World Economy

OECD Warns Rising Debt Will Hit Rich Countries’ Budgets

Member states’ total sovereign debt has increased from $25 trillion in 2008 to more than $45 trillion this year
Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year and its members are set to borrow $14.67 trillion from the markets this year.Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year and its members are set to borrow $14.67 trillion from the markets this year.

The world economy is at risk from a rising tide of government debt which is set to hit rich countries’ budgets, a shock report has warned. Bosses from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the threat of rising interest rates will send public debt soaring.

Low interest rates had sustained high levels of government debt up until now, but it “may not be a permeant feature of financial markets”, they said, news outlets reported.

They warned government budgets would be faced with “significant challenges” as developing countries face a rising tide of crippling debt.

The total stock of the 35 OECD members’ sovereign debt has rocketed from $25 trillion in 2008 to more than $45 trillion this year.

Member nations of the OECD, a economics intergovernmental organization, have now been warned to prepare to refinance 40% of their total debt stock in the next three years as the debt accumulated from the financial crisis ratchets up in the coming years.

Fatos Koc, senior policy analyst at the OECD, warned that the group’s members will be faced with an “increasing financing burden from maturing debt, combined with continued budget deficits”.

The warning on the longer-term consequences of high public borrowing marks a shift in stance by the OECD, which as recently as November was praising countries for easing fiscal policy to help global growth.

In Economic Outlook, published at that time, the Paris-based organization said that “even a lasting increase in 10-year government bond yields of 1 percentage point?.?.?.?might worsen budget balances on average by only between 0.1% and 0.3% of GDP annually in the following three years”.

But she now argues that the wisdom of using fiscal measures as economic stimulus depends on an individual country’s budget position, and that it is “important to create strong fiscal roots in an economy while times are good”.

Debt to GDP ratios across the OECD averaged 73% last year and its members are set to borrow $14.67 trillion from the markets this year.

Koc told the Financial Times that many countries have seen their credit ratings decline as their debt levels rose over the past decade. This in turn can diminish the attractiveness of some sovereign debt for investors looking for high-quality credit.

Upswing in Global Growth

As the global economy marks an upswing in growth, policymakers are gradually reducing the monetary policy measures put in place after the crash. Bond yields have shifted upwards as central banks holding of debt decrease and interest rates rocket.

Fitch, the credit rating agency, warned last month that rising interest rates would pose a fiscal challenge for governments, which are set to increase borrowing from private investors this year for the first time in four years, a recent analysis by JPMorgan Chase found.

The US is issuing significantly more debt to finance recent tax reforms, with the additional supply of treasuries prompting some investors to forecast further rises in bond yields.

A sustained rise in yields would mean that governments would face higher costs to refinance existing debt and issue new bonds.

“In the past decade (governments’ debt) refinancing was generally done at the same or only marginally different terms,” said Douglas Rediker, a former US representative on the IMF board now at the Brookings Institution think-tank. “Now, the reality is that the refinancing costs are likely to be a greater burden on the issuing country and so the question is about the impact of those debt servicing costs on the underlying economy.”

OECD countries are implementing some precautionary measures to cope with such concerns, Rediker noted, including increasing the amount of long-dated debt they issue so as to reduce their refinancing requirements in any one year.

The 34 OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints