Global debt has reached record high, says IMF

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Published: April 19, 2018 7:58:02 AM

With public debt currently at historic highs in advanced and emerging market economies, the IMF has advised countries to avoid policies that increase economic fluctuations.

Global debt, IMF, Vitor Gaspar, IMF Fiscal Affairs DepartmentVitor Gaspar, Director, IMF Fiscal Affairs Department has also advised countries to build strong public finances in good times in order to tackle looming risks.

With public debt currently at historic highs in advanced and emerging market economies, the IMF has advised countries to avoid policies that increase economic fluctuations. Vitor Gaspar, Director, IMF Fiscal Affairs Department has also advised countries to build strong public finances in good times in order to tackle looming risks.

The global debt reached a record high in 2016 at USD 164 trillion, or almost 225 per cent of GDP, Gaspar said, noting that most of the debt is in advanced economies although in the last 10 years, emerging market economies have been responsible for most of the increase.

China alone has contributed 43 per cent to the increase since 2007.

“Public debt is currently at historic highs in advanced and emerging market economies. Average debt-to-GDP ratios, at more than 105 per cent of GDP in advanced economies, are at levels not seen since World War II,” Gasper told reporters at a news conference here yesterday.

“Countries are advised to avoid procyclical fiscal policies that exacerbate economic fluctuations and ratchet up public debt,” he said.

Responding to a question, Gasper said a very high level of debt — in particular, if associated with rapidly increasing debt — have been shown to bring risks to financial stability and risks to broad economic activity.

“That is one of the reasons why we emphasised that now in these good times, in this cyclical upswing, it is timely for countries to rebuild fiscal buffers, to build solid foundations of public finance, so that they are prepared for harder times that eventually will come,” he said.

In emerging market economies, debt at almost 50 per cent of GDP on average is at levels that in the past have been associated with fiscal crisis.

In contrast, for low-income developing countries, average debt-to-GDP ratios at 44 per cent of GDP are well below historical peaks.

“..but it is important to recall that these peaks involve debt levels that countries were unable to service and were eventually tackled through debt relief initiatives by the international community,” said Gasper.

According to Gasper, since the completion of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), debt levels have been picking up on average.

The increase has been about 13 per cent of the GDP in the last five years.

“Our debt sustainability analysis indicates that 40 per cent of low-income countries are currently at high risk of or are already in debt distress. This ratio doubled in five years,” he said.

Furthermore, debt service has also been rising rapidly, particularly in countries with high inflation rates.

The interest burden has also doubled in the past 10 years to 20 per cent of taxes.

Public debt-to-GDP ratios will fall in the majority of countries, the IMF predicts, although it singled out the US as a major exception.

For the period 2018 to 2023, debt ratios will be declining in three-fifths of low-income developing countries and in about two-thirds of emerging market economies, the top IMF official said.

As for advanced economies, debt ratios will be declining in almost all countries, except the US, Gasper said.

“In the US, the revised tax code and the two-year budget agreement provide additional fiscal stimulus to the economy. These measures will give rise to overall deficit above USD 1 trillion over the next three years, and that corresponds to more than five per cent of the US GDP,” he said.

“Debt is projected to increase from 108 percent in 2017 to 117 percent of GDP in 2023. If tax cuts with sunset provisions are not allowed to lapse, public debt would climb even higher,” he added.

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