t seem to be a serious problem right now doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future. In fact, in the past, there were several occasions in the last 20 years where we’ve had crises that were a direct outgrowth of unusually stimulative monetary policy.

  Additional thoughts:

  There are many questions that get raised with respect to the inflation outlook itself:Why it has been so low? Whether it could reaccelerate sharply in a short period of time? We honestly don’t have a clear understanding of how to address these really important issues.

  The only thing I would add to that is that as we saw in the United States in the pre-COVID period, we were running a pretty hot economy with an unemployment rate at levels it had not been at in over 50 years; and yet we were not seeing any significant pickup in inflation.

  It may well be that in an era of globalization, with supply chains and rapid technological change, that inflation is more of a global phenomenon than a local or country-specific phenomenon. Yet we conduct monetary policy largely based on national considerations rather than on the basis of global considerations and we target national inflation rather than global inflation.

  It is absolutely critical for us to have a deeper understanding of the role these global forces play in determining inflation and in shaping the conduct of monetary policy.

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