A sign is seen outside the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund as the IMF and World Bank hold their Spring Meetings virtually due to the coronavirus, in Washington, DC, April 15, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)
WASHINGTON – Global debt rose to a record $226 trillion in 2020 as the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and a deep recession, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Global debt rose by 28 percentage points to 256 percent of gross domestic product in 2020, the largest one-year debt surge since World War II, Vitor Gaspar, director of the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department, wrote in a blog with his colleagues on Wednesday, citing figures from the IMF's latest Global Debt Database.
Debt increases are particularly striking in advanced economies, where public debt rose from around 70 percent of GDP in 2007 to 124 percent of GDP in 2020. Private debt meanwhile rose at a more moderate pace from 164 to 178 percent of GDP in the same period, according to the IMF.
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The IMF officials noted that a crucial challenge for policymakers is to "strike the right mix of fiscal and monetary policies in an environment of high debt and rising inflation," as the debt surge amplifies vulnerabilities.
The IMF officials suggested some countries may need to adjust faster to preserve market confidence and prevent more disruptive fiscal distress
"The risks will be magnified if global interest rates rise faster than expected and growth falters. A significant tightening of financial conditions would heighten the pressure on the most highly indebted governments, households, and firms," they said.
The IMF officials suggested that some countries, especially those with high gross financing needs or exposure to exchange rate volatility, may need to adjust faster to preserve market confidence and prevent more disruptive fiscal distress.
In addition, the pandemic and the global financing divide demand strong, effective international cooperation and support to developing countries, they noted.
The IMF officials' warning came with the US Federal Reserve set to announce that the central bank will accelerate tapering asset purchases and start raising interest rates in 2022, which could push up global borrowing costs in the years to come.
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The Fed began last month to reduce its monthly asset purchase program of $120 billion by $15 billion. At this pace, the Fed would end its asset purchases by June next year. But some Fed officials and economists have urged the central bank to accelerate the pace of tapering to give more leeway to raise rates sooner amid inflation pressures.
More than half of the economists in a Bloomberg survey released Monday expected the Fed to double the pace of tapering to $30 billion a month, starting in January and wrapping up in March.