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Biggest one-year global debt increase since World War II in 2020: IMF

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As countries scrambled in 2020 to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, the IMF said the world saw its biggest debt increase since World War II./AFP
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Dec 16, 2021 - 07:41 AM

WASHINGTON — Global debt rose to $226 trillion in 2020 after seeing its biggest yearly increase since World War II, with richer nations doing most of the borrowing, the IMF said Wednesday.

Global debt now stands at 256 percent of GDP, a high level that countries across the world will have to consider as they seek to revitalize their economies from the Covid-19 downturn while dealing with new variants such as Omicron.

“The large increase in debt was justified by the need to protect people’s lives, preserve jobs and avoid a wave of bankruptcies. If governments had not taken action, the social and economic consequences would have been devastating,” IMF officials wrote in a blog outlining the latest update to the Washington-based crisis lender’s Global Debt Database.

“But the debt surge amplifies vulnerabilities, especially as financing conditions tighten. High debt levels constrain, in most cases, the ability of governments to support the recovery and the capacity of the private sector to invest in the medium term.”

The global public debt ratio hit a record high of 99 percent of GDP, and borrowing by governments accounted for more than half of last year’s overall increase, while household debt also posted its own record, the IMF said.

Public debt has now reached its highest share of total global debt since the mid-1960s, which the IMF attributed to the policy responses against both the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the 2008 global financial crisis.

Wealthier nations made up 90 percent of last year’s debt increase, according to the data, with both public debt and private debt increasing in those countries.

Nations with fewer means such as emerging markets and low-income developing countries took on much smaller amounts of about $1 trillion in debt each.

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