Global Debt Bubble: The 247 Trillion Overhang

The Institute of International Finance has made another unpleasant announcement. Or call it a warning. The global debt hit a record of $247 trillion during the first quarter of 2018.

Global debt is up by $30 trillion since the fourth quarter of 2016 and $8 trillion since the fourth quarter of 2017. The zeros have taken on a life of their own as the world is facing records debts. The new and unprecedented record global debt equals 318 percent of global GDP. The U.S. now has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 101 percent, up one percent. Deficit spending under President Trump has increased considerably, which will need to be funded by 25 percent of U.S. GDP. With rising interest rates, borrowing will become costlier, and defaults will likely rise.

  • Government debt increased from $56 trillion to $67 trillion.
  • Non-financial corporate debt increased from $58 trillion in 2013 to $74 trillion.
  • Financial debt increased from $56 trillion to $61 trillion.
  • Household debt increased from $40 trillion to $47 trillion.

Canada, France, and Switzerland are seeing record high corporate debt, and household debt in Columbia, China, and Chile increased by 3 percent since the first quarter of 2017.

Governments, banks, corporations, and individuals are borrowing at a rate that they may not be able to repay, or only pay the interest of these debts. Developing countries, which have been showing signs of growth, are now looking at increasing debt of $58.1 trillion for the first quarter of 2018 and questionable credit. These emerging markets hold $900 billion in U.S. bonds, which are set to mature in 202. As the value of the dollars increases, so do the chances of default on those debts.

According to former derivatives trader Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, global financial problems may have worsened since the crisis of 2007. Global debt has continued to increase, with a shift from household housing debt to corporate and government debt. The U.S. government’s gross debt has doubled since 2007. Household debt is approaching crisis level. Student loans are at a $1.5 trillion high, with approximately $33,000 student loan debt per student.

Despite a thriving U.S. economy, the Office of Management and Budget is planning on a trillion-dollar deficit, while the government intends to issue $1.338 trillion in Treasury bonds. Interest payments alone could exceed defense spending by 2026. According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, by 2048, U.S. government interest payments could become its number one budget expense. In a vision cycle, in order to repay its debts, the government must continue to borrow. At the same time, the demand for entitlement programs keeps growing.

Nassim Taleb is not yet predicting another 2007 financial crisis, but he admits the risks are there. He advises investments in real estate and gold as a hedge against any future financial crash, as well as Treasury bonds instead of riskier investments. Taleb believes it is time to build an aggressively defensive portfolio.

While stocks remain risky, the demand for gold has increased in both India and China, and global central banks have been stocking up their gold reserves. The total amount of gold being held by central banks is at 148.8 tons, up by 22 percent from the first quarter of 2017.

With continued global unrest and spiraling debt looming ominously, gold will remain a popular investment and hedge against inflation.