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商业

商业周期无法避免,如何不受其影响?

Clifton Leaf 2018年07月29日

虽然经济不会一直呈上升态势,但美国并没有失去竞争力,有很多富于创造力而且目标远大的颠覆者。

Art Streiber for Fortune Magazine

大家也许在今年6月出版的《财富》杂志上看到过杰夫·科尔文对通用电气的精准分析,那篇文章的名字很妙,叫《到底出了什么事?》(What the Hell Happened?)或者,大家可能对他近几个月探讨Intuit、宝洁、富国银行或卡夫亨氏的那些有说服力的特写有所耳闻。如果看过其中的某几篇(最好大家都读过),那么大家就会发现,在如今的商业报道领域里,基本上没人能像杰夫那样透彻地对企业进行剖析。

在本期《财富》杂志中,作为本刊资深编辑的杰夫,我们请他来分析一下美国经济,好比解析公司一样,查查它的资产负债表,检讨一下它的经营模式和现任管理层,再发挥一下他的特长,周详地进行一次无死角风险分析。

就这样,我们得到了本期的封面文章。同时,对所有认为美国历时数年的经济增长能永远持续下去的人来说,这篇文章释放了一个让人冷静的信号,那就是经济不会一直呈上升态势。商业周期就是周期,尽管连续增长已经达到惊人的110个月,成为164年来第二长的增长期,但经济转向不可避免,而且它到来的时间可能比大多数人预计的还要快。

杰夫认为,引发经济滑坡的将是基本面和表象诱因的共同作用,其中既有一段时间以来一直制约经济的因素,也有较新而且对前一类因素有助推作用的情况。两个领域中的债务都很高——国会的借款与开支规模和许多杠杆过高的公司一样,都处于危险水平。杰夫介绍说,美国公司的净负债/利润比例已经达到15年来的最高点。

另一方面,特朗普政府对移民的明显敌意进一步限制了美国劳动力的增长,而人口结构已经给美国的劳动力带来了挑战。愈演愈烈的贸易战、和长期盟友的任性纷争,以及不断上升的利率和油价将共同让贸易和投资增长变得更为缓慢。

至于所有这些什么时候会引发衰退,或者说引发的衰退什么时候会影响到股市,目前还没有定论。就像杰夫所言,崩盘之前,追捧行情不会轻易结束。但就像大家将在我们的封面文章中看到的那样,有充分迹象表明我们正在朝着这个方向迈进。

除了年度世界500强名单,本期《财富》杂志还就上述话题给工商界提了个醒,那就是现在美国公司面临的竞争比以往任何时候都激烈。10年前,在按收入排列的全球最大500家企业中,近三分之一(153家)都在美国,它们的收入总和达到惊人的30万亿美元,占全球GDP的38%。现在,世界500强中有126家美国公司。同样是在这10年里,中国大陆公司的数量在这个颇有威望的名单中从29家增至111家。

当然,上述情况绝不会让人们认为美国已经失去了它固有的创业动力或竞争力。要证明这一点,只需要花几分钟来看看我们看重的经济指标之一——40位40岁以下的商界精英。从编演导三栖明星乔丹·皮尔到击败埃隆·马斯克,获得美国太阳能市场主导权的Sunrun首席执行官林恩·朱莉奇,美国有创造力而且目标远大的颠覆者可谓济济一堂。

大家可以相信,无论商业周期在什么时候转向,这个优势都不会消失。(良辰财富网)

本文最初刊登在2018年8月1日出版的《财富》杂志上,题为《商业周期正在转向》。

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

MAYBE YOU READ HIS SURGICAL ANALYSIS of GE in our June issue, aptly titled “What the Hell Happened?” Or perhaps you’re familiar with his probing and cogent feature stories on Intuit, P&G, Wells Fargo, or Kraft Heinzin recent months. But if you’ve read any of these stories (and hopefully, you’ve read them all), you already know that nobody in the business press today dissects companies quite as deftly as Geoff Colvin does.

In this issue, though, we asked Geoff, a Fortune senior editor-at-large, to dig into something much bigger than any one company. We asked him to dissect the U.S. economy: to scrutinize its balance sheet, examine its business model and current management, and do the kind of thoughtful, 360-degree risk analysis that Geoff does so well.

The result is our cover story, and a sobering message for anyone who thinks that our aged economic expansion can last forever: It won’t. The business cycle is just that, a cycle, and even after an extraordinary 110 months of nonstop growth—the second-longest expansion in 164 years of measuring—a change in tide is inevitable. And it’s probably coming sooner than most think.

What will precipitate this one, Geoff argues, is a combination of fundamentals and fomenters—factors that have been straining the economy for some time, along with more recent developments that compound the effects of the former. Debt is high up on both lists: Our borrow-and-spend Congress has found a dangerous kinship with today’s multitude of overleveraged companies; corporate America’s net debt-to-earnings ratio is at the highest level in 15 years, as Geoff reports.

The Trump administration’s outright hostility to immigration, likewise, further constrains the growth in America’s demographically challenged labor force. And the specter of an escalating trade war, petulant fights with long-standing allies, and rising interest rates and oil prices are combining to slow trade and investment even more.

As for when all this will lead to a recession—or, for that matter, affect the stock market—that’s anybody’s guess. As Geoff points out, we could easily end up with a “melt-up” in the market before we get a meltdown. But, as you’ll see in our cover story, the signs are abundant that we’re headed that way.

This issue of Fortune—which includes our annual Global 500 ranking—also brings a related reminder to the business community: U.S. companies face more competition today than ever. A decade ago, America was home to nearly a third (153) of the world’s 500 largest companies by revenue, which together account for a stunning $30 trillion in revenue or 38% of global GDP. Our share is now a quarter (126). Over the same 10 years, meanwhile, China boosted its own representation on this venerable list from 29 companies to 111.

None of the above, of course, should make anyone think that America has lost its innate entrepreneurial energy or competitiveness. For proof, just spend a few minutes going through one of Fortune’s favorite economic indicators—our 40 Under 40 list. From triple threat writer-actor-director Jordan Peele to Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich, who has outmaneuvered Elon Musk in the fight to dominate the U.S. solar market, America is brimming with creative and ambitious disrupters.

You can be sure that advantage won’t go away—no matter when the business cycle turns.

A version of this article appears in the August 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Business Cycle Is Turning.”

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