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Chart: Debt-to-GDP Continues to Rise Around the World

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debt-to-gdp rise around the world

Chart: Debt-to-GDP Continues to Rise Around the World

With vaccines slowly obtaining approval in various countries, the world may finally be on the path to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.

The economic situation, on the other hand, is unlikely to improve anytime soon. Falling revenues combined with costly pandemic relief measures have increased global debt by $20 trillion since the third quarter of 2019. By the end of 2020, economists expect global debt to reach $277 trillion, or 365% of world GDP.

Today’s chart uses data from the Institute of International Finance (IIF) to provide an overview of where debt, relative to GDP, has increased the most.

Comparing Developed and Emerging Markets

Developed economies represent four of the five countries seeing the largest increases in debt-to-GDP, but looking from a more macro angle reveals that debt levels are rising at a similar pace around the world.

Q3 2019 ($ trillions)Q3 2020 ($ trillions)% Increase
Developed markets$181.8$196.38.0%
Emerging markets$70.9$76.47.7%
Global total $252.7$272.77.9%

Source: IIF, BIS, IMF, Haver, National Sources

To put these figures into perspective, economists often use the debt-to-GDP metric, which compares a country’s debt to its economic output. As the name implies, it’s calculated by taking a country’s total debts and dividing them by its annual GDP. Having a low debt-to-GDP ratio suggests that a country will have little issues paying off its debts, while a high ratio can be interpreted as a sign of higher default risk.

The actual definition of a “low” or “high” ratio is quite loose, though the World Bank believes there is a threshold for government debt at 77% of GDP. Every percentage point beyond this threshold has been found to detract 0.017 percentage points from annual growth.

Comparing Debt-to-GDP by Sector

To see how COVID-19 has affected the global economy since Q3 2019, let’s take a look at each sector’s debt as a percentage of GDP.

Households (Q3 '19)Households (Q3 '20)Non-financials*  (Q3 '19)Non-financials*  (Q3 '20)Government (Q3 '19)Government (Q3 '20) 
Developed markets average72%78%91%102%110%131%
U.S.74%81%75%88%102%127%
Euro Area58%61%108%114%102%115%
UK84%88%73%78%110%130%
Emerging markets average40%44%93%104%53%60%
China54%60%150%166%53%63%
Russia19%23%78%91%15%18%
Global total60%65%92%103%89%105%

*Corporations that are not in the financial industry.
Source: IIF, BIS, Haver, National Sources

Within developed markets, government debt-to-GDP grew by 21 percentage points compared to 11 for non-financial corporates, and 6 for households. This is unsurprising as governments have supplied billions (or in some cases, trillions) of economic stimulus while also pulling in less tax revenue.

The story in emerging markets is slightly different, with non-financial corporates experiencing the largest increase at 11 percentage points. The sector’s debt is now at 104% of GDP, making it the most highly-leveraged in the region.

Highlights from Today’s Chart

Today’s chart boils this data down to the individual country level, allowing us to identify two outliers: Canada and Australia.

Excluding the financial sector, Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased by nearly 80%, the highest of any developed country. Government borrowing surged as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provided struggling Canadians with roughly $1,500 a month, rang up a bill of $60 billion over 7 months.

An increase in debt wasn’t the only reason for the country’s worsening debt-to-GDP ratios. In Q2 2020, Canada’s GDP declined at an annualized rate of 38%, its worst three-month performance on record.

canada gdp change

Australia was another outlier, but for a different reason; the country’s household debt decreased by almost 5% relative to GDP. This was likely due to an early-access scheme that allowed millions of Australians to make withdrawals from their superannuation, a social security fund similar to America’s 401(k).

We know that almost 60 per cent of those accessing their [superannuation] early have used it…to meet essential day-to-day expenses, including paying down debts.

—Josh Frydenberg, Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia

Officials have exercised caution around the prolonged use of these programs, as superannuation funds are meant to support people through retirement. Of the 2.6 million Australians that accessed their superannuations early, 500,000 are believed to have completely emptied their accounts.

Debt-to-GDP is Set to Fall…Or is it?

A global roll out of COVID-19 vaccines is likely to end the ongoing health crisis and allow the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels, though delays are to be expected.

Regardless, this spells good news for governments and financial institutions around the world—economic output will recover, shrinking debt-to-GDP ratios. Whether or not borrowing will also slow down, however, is much harder to predict.

Government borrowing has been relied on to stimulate growth since 2008, and with 75% of Americans in favor of a second COVID-19 relief bill, public debt is likely to accumulate further. Private sector debt is following a similar trend, with non-financial U.S. corporations owing $10.9 trillion as of Q2 2020, up from $6.4 trillion at the start of 2008.

These growing debts have been manageable thanks to an extended period of low interest rates and loose monetary policy, but whether or not this is sustainable remains to be seen.

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Debt

Top 10 Countries Most in Debt to the IMF

Argentina tops the ranking, with a debt equivalent to 5.3% of the country’s GDP.

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Bar chart showing the 10 countries most in debt to the IMF.

Top 10 Countries Most in Debt to the IMF

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Established in 1944, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supports countries’ economic growth by providing financial aid and guidance on policies to enhance stability, productivity, and job opportunities.

Countries seek loans from the IMF to address economic crises, stabilize their currencies, implement structural reforms, and alleviate balance of payments difficulties.

In this graphic, we visualize the 10 countries most indebted to the fund.

Methodology

We compiled this ranking using the International Monetary Fund’s data on Total IMF Credit Outstanding. We selected the latest debt data for each country, accurate as of April 29, 2024.

Argentina Tops the Rank

Argentina’s debt to the IMF is equivalent to 5.3% of the country’s GDP. In total, the country owns more than $32 billion.

CountryIMF Credit Outstanding ($B)GDP ($B, 2024)IMF Debt as % of GDP
🇦🇷 Argentina32604.35.3
🇪🇬 Egypt11347.63.1
🇺🇦 Ukraine9188.94.7
🇵🇰 Pakistan7374.71.8
🇪🇨 Ecuador6121.64.9
🇨🇴 Colombia3386.10.8
🇦🇴 Angola392.13.2
🇰🇪 Kenya3104.02.8
🇬🇭 Ghana275.22.6
🇨🇮 Ivory Coast286.92.3

A G20 member and major grain exporter, the country’s history of debt trouble dates back to the late 1890s when it defaulted after contracting debts to modernize the capital, Buenos Aires. It has already been bailed out over 20 times in the last six decades by the IMF.

Five of the 10 most indebted countries are in Africa, while three are in South America.

The only European country on our list, Ukraine has relied on international support amidst the conflict with Russia. It is estimated that Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country caused the loss of a third of the country’s economy. The country owes $9 billion to the IMF.

In total, almost 100 countries owe money to the IMF, and the grand total of all of these debts is $111 billion. The above countries (top 10) account for about 69% of these debts.

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