Global debt has been soaring to stratospheric levels, seemingly without anything to stop its runaway path. And that unbridled spending could very well trigger America’s worst economic crisis in a decade.
To be sure, the amount of debt held by both mature and emerging markets tracked by the Institute of International Finance rose to a record $247 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, up 11.1 percent from the same period a year ago, Reuters reported.
"We think the major economies are on the cusp of turning into the worst recessions we have seen in 10 years,” Murray Gunn, chief of global research at Elliott Wave International, told the New York Post.
“Should the [U.S.] economy start to shrink, and our analysis suggests that it will, the high nominal levels of debt will instantly become a very big issue," Gunn said, according to the Post.
The global-debt report, recently released by global bank-lobbying group IIF, said the ratio of debt to gross domestic product of these nations, which include the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the majority of emerging market economies, increased to 318 percent. That is the first quarterly increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio since the third quarter of 2016.
“With global growth losing some momentum and becoming more divergent, and U.S. rates rising steadily, worries about credit risk are returning to the fore - including in many mature economies,” the IIF said.
Since December 2015, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates seven times to a range of 1.75 percent to 2.00 percent, with more increases expected.
Debt levels for household, non-financial corporate and general government sectors rose to $186 trillion in the first quarter of 2018. Financial sector debt rose to a record high $61 trillion.
Emerging market debt rose by $2.5 trillion to a record $58.5 trillion in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, it's corporate sector debt that investors should be worried about, said Joseph LaVorgna, chief Americas economist at Natixis.
“The corporate sector is highly leveraged and could be very vulnerable to higher interest rates,” LaVorgna told CNBC, which cited his research note that warned a primary reason corporate debt-to-GDP is so high is thanks to interest rates being historically low due to quantitative easing and forward guidance.
“Firms have used artificially low rates to borrow in the capital markets and only buy back stock in the equity market,” LaVorgna said. “The inherent instability of debt over equity financing suggests that the next downturn could hit investment spending unusually hard.”
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