IMF alert over rising debt in G20 countries
> Leverage higher than before the financial crisis, division head notes
WASHINGTON: For the first time in years the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is optimistic about global economic growth.
But it sees a new problem: mounting debt in the world’s largest countries.
“Debt levels are increasing in G20 economies,” Tobias Adrian, who heads the IMF’s monetary and capital markets division, said on Wednesday.
Among private businesses in those countries, leverage is higher than before the financial crisis. And the weight of debt service has also jumped in several top economies, he noted.
With central banks in the US and Europe expected to tighten monetary conditions, Adrian said: “This poses greater risks over time from sharp increases in interest rates.”
He noted that the extremely low interest rates of the past several years have allowed countries to borrow easily to finance their rebound from recessions. And recovery is not yet complete, he said, adding that low rates are still needed.
At the same time, Adrian said, “this environment is breeding complacency”, with risks building on several fronts.
That is true especially for the superstars of the emerging economies like China, Brazil, and Turkey.
China continues to fund growth with the expansion of credit, he noted, particularly “shadow” credit – lending outside the regulated banking system.
Another side of the problem is the dependence of emerging market and lower-income economies on external funding, especially portfolio investment inflows. Around US$300 billion (RM1.26 trillion) in such funds will flow into these countries in 2017, supporting their growth. “This is broadly good news,” said Adrian.
“But this greater reliance on foreign borrowing may at some point become a vulnerability, particularly for lowincome countries, if those resources are not put to good use.”
That leaves such markets vulnerable to shocks like geopolitical turmoil and jumps in interest rates, which would increase the cost of debt, and could spark sharp outflows in portfolio investment. – AFP