Timeline: 150 Years of U.S. National Debt - Visual Capitalist
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Timeline: 150 Years of U.S. National Debt

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This interactive visualization uses debt held by the public for its calculations, which excludes intragovernmental holdings.

Looking Back at 150 Years of U.S. Debt

The total U.S. national debt reached an all-time high of $28 trillion* in March 2021, the largest amount ever recorded.

Recent increases to the debt have been fueled by massive fiscal stimulus bills like the CARES Act ($2.2 trillion in March 2020), the Consolidated Appropriations Act ($2.3 trillion in December 2020), and most recently, the American Rescue Plan ($1.9 trillion in March 2021).

To see how America’s debt has gotten to its current point, we’ve created an interactive timeline using data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It’s crucial to note that the data set uses U.S. national debt held by the public, which excludes intergovernmental holdings.

*Editor’s note: This top level figure includes intragovernmental holdings, or the roughly $6 trillion of debt owed within the government to itself.

What Influences U.S. Debt?

It’s worth pointing out that the national debt hasn’t always been this large.

Looking back 150 years, we can see that its size relative to GDP has fluctuated greatly, hitting multiple peaks and troughs. These movements generally correspond with events such as wars and recessions.

Decade Gross debt at start
of decade
(USD billions)
Avg. Debt Held By Public
Throughout Decade
(% of GDP)
Major Events
1900-4.8%-
1910-10.0%World War I
1920-22.9%The Great Depression
1930$1636.4%President Roosevelt's New Deal
1940$4075.1%World War II
1950$25756.8%Korean War
1960$28637.3%Vietnam War
1970$37126.1%Stagflation (inflation + high unemployment)
1980$90833.7%President Reagan's tax cuts
1990$3,23344.7%Gulf War
2000$5,67436.6%9/11 attacks & Global Financial Crisis
2010$13,56272.4%Debt ceiling is raised by Congress
2020$27,748105.6%COVID-19 pandemic
2030P-121.8%-
2040P-164.7%-
2050P-195.2%-

Source: CBO, The Balance

To gain further insight into the history of the U.S. national debt, let’s review some key economic events in America’s history.

The Great Depression

After its WWI victory, the U.S. enjoyed a period of post-war prosperity commonly referred to as the Roaring Twenties.

This led to the creation of a stock market bubble which would eventually burst in 1929, causing massive damage to the U.S. economy. The country’s GDP was cut in half (partially due to deflation), while the unemployment rate rose to 25%.

Government revenues dipped as a result, pushing debt held by the public as a % of GDP from its low of 15% in 1929, to a high of 44% in 1934.

World War II

WWII quickly brought the U.S. back to full employment, but it was an incredibly expensive endeavor. The total cost of the war is estimated to be over $4 trillion in today’s dollars.

To finance its efforts, the U.S. relied heavily on war bonds, a type of bond that is marketed to citizens during armed conflicts. These bonds were sold in various denominations ranging from $25-$10,000 and had a 2.9% interest rate compounded semiannually.

Over 85 million Americans purchased these bonds, helping the U.S. government to raise $186 billion (not adjusted for inflation). This pushed debt above 100% of GDP for the first time ever, but was also enough to cover 63% of the war’s total cost.

The Postwar Period

Following World War II, the U.S. experienced robust economic growth.

Despite involvement in the Korea and Vietnam wars, debt-to-GDP declined to a low of 23% in 1974—largely because these wars were financed by raising taxes rather than borrowing.

The economy eventually slowed in the early 1980s, prompting President Reagan to slash taxes on corporations and high earning individuals. Income taxes on the top bracket, for example, fell from 70% to 50%.

2008 Global Financial Crisis

The Global Financial Crisis served as a precursor for today’s debt landscape.

Interest rates were reduced to near-zero levels to speed up the economic recovery, enabling the government to borrow with relative ease. Rates remained at these suppressed levels from 2008 to 2015, and debt-to-GDP grew from 39% to 73%.

It’s important to note that even before 2008, the U.S. government had been consistently running annual budget deficits. This means that the government spends more than it earns each year through taxes.

The National Debt Today

The COVID-19 pandemic damaged many areas of the global economy, forcing governments to drastically increase their spending. At the same time, many central banks once again reduced interest rates to zero.

This has resulted in a growing snowball of government debt that shows little signs of shrinking, even though the worst of the pandemic is already behind us.

In the U.S., federal debt has reached or surpassed WWII levels. When excluding intragovernmental holdings, it now sits at 104% of GDP—and including those holdings, it sits at 128% of GDP. But while the debt is expected to grow even further, the cost of servicing this debt has actually decreased in recent years.

U.S. federal debt costs

This is because existing government bonds, which were originally issued at higher rates, are now maturing and being refinanced to take advantage of today’s lower borrowing costs.

The key takeaway from this is that the U.S. national debt will remain manageable for the foreseeable future. Longer term, however, interest expenses are expected to grow significantly—especially if interest rates begin to rise again.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Technology

Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing IPO Valuations

Tracking the companies that have gone public in 2021, their valuation, and how they did it.

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Companies Gone Public in 2021 Share

Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing Valuations

Despite its many tumultuous turns, last year was a productive year for global markets, and companies going public in 2021 benefited.

From much-hyped tech initial public offerings (IPOs) to food and healthcare services, many companies with already large followings have gone public this year. Some were supposed to go public in 2020 but got delayed due to the pandemic, and others saw the opportunity to take advantage of a strong current market.

This graphic measures 68 companies that have gone public in 2021 — including IPOs, SPACs, and Direct Listings—as well as their subsequent valuations after listing.

Who’s Gone Public in 2021?

Historically, companies that wanted to go public employed one main method above others: the initial public offering (IPO).

But companies going public today readily choose from one of three different options, depending on market situations, associated costs, and shareholder preference:

  • Initial Public Offering (IPO): A private company creates new shares which are underwritten by a financial organization and sold to the public.
  • Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC): A separate company with no operations is created strictly to raise capital to acquire the company going public. SPACs are the fastest method of going public, and have become popular in recent years.
  • Direct Listing: A private company enters a market with only existing, outstanding shares being traded and no new shares created. The cost is lower than that of an IPO, since no fees need to be paid for underwriting.

The majority of companies going public in 2021 chose the IPO route, but some of the biggest valuations resulted from direct listings.

Listing DateCompanyValuation ($B)Listing Type
08-Jan-21Clover Health$7.0SPAC
13-Jan-21Affirm$11.9IPO
13-Jan-21Billtrust$1.3SPAC
14-Jan-21Poshmark$3.0IPO
15-Jan-21Playtika$11.0IPO
21-Jan-21Hims and Hers Health$1.6SPAC
28-Jan-21Qualtrics$15.0IPO
09-Feb-21Metromile-SPAC
11-Feb-21Bumble$8.2IPO
26-Feb-21ChargePoint Holdings-SPAC
03-Mar-21Oscar Health$7.9IPO
10-Mar-21Roblox$30.0Direct Listing
11-Mar-21Coupang$60.0IPO
23-Mar-21DigitalOcean$5.0IPO
25-Mar-21VIZIO$3.9IPO
26-Mar-21ThredUp$1.3IPO
31-Mar-21Coursera$4.3IPO
01-Apr-21Compass$8.0IPO
14-Apr-21Coinbase$86.0Direct Listing
15-Apr-21AppLovin$28.6IPO
21-Apr-21UiPath$35.0IPO
21-Apr-21DoubleVerify$4.2IPO
05-May-21The Honest Company$1.4IPO
07-May-21Lightning eMotors$0.82SPAC
07-May-21Blade Air Mobility$0.83SPAC
19-May-21Squarespace$7.4Direct Listing
19-May-21Procore$9.6IPO
19-May-21Oatly$10.0IPO
26-May-21ZipRecruiter$2.4Direct Listing
26-May-21FIGS$4.4IPO
01-Jun-21SoFi$8.7SPAC
02-Jun-21BarkBox$1.6SPAC
08-Jun-21Marqueta$15.0IPO
10-Jun-21Monday.com$7.5IPO
16-Jun-21WalkMe$2.5IPO
22-Jun-21Sprinklr$3.7IPO
24-Jun-21Confluent$9.1IPO
29-Jun-21Clear$4.5IPO
30-Jun-21SentinelOne$10.0IPO
30-Jun-21LegalZoom$7.0IPO
30-Jun-21Didi Chuxing$73.0IPO
16-Jul-21Blend$4IPO
21-Jul-21Kaltura$1.24IPO
21-Jul-21DISCO$2.5IPO
21-Jul-21Couchbase$1.4IPO
23-Jul-21Vtex$3.5IPO
23-Jul-21Outbrain$1.1IPO
28-Jul-21Duolingo$3.7IPO
28-Jul-21Riskified$3.3IPO
29-Jul-21Robinhood$32.0IPO
22-Sep-21Toast$22.0IPO
22-Sep-21Freshworks$10.1IPO
23-Sep-21Remitly$6.9IPO
28-Sep-21Amplitude$6.4Direct Listing
29-Sep-21Warby Parker$6.0Direct Listing
14-Oct-21GitLab$11.0IPO
27-Oct-21Rent the Runway$1.7IPO
29-Oct-21Udemy$4.0IPO
03-Nov-21Allbirds$2.2IPO
04-Nov-21NerdWallet$1.2IPO
10-Nov-21Rivian$66.5IPO
10-Nov-21Expensify$2.2IPO
11-Nov-21Winc-IPO
11-Nov-21Weave-IPO
17-Nov-21UserTesting-IPO
17-Nov-21Braze$6.0IPO
18-Nov-21Sweetgreen$3.0IPO
09-Dec-21Nubank$41.0IPO

Though there are many well-known names in the list, one of the biggest through lines continues to be the importance of tech.

A majority of 2021’s newly public companies have been in tech, including multiple mobile apps, websites, and online services. The two biggest IPOs so far were South Korea’s Coupang, an online marketplace valued at $60 billion after going public, and China’s ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, the year’s largest post-IPO valuation at $73 billion.

And there were many apps and services going public through other means as well. Gaming company Roblox went public through a direct listing, earning a valuation of $30 billion, and cryptocurrency platform Coinbase has earned the year’s largest valuation so far, with an $86 billion valuation following its direct listing.

Big Companies Going Public in 2022

As with every year, some of the biggest companies going public were lined up for the later half.

Tech will continue to be the talk of the markets. Payment processing firm Stripe was setting up to be the year’s biggest IPO with an estimated valuation of $95 billion, but got delayed. Likewise, online grocery delivery platform InstaCart, which saw a big upswing in traction due to the pandemic, has been looking to go public at a valuation of at least $39 billion.

Of course, it’s common that potential public listings and offerings fall through. Whether they get delayed due to weak market conditions or cancelled at the last minute, anything can happen when it comes to public markets.

This post has been updated as of January 1, 2022.

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Investor Education

Visualizing The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

To date, only two countries have sovereign wealth funds worth over $1 trillion. Learn more about them in this infographic.

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Visualized: The World’s Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

Did you know that some of the world’s largest investment funds are owned by national governments?

Known as sovereign wealth funds (SWF), these vehicles are often established with seed money that is generated by government-owned industries. If managed responsibly and given a long enough timeframe, an SWF can accumulate an enormous amount of assets.

In this infographic, we’ve detailed the world’s 10 largest SWFs, along with the largest mutual fund and ETF for context.

The Big Picture

Data collected from SWFI in October 2021 ranks Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (also known as the Norwegian Oil Fund) as the world’s largest SWF.

The world’s 10 largest sovereign wealth funds (with fund size benchmarks) are listed below:

CountryFund NameFund TypeAssets Under Management (AUM) 
🇳🇴 Norway Government Pension Fund Global SWF$1.3 trillion
🇺🇸 U.S.Vanguard Total Stock Market Index FundMutual fund$1.3 trillion
🇨🇳 ChinaChina Investment CorporationSWF$1.2 trillion
🇰🇼 Kuwait Kuwait Investment Authority SWF$693 billion
🇦🇪 United Arab EmiratesAbu Dhabi Investment Authority SWF$649 billion
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARHong Kong Monetary Authority Investment PortfolioSWF$581 billion
🇸🇬 SingaporeGovernment of Singapore Investment CorporationSWF$545 billion
🇸🇬 SingaporeTemasek SWF$484 billion
🇨🇳 ChinaNational Council for Social Security Fund SWF$447 billion
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaPublic Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia SWF$430 billion
🇺🇸 U.S.State Street SPDR S&P 500 ETF TrustETF$391 billion
🇦🇪 United Arab EmiratesInvestment Corporation of DubaiSWF$302 billion 

SWF AUM gathered on 10/08/2021. VTSAX and SPY AUM as of 09/30/2021.

So far, just two SWFs have surpassed the $1 trillion milestone. To put this in perspective, consider that the world’s largest mutual fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX), is a similar size, investing in U.S. large-, mid-, and small-cap equities.

The Trillion Dollar Club

The world’s two largest sovereign wealth funds have a combined $2.5 trillion in assets. Here’s a closer look at their underlying portfolios.

1. Government Pension Fund Global – $1.3 Trillion (Norway)

Norway’s SWF was established after the country discovered oil in the North Sea. The fund invests the revenue coming from this sector to safeguard the future of the national economy. Here’s a breakdown of its investments.

Asset Class% of Total AssetsCountry DiversificationNumber of Securities
Public Equities72.8%69 countries9,123 companies
Fixed income24.7%45 countries1,245 bonds
Real estate2.5%14 countries867 properties

As of 12/31/2020

Real estate may be a small part of the portfolio, but it’s an important component for diversification (real estate is less correlated to the stock market) and generating income. Here are some U.S. office towers that the fund has an ownership stake in.

AddressOwnership Stake
601 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 45.0%
475 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY49.9%
33 Arch Street, Boston, MA49.9%
100 First Street, San Francisco, CA44.0%

As of 12/31/2020

Overall, the fund has investments in 462 properties in the U.S. for a total value of $14.9 billion.

2. China Investment Corporation (CIC) – $1.2 Trillion (China)

The CIC is the largest of several Chinese SWFs, and was established to diversify the country’s foreign exchange holdings.

Compared to the Norwegian fund, the CIC invests in a greater variety of alternatives. This includes real estate, of course, but also private equity, private credit, and hedge funds.

Asset Class% of Total Assets
Public equities38%
Fixed income17%
Alternative assets43%
Cash2%

As of 12/31/2020

A primary focus of the CIC has been to increase its exposure to American infrastructure and manufacturing. By the end of 2020, 57% of the fund was invested in the United States.

“According to our estimate, the United States needs at least $8 trillion in infrastructure investments. There’s not sufficient capital from the U.S. government or private sector. It has to rely on foreign investments.”
– Ding Xuedong, Chairman, China Investment Corporation

This has drawn suspicion from U.S. regulators given the geopolitical tensions between the two countries. For further reading on the topic, consider this 2017 paper by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Preparing for a Future Without Oil

Many of the countries associated with these SWFs are known for their robust fossil fuel industries. This includes Middle Eastern nations like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Oil has been an incredible source of wealth for these countries, but it’s unlikely to last forever. Some analysts believe that we could even see peak oil demand before 2030—though this doesn’t mean that oil will stop being an important resource.

Regardless, oil-producing countries are looking to hedge their reliance on fossil fuels. Their SWFs play an important role by taking oil revenue and investing it to generate returns and/or bolster other sectors of the economy.

An example of this is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which supports the country’s Vision 2030 framework by investing in clean energy and other promising sectors.

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