Global Business

Emerging Markets Drive Debt to Record High

Global debt grew to $215 trillion, or 325% of global GDP, in 2016, with EM countries' debt more than tripling to $56 trillion over the past decade.
Matthew HellerApril 4, 2017
Emerging Markets Drive Debt to Record High

Global debt grew to a record $215 trillion — or 325% of global GDP — in 2016, driven by a “spectacular rise” in the debt levels of emerging market countries, according to an Institute for International Finance report.

While mature market countries have experienced a “relatively modest” increase in debt over the past decade, the debt of EM countries increased to $56 trillion (215% of GDP) from $16 trillion (146% of GDP).

The IIF said non-financial corporates had driven “this sharp and rapid increase, most of which is in local currency (185% of GDP), with foreign currency accounting for about 30% of GDP.”

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“While risks associated with currency mismatches may not be as acute as during past EM debt crises, the overall EM debt burden — particularly as global interest rates head higher — is a growing source of concern,” the institute warned.

Emerging market countries added only $9 trillion in debt between 1996 and 2006.

Global debt as a whole was up by $7.6 trillion in 2016 compared with the prior year and has grown more than $70 trillion over the past decade. Mature market countries still account for the lion’s share of debt — $160 trillion in 2016, or 390% of GDP — but their debt level has increased only 25% since 2006.

“The relatively moderate increase of $32 trillion over the past decade has been driven by the public sector, while the household and financial sectors have deleveraged markedly in the aftermath of the 2008 global crisis,” the IIF noted.

Over the past decade, outstanding EM foreign currency debt has more than doubled to $7.2 trillion, with the increase being sharpest in Latin American countries, Turkey and South Africa. In the non-financial corporate sector, debt-to-GDP has risen from 68% in 2006 to 100% in 2016 .

The IIF also warned of a growing refinancing risk as $1.1 trillion of EM bonds and syndicated loans will be maturing through the end of this year. Countries that face a relatively heavy burden of upcoming U.S. dollar-denominated redemptions this year include China and Russia.