By This Measure, the U.S. has the 2nd Highest National Debt
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By This Measure, the U.S. has the 2nd Highest National Debt

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By This Measure, the U.S. has the 2nd Highest National Debt

By This Measure, the U.S. has the 2nd Highest National Debt

USA is #7 in debt to gdp, but #2 in debt to revenue

In absolute terms, the United States is the most indebted country in the world, accounting for 29% of the world’s $60 trillion of sovereign debt.

However, this is not really a fair comparison in some ways because it does not account for the relative wealth of the country in contrast to poorer economies. That’s why it is standard practice to measure sovereign debt in a ratio comparing it directly to the economic productivity, measured by gross domestic product (GDP).

Using this ratio in comparison with other OECD countries, the United States is a modest 7th place (out of 34) in the rankings in terms of its debt load. However, as Jeffrey Dorfman writes in Forbes, comparing debt and GDP has some considerable problems.

The major issue is that economic production cannot be converted directly to dollars that a government can spend. If this were true, a government could claim everyone’s income as taxes and use it to pay down the debt. However, in reality, a 100% tax rate would make everyone would quit their jobs or leave the country. That’s why it makes more sense to compare a government’s debt to the actual tax revenue collected, as this creates a clearer picture of the country’s debt burden and the capacity to pay.

We pulled the latest data from the OECD to compare three ways of measuring the amount of debt that a country has accumulated. The first is the standard Debt to GDP ratio. In addition, we looked at Debt to Revenue (this includes all federal, state, and municipal tax revenues) as well as Debt to Central Government Revenue (this excludes state and municipal tax revenue). The data from the OECD database is from 2013.

When tabulated using all three measures, the world debt picture changes significantly. The United States is 7th in Debt to GDP with a ratio of 103%, but it jumps to 4th place (406%) in terms of Debt to Revenue, and then 2nd place (979%) in terms of Debt to Central Government Revenue. In other words, when it comes to the actual capacity to pay down this debt, the United States is the second most indebted country in the world. Even if the federal government theoretically used all tax revenue to pay down debt, it would take 10 years (not including any interest).

Of course, the United States also has the world’s reserve currency for now, which gives it more flexibility with its debt and monetary policy. This is less true for a country like Greece, where the currency cannot be devalued at all so long as the country is a part of the EU.

How do other major countries do when comparing the regular measure to the new one using revenue? Canada jumps five spots to 5th place with 695%, and Germany jumps nine spots to 6th place. The UK drops five spots down to 16th overall with 351%. Australia rises two spots from 30th to 28th.

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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3 Insights From the FED’s Latest Economic Snapshot

Stay up to date on the U.S. economy with this infographic summarizing the most recent Federal Reserve data released.

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us economic snapshot

3 Insights From the Latest U.S. Economic Data

Each month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes monthly economic snapshots.

To make this report accessible to a wider audience, we’ve identified the three most important takeaways from the report and compiled them into one infographic.

1. Growth figures in Q2 will make or break a recession

Generally speaking, a recession begins when an economy exhibits two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Because U.S. GDP shrank by -1.5% in Q1 2022 (January to March), a lot rests on the Q2 figure (April to June) which should be released on July 28th.

Referencing strong business activity and continued growth in consumer spending, economists predict that U.S. GDP will grow by +2.1% in Q2. This would mark a decisive reversal from Q1, and put an end to recessionary fears for the time being.

Unfortunately, inflation is the top financial concern for Americans, and this is dampening consumer confidence. Shown below, the consumer confidence index reflects the public’s short-term outlook for income, business, and labor conditions.

consumer price index 2005 to 2022

Falling consumer confidence suggests that more people will delay big purchases such as cars, major appliances, and vacations.

2. The COVID-era housing boom could be over

Housing markets have been riding high since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this run is likely coming to an end. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since 2020:

  • Lockdowns in early 2020 created lots of pent-up demand for homes
  • Greater household savings and record-low mortgage rates pushed demand even further
  • Supply chain disruptions greatly increased the cost of materials like lumber
  • Construction of new homes couldn’t keep up, and housing supply fell to historic lows

Today, home prices are at record highs and the cost of borrowing is rapidly rising. For evidence, look no further than the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which has doubled to more than 6% since the beginning of 2022.

Given these developments, the drop in the number of home sales could be a sign that many Americans are being priced out of the market.

3. Don’t expect groceries to become any cheaper

Inflation has been a hot topic this year, especially with gas prices reaching $5 a gallon. But there’s one category of goods that’s perhaps even more alarming: food.

The following table includes food inflation over the past three years, as the percent change over the past 12 months.

DateCPI Food Component (%)
2018-02-011.4%
2019-05-012.0%
2019-06-011.9%
2019-07-011.8%
2019-08-011.7%
2019-09-011.8%
2019-10-012.1%
2019-11-012.0%
2019-12-011.8%
2020-01-011.8%
2020-02-011.8%
2020-03-011.9%
2020-04-013.5%
2020-05-014.0%
2020-06-014.5%
2020-07-014.1%
2020-08-014.1%
2020-09-014.0%
2020-10-013.9%
2020-11-013.7%
2020-12-013.9%
2021-01-013.8%
2021-02-013.6%
2021-03-013.5%
2021-04-012.4%
2021-05-012.1%
2021-06-012.4%
2021-07-013.4%
2021-08-013.7%
2021-09-014.6%
2021-10-015.3%
2021-11-016.1%
2021-12-016.3%
2022-01-017.0%
2022-02-017.9%
2022-03-018.8%
2022-04-019.4%
2022-05-0110.1%

From this data, we can see that food inflation really picked up speed in April 2020, jumping to +3.5% from +1.9% in the previous month. This was due to supply chain disruptions and a sudden rebound in global demand.

Fast forward to today, and food inflation is running rampant at 10.1%. A contributing factor is the impending fertilizer shortage, which stems from the Ukraine war. As it turns out, Russia is not only a massive exporter of oil, but wheat and fertilizer as well.

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