Monday, December 29, 2008

2008年全球往左走

謝毅 - 獅子山學會經濟研究員, 信報 ( 經濟企管 P.37, 2008.12.29)

到了年尾,又是大事回顧的時候。今年是多事之秋,由年頭開始,災難就停不了,先是中國發生大雪災,持續三個星期,受災面積達半個中國,海陸空交通大停頓,經濟損失超過1500億元人民幣。之後是四川大地震,死傷數十萬,全國上下瀰漫一片愁雲慘霧。事隔數月,又爆出毒奶粉事件,恍如在傷口上灑鹽;「中國製造」從此名譽掃地,不但外人敬而遠之,就連同胞也罕有地罷買國貨。唯一慶幸的是,奧運大豐收,但片刻的喜悅始終無法撫平國人的傷痛。

自由市場受質疑

在太平洋的另一端,美國大選成為全球焦點,民主黨的奧巴馬以黑人身份,高票當選美國第四十四任總統,為美國歷史寫下新的一頁;民權領袖馬丁路德金在天之靈,應該感到老懷安慰了。不過,講到最矚目,一定非金融海嘯莫屬。這場海嘯由次按危機引發,之後愈演愈烈,終在雷曼破產後失控,重挫各國經濟,就連財力雄厚的中國也不能幸免,在改革開放三十年之際,出現近年罕見的裁員及倒閉潮。金融海嘯殺傷力之大,遠超事前想像。

由於金融海嘯源於美國,而後者一向以資本主義自居,世人因此認定資本主義是今次危機的罪魁禍首,繼而轉投「大政府」的懷抱,情形一如上世紀三十年代的大蕭條,促使羅斯福總統推行「新政」,全方位干預市場。現在,歐美各國紛紛推出以千億美元計的救市方案,包括直接注資陷入財困的銀行及金融機構,變相將之國有化;又以貸款援助高危企業,例如美國最近從7000億美元的救市基金中,撥出174億予三大車廠,以免它們走上破產的不歸路。

有輿論狠批上述措施,指責以美國為首的西方國家雙重標準,無勇氣接受當年強加於東歐諸國的「震撼療法」。事實上,市場雖然懂得自我調節,但調節需要時間,是長是短,取決於市場是否完善,例如資金、人才、法制、基建、社保等,只要具備這些條件,就等於擁有一劑強力的「麻醉藥」,能減輕改革的陣痛。東歐諸國沒有「麻醉藥」,故改革還未成功,已經痛死了。反觀西方國家不乏麻醉藥,卻選擇國有化一了百了,其懦弱可見一斑。

由於西方國家講一套做一套,世人對自由市場更加失望,間接助長左翼思潮蔓延全球,其中包括香港。比方說,最近有政黨呼籲政府回購領匯,以阻止它逆市加租。但支持者似乎忘記了,當年政府將領匯上市,是因為自己管理不善,無法滿足市民的期望。回購領匯,即使可以解決租金問題,也無法解決管理問題,而後者才是最大的問題。不信的話,可以參考最新一期的審計署報告,食環署轄下街市的空置率由三成到五成不等,嚴重浪費資源。同時,由於部分街市的租金遠低於市價,有租戶將檔位拿來分租,賺取差價。結果,食環署於上年度勁蝕1.6億元,可憐納稅人又要為此找數。以為回購領匯,就一定對市民有利,這個想法未免太天真了。

議員建議荒謬

我們的議員還有一個更荒謬的建議,就是要求政府立法限制企業減薪及裁員。他們認為,企業要履行「社會責任」,就算盈利因經濟不景而倒退,但只要仍有錢賺,就不應該拿打工仔開刀。問題是,世界上不止一家企業,競爭者無處不在,企業為了長遠發展,有需要不斷提升競爭力,以免讓對手有機可乘。特別是銀行界,大部分在金融海嘯中錄得巨額虧損,而面對政府即將收緊對金融業的監管,槓桿投資恐成絕響,要生存惟有瘦身,這跟當下有無錢賺,一點關係也沒有。

況且,任何投資都要計算「機會成本」,如果某個項目的投資回報不及其他項目,長遠而言,老闆會考慮結束現在的生意,將資金改投別處,以賺取更高的回報。事實上,過去一年,不少外資如Nike、Adidas等陸續撤出中國,轉戰東南亞,甚至東歐諸國,歸根究柢,不是投資中國沒錢賺,而是賺得不夠多。這一點,我們的議員似乎一頭霧水。幸好,特區政府仍算理智,沒有聽從這些民粹議員的建議,否則香港遲早玩完。 2009年即將來臨,可以想像,形勢會比今年更惡劣,到底世界會變得怎樣?「赤化」威脅又會否重來?大家可以拭目以待。

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

三十幾歲 勤力啲啦

王弼 - 獅子山學會行政總監, 信報 (時事評論P.9, 2008.12.24)

經濟不景,作為進入人生搏殺階段的三十世代,難免有時不我與的慨嘆。最近,城中多位名家,有屬於沉默的一代(生於一九二五年至二戰結束)、也有嬰兒潮的,撰文討論香港三十世代的境況;三十世代亦當然踴躍的抒發己見、感懷身世一番。能得到各名家的關懷,關心我們這批人「上位」的前景,就證明三十世代是挺受眷顧的。

歷久常新

其中令我最感動的,莫過於林行止先生在《漁火偷渡客江上數峰青》一文中分享他偷渡來港的往事,雖然林先生謂偷渡來港人士的奮鬥史已被傳媒報道得耳熟能詳,無甚可寫,但他的分享仍能激起讀者在信報的網上論壇中熱烈討論,可見這些經驗對我們仍是歷久常新。而這些寶貴的經驗也只好靠前輩們不厭其煩的重複提醒,使我們明白面前所遭遇的所謂困難,真的不是什麼一回事。

作為三十世代的一員,實在認識不少際遇坎坷的朋友:上世紀末修讀IT,畢業即遇上科網業的泡沫爆破,頂尖的還能得到跨國公司青睞,但更多成為了IT人力「產能過剩」下的犧牲者。其中走運的能到投資銀行成為二等公民,擔當技術支援等工作;不能學以致用、轉行浮浮沉沉者亦不少。眼見近年金融業一枝獨秀,花了十幾萬拿個金融學學位在加一個CFA,以為從此無憂,又來個金融海嘯,這樣便蹉跎了十年,才發現自己一事無成,還欠下父母或政府一屁股債,一個人還有多少個十年來浪費呢?這樣的遭遇,苦嗎?

但相對於要投奔怒海一代的困難,我們也只好望洋興嘆吧(不過現在共產主義在金融海嘯後蠢蠢欲動,香港也愈見民粹,說不定獅子山學會仝人和各經濟大右派有一天也要投奔怒海)!

家父也是偷渡來港的,但作為兒子的也不知應否羨慕他的際遇:羨慕的,是他偷渡的「浪漫」經歷,又能遇上香港經濟起飛的黃金年代;不羨慕的,是他因「成份不好」不能在國內晉升大學;隻身來港時在祖父剩下的鋪頭工作,受盡老臣子的白眼不在話下,更甚者是殘酷的現實告訴他,粵語殘片中,張英才和胡楓等老闆仔,永遠「身光頸靚」的生活是騙人的,他只得蹲在貨倉拆貨,一個人孤立無援,送貨時又隨時受洋人警察侮辱,瑟縮在貨倉的一角不知哭了多少遍;種種際遇,不見得他可對未來有什麼指望。

不用偷渡的生活好一點嗎?也不見得。曾在半山堅道住「獨立屋」的家母,家道中落,最後小四輟學。什麼中產(或富人)下流化,當時簡直是家常便飯,到廟街榕樹頭隨時可以聽到。但那一代的人又如何自處呢?自怨自艾當然有之,宏圖大志亦有之,但更多的還不是面對現實,過得一天算一天?這些大多數中,成功的例子不少;就算沒有飛黃騰達的,他們把兒女一個一個的帶大,又何嘗不是一種成就?

為什麼今天三十世代認為上位是理所當然的?任志剛六十歲便要讓位,還要直接的讓給三十世代?忘記回歸前當時三十世代坐直升機的光景吧!回歸過渡期的人才大逃亡,才真的是百年一遇,其他人是羨慕不來的。那不上位,至少政府應保住我們現有的社會地位吧?曾經在電台跟議員討論政府應怎樣幫助中產,議員指出政府以基建刺激經濟對中產無補於事,因為他們不能從事建築行業。但馬死落地行,為何不可呢?如果我們強調社會流動性,那有上有落才對吧?如果某一階層可永遠保持其地位,那跟九品中正制何異?

活在當下

成功非必然,畢竟,已活了三十多個年頭的我們,應當明白第一名只有一個,軍隊中也不可能每位都是元帥。今天不是元帥而是伙頭的,那只有努力做好伙頭的工作。

最後,或者我們要回歸基本步,學學外國人二十世代的蠻勁。金融海嘯,連百年老店都關門大吉 ,獅子山學會又怎會不艱苦經營?我跟學會兩位二十來歲的洋人員工講,趁現在經濟情況還未到最壞,以他們的條件,隨時可放棄學會的微薄工資,到外邊找份好工吧!但他們的回應竟是「等學會彈盡糧絕才說吧」,有一位更搬到南丫島跟友人「同居」,準備長期抗戰。活在當下,正是他們的寫照。而那些振臂高呼「除了好日子外,我們什麼都經歷過」的少數三十世代憤青,我只有一言相贈:機會是要自己爭取的,不要再做怨婦了,你在搵自己笨而已。

Monday, December 22, 2008

回購領匯思路不通

施永青 - (am730, C觀點, 2008.12.22)

鳴謝施永青先生給予轉載

香港的議員最優以為之的是為民請命,如果為的是弱勢社群,我當然也會一起支持,但他們想維護的對象竟惠及領匯的商戶,我就覺得有點太濫了。

最近立法會內有議員動議,要政府動員公帑回購領匯股份,以阻止領匯加租。議案最終雖被否決,但議員們的一些思路,卻令人對他們生疑,他們究竟對現實社會有多少理解,讓這種質素的議員來服務香港,真令人感到可悲!

支持政府回購領匯股份的議員說,如果領匯商場由政府持有,立法會就有機會阻止領匯加租:商戶的租金成本低了,就有能力回饋市民,把出售的商品與服務的價格訂得低一點,消費者就會有所得益。

但現實是︰商戶在訂價時,雖會考慮自己的經營成本,但更重要的還得看要出售的商品與服務在市場上的供求形勢。如果一種商品需求大,訂高一點的價錢也賣得出,商戶大多會選擇加價,好讓自己賺多一些︰甚少會選擇賣平一些去益消費者。或許會有少數商戶選擇這樣做,但就我所知,並沒有商戶在成立公司時或在簽租約時,以白紙黑字承諾,會在獲得減租時,把所得的好處回饋消費者。議員們只是一廂情願吧了。

況且,議員們事前從未與商戶達成過甚麼協議,要減租多少,他們才益消費者。是否商戶說甚麼租金合理,社會都要接受?要知道,如果領匯真的變成了公產,它收少了租金,就變成全體市民的損失。有甚麼理由,為了個別領匯的商戶可以賺多一點錢,就要全體市民一起去承受損失!何況,領匯的商戶還包括大型超市,連鎖式經營的食肆,以至財力豐厚的銀行等?這些大戶,何需議員為他們操心?

議員們說,香港面對金融海嘯的衝擊,由領匯帶動調低租金,會有助社會度過今次難關。我自己的生意亦正為分行的租金過高而苦惱,如果真有良方妙計可令租金下調,我怎會不支持。問題是議員要把私產變公產,然後去調低租金的方法並不可行,最終只會累死商界,我寧願捱貴租,也不贊成。

按議員的思路,領匯不肯減租,就用公帑去收購它,如果其他商場也不肯減租,是否也用公帑一一收購,屆時是否都交給政客去管,好讓他們可以做奧維爾筆下的「老大哥」,我們的某些議員,連議員辦事處的租金津貼也會動腦筋中飽私囊,讓他們去管這麼多的公產,只會加快他們墮落,市民怎能放心。

我最擔心的是,議員漸漸會不滿足於單是負責管商場的租金,他們遲早會懷疑商戶並沒有把平租的好處回饋市民,是否又可以大條道理要求由他們也監管商戶的經營。此之所以,我勸領匯的商戶,切莫把狼也認作外婆。我自己就寧願接受無良業主剝削,也不接受無私議員照顧。

回購領匯何益?

黃健明 - 獅子山學會經濟研究員, (信報 ~ 經濟企管 P.26 , 2008.12.22)

金融海嘯經濟不景,零售業首當其衝,地產代理估計商舖租金將會下調 5%,更有個別業主率先減租兩成多。同一時間,由房委會私有化而成的領匯卻逆市加租,於是引來政客群起攻之。雖然立法會已經否決回購領匯股份,但動用公帑「再國有化」領匯之聲肯定不會從此消失。

免費未必惠民

政客何以如此關注領匯加租?因為他們認為領匯加租損害商戶利益,而更重要的是,加租導致商戶加價影響民生。

加租增加商戶成本,商戶於是將其轉嫁顧客,似乎合情合理。且慢,先看一下最近的審計署署長報告書(第五十一號報告書)關於《公眾街市的管理》一章。內裏提及,由於鼓勵流動小販退還牌照、減低長期空置檔位、優惠舊街市租戶等等原因,部分公眾街市租戶的租金只是市值租金的1%至5%,因此同一街市中售賣類似貨品的商戶,所付租金可以相差高達十倍以上。可是到這些街市逛逛,卻找不到貨品售價相差幾倍的商舖。既然租金決定貨品價格,這些享受低廉租金的檔位又為什麼不會出售較便宜的貨品﹖
  
其實關於租金跟貨品價格的關係,李嘉圖(David Ricardo, 1772-1823)早在其《政治經濟與賦稅原理》(On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation)解釋過,「不是因為要付地租所以穀物價高,而是因為穀物價高所以要付地租」(Corn is not high because a rent is paid, but a rent is paid because corn is high)。

套之於領匯或公眾街市,即是貨價決定租金,而不是如政客所言的租金決定貨價。這是因為無論地租或商舖租金皆取決於土地或商舖的需求,而兩者都是由土地商舖所能產生的收益伸延。應收的租金不收,也不會反過來影響土地商舖所能收取的貨價。公眾街市檔位租金相差倍計而不見於貨價,正因如此。

再看上述的審計署署長報告書,關於《提供康樂及體育服務》的另一章。章內提及政府為響應北京舉辦奧運會,在本年7月1日推出為期三個月的「免費使用康樂設施計劃」。報告指出「免費計劃」大幅提高預訂率,不過四成租用者卻未有到場,當中還未包括報章報道和市民投訴的濫用情況。「免費計劃」的用者是否受惠﹖成功訂場的市民固然受惠,因為即使失場或只是到場跟朋友閒談休息,也沒有什麼損失。可是對於這些本來願意付上一點租場費用使用設施,現在卻因設施「免費」而未能訂場、還要眼見別人浪費資源的市民,就只好求助於申訴專員。

低租未必惠商

「低租惠商」跟「免費惠民」的邏輯相同,商戶能否受惠於低於市值的租金,視乎商戶是否能夠分得一個「超值」商舖檔位。因此,政治壓力造成的低租所能惠及的,無非只是某些有優先續租權、或是熟悉繁複申請程序、或是因特別「門路」、或是運氣較好而成功租舖的這些擁有特殊利益的「特權商戶」,而不是所有希望租舖的一般商戶。至於低租鼓勵的,也就是把檔位用作貯物、分租等行為。

不要誤會,這篇文章不是說領匯逆市加租的決定合理或是正確,只是當政府每年補貼超過1億元經營公眾街市,換來的是三成街市的檔位空置率超過三成,出租的檔位部分用作貯物、半數可能已經分租,對於政府運用公帑回購或補貼商場街市營運是否惠及市民和真正有心經營的商戶,實在應該認真思考。

Monday, December 15, 2008

政府應增加的士收費模式

黃健明 - 獅子山學會經濟研究員 , 信報 (經濟企管 P.33 , 2008.12.15)

市區的士較早前落實「短加長減」收費方案,引起部分新界的士司機不滿,導致罷駛。雖然政府隨即通過新界的士推行「短加長減」,恢復新界的士的價格優勢,但的士業界之間對「短加長減」的分歧仍然嚴重。

香港的士市場複雜之處,在於同時受到供應與價格兩方面的管制。的士供應受到牌照數目的限制,而為免的士收費由於供應方面的限制而過高和乘客訊息費用過高,於是政府同時劃一車資;昔日常見的士司機態度欠佳、拒載之事,正正反映劃一的車資應在市場均衡之下。可是,由於經濟環境改變與新的競爭對手出現,劃一的車資在長途車程時變成高於市場均衡,於是在競爭壓力之下出現「折扣的士」。正因如此,才會出現「短加長減」的建議,嘗試調整長途和短途兩個市場的車資來提高業界收入。

然而,在市場均衡之上調整車資增加收入的難度,在於需要準確了解市場的需求彈性。要是政府估計錯誤,價格加減都會損害的士業界收入。不過,假如只是政府與業界對市場需求彈性看法不同,業界應該出現的情況是一致反對,而非現在所見的嚴重分歧。

無法同時平衡個別司機利益  

先試想,政府劃一每罐汽水零售價格。由於零售商存在固定成本,按照購買數量多少而將零售價格改為「少加多減」明顯較為合理。問題在於,零售商的營運模式可能甚為不同,通宵營運的便利店或在主題樂園經營的商店,由於顧客購買量少、需求欠缺彈性,「少加」可以增加收入。可是同樣以購買量少顧客為主,但於食肆、果汁店林立地區經營的商店,「少加」可能引致需求量大跌,收入得不償失。

的士市場面對的,可能便是同樣情況。由於訊息不同,的士業界可能已經發展出不同營運模式,或長駐機場、或遊走市區。其中,主要接載訊息費用高昂、需求欠缺彈性的外地遊客的機場司機,顯然不會如其他司機般支持「長減」。

另一方面,須與巴士、小巴直接競爭短途乘客的屋村司機,也不會跟於商業區謀生的司機一起接受「短加」。因此,即使「短加長減」對於整體市場而言方向正確,卻無法同時平衡個別司機或團體的切身利益。

「短加長減」的用意,在於為的士車資提供更大彈性,貼近市場情況。只是市場難以簡單二分,「長短」以外,還有其他。既然政府強作干預,劃一調整車資,自然成為眾矢之的。

有利發展企業營運

其實在交通諮詢委員會年中發表的《的士營運檢討報告書》中,便有提出容許「個別的士從業員向政府申請自訂不同收費表」的想法,只是礙於香港的士市場以個別租車司機營運為主,恐怕自訂的收費過多造成混亂,因此提議只於企業營運成為主導之時,才容許自訂收費。

可是,劃一收費本身就是阻礙的士以企業形式營運的一個重要原因。的士司機表現及收入難以監管,車主因而較為傾向出租牌照多於僱用司機,但是如果容許自由訂價,部分相信自己更能準確釐訂不同市場收費,並以此製定競爭策略的企業家,便會組成公司以企業營運。相反,失去收費自主權,企業的一大功能無法發揮,自然大大削弱以企業營運的動機。

既然現在不同的士業界對於調整收費的方向想法各異,正好鼓勵不同意見的業界團體整合數個收費模式。業界為免訊息過於混亂影響生意,相信亦有此傾向。

以此為始,的士的企業營運模式才有機會發展。否則倒因為果,期望在劃一收費下,企業營運會漸次主導的士市場,恐怕只是緣木求魚。

Competition Law Reform – The Way Forward

Dan Ryan is a Director of the Lion Rock Institute - 2008.12.15

The Hong Kong government has raised expectations that some sort of competition-related reform will be introduced in the territory in 2009. Although it may surprise some, we are in favor of this. What we are against is that nature of the proposal that the government wants to introduce. From the outset The Lion Rock Institute has been one of the leading (and lonely) critics of the proposal. Now the chorus of critics is growing.

The key problem with the proposal is that it subjects private enterprises to a regulatory regime which is inappropriate for those that operate in extremely open and competitive markets. At the same time the proposal does nothing about those entities which operate in those markets that are protected from new competitors by government regulations. The proposal also excludes and contains principles which are inappropriate for regulating statutory entities which engage in commercial activities that unfairly compete with the private sector. If the current proposal is enacted we would thus get the worse of both worlds – legal uncertainty and unnecessary costs on private business and inertia in those government-protected industries which do require reform.

In the interests of moving the debate forward we believe it is better to focus on those areas where there is wide agreement on the need reform and which, unlike the current proposal, would actually do some good. The key focus should be on those statutory entities, regulations or regulatory bodies which restrict competition in Hong Kong. Let me give you a couple of examples.

The Law Society is charged with regulating the legal profession in Hong Kong. Unfortunately many of its regulations impose overly-restrictive burdens on foreign solicitors practicing in this city that go beyond the need to simply ensure quality & standards. For example, foreign practitioners who have already gone through years of practical and university training have to sit exams in Hong Kong's arcane system of land tenure even though they will never practice in that area in their lives. Ask any foreign lawyer who has had to sit they exam and they will tell you how crazy this is. This type of restrictive barrier forces up the price of legal services for all Hong Kong consumers and makes the legal market less competitive than it should be.

Another good example is the Hong Kong Exchange. The exchange is a for-profit company which is sheltered from foreign competition by overly restrictive government regulations. In Europe and the United States regulatory changes have allowed alternative trading systems such as Chi-X a greater role in the market. These entities have provided competition to the existing exchanges and drastically cut trading costs and improved efficiency. In Hong Kong the regulatory regime is such that it restricts their operations here.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is another area in need of competition reform. Like others, we acknowledge there may be good social policy reasons for limiting gambling in the city. However, this does not automatically mean that one entity should be given a monopoly on the provision of gambling services. We believe there is scope for an open and transparent inquiry into how new operators may be introduced while retaining those restrictions which are deemed necessary for social policy reasons.

One of the most politically sensitive areas is the retail grocery and petrol markets. It is an area which people rely on every day but also an area where a great deal of unsubstantiated allegations have been made. The argument (often presented with very little hard evidence) is that the government land auction process and other regulations favor existing incumbents. We would be in favor an open and transparent inquiry into the way that land auctions take place in Hong Kong which would also examine any government regulatory restrictions which might prevent the entry of new entities into the retail supermarket and petrol markets.

We believe that the reforms of the type we have outlined above are something that all those who genuinely believe in increasing competition in Hong Kong can get behind. They are proposals which can be supported while staying true to the city's pro-market principles and at the same time exposing to rightful scrutiny those areas where existing government regulations favor particular businesses over others. We look forward to working with all those who want to make this reform happen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

外滙基金應作兩手準備

王弼 - 獅子山學會行政總監, 信報 (經濟企管 P.33 , 2008.12.08)

這數年外滙市場風起雲湧,作為唯一真正國際貨幣的美元,其地位在這期間大上大落:在克林頓時代的雄霸天下,繼而歐羅面世嘗試對它作出挑戰,到半年前人人棄之如草芥,發展至今雖因挽救經濟而胡亂印鈔,但其幣值竟反地心吸力地上升,其走勢之飄忽令人歎為觀止。

同一時間,世界另一大經濟體系中國亦重歸貨幣政策自主道路,於2005年7月與美元脫鈎,之後輾轉上升兩成,但上周卻突然回落,更連續三日觸及波幅下限,由於早前因存款利息低企和美元貶值,不少港人投資了人民幣,相信他們會非常關注未來人民幣的走勢。究竟人民幣是否真的轉勢?香港人除了留意人民幣的投資回報外,是否有更重要的事情要我們關心?在外滙市場風雲變色、主要貨幣的波動從以往每天的一百點內暴增至四、五百點的今天,港人實應加倍留意局勢的發展,以備在非常時期能有效保存多年辛勞累積下來的財產。

美元在二戰後逐漸取代英鎊成為國際唯一結算貨幣,很多商品也是以美元定價,世界多國的貨品貿易也是以美元報價,投資產品如各類型基金和債券也是以美元為單位,故在次按危機爆發後,美國縱使瘋狂發債救市,美元亦因避險、各類平倉盤和基金贖回潮下需求大增而幣值得以反地心吸力上升,而升幅之大是令人意想不到的。

中國未被美國牽着鼻子走

在過去亞洲和拉丁美洲的金融風暴中,我們不難聽到發展中國家貨幣如印尼盾或阿根廷披索單日對美元下跌一兩成,但今次瘋狂貶值的貨幣竟包括主流貨幣如英鎊和澳元,澳元更是兩天下瀉兩成,從7月起累積貶值超過三成(中信泰富就因此加入金融海嘯下的「苦主」大軍),而眾多亞洲貨幣亦難逃貶值命運,但港元、日圓和人民幣成為了罕有的例外;港元的穩定當然是拜聯繫滙率所賜;日圓的堅挺由於利差交易大量平倉,但偏高的幣值跟日本本身的經濟狀況不太相稱,使它背負金融海嘯所帶來不成比例的重擔。如這情況延續,日本經濟勢將崩潰,相信其政府不會坐以待斃。

人民幣的情況則較為複雜:自從2003年沙士以後,國內經濟回歸蓬勃並全速發展,外資不斷湧入,又因美國發動伊拉克戰爭而使油價、繼而其他國際商品價格上升,正巧印度亦全面發展經濟,中印兩國對原材料的強勁需求無疑為商品價格火上加油,所以中國才在2005年決定讓人民幣和美元脫鈎,期望貨幣升值能緩和輸入通脹,亦以此來個順水推舟,滿足西方對人民幣升值的要求。

可惜升值不久,未看到通脹得以緩和,反觀商品價格升幅更瘋狂,連糧食價格亦被帶動上升;更要命的,是大量廠房(特別是港資)因受不了人民幣、商品和勞動法多方的夾擊而倒閉,升值未見其利先見其弊,所以中央政府趁現在外幣兌美元急跌而讓人民幣調整(不管是主動還是被動)是正確的做法。可是在金融海嘯下,中央亦想入口貨價盡量低企,以鼓勵人民消費保經濟增長,故人民幣亦不可能大幅貶值。順帶一提,無論是4萬億元人民幣救市方案,還是人民幣的政策,都看到中國是因應自己的需要而制定的,未有被美國牽着鼻子走,可見中央處理經濟的能力已不是吳下阿蒙,問題只是中央的政策能否有效的下達地方政府。

維持聯滙吸納黃金外幣

相對大陸,香港面對外滙波動所帶來的挑戰更令人憂心。一方面香港聯繫滙率在金融海嘯中(起碼到目前為止)捍衞香港經濟的優越性是不言而喻的:在人民幣升值兩成已令各界叫苦連天的情況下,實不敢想像在沒有聯滙下,港幣如再下跌(那怕如新加坡元般只下跌一成),會構成怎樣的災難,這亦是獅子山學會一向以來支持金管局的主張──港元不可輕言脫鈎的理由。可是自9月起美國不負責任的狂印美鈔救市,那怕採用量化寬鬆政策,也不能阻止各國對美元失去信心(日圓在量化寬鬆政策下幣值能維持,建基於日本國民的高儲蓄率和龐大貿易盈餘,不可與欠了外國一屁股債的美國相比)。如美元崩潰,外滙儲備又有近九成是美元區貨幣,港元自然會與美元玉石俱焚,所以香港正處於攔腰捉蛇的困境。

慶幸的是,維持聯匯絕對穩定只需要外滙儲備的三分之一,其餘三分之二實在無必要繼續以美元存在;因此,獅子山學會建議金管局一方面維繫聯滙,一方面可循步漸進吸納黃金和外幣(除歐羅外,在中央的配合下應可買進人民幣,以備將來人民幣在國際上自由兌換時與其掛鈎之用),起碼佔外匯基金的四成。倘若美元崩潰,這會使我們有能力轉與其他貨幣掛鈎,香港數代人累積下來的財富不致付諸一炬。

當然,在減低美元資產的過程中很可能會導致虧損,使金管局面對很大的輿論壓力。這或許是年薪900萬元的代價吧!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Forget draws, just put cash in our pockets

Forget draws, just put cash in our pockets

The government recently committed to infrastructure projects in order to create jobs and bolster the economy. But if these public works projects aren't truly necessary and the costs outweigh the benefits, all is in vain and taxpayers' money has been wasted.

Nicole Alpert

Friday, December 05, 2008

The government recently committed to infrastructure projects in order to create jobs and bolster the economy. But if these public works projects aren't truly necessary and the costs outweigh the benefits, all is in vain and taxpayers' money has been wasted.

Political parties have been quick to prescribe remedies to the government to boost the economy, perhaps too quick.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party have made the community wince with their suggestions.

The DAB wants makeovers in areas such as Tin Shui Wai and the Liberals call for HK$6 billion in shopping coupons with billions more in freebies, lucky draws and passes to Disneyland.

While most of the proposals are laughable, their calls for tax relief are right on.

We've cut taxes before and seen great progress. For instance, the levy on wine - alcoholic content under 30 percent - in Hong Kong was 80 percent at the beginning of 2007, cut to 40 percent in last year's budget and then abolished in February.

Some criticized the cuts, but they have created jobs and fueled a new and successful industry.

The benefits are numerous and include the growth of new business, expos and fairs, more value-added industries such as retailing and a wider choice of quality wines for consumers.

Tax cuts have great potential to stimulate growth - individuals will have more money to spend on whatever they wish, which will improve the economic climate.

The government is always being criticized for incompetence - it's definitely smarter to let people manage their own money. Families may choose to save, invest, pay off debt or spend.

The same funds that pay for makeovers at Tin Shui Wai and giveaways may help those having trouble managing the most basic necessities, such as food and rent.

Instead of going for coupons and freebies, both with high administrative costs and risks of corruption, we may stimulate growth by putting more money into people's pockets.

Proposals that seek to control the way individuals spend will create market inefficiencies.

We have been told that we need a stimulus, an injection of billions of dollars, but instead of spending our taxes on risky projects the government should explore public policy that will encourage new growth.

It should only invest in public projects that are necessary - if they aren't it might as well pay people to dig holes and refill them. It should increase the amount of money in taxpayers' pockets, scrap laws that hamper growth and help the unemployed find jobs and acquire new skills.

The recession is not something a lucky draw or Disneyland passes can get us out of, real improvement in the economy takes sacrifice, hard work and patience.

Nicole Alpert is a research associate for The Lion Rock Institute, a free-market think-tank

Can be viewed from the Standard here

如何看企業的社會責任

施永青 ( am730 - C 觀點 , 2008.12.04)

鳴謝施永青先生給予轉載

全球經濟步入衰退,不少企業都裁員減薪。這是企業為了在新的經濟環境下繼續生存,而迫不得已的選擇,卻被社會輿論群起而攻之,指責企業為了盈利不顧被裁員工死活,是缺乏社會責任的表現強調企業要負社會責任,是一種社會主義思潮,與香港一向以來篤信的自由經濟理念格格不入,但近年卻成了傳媒鼓吹的主導思想,我十分懷疑,是否大家一起高唱一下,就可以令企業真的願意負起更多的社會責任,並對香港的發展起積極的作用。


我是多間企業的負責人,屬下有過萬員工。我十分清楚我的一些取捨,足以影響很多人的生計。因此,我作決定時會十分審慎,因為如果我作錯了決定,傷害到一些可以不必被傷害的人,我就會得不到下屬的支持,我的領導地位就會動搖,公司就更難度過這段困難時期。我十分明白,作為企業的負責人,我不但對股東有責任,對員工、對社會也有責任。然而,我的責任來自三個組成部分。一是人人都要負起的法律責任,法律有規定的,不管自己是否認同,既然選擇在這個社會生活,就得遵守這個社會的法律。我不會動不動就搞公民抗命。二是合約上的責任,這是我自己在簽約時承諾的責任,不管是對股東,對員工,對顧客;或對其他商業夥伴,既然簽約時你情我願,自然有責任履行合約的規定。三是來自我個人的道德操守,來自我個人對人生的反省,完全是個人的價值取捨,不受社會上那些未經深思熟慮,只顧往自己臉上貼金的意見領袖影響。我是一個「朝聞道,夕死可矣」的人;我對我深信的,雖千萬人,吾往矣;但對那些不負責任的批評,我不但會橫眉冷對,而且亦會據理力爭,還以顏色,全無畏懼。

以上的三類責任,頭兩類是屬於企業必須肩負的,做不到會有法律後果。社會若發現企業想逃避這兩類責任,可以揭發他,指控他,批判他,可以對他有公論,但如果是第三類責任,則屬個人層面的道德取捨,不能由輿論加諸企業身上。因為道德標準人人不同,只能各自遵守自己的道德,不能強要別人遵守你的道德。除非社會覺得,必須把某些道德標準,提升為法律標準,否則不能隨意按自己的標準,要求企業負起各種空泛的社會責任。

以企業裁員為例,這是經營者應有的自主權,一旦剝奪企業在這方面的自主權,只會加快企業的倒閉,令更多人失業。香港現時雖沒有人要求立法去剝奪企業在用人方面的自主權,卻常對裁員的企業進行道德審判。這種道德審判,短期無法改變企業的決定,長期卻會阻嚇企業在香港的投資。就我所見,那些高唱企業社會責任的人,都是一批不懂企業運作的人。讓這類人來香港搞企業,員工更難有好日子過。

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It’s nonsense to fault offshore financial centres

From Prof Craig Boise and Prof Andrew P. Morriss.

Sir, Your analysis of offshore financial centres (“Harbours of resentment”, Analysis, December 1) makes three important errors.

First, you repeat the silly claim by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that the current financial crisis has “brutally exposed the risks inherent in small countries with large financial sectors”.

As anyone who has read the FT’s coverage of the financial crisis would know, its roots lie not in Grand Cayman or the Isle of Man but in New York and London. If there has been any “brutal exposure” it is of the inadequacies of the US and European Union oversight of their financial systems.

Second, your article suggests that Cayman and others “thrived” because the second half of the 20th century was “free-wheeling”. Nonsense. Cayman and the other top offshore financial centres all have more rigorous anti-money laundering regulatory regimes than the US or any member of the EU. Our research into OFCs has consistently shown that they have better legal tools and tougher standards than do most onshore jurisdictions.

Third, while institutions in OFCs may well have $6,000bn on their books, that money is not sitting in safe deposit boxes in Grand Cayman or Jersey. It is invested in assets located virtually everywhere else. Indeed, it is the US and the EU that benefit most from foreign direct investment channelled through OFCs. Blocking these capital inflows in the midst of a liquidity crisis would be folly.

We have together taken dozens of US law students to study the Caymanian legal system, interviewed professionals throughout the offshore world, and conducted research into the history and current status of several of the largest OFCs. Our teaching and research have shown us both the importance of OFCs to the functioning of onshore economies and the high standards prevalent among the more reputable OFCs.

Attacking the offshore sector may be politically popular in Paris, London and Washington, but it has nothing to do with resolving the global financial crisis.

Craig Boise, Associate Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, US

Andrew P. Morriss, H. Ross & Helen Workman, Professor of Law and Business, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL, US

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tax Havens: Myths vs. Facts

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTfZADGK6TY.

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation has produced videos showing the economic and moral benefits of so-called tax havens. This final video in the three-part series addresses some of the most common myths put forth by politicians from high-tax nations. Using academic research and data from international organizations, the video shows that the most common attacks made against low-tax jurisdictions are empty demagoguery.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Resorting to Keynes and other crutches

Dan Ryan is a director of the Lion Rock Institute

The world's governments are about to embark on a massive spending spree. China is busy spending US$586 billion. Others in the region have committed to large government spending packages. US president-elect Barack Obama has just announced he plans to save or create 2.5 million new jobs through spending on government projects.

Now, our chief executive has suggested that there needs to be large-scale government-funded infrastructure spending here. Before we go ahead, it is worth asking whether such government spending will actually bring our economy out of recession earlier than would otherwise be the case.

The rationale for such action is that a "stimulus" is needed, through "deficit financing" if necessary, as a "countercyclical measure" to "kick-start" the economy by injecting money into the system.

We have grown used to this language and thinking but, before the era of economist John Maynard Keynes, for government to assume such a role would have been considered very foreign to the average citizen. While deficits certainly occurred, they were generally seen as something to be avoided. Instead, the rather quaint view prevailed that a government should balance its budget and live within its means.

Keynes' influence was created during the Great Depression when he found a receptive ear in governments eager for new solutions. Yet there is meagre evidence that his policy prescriptions did anything to reduce the length of that downturn.

Spending on make-work projects and infrastructure simply failed to pull the economies of the world out of recession as Keynes claimed they would - real growth only occurred after the second world war because of the peace dividend and a more liberal global economy.

Keynesian-style public spending and borrowing were further discredited during the stagflation of the 1970s when governments reluctantly came to accept the view that you can't spend your way out of a recession.

The fact that Keynesianism seems to be once again the default policy setting for most of the world's governments is not because the theory isn't false. It is because it allows governments to expand their role, to "do something", and to gain popularity by dispensing largesse to key interest groups.

Certain private companies may benefit from government-directed projects, but it does not contribute to growth of the private sector as a whole - it just gives bureaucrats a role to decide which firms or industries do and don't get funding.

But, they say, we're spending money on "infrastructure". The problem is that it matters a great deal what is being built, not simply that you're building something. Either a project provides a net benefit to the economy as a whole or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then it is an overall drag on growth. If it is worthwhile, then it should be justifiable in good economic times or bad - and it is preferable that the private sector should finance and take the risks associated with it.

活化經濟的王道藥方

王弼 - 獅子山學會行政總監, 信報 (經濟企管 P.31 , 2008.12.01)

天生沒有四肢的青年力克從澳洲來港,勉勵港人以積極態度面對金融海嘯。孩提時受盡歧視的他,曾在八歲時想過了結自己生命,但現在他巡迴演講,激勵過世上超過一百萬人的生命,停留香港後更到訪四川勉勵地震後災民。在此衷心祝福四川的同胞們,特別是那些因地震失去肢體的,因為力克的經歷能重拾生命的盼望!
  
力克的傳奇,他怎樣由常人認為充滿咒詛的人生,選擇不自怨自艾,到最後如何戰勝自身的限制而擁有燦爛的生命,用不着在這裏多說,大家只要把他的名字 Nick Vujicic在Google搜尋一下便可。

南韓快速復甦例子
  
然而,力克絕不是不吃人間煙火只懂傳道的人,擁有會計和財務策劃雙學位和房地產投資業務的他,笑言在金融海嘯中亦損「手」,更損失慘重!但作為行內人的他,坦言對亞洲前景充滿信心,認為亞洲既然能克服十年前金融風暴的挑戰,再創經濟新里程,今天亦可安然渡過金融海嘯。這番話不像是為亞洲人打打氣的客套話,亞洲確以驚人速度從上次金融風暴中復甦。讓我們回顧亞洲火鳳凰重生的歷史,重溫當日致勝之道,或許可給我們克服目前難關的啟示。
  
相對今天的全球金融危機,亞洲金融風暴的本質當然不盡相同,但也離不開投資者對前景過分樂觀因而過度借貸、銀行放款過度寬鬆;中央銀行又長期以低利率貨幣擴張的手段促進經濟,這樣的環境下當然引起通脹,但央行又因避免影響經濟而不果斷地加息(這點跟格林斯平在任時的情況一樣),一方面又操控率以穩定投資環境,使當地實質物價不斷上升,導致經常賬赤字不斷膨脹。總之,這樣的模式既不能永遠維持,當然有毀滅的一天,結果外資撤走,貨幣貶值(這情況還未在美國出現,因美元得益於其國際唯一結算貨幣的地位,但這日子終會出現),使企業無力償還欠下的美元貸款,銀行壞賬上升、倒閉,之後的事就跟當下如出一轍,不贅。
  
結果,東南亞國家向國際貨幣基金會(IMF)求助,被迫簽下「喪權辱國」的挽救經濟條款,怎樣喪權辱國呢?一、各國政府必須大幅削減政府開支;二、讓經營不善的銀行倒閉;三、大幅加息以穩定貨幣。時任IMF總裁的Michel Camdessus更要求南韓各工業與工會談判以削減開支和大幅裁員,才批出570億美元貸款。
  
大幅削減政府開支,亦意味政府不能以大型基建項目刺激經濟。過程是極度痛苦的,以南韓為例,從1998年2月到6月期間,每天有超過一萬工人失業;不單受薪階級受影響,IMF的協議亦整治了長久以來政府和財閥間千絲萬縷的關係(雖不至完全清除,但至少解決了一部分從獨裁統治期間遺留下來的歷史問題),在沒有政府的保護下,很多財閥亦宣布破產甚至走上絕路。
  
情況雖然如此嚴峻,可是南韓並未因此像某些拉丁美洲國家長期沉淪,又或像日本,雖不斷增加政府開支和拯救大財閥經濟還是永無起色。相反,只經歷了不到兩年的衰退,便比自稱成功擊退大鱷和以迪士尼、數碼港、西鐵等公共開支刺激經濟的香港,更早步出金融風暴的陰霾,今天縱受金融海嘯衝擊,各界財政亦較十年前穩健。

有評論指責以美國為首的西方各國虛偽,當年硬要亞洲國家以緊縮貨幣和財政手段解決問題,今天自己卻背道而馳;獅子山學會完全認同這觀點,但歐美當年所開的確是王道藥方,今天它們既然有眼無珠而不用,就由它們承受這苦果吧!

香港可退稅減稅

當然,除採用了IMF的藥方,南韓能急速復甦亦建基於民間的高儲蓄,使韓圜不致如南美洲貨幣崩潰式貶值,這是得益於東亞一向以來的經濟發展模式。誠如練乙錚先生所言,東亞經濟發展模式有其難免持續的特性,但這放於美式過度鼓吹消費的發展模式皆準。當偶爾遇到經濟逆境,政府鼓勵個人消費以推動經濟未嘗不可,但像美國數十年如是的話,必然導致民間迷信消費的神奇力量(有什麼比以增加享受來對抗經濟逆境更吸引),盲目消費,最後無論政府、企業和民間都債台高築,陷入現今的困境。

至於擴大基建刺激經濟,這些在中國可行的事,在已高度發展的香港亦因報酬遞減律(law of diminishing return)而變得事倍功半;然而,香港可做的事情還是有的,如減稅退稅等藏富於民和取消擾民的政策如膠袋稅、最低工資、競爭法和強積金等;切忌迷信增加私人或公共開支效果,減少浪費、繼續審慎理財,才是香港長期繁榮的硬道理。