Global debt is not yet at financial crisis levels — but could be set for an explosion with China leading the way

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  • Global debt has risen to high levels with US government debt reaching a record $US22 trillion recently.
  • Research suggests that the figures aren’t as bad as they were during the financial crisis, but could get worse.
  • Deteriorating corporate credit quality and the impact already had by high debt levels on emerging markets are key factors in causing a global economic slowdown.

Global debt is at elevated levels, but isn’t high enough to draw comparisons with the 2008 financial crisis just yet.

Risky corporate debt, particularly in the form of leveraged loans, has been on the rise for a number of years, with analysts suggesting the recent build up could be a significant risk to global GDP growth.

Since 2015, world private sector debt has risen by around 15% of world GDP – a level higher than it was prior to the global financial crisis, according to Oxford Economics.

Emerging markets have been the main driver of this trend with debt levels in major growing economies such as China increasing rapidly in the past decade.

Growing global debt is a major concern for the world economy because recent evidence has indicated that credit booms often end in busts of seismic proportions. A recent study found that of 175 such credit booms a staggering 70% have ended in busts, a worrying sign for the current debt buildup.

In a sample of large economies, up to 60% of GDP is in economies with “risky” corporate debt and up to 30% of GDP is in economies with risky household debt, according to the Oxford Economics note.

The boom in emerging market debt is coupled with a rise in increasingly risky debt in Europe and the US. Leveraged loan quality is now at its lowest ever level having reached a peak of new deals in the past few years.

Oxford Economics’ research also suggests that the countries at the highest risk are Hong Kong, China, France, Canada, and Chile. China’s debt problem is already at a critical stage and a failure to address it could have major implications for the world economy.

The danger of not adjusting debt levels could have a severe impact on already slowing global growth.

Global debt as a % of GDPOxford Economics/Haver AnalyticsEmerging markets are seeing a boom in private sector debt

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