Seven years after the bursting of a global credit bubble resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, debt continues to grow. In fact, as McKinsey explains in their latest report, rather than reducing indebtedness, or deleveraging, all major economies today have higher levels of borrowing relative to GDP than they did in 2007. They pinpoint three areas of emerging risk: the rise of government debt, which in some countries has reached such high levels that new ways will be needed to reduce it; the continued rise in household debt; and the quadrupling of China’s debt, fueled by real estate and shadow banking, in just seven years... that pose new risks to financial stability and may undermine global economic growth.
As Bloomberg's Simon Kennedy notes, since 2007, the IOUs of governments, companies, households and financial firms in 47 countries has grown by $57 trillion to $199 trillion, a rise equivalent to 17 percentage points of gross domestic product.
Government debt is unsustainably high in some countries - Debt is too high for either austerity or growth to cure
Since 2007, government debt has grown by $25 trillion. It will continue to rise in many countries, given current economic fundamentals. Some of this debt, incurred with the encouragement of world leaders to finance bailouts and stimulus programs, stems from the crisis. Debt also rose as a result of the recession and the weak recovery. For six of the most highly indebted countries, starting the process of deleveraging would require implausibly large increases in real-GDP growth or extremely deep fiscal adjustments. To reduce government debt, countries may need to consider new approaches, such as more extensive asset sales, one-time taxes on wealth, and more efficient debt-restructuring programs.
Household debt is reaching new peaks.
Only in the core crisis countries—Ireland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have households deleveraged. In many others, household debt-to-income ratios have continued to rise. They exceed the peak levels in the crisis countries before 2008 in some cases, including such advanced economies as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, as well as Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand. These countries want to avoid property-related debt crises like those of 2008. To manage high levels of household debt safely, they need more flexible mortgage contracts, clearer personal-bankruptcy rules, and tighter lending standards and macroprudential rules.
China’s debt has quadrupled since 2007.
Fueled by real estate and shadow banking, China’s total debt has nearly quadrupled, rising to $28 trillion by mid-2014, from $7 trillion in 2007. At 282 percent of GDP, China’s debt as a share of GDP, while manageable, is larger than that of the United States or Germany. Three developments are potentially worrisome: half of all loans are linked, directly or indirectly, to China’s overheated real-estate market; unregulated shadow banking accounts for nearly half of new lending; and the debt of many local governments is probably unsustainable. However, MGI calculates that China’s government has the capacity to bail out the financial sector should a property-related debt crisis develop. The challenge will be to contain future debt increases and reduce the risks of such a crisis, without putting the brakes on economic growth.
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As Kennedy concludes,
the new data make a mockery of the hope that the turmoil and subsequent global recession would put the globe on a more sustainable path.
McKinsey sees little reason to think the trajectory of rising leverage will change any time soon.
These challenges need to be addressed.
Yet if, as it appears, economies need ever-larger amounts of debt to grow, and deleveraging is rare and increasingly difficult, they may also need to learn to live more safely with high debt. That will require new approaches to manage and monitor it, to reduce the risk of crises, and to resolve private-sector defaults efficiently. Policy makers will need to consider more ways to reduce government debt, and it may be time to reevaluate how incentives in the tax system encourage the amassing of debt.
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So in summary we ask - Does anyone remember 2007?