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更新时间:2015-3-13 8:48:37 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Asia Rushes to Lower Rates, but Maybe Not Fast Enough

HONG KONG — Central banks across Asia are racing to cut interest rates, but they may not be doing it fast enough to stave off economic malaise.


The problem is weak inflation. Policy makers appear to have been surprised by how slowly prices are rising, and the slowdown is starting to weigh on economic growth across the region. If prices drop for too long, companies invest less and people’s pay shrinks.


Asia is not experiencing such outright deflation yet, but the risks are rising. Inflation began weakening last year in the region, with the drastic drop in the global prices of oil and other commodities. Those declines now appear to be spreading throughout the Asian economy, and growth is slowing as a result.


“Asian central banks in general have been very relaxed in recent years about the economic outlook and risks around price stability,” Frederic Neumann, the co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC, said on Thursday in a telephone interview. “China is an obvious example where deflation pressures have taken hold, but if you look everywhere from Korea to Southeast Asia, inflation is coming off much more rapidly than expected.”

汇丰银行亚洲经济研究联席主管雷德里克·诺伊曼(Frederic Neumann)周四接受电话采访时说,“亚洲各国央行总地来说,对经济前景和有关物价稳定的风险近年来非常镇定自若。中国是一个明显的例子,通缩的压力在那里已很明显,但如果看一下从韩国到东南亚的所有地方,通胀下降的速度远远超过预期。”

South Korea’s central bank on Thursday reduced its benchmark rate to a low of 1.75 percent, a day after Thailand reduced rates for the first time in a year. Last week, India lowered its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percentage points to 7.5 percent, with the central bank saying the cut, its second between scheduled policy meetings, had been tied to easing inflation and weakness in the economy. In recent months, China has cut interest rates twice and freed its banks to lend more.


The rush to lower rates in Asia is notable because the region is breaking with tradition and moving in a direction opposite to that of the United States. With the American economy rebounding smoothly and the job market appearing increasingly healthy, the United States Federal Reserve is expected to begin raising interest rates. In previous years, many central banks in Asia have tended to align their monetary policy with the Fed’s.


That they are now moving in the opposite direction “brings home the strength of the disinflationary force that’s gripping Asia,” Mr. Neumann said. “It’s relentless.”


In China, data released this week showed a sharp deceleration in the already slowing economy, raising the pressure on policy makers to do more to stimulate growth. But China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, defends his response.


“There must be prudence,” Mr. Zhou said to reporters in Beijing on Thursday. The bank’s actions so far, he said, were “maintaining appropriate liquidity in the financial markets, and they haven’t overstepped the bounds.”


His approach, he added, “remains unchanged, as steady and neutral.”


In China’s case, the picture is complicated because the country is still moving forward with several overhauls to its financial system. Mr. Zhou said Thursday that the government would introduce the country’s first deposit insurance program in the first half of this year.


He also reiterated a pledge to deregulate interest rates charged by the country’s banks. Limits on some of those rates have already been lifted, although deposit rates on savings accounts remain capped.


In statements released after they moved to cut rates, the central banks of both South Korea and Thailand cited the slowdown in China — previously the main engine of growth in the region and a major trading partner of both countries — as a reason for their decisions.


There are signs that China’s own recent easing actions, which since November have included two interest-rate cuts and a lowering of the amount of cash that banks are required to keep on reserve, have resulted in more lending. China’s new credit growth in February was stronger than economists expected, with new local-currency loans rising 14.3 percent from a year earlier to 1 trillion renminbi, or $165 billion, according to figures released on Thursday.


But in China, as with elsewhere in Asia, being too neutral for too long may have led to problems. “Intensified policy easing can help cushion, but unlikely reverse, the downtrend in China’s real economic growth,” Tao Wang, the chief China economist at UBS, wrote Thursday in a research report.


Part of the problem is that the real cost of credit in China, after factoring in inflation, remains persistently high despite the recent easing measures.


Li-Gang Liu, the chief economist for greater China at the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, estimates that real borrowing rates for Chinese companies are over 10 percent per year. That is based on an average bank lending rate of around 7 percent, and includes producer price inflation of around 4 percent.

据澳大利亚和新西兰银行集团(Australia and New Zealand Banking Group)的大中华区首席经济学家刘利刚估计,中国企业的实际贷款利率高于10%的年率。这个估计是基于7%左右的平均银行贷款利率,也考虑了约为4%的生产者物价指数。

Many companies in China have turned to even more expensive borrowing from the country’s sprawling shadow banking sector, which includes players as diverse as trust companies, online lenders and loan sharks. But authorities, worried over spiraling amounts of loosely regulated credit, have been seeking to curtail such lenders.


“Bank lending is getting more important as shadow banking activities have been cracked down on,” Mr. Liu wrote in an email. “Banks have become more risk averse in lending to trust companies, and shadow banking financing has dropped.”


And then there is the uncertainty that could be introduced by the Fed. Rising interest rates in the United States and falling rates in Asia raise the risk that Asian nations could begin to see a shifting away of foreign currency. In China, there have been signs in recent months that this is taking place, as locals sell renminbi for dollars and move money offshore.