Government Debt

Visualizing The State Of Government Debt Around The World

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the total value of the goods and services produced within a country over a period of time, like a year or fiscal quarter. The ratio of debt-to-GDP makes it possible to compare relative debt levels across many different countries. The U.S. is able to carry a much larger debt in overall terms than smaller countries like Belgium because the economies are of such a vastly different size. Think about it like this. It’s no problem for Bill Gates to have a credit card bill for $50,000 because he has billions in the bank, but for the average American, that would mean bankruptcy.

Q3 hedge fund letters, conference, scoops etc

Government DebtWe used the latest (October 2018) complete set of numbers from the International Monetary Fund to plot debt-to-GDP ratios between countries in an interesting visualization. Countries with larger ratios appear bigger, redder, and toward the center of the visual. Our approach places the countries with the most significant debt problems at the center, letting you see which places are more likely to have substantial issues in the future.

Countries with the Biggest Debt to GDP Ratio

  1. Japan – 238%
  2. Greece – 182%
  3. Barbados – 157%
  4. Lebanon – 147%
  5. Italy – 132%
  6. Eritrea – 131%
  7. Republic of Congo – 131%
  8. Cabo Verde – 126%
  9. Portugal – 126%
  10. Sudan – 122%
  11. Singapore – 111%

The first and most obvious insight that our visualization reveals is how developed countries have the biggest debt problems. Japan immediately stands out as the single most prolific spender with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 238%. That means the entire Japanese economy, the third largest in the entire world, doesn’t produce nearly enough value in 2 years to pay off its entire debt. Greece is not far behind at 182%, followed by Barbados (157%) and Lebanon (147%). The U.S. has the 13th worst ratio in the world at 105%.

Immediately outside this inner ring of heavy spenders are several small or developing countries with enormous financial challenges. Egypt (103%), Cyprus (97%), Mongolia (84%), Brazil (83%) and Yemen (74%), to name only a few, clearly have debt problems that could spark financial problems for the rest of the world.

And then there are a host of green countries along the outside of our visual worth mentioning, especially China (47%), which has the second biggest economy in the world but a remarkably healthy national balance sheet. Granted, the country is still undergoing substantial urbanization and modernization, but the fact that it has such a low debt-to-GDP ratio suggests that it can spend buckets of additional money solving its challenges. Also take a look at Russia at only 16%. The Russian economy is plagued by corruption and slow growth, but at least it won’t have a debt crisis anytime soon.

Another way to think about this visual is in terms of spending and revenue, which is to say, should countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios spend less money or collect more tax revenue? We doubt any country can actually “grow” its way out of a crushing debt burden worth more than its entire GDP without making substantial changes to its fiscal behavior. Policymakers will eventually have to solve this problem, and either option poses serious challenges to economic growth.

Correction Jan. 4th: Our map was updated to show all countries with the latest available data provided by International Monetary Fund.

Data: Table 1.1

Article by HowMuch

Saved Articles

The Life and Career of Charlie Munger

Charlie is more than just Warren Buffett’s friend and Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman – Buffett has actually credited him with redefining how he looks at investing. Now you can learn from Charlie firsthand via this incredible ebook and over a dozen other famous investor studies by signing up below:

  • Learn from the best and forever change your investing perspective
  • One incredible tidbit of knowledge after another in the page-turning masterpiece of a book
  • Discover the secrets to Charlie’s success and how to apply it to your investing
Never Miss A Story!
Subscribe to ValueWalk Newsletter. We respect your privacy.

Are you an intelligent investor?

ValueWalkPremium is a website and newsletter for smart investors like yourself. We focus on the latest hedge fund industry news much of which is not in the public domain and obtained via our sources.

We also have 10 years of resources on how to use this information to better your investment process.

Sign up for  today for only a few dollars a day and get a 3 day no obligation trial with a targeted 20% discount coupon code.

Cancel anytime during trial and you are never charged.

Limited time offer: For first 50 subscribers