Monthly Archives: December 2009

An article from WSJ: Steeling From Americans

31 December 2009

U.S. steel makers are cheering an International Trade Commission vote Wednesday to impose new duties on imports from China. U.S. consumers will want to hold their applause.

The case was filed in April by domestic steel manufacturers and the United Steelworkers union, which argued that they had been injured by imports of subsidized steel from China. The ruling allows the Commerce Department to impose countervailing duties ranging from 10% to 16% on future imports from China of "oil country tubular goods," which are the pipes used in the oil and gas industry.

In effect, the ITC vote means that few if any such pipes from China will now be entering the U.S. That’s good news for a domestic steel industry that wants less competition from international suppliers. But it’s bad news for the U.S. economy, and for consumers of steel products who could face higher prices for cars, appliances and other downstream goods.

Imports of the steel pipes have surged in recent years, as they typically do in the wake of an oil price hike, which swells demand for domestic drilling. In 2008, a year that featured $4 per gallon gas, the U.S. imported $2.8 billion worth of drill pipes from China, a three-fold increase over the previous year. That was enough for domestic suppliers to file an ITC complaint, ratcheting up a trade war that has resulted in U.S. companies and unions bringing about a dozen cases over subsidies and pricing against China this year.

The reality is that the domestic steel industry produces about two-thirds of what the U.S. consumes each year. The rest comes from foreign suppliers, and the competition results in products that would otherwise be more expensive. China is by far the world’s leading producer of drill pipes, and a Goldman Sachs analysis last month that anticipated the ITC decision says that it could result in a shortage of the pipes in the U.S. by the second half of next year. Never mind that making domestic gas-and-oil exploration more expensive would seem to be at cross purposes with making the U.S. less reliant on foreign energy.

By the way, the U.S. steel industry also made a fat profit of $3.9 billion from 2006 to 2008. China will no doubt respond to this latest protectionism with more tariffs of its own against U.S. products or investment, further increasing the cost of this protectionism.

U.S. trade laws aren’t about "fair trade" or "leveling the playing field," or the other cliches of protectionists. They have become tools of political income redistribution, protecting certain industries at the expense of others and the larger U.S. economy.

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又被国内某些经济学家恶心到了

前两天看电视,正好深圳卫视上有个叫22度观察的节目。节目请几个经济学家讨论中国明年通胀的问题。四个人里面有三个是咨询公司里的,一个是北航的教授。自己目前对中国通胀也非常感兴趣,就看了一会儿。他们身在中国,对中国的通胀应该更有研究,希望能从他们的讨论中找出点儿有用的信息。看了大概15分钟就实在看不下去了。尤其是那个北航所谓的教授(姓王,具体名字记不清楚了),简直是满嘴跑火车,没有一点儿逻辑性和一致性。当时有一个人提出最近中国食品价格上涨很多,什么蔬菜上涨百分之几百,肉上涨百分之几百,米面蛋等都是几倍甚至十几倍在上涨。这个王教授居然说,食品在整个CPI中只占三分之一,所以不要紧。我当时差点儿没把嘴里的饭喷出去。如果食品占总消费的百分之三就算了,现在是百分之三十三。如果它们涨一倍,其他产品价格不变,CPI通货膨胀率就是百分之三十以上。然后这个王教授教授又举了几个例子说明其他产品的价格没涨,比如汽车。作为精英阶级的王教授忘记了,大多数中国人是买不起汽车的,所以汽车价格涨不涨和他们无关。最搞笑的是王教授居然还提到了很多原材料的价格没涨。暂且不论这个说法有没有理论依据支持,难道王教授不知道这些原材料价格不是包括在CPI中的么?CPI只包括最终消费产品,原材料是在PPI中。世界上没有一个中央银行是target PPI的。
 
另外王教授提到说很多中央银行target核心CPI,而核心CPI不包括食品和能源价格,但他没有说明为什么。中央银行很多时候使用核心CPI是因为食品和能源价格变动非常大。很多情况下这些变化是随机的,比如这个月涨10%下个月又跌回来了。在这种情况下,中央银行的利率没必要随着它变动。但当食品和能源价格连续快速上涨时,据我所知,中央银行还是很在意的。这个时候不仅核心CPI,headline CPI也是制定政策的一项重要考虑。
 
 

China’s inflation turned positive

According to today’s Wall Street Journal:
 
By Andrew Batson and Shai Oster
11 December 2009

BEIJING — China is moving out of deflation after nearly a year of falling consumer prices, a turnaround driven in part by changes in government policies that kept costs of oil, water and electricity artificially low.

China’s consumer price index climbed 0.6% from a year earlier in November, the National Bureau of Statistics said Friday, after declining every month since February.

The return of inflation — still mild at this point — highlights the recovering economy: Industrial output rose 19.2% in November, the fastest gain since early 2007. But it also shows the result of efforts to raise state-set prices for key resources to better reflect market supply and demand.

Prices are rising for a range of goods, from food to property. The change in resource prices is noteworthy because the government had kept prices insulated from market forces even as it dismantled the planned economy in other sectors.

The effects of controlled energy and resource prices have been broad. Some of China’s trading partners complain that its low prices for raw materials are, in effect, government subsidies to Chinese companies. Many economists say they think these prices send the wrong signals to Chinese corporate managers, encouraging them to overuse scarce resources and invest too much, risking overcapacity. At the same time, resource companies underinvested, leading to periodic electricity and fuel shortages.

"By keeping all these resources underpriced, they encourage overcapacity, which is a drag on overall economic performance," said Yolanda Fernandez Lommen, an economist for the Asian Development Bank in Beijing.

"By assigning market prices to these resources, they will get more efficient use of resources. That’s good not only for the economic structure, but also for the environment," she said

China has dabbled with energy-price overhauls before, but officials met resistance from consumers and businesses to higher prices. This time, they have kept at it. The government has repeatedly raised prices for gasoline and other fuels this year to reflect rising global oil prices.

Local gasoline prices are up 50% since the start of the year, and including taxes are about 25% higher on average than in the U.S., said Gordon Kwan, head of regional energy research at Mirae Asset Securities. Nonresidential electricity prices were raised by about 5% in November, the first move in a year. Several major cities have started increasing charges for water; the capital, Beijing, raised rates for most businesses by 9% last month. Industry analysts say they expect prices for natural gas to increase by 10% to 15% early next year.

The moves don’t yet amount to full liberalization. "Under the new system, pricing decisions are still in the hands of the government. There remains ample room for price interventions, which, however, are likely to be less dramatic than under the previous system," said K. F. Yan, a director at energy consultancy IHS CERA.

With inflationary pressures returning, it could get more difficult to keep liberalizing prices. But Peng Sen, a vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the planning agency in charge of prices, said Thursday that while the government is keeping an eye on price stability,

"China will next year continue to reform environmental fees and the prices of water, electricity, natural gas and other resources," the official Xinhua news agency reported. The government argues that such price changes help increase energy efficiency and ease supply bottlenecks caused by the previous system.

China has been resisting pressure from other countries to let its exchange rate appreciate, but these increased costs for companies actually have a similar effect, by making goods more expensive. "The relative price adjustments could help to appreciate the real exchange rate, at least the rate the heavy industries are facing," said Wang Tao, China economist for UBS, in a recent report.

Several problems remain. Bureaucrats have to balance varying interests, such as poor rural households as well as state-owned industries, in adjusting electricity tariffs. The government’s strategy is to switch to pricing mechanisms that better reflect market forces, but at a time when they won’t immediately result in a sharp increase in costs.

job market

昨天开了一下午recruiting的会议。最后敲定20几个面试的人(包括两个中国人),今天打电话发通知。有两个问题希望提醒大家一下。第一,我们发现一个学校所有申请人的推荐信都没有到,昨天基本没考虑这些人的申请。所以大家在market上时,一定要注意跟踪自己的推荐信,确定导师或者是系里的秘书把它们按时发出去了。另外有一个申请人(top 5 department)的两份推荐信相互冲突。一个导师说这个人论文的主要贡献在理论方面,另外一个说主要贡献在empirical,尽管这个人的理论部分没什么new insight。我们最终决定不面试这个人了,如果不是这两份相互冲突的推荐信,这个人应该很有希望在我们面试名单上。所以大家一定要和推荐人仔细讨论自己的job market paper,让他们清楚自己的主要贡献在什么地方。
 
另外几个对申请人不利的影响因素包括:
1。job market paper是和导师一起写的。有一个申请人的论文居然是和其他三个人合写的,包括自己的导师。这让人很难看出来申请人独立研究的能力有多强。
 
2。太长时间毕业。有个申请人7年毕业。尽管导师在推荐信中解释了申请人为什么这么晚毕业,但还是让人怀疑。最好5年毕业,6年okay,在拖就有负面影响了,除非自己在最后一年能搞个好的publication.
 
3。毕业论文不够polished,尤其是摘要部分。第一轮选拔主要看推荐信和论文摘要。有人的摘要罗里罗嗦写了半天也不知道到底在说什么。看看top journal上的摘要,照着些就成了。另外语法一定要正确,让人感到很professional,论文明天就能submit到杂志去了。

为什么中国的财政政策那么有效

凯恩斯主义认为经济衰退时,政府应该增加消费和投资来弥补私人消费和投资的不足。这种观点一直受到新古典主义学派的质疑和批评,比如芝加哥和明尼苏达这些地方的大牛们。主要的反对原因是,政府支出的增加会引起私人投资的相对减少,从而总消费和投资对财政政策的刺激反应并不明显。政府投资比私人投资效率要低,所以长期而讲会对经济有负面影响。也就是说,财政刺激是有成本的。如果政府的财政政策对短期缓解经济衰退没什么帮助,而长期又有害,那么财政刺激计划是一个很坏的想法。
 
对财政政策影响的empirical研究没有定论。一般很难找到很强的证据来支持财政政策是有效的。然而中国去年的财政政策似乎很成功。尽管中国的外贸下降的一塌糊涂,经济仍然保持了8%的增长。开始有人质疑中国的经济数据。但最近在中国的拉动下,亚洲其他国家,如日本,韩国等,也有很大起色。似乎中国的数据并不是凭空捏造的。有些新古典学派的有点儿看不明白了。我觉得原因在于中美的经济结构不同。美国的GDP中,私人消费占60%以上,私人投资占20%左右,剩下的不到20%属于政府支出。政府在整个经济的比例小,那么通过财政政策拉动经济的效果就不会很好,在empirical研究中被检测到的干扰就很多。然而中国经济中,私人消费比例小(大概40%不到),投资和政府支出的比例大很多。如果我没记错的话,投资一项就占了40%以上。如果政府企业投资在整个投资中有50%,这一项就占了整个经济的20%以上。由于这一部分投资完全由政府控制,就不会出现我们前面提到的政府投资增加会降低私人投资的现象。也就是说,政府占整个经济的比例越高,财政政策刺激的效果就越明显。
 
另外,中国的财政刺激计划在规模上也远远超过其他国家,占GDP的百分之十几(具体数字记不起来了)。而其他国家,如美国,一般在5%以下。这就不奇怪中国的财政刺激能这么见效了。
 
但问题是这种政策有点儿饮鸩止渴的味道。通过投资来拉动经济,只能让投资在整个经济中的比例更大,国内居民消费更弱。新增的产能不能在国内消化,只能依赖出口,使中国经济更依赖外贸。拉动内需成了一个口号而已。而且财政刺激也只是暂时的,如果明年美国和其他国家的需求不能按照预期反弹,中国恐怕很难再拿出那么多钱去搞财政刺激了。今年新增投资不能收回投资,就会引起银行坏帐,造成金融市场混乱。所以我现在每天都在祈祷美国经济能赶快复苏。
 
但这又存在另外一个问题。中国目前的通胀已经有抬头趋势。给亲戚打电话,听说水电气和食品都在涨价。金融资产市场的泡沫也有越来越大的迹象。今年事业单位也大幅度涨了工资。如果明年全球经济复苏,中国的通胀将成为一个大问题。
 
伯南克周末在国会作听证时说,美国至少短期内将继续保持宽松货币政策。并