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“僵尸工厂”拖累困境中的中国经济

更新时间:2015-9-1 9:47:50 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Zombie Factories Stalk the Sputtering Chinese Economy
“僵尸工厂”拖累困境中的中国经济

Miao Leijie loses money on each ton of cement his company produces. But stopping production is not an option.

苗雷杰的公司每生产一吨水泥都会带来亏损。但公司不能停产。

When the plant opened in 2011 to supply the real estate and infrastructure industries in the northern Chinese city of Changzhi, the company raised most of the initial money from banks. Now, Mr. Miao, the factory’s general director, needs to keep churning out cement simply so the company can pay the interest on its loans.

这家水泥厂于2011年投产,为中国北方城市长治的房地产行业和基础设施供应水泥。公司从银行获得了大部分初始投资。现在,该厂董事长苗雷杰需要继续生产大量水泥,只为了支付贷款的利息。

It will be tough for the business, Lucheng Zhuoyue Cement Plant, to get out of the hole. Customers and investments are drying up, and the company is borrowing even more money to stay afloat.

潞城市卓越水泥有限公司要走出困境很困难。客户和投资正在枯竭,为了维持运营,该公司正在借入更多资金。

“If we ceased production, the losses would be crushing,” Mr. Miao said, as he chain-smoked in the company’s quiet, spartan office. “We are working for the bank.”

“如果停产,损失会非常巨大,”苗雷杰说,“目前我们是在为银行打工。”在公司安静而简朴的办公室里,他一根接一根地抽着烟。

Changzhi and its environs are littered with half-dead cement factories and silent, mothballed plants, an eerie backdrop to the struggling Chinese economy.

长治市及其周围散布着许多半死不活的水泥厂,还有一些厂已经贴上封条,一片死寂,为正陷入困境的中国经济提供了一个令人毛骨悚然的背景。

Like many industrial cities across China, Changzhi, which expanded aggressively during the country’s long investment boom, has too many factories and too little demand. That excess capacity, many economists indicate, will have to be eliminated for the Chinese economy to return to healthy growth.

像很多工业城市一样,长治在中国的长期投资热潮中积极扩张。它的工厂太多,而需求太少。很多经济学家表示,中国经济要回到健康增长的轨道上,就必须消除产能过剩。

But rather than shut down, Lucheng Zhuoyue and other Changzhi companies are limping along in a kind of march of the undead.

但是,潞城市卓越水泥和长治的其他一些公司并没有关闭,而是像是僵尸似的,一瘸一拐地继续向前走。

To protect jobs and plants, the government and its state-owned banks sometimes keep money-losing businesses on life support by rolling over or restructuring loans, providing fresh credit or offering other aid. While this may seem like an odd business tactic, it is part of a broader strategy to help maintain social stability, a major goal of China’s leadership. Authorities in China’s provinces and cities also back struggling factories just because they are deemed important to the local economy.

为了保护就业和工厂,政府及其国有银行有时会通过贷款展期或重组、提供新贷款及其他援助的方式,继续帮助这种企业存活下去。虽然这可能看起来是一个奇怪的商业策略,但很多地方都在这么做,因为维护社会稳定是中国领导层的一个主要目标,这是实现该目标的广泛策略的一部分。中国各省市主管部门为挣扎中的工厂提供支持的另外一个原因是,他们认为这些工厂对于地方经济来说很重要。

Similar strategies have been tried before, with little success. In Japan, such businesses, known as “zombie companies,” are blamed for contributing to that country’s two decades of economic stagnation.

类似的策略以前也有人尝试过,但收效甚微。在日本,这样的企业被称为“僵尸企业”,一些人称它们是该国20年经济停滞的原因之一。

As China allows its own “zombies” to stalk the economy, the situation is clouding the country’s outlook, making it difficult to predict where growth is headed. If the leadership doesn’t address the underlying problem, the economic weakness could be prolonged.

中国放任自己的“僵尸”拖累经济,令该国的形势笼罩在乌云中,要预测增长的方向变得很困难。如果领导层不解决这个根本问题,经济疲软期可能会拖长。

Concerns have already been rising that China’s slowdown is worsening and its problems are becoming harder to overcome. Such fears helped ignite a dramatic sell-off on stock markets around the world. Shares on the Shanghai stock exchange have tumbled by more than third since the June high.

人们日益担忧中国的经济放缓正在恶化,该国的问题变得更加难以解决。这种担忧是世界各地股市大幅抛售的一根导火线。上海证券交易所的股价已经从今年6月的高点下跌了逾三分之一。

“Global investors have now come to realize that China’s travails are beginning to affect everyone,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“现在全球投资者已经意识到,中国的阵痛正在开始影响到每个人,”汇丰银行(HSBC)亚洲经济研究联席主管范力民(Frederic Neuman)表示。

Far from the sparkle of Shanghai or the export zones of Shenzhen, Changzhi is a modest city of three million people who live in low-rise apartment complexes and work in boxy factory compounds. The local economy depends on steel manufacturing and other heavy industries that girded the country’s decades-long era of high growth. As the property market grew and the government plowed money into roads and other infrastructure, cement factories sprouted on the city’s outskirts to capitalize on the bonanza, creating hundreds of well-paying jobs. In recent years, the busy local shops and crammed fast-food restaurants along Changzhi’s narrow downtown streets bustled with new prosperity.

和上海或从事出口的深圳这些繁华的城市不同,长治是一个中等城市,300万人口住在低矮的公寓楼里,在方方整整的厂区里上班。当地经济所依赖的钢铁制造等重工业,为该国长达数十年的高增长时代提供了支持。随着房地产市场的增长,政府将资金投入到道路和其他基础设施上,利用这个机会,该市的郊区修建了一些水泥厂,创造了成百上千个薪水丰厚的职位。近年来,长治狭窄的街道上熙熙攘攘,街边的商店和快餐店人头攒动,呈现出一派繁荣景象。

But the country’s economy is slowing down, threatening that wealth. Gross domestic product expanded 7 percent in the second quarter of 2015. While that would be a stellar performance by the standards of most countries, it is the slowest pace for China in a quarter-century.

但随着中国的经济增长步伐放缓,这样的好景恐难维持。该国2015年第二季度的国内生产总值增加了7%,以大多数国家的标准而言,这会是很出色的表现,但是对于中国,这却是四分之一个世纪来最缓慢的增长步伐。

Some industries are plummeting, wreaking havoc in less economically diverse cities and towns. Empty apartments built during the boom are now weighing down the property sector. Businessmen in Changzhi complain that construction projects supported by the local government have also been scaled back.

一些行业正在急速衰落,给经济不那么多元的城镇造成了严重破坏。在繁荣时期修建的住宅如今大量空置,导致房地产行业承压。长治的商人抱怨,当地政府支持的建设项目也缩减了。

As a result, Changzhi’s cement plants are saddled by excess capacity. Companies in the province can produce three times as much cement as what was actually needed in 2014, according to the Shanxi Provincial Association of Building Material Industries. Two-thirds of them lost money in that year.

因此,长治的各家水泥厂面临着产能过剩的压力。据山西省建材协会介绍,该省水泥企业的产能是2014年实际需求量的三倍。去年,三分之二的此类企业亏损。

Such conditions have turned once promising companies into zombies. While trucks are still parked outside the sprawling industrial compound of Changzhi’s Huatai Cement Clinker Company, there are far fewer than just a couple of years ago, and they have less to haul. The money-losing company has produced a mere 200,000 metric tons of cement this year, even though it is able to make one million.

这种形势让一些曾经前景看好的公司变得半死不活。长治华泰水泥熟料有限公司广阔的园区外虽然还停着一些卡车,但和早两年相比少多了。需要它们拉的货也少了。今年,尽管产量达100万吨,但处于亏损状态的该公司只生产了20万吨。

As a state-owned enterprise, Huatai has been kept running with the help of special assistance. Huatai gets coal on credit and access to cheap loans from its parent company, which is owned by the provincial government. That has allowed management to keep all its 300 workers on the payroll — the company’s top priority. “Our employees need to eat, they need to live,” said one manager, who declined to give his name.

作为一家国有企业,华泰一直在政府的特殊扶持下保持运营。华泰能赊到煤,还能从由省政府所有的母公司那里拿到低息贷款。这让管理层得以保住公司全部300名员工的饭碗。这是公司的首要任务。“我们的员工要吃饭,要过日子,”一名拒绝透露姓名的管理人员说。

Such measures may help sustain employment, but they also delay the much needed overhaul of Chinese industry. A study of China’s labor market by the International Monetary Fund released in July noted that state-owned enterprises tended to keep workers that they did not need. From an economic perspective, it would be better for such businesses to downsize or even close, releasing their trained staff to work at companies or in sectors with stronger prospects. That would shift resources away from less productive parts of the economy, helping get growth back on track.

这种措施可能有助于维持就业,但它们也延误了中国工业亟需的改革。国际货币基金组织(International Monetary Fund)于7月公布的一份有关中国劳动力市场的研究报告指出,国有企业倾向于保留它们并不需要的员工。但从经济的角度来看,如果这些企业缩减规模甚至破产,将技能熟练的劳动力释放到前景更可观的企业或行业就业,情况会更好。这会促使资源从效率较低的经济领域转移,有助于让增长回归正轨。

Without such a shift, the economy could suffer in the future. Raphael Lam, deputy resident representative at the I.M.F. in Beijing, says Chinese policy makers should move more forcefully to enact pro-market reforms and allow state-owned enterprises to restructure. If not, he says, “Over the long term, there would be an increasing likelihood of a sharper slowdown.”

倘若不进行这种转移,未来可能会让经济受损。国际货币基金组织驻华副代表林卫基(Raphael Lam)称,中国的决策者应该采取更有力的行动,实施以市场为导向的改革,允许国有企业改组。他表示,如果不这么做,“从长期来看,放缓程度加剧的可能性会越来越大”。

The situation is also complicating matters for workers not lucky enough to keep their jobs. Though unemployment has remained low nationally, workers in troubled Changzhi complain that good jobs are hard to find.

这种形势也让不幸未能保住工作岗位的劳动力面临的问题变得复杂起来。尽管全国范围内的失业率依然处于较低水平,但在处于困境的长治,员工抱怨称难以找到好工作。

At the Changzhi Cement Group, where the only sound is a barking dog, a former company electrician, Zhao Liwei, 43, watches TV inside a decrepit room for janitors at the compound’s entrance. Two years ago, as production at the state-owned plant ground to a halt, her paychecks stopped coming. Most employees were left to fend for themselves.

在长治市水泥集团,唯一能听到的是一条狗的叫声。在公司园区入口处,43岁的赵丽伟(音)在破旧的门卫室里看电视。两年前,随着这家国有水泥厂停产,曾是电工的她没了工资。大部分员工被迫自食其力。

Since the factory was never formally shuttered, they have not received severance payments or other compensation, Ms. Zhao said. Though a private company took on a handful of employees to produce cement in a portion of the plant’s facilities in August, the work is only temporary.

赵丽伟说,因为工厂一直没有正式倒闭,他们从未收到遣散费或其他补偿。今年8月,一家私营企业接收了少许员工,用这家厂子的部分设施生产水泥。尽管如此,工作也只是暂时的。

Ms. Zhao has not worked at all. The only jobs in the area, she says, are sweeping floors and waiting tables, for as little as 500 renminbi, or $78, a month. She earned twice that working at the factory. “We were promised an iron rice bowl” — the Chinese term for lifetime employment — she said. But now “it is like we’ve been left on an eternal, unpaid vacation.”

赵丽伟根本没工作。她说,该地区唯一的工作就是扫地和当服务员,月薪只有500元。在水泥厂工作时,她的工资是这个数字的两倍。“当时答应给我们的是铁饭碗,”她说。现在“我们像是一直在放大假。”作为中国的一个术语,“铁饭碗”是终身雇佣的意思。

Some of these idled workers have faced biting hardship. Sitting outside a nearby deteriorating residential complex, Du Jianping, 45, says that she has to rely on handouts from her parents to put food on the table for her 12-year-old daughter. She and her husband lost their jobs at the Changzhi Cement Group, and ever since, Ms. Du has been earning a pittance selling women’s clothes and children’s toys at a stall outside a train station.

失去工作的部分员工处境极其艰难。坐在附近一个日渐衰败的住宅小区外面的杜建萍(音)说,45岁的自己不得不依靠父母的帮补,才能让12岁的女儿吃上饭。她和丈夫都失去了在长治市水泥集团的工作。自那以后,杜建萍一直靠在火车站外面的一个摊位卖女装和儿童玩具来获取微薄收入。

She feels trapped, fearing she would be unable to get better work elsewhere. “We are too old to find jobs in the cities,” she said. “I hope the government could help lift up the cement industry so that it can recover.”

她觉得自己进退维谷,害怕无法在其他地方找到更好的工作。“我们年龄太大了,在城里找不到工作,”她说。“我希望政府能帮一帮水泥行业,这样它就能好起来了。”

Premier Li Keqiang said during a news conference last year that the lowest growth rate acceptable to the regime “needs to ensure fairly full employment and realize reasonable increase of people’s income.”

李克强总理在去年的一次新闻发布会上表示,政府可以接受的最低增速“考虑的还是保就业、惠民生,增加城乡居民收入”。

That helps explain why Beijing is taking stronger action to prop up the economy. On Aug. 25, the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the fifth time since November. Almost two weeks earlier, it suddenly devalued the renminbi, which some analysts see as an attempt to lift China’s sagging exports by making them cheaper in international markets.

这有助于解释为什么北京正在采取更强有力的行动来提振经济。8月25日,央行下调基准利率。这是自去年11月以来的第五次降息。近两周前,央行突然让人民币贬值。一些分析人士认为,此举试图通过降低中国商品在国际市场上的价格,来提振日渐下滑的出口。

The government is also planning to use state banks to finance another round of infrastructure spending aimed at aiding beleaguered industries like cement. Managers in Changzhi argue that the authorities should be doing even more to help, by setting a minimum price for cement or supporting local construction projects.

政府还打算利用国有银行来为又一轮的基础设施支出提供资金。这一轮支出旨在援助水泥等陷入困境的行业。长治水泥集团的管理人员称,当局应该提供更多帮助,比如限定水泥最低价格,或是支持当地的建设项目。

Still, such steps may do little more than keep zombie companies alive — to the detriment of the overall economy. By pumping up growth with fresh credit and stimulus, the government might temporarily revive some factories, but also exacerbate the economy’s problems of excess capacity and high debt.

然而,除了让那些僵尸企业苟延残喘,此类举措大概并没有什么作用,却会给整体经济造成损害。政府用新增贷款和刺激措施来拉动增长的做法,可能会让一些工厂暂时恢复生机,但也会加剧经济中的产能过剩和高额债务问题。

The consulting firm IHS Global Insight estimates that debt relative to China’s output will reach 254 percent in 2015, nearly double the level of 2008. Such debt levels can pose substantial risks to an economy if borrowers are unable to repay them and a wave of defaults follows. “The size of debt only accumulates,” said Grace Wu, a senior director at the rating agency Fitch in Hong Kong. “That doesn’t help with the underlying economy. It doesn’t help create jobs.”

咨询公司环球通视(IHS Global Insight)估计,2015年,中国的债务与其经济产出的比值将达254%,几乎是2008年的两倍。如果借款方无力偿还债务并由此催生一波违约潮,这么高的债务水平可能会让经济面临重大风险。“债务规模只增不减,”评级公司惠誉(Fitch)驻香港的高级董事胡月明(Grace Wu)说。“这种情况不利于经济的基本面,不利于创造就业机会。”

Over the long term, Chinese policy makers are trying to decrease the economy’s dependence on excessive investment for growth and allow household consumption to play a bigger role. That means the factories in many heavy industries, like cement, may never run again at full tilt.

从长期来看,中国的决策者正在努力降低经济对过度投资型增长的依赖,让家庭消费发挥更大的作用。这意味着,水泥等很多重工业领域的工厂,可能永远都不会再全力运转了。

Wang Xiaohu has not completely given up hope. Over the years, Mr. Wang, a 40-year-old businessman, put 20 million renminbi, or $3.1 million, into Changzhi Ruili Building Materials Ltd., which can produce 300,000 metric tons of cement annually. But now the factory site is watched over by a lone, elderly security guard in an ill-fitting uniform. Mr. Wang was forced to idle the plant about 18 months ago, laying off nearly all of his 100 employees.

商人王小虎(音)还没完全放弃希望。多年来,40岁的他在水泥年产能为30万吨的长治锐利建材有限公司(音)陆续投入了2000万人民币。但现在,只有一名上了年纪的保安穿着一身不合身的制服,独自看守厂房。大约18个月前,王小虎被迫让工厂停工,上百名员工几乎全部被辞退。

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