Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Highly Indebted Rich Countries (HIRC)

In the previous two decades, there was great concern about the "Highly Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPC), and great (and successful) efforts made to provide debt relief. This involved mostly low-income countries in Africa, Asia, and five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Bolivia, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua).

Now, in contrast, the sovereign borrowers with highest levels of debt (with respect to GDP) are mostly advanced, industrialized, high-income countries.

The public debt to GDP ratio is highest in Japan (225.8 % of GDP in 2010), and among the top 20 are several OECD countries: Greece (142.8 % in 2010, and growing rapidly), Iceland (123.8 %), Italy (119 %), Belgium (96.8 %), Ireland (96.2 %), Portugal (93 %), Germany (83.2 %), France (81.7 %), and Hungary (79.6 %).

Also among the top 20 are some of the basket-cases, failing states (such as Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Sudan, and Nicaragua), and several Caribbean islands (Saint Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica, Dominica).

Of the PIIGS, only Spain does not make the HIRC list: a relatively respectful 60.1 % of GDP.

The United States comes in at 58.9 % (only including the Federal government); if you include all public debt, according to the IMF, it goes up to 92.7 %, which would land the USA at the 11th slot worldwide.

For the European Union as a whole, the average public debt is now at 82 % of GDP, compared with only 21 % for Latin America.

Obviously, this time around it will not be possible to provide debt relief to the HIRC (who would provide it?). Perhaps there will be some rescheduling in the worst cases (Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Portugal), or even a slight "haircut" for private sector bondholders. And I also expect a lot of real debt dilution through inflation.

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