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Pandemic Pushes Global Debt Higher to $32 Trillion In 2020

Global Debt Higher
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EDITOR NOTE: In the aftermath of the pandemic, the global economy has re-emerged with debt levels exceeding global GDP. Emerging countries are likely to feel the brunt of the negative impact, as they have very little fiscal wiggle room to pull themselves out. Developed countries, on the other hand, may face medium-term debt sustainability issues and low growth. Overall, the global economy added a whopping $32 trillion to global debt last year. And the debt accumulation trend doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. In addition to the global debt surge, commodity prices are also rising worldwide. Inflation may soon begin demolishing currency values across the globe, making it difficult for investors to find safety through diversifying in international assets. This leaves investors with very few safe haven choices aside from physical gold and silver--two metals that happen to be experiencing a severe shortage in supply. Most investors aren’t aware of the shortage, as most have invested in ETFs backed by the metal. Going a step further, most investors aren’t aware of the coming Basel III implementation, where “physical” gold becomes a Tier 1 asset, and paper gold derivatives may be largely abolished--a significant sea change in the precious metals market that will likely push physical metal prices through the roof at the detriment of their “paper” counterparts.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath has pushed the higher by $32 trillion in 2020 to $290.6 trillion led by government and non-financial corporate debt, and will continue to rise in 2021, said a latest release by Moody's Investor Service (Moody's). Persistent decline in productivity growth, it believes, poses medium-term challenges to debt sustainability with Africa and the Caribbean being the two most vulnerable regions in the emerging markets (EMs).

“Despite an uptick in defaults, policy support prevented a debt crisis in emerging markets, but the pandemic and its aftermath will challenge their debt-servicing capacity. Advanced economies have more fiscal space but will face productivity and demographic challenges,” Moody's said.

That said, the recovery in global from the Covid pandemic’s aftermath will be staggered with the US leading the recovery, while services-dependent Southern European economies will lag. Despite the rise in non-performing loans, banking systems entered the pandemic with stronger capitalisation ratios and will remain resilient, the rating agency said.

Government debt, according to Moody's surged to 105 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4-2020) from 88 per cent before the pandemic, its highest level since the aftermath of World War II.

“The pandemic will push government debt to record highs, but levels have already increased dramatically over the past decade. The pandemic will set back progress on social goals and add to existing challenges in many countries, such as slow growth, low investment, dependence on volatile commodity prices and vulnerability to climate shocks,” Moody's said.

Household debt, on the other hand, rose to 66 per cent of GDP from 61 per cent at the end of 2019, partly reflecting loan moratoriums and the resilience of residential real estate markets through the pandemic, the rating agency said.

“Non-financial corporate debt experienced the second-largest increase, rising to 102 per cent of GDP from 93 per cent at the end of 2019. EM’s ratio of corporate debt-to-GDP is higher than that of advanced economies. Financial corporate debt grew to 86 per cent of GDP from 80 per cent at the end of 2019,” Moody's said.

Global Debt Higher

Emerging versus developed markets

EMs, Moody's believes, are facing rising debt-servicing costs and deteriorating external vulnerability. An added risk are the tightening financial conditions. In this backdrop, Central and Eastern Europe is better positioned than Latin America or Asia, while Africa and the Caribbean are most vulnerable, the rating agency said.

Developed markets have their own set of challenges to tackle. Though low interest rates will support debt affordability and have more fiscal space in the short term, Moody's believes they will face medium-term debt sustainability challenges arising from low productivity growth and unfavorable demographic trends.

Corporate debt rose by 27 percentage points (pp) of GDP between 2010 and 2020 in EMs (16 pp in advanced economies during this period), while government debt rose by 22 pp (36 pp in advanced economies).

"Advanced economies contributed 65 per cent of the build-up in government debt between 2010 and 2020. Greece, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, the UK, Portugal and Italy saw the sharpest increases. EM contributed 64 per cent of the rise in corporate debt following the global financial crisis, particularly China, Russia, Turkey and Chile, among others," Moody's said.

Original post from Business Standard

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