Attack of the Debt Tsunami: global debt soars to a new all-time high

Attack of the Debt Tsunami: global debt soars to a new all-time high
The global debt load soared by $15 trillion in the first three quarters of 2020 to $272 trillion, or 365% of global GDP
By Ben Aris n Berlin November 19, 2020

The coronacrisis has sent already record high levels of global soaring to giddying new levels, reports the Institute of International Finance (IIF) in a note released on November 18.

Global debt is on track to exceed $277 trillion in 2020, or 365% of global GDP. Excluding the financial sector then debt will be a slightly more modest $210 trillion, but that is still 274% of global GDP and up from $194 trillion last year (240%).

“Spurred by a sharp rise in government and corporate borrowing as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, the global debt load increased by $15 trillion in the first three quarters of 2020 and now stands above $272 trillion. With little sign of a slowdown in debt issuance, we estimate that global debt will smash through records to hit $277 trillion by the end of the year,” Emre Tiftik, director of Sustainability Research, and Khadija Mahmood, associate economist of IIF, said in the note.

Most economists have become more sanguine in the last few weeks as a rash of vaccine clinical trial results have been released as the Phase III trials draw to a conclusion. The circa 90% efficacy of all the leading candidates is very encouraging, as the US FDA usually demands only a 50% efficacy to certify a vaccine and the EU 75%, so the 90%-plus efficacies being reported suggest the new anti-coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines are very effective. That means the pandemic may fade rapidly in the first quarter of 2021 and lead to a huge boost to the global economy as a year’s worth of pent up demand is released. It also means borrowing should fall off significantly.

Debt ratios should stabilise after a sharp surge in 2020, according to IIF: “Following a record surge in global debt-to-GDP (from 320% to around 362% in H1 2020), the rise in the third quarter of 2020 was more modest, at less than 2 percentage points helped by the strong global recovery. We expect that the global debt-to-GDP ratio will reach some 365% of GDP in 2020.”

 

DM debt

The surge in borrowing has been led by the Developed Markets (DM), which saw debt surpass 432% of GDP in in the third quarter of 2020, up by half from a year earlier. The US accounted for nearly half of the rise, with total debt on track to hit $80 trillion in 2020 up from $71 trillion in 2019, IIF reports.

Government borrowing accounted for most of the increase, with general government borrowing up $3.7 trillion and non-financial sector corporate borrowing up $1.7 trillion.

The Eurozone also borrowed heavily, adding $1.5 trillion to government debt to bring the total outstanding debt to $53 trillion in the third quarter of 2020, although this is still a bit less than the all-time high of $55 trillion set in the wake of the last crisis in the second quarter of 2014. Debt in other mature markets rose by over $3.7 trillion to $65 trillion in the first three quarters of 2020.

EM debt

The Emerging Markets (EM) have also been piling on debt, but at a slower pace. EM debt is fast approaching 250% of GDP, up from 222% in the fourth quarter of 2019 to reach 248% in the third quarter of 2020.

Most of the EM debt is dollar-denominated and worth $76 trillion, although countries like Russia have moved to reduce the share of dollar-denominated debt and have been trying to promote the settlement of international trade contracts in other currencies.

Most of the rise was driven by a surge in non-financial corporate debt in China. Excluding China, the dollar value of EM debt declined from $31 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019 to $29.3 trillion in the third quarter of 2020. The fall in the debt had more to do with exchange rate dynamics and widespread devaluations vs the dollar than to deleveraging in EMs.

National debt

Governments accounted for 60% of the $12 trillion build-up in the world’s debt pile outside the financial sector, with corporates accounting for another $4.3 trillion to reach a fresh all-time high of near $80 trillion. In addition, household debt rose by $500bn to almost hit $50 trillion.

The most active borrowers are also some of the world’s biggest economies: Canada, Japan and the US have seen the biggest increases in non-financial sector debt this year, reports IIF, with the rise in debt-to-GDP ratios varying from 45 percentage points in the US to over 75 percentage points in Canada.

Most of the DMs have long since smashed through the Maastricht criteria of capping debt-to-GDP levels at 60% of GDP and many of Europe’s governments are already at double this level. However, with global interest rates at near-zero levels money is effectively free and so this debt can simply be rolled over ad infinitum.

“Across mature markets, government debt has again been the main driver of the rise, increasing the most in Canada, Japan, the US, the UK and Spain. Of note, Ireland is the only country in our sample to see a decline in the total debt ratio, as declines in household and non-financial corporate debt offset the rise in government debt,” IIF said. “Lebanon, China, Malaysia and Turkey have seen the biggest increases in non-financial sector debt ratios since 2019 amongst EMs. While sharp economic contractions drove surging debt ratios in many cases (notably in Lebanon), the dollar value of debt also rose sharply in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Turkey over the first three quarters of 2020. The rise in non-financial corporate debt in China from 150% of GDP in Q3 2019 to over 165% in in the third quarter of 2020 – has been striking. We estimate that China’s total debt-to-GDP topped 335% of GDP vs 200% of GDP in 2011.”

Rising EM debt service burdens

The soaring debt will present EMs with debt servicing burdens that are already starting to appear. As bne IntelliNews reported, the first problem of the newly installed Kyrgyz government will be how to deal with its debt to China. While Russia doesn't have any debt at all at federal level, its regions are close to bankruptcy as they struggle to absorb the economic shock caused by the coronacrisis.

Corporates have taken advantage of central banks' massive monetary policy response to the pandemic to lock in lower funding costs at longer-than-average maturities, says IIF.

“With short-term debt securities accounting for over 45% of total issuance in mature markets, lower policy rates have also slashed borrowing costs for governments a big benefit given widespread COVID-related revenue losses,” says IIF. “In emerging markets, however, these revenue losses have made [the] debt service burden much more onerous despite the benefit from lower borrowing costs. We estimate that some $7 trillion of EM debt will come due through end-2021, with dollar-denominated debt representing 15% of the total.”

Looming global debt crisis?

The pace of global debt accumulation has been unprecedented since 2016, increasing by over $52 trillion. While some $15 trillion of this surge has been recorded in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the debt build-up over the past four years has far outstripped the $6 trillion rise over the previous four years and over earlier comparable periods, reports IIF.

“As a result, there is significant uncertainty about how the global economy can deleverage in the future without significant adverse implications for economic activity. The next decade could bring a reflationary fiscal response, in sharp contrast to the austerity bias in the 2010s,” says IIF.

“If the global debt pile continues to grow at the average pace of the last 15 years, our back-of-the-envelope estimates suggest that global debt could exceed $360 trillion by 2030 – over $85 trillion higher than current levels,” IIF warns.

 

Global debt: Sectoral Indebtedness* USD trillion

 

Households

Non-financial corporates

Government

Financial sector

Total

 

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Mature markets

35.5

34.2

46.6

43.2

59.8

52.7

54.3

51.7

196.3

181.8

Emerging markets

13.6

12.8

33

30.5

17.8

16.4

12

11.1

72.6

70.6

Global

49.2

47.1

79.6

73.7

77.6

69.1

65.6

62.8

272

252.7

Source: IIF, BIS, IMF, Haver, National Sources. *Household debt incorporates outstanding bank loans. Financial sector debt and non-financial corporate debt incorporate cross-border and domestic bank loans as well as onshore/offshore outstanding bonds. Government debt is extrapolated with IMF-WEO database. For details, see the General Information section of our database.

 

Total Global Debt by Sector, % of GDP

 

Households

Non-financial corporates

Government

Financial Sector

 

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Q3 2020

Q3 2019

Global

65.3

60

103

91.9

104.8

88.7

89.5

81.9

Mature markets

78

72

102.3

91.1

131.4

110.4

120.3

109.9

U.S.

81.2

73.5

88.2

74.9

127.2

101.7

87

77.2

Euro Area

60.5

57.7

114

108

115.1

101.7

126.2

124.7

Japan

65.3

57.5

122.1

101.1

257.2

227

188

158.6

UK

87.7

84.2

77.7

73

130.1

110.4

205.4

191.8

Emerging markets

44

39.9

104.1

93.4

60.3

52.5

40

35

EM Asia

55

50.1

132.2

119.1

63

54.2

48.1

42.9

China

59.8

54.4

166.3

150.4

63

52.9

48.3

42.8

Hong Kong

89.9

79.3

260

225.4

65.7

67.2

154.5

146.7

India

14.1

12

50.6

44.1

80.2

71.2

4

4

Indonesia

17.2

17

23.9

22.7

36.4

30.2

9.6

8.7

Malaysia

77.1

68

77.9

67.6

59

53.9

32.2

30.9

Pakistan

2.5

2.7

13.2

13.9

86.8

82.4

1.4

0.7

Philippines

17.2

16

33.1

30.1

45.7

37

12

11.5

S. Korea

100.6

93.6

110.2

100.8

45.9

40.8

101.2

88.1

Singapore

56.6

51.5

140.7

117

130.6

120.2

194.1

174.9

Thailand

76.2

68.6

53.8

47.2

38.2

33.7

40.4

38.8

EM Europe

23.4

20.6

75.2

65.7

35.5

29.5

21.2

17.9

Czech Republic

33.4

31.6

59.3

58

39.4

33.5

42.3

39.3

Hungary

20.4

18.3

72.3

64.7

75.7

73.5

33.8

26

Poland

35

35.2

44.8

44.2

57.5

49.8

25.6

22.5

Russia

22.5

18.6

90.6

77.5

18

15.1

12.7

9.6

Turkey

18

14.7

77.5

65.4

43.6

32.3

28.7

25.2

Ukraine

5.3

5.8

20.1

23.3

61.8

52.7

9.9

10.2

EM Latam

26.5

24.1

43.3

38.2

73.7

68.4

35.5

28.4

Argentina

5.6

5.4

15.7

16

95.5

96.5

5.6

6.4

Brazil

33.8

29.8

48.4

42.8

93.1

87.6

54.1

41.2

Chile

50

46.9

121.6

105.5

35.8

33.2

55.4

53.5

Colombia

31.2

27.8

38.9

34.7

62.2

51.3

7.5

5.7

Mexico

16.9

16.5

30.4

25.8

42.9

36.4

20.6

16.9

AFME

22.8

20.3

46.6

41.4

47

41.5

15.7

13.8

Egypt

8

7.3

21.4

21.8

85.9

85.7

4.8

5.3

Ghana

2.5

2.6

17.9

17.8

73.5

62

4.2

4.4

Israel

43.1

41.8

69.5

68.8

68.1

60.4

10.7

10.6

Kenya

6.7

7.4

17.4

19.4

65.4

61.7

1.8

1.9

Lebanon

116.4

59.5

159.4

99.2

172.3

169.4

9

8.4

Nigeria

15.4

15.5

7.8

7.6

33.6

28.8

4.4

4.4

Saudi Arabia

13.3

11.5

53.9

44.9

29.6

21.8

4.7

3.6

South Africa

36.7

34.1

43.8

40.8

73.7

63.4

32.5

25.5

UAE

24.5

21.6

76.6

67.6

34.2

25.7

52.9

47.2

Sources: IIF, BIS, Haver, National Sources

 

Currency Breakdown of EM Sectoral Debt, % of GDP

 

Non-financial corporates

Government

Financial Sector

Households

As of Q3-2020

LC

FC

o/w USD

o/w EURO

LC

FC

o/w USD

o/w EURO

LC

FC

o/w USD

o/w EURO

LC

FC

Emerging markets

                           

EM Asia

                           

China

159.7

6.5

5.6

0.7

62.2

0.8

0.6

0.2

42

6.3

5.1

0.5

59.8

0

Hong Kong

30.6

229.4

175.6

40.2

64.5

1.2

1

0

34.1

120.4

92.4

13.3

86.5

3.5

India

43.1

7.5

5.9

1.3

77.9

2.3

2.3

0

1.2

2.8

2.5

0.2

14.1

0

Indonesia

14.6

9.4

8.7

0.4

26.2

10.2

7.9

1.6

3.5

6.1

5.8

0.2

16.9

0.3

Malaysia

64.2

13.8

10.5

0

56.9

2.1

1.6

0

11.9

20.3

16

2

76.8

0.4

S. Korea

92.2

18

14.7

2.4

44.8

1.1

0.8

0.3

70.7

30.4

24.3

3.9

99.9

0.7

Singapore

75.6

65.1

58.5

2.2

130.6

0

0

0

51.1

143

107.5

17.7

44.4

12.2

Thailand

45.2

8.6

7.3

0.2

38.2

0

0

0

32.1

8.3

7.3

0.5

76

0.2

EM Europe

                           

Czech Republic

30.6

28.7

1.3

26.4

36

3.5

0

3.4

36.7

5.6

0.3

5.3

33.4

0.1

Hungary

37.9

34.4

4.7

29.6

62.8

12.9

6.1

5.9

12.2

21.6

7.6

13.8

20.3

0.1

Poland

30.4

14.5

0.8

13.6

46.1

11.5

2.2

8.6

15.1

10.5

0.9

3.6

23.8

11.2

Russia

67.8

22.8

9.9

11

14.7

3.2

3.1

0.2

7.9

4.9

4.2

0.4

22.4

0.2

Turkey

42.4

35.2

15.3

19.1

19.1

24.4

14.9

6.2

5.6

23.1

18.4

4.7

18

0

Ukraine

10.9

9.2

7

2.1

30.6

31.2

27.3

3.9

0.9

9

5.4

3.5

4.3

1

EM Latam

                           

Argentina

6.2

9.5

9.1

0.3

27.1

68.3

50.5

2.4

2.5

3

0.8

0.1

5.4

0.2

Brazil

28

20.4

18.4

1.7

87.1

6

5.3

0.7

41.5

12.6

11.7

0.6

33.8

0

Chile

80.8

40.8

39.3

0.8

25.6

10.1

5.5

4.6

42.3

13.1

11

0.3

48.1

1.9

Colombia

26.6

12.3

11.1

0.5

41.2

21

20

0

0.7

6.8

6.8

0

31.2

0.1

Mexico

6.8

23.6

18.5

3.4

34.7

8.3

5.4

2.1

15.8

4.8

3.4

0.7

16.9

0

AFME

                           

Israel

46.2

23.3

15.6

6.5

55

13

8.8

4.1

9.3

1.4

1.2

0.2

42.9

0.2

S. Arabia

43.7

10.2

9.7

0.3

17.6

12

12

0

1.4

3.3

3

0.1

13.3

0

S. Africa

23.7

20

12.2

4.4

66.8

6.9

6.6

0.2

16.5

16

7.7

1.2

36.3

0.5

Sources: IIF, BIS, Haver, National Sources, IIF estimates, *LC=local currency; FC=foreign currency

 

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