Home / Finance Concepts / External Debt and Public Debt as % of GDP, by country

 
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In the United States, a highly controversial issue right now is the debt ceiling limit.

The current debt ceiling of the US, set by law, is $14.3 trillion. According to the United States Treasury, this limit was reached in May 2011 and, if the limit is not raised, the US could fulfill all its obligations only until August 2, 2011 — less than a week from now.

Thus, the US government insists, the debt ceiling must be raised in order to avoid damaging repercussions to the US economy and, consequently, to the global economy. Not raising the limit would result to a drastic reduction in the country’s spending and a possible default on its loan obligations.

At $14.3 trillion debt as of May 2011, the United States has the biggest external debt among all countries worldwide. The United Kingdom is second with $8.98 trillion, while Germany follows next with $4.71 trillion.

External Debt refers to “the total public and private debt owed to nonresidents repayable in internationally accepted currencies, goods, or services.” Simply stated, external debt is the combined total debt or loan of the public (government) and private sector, payable in a foreign currency.

The list of selected countries with their total external debt is shown below.

TOTAL EXTERNAL DEBT OF SELECTED COUNTRIES

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Rank Country Total External Debt (in US Dollars) As of % of GDP
1 United States 14.3 trillion 16 May 2011 95%
2 United Kingdom 8.98 trillion 30 June 2010 400%
3 Germany 4.71 trillion 30 June 2010 142%
4 France 4.70 trillion 30 June 2010 182%
5 Netherlands 3.73 trillion 31 December 2009 471%
6 Japan 2.44 trillion 30 September 2010 45%
7 Ireland 2.25 trillion 30 September 2010 1,103%
8 Norway 2.23 trillion 30 June 2010 538%
9 Italy 2.22 trillion 30 June 2010 108%
10 Spain 2.17 trillion 30 June 2010 154%
11 Luxembourg 1.89 trillion 30 June 2010 3,443%
14 Australia 1.17 trillion 31 December 2010 95%
15 Canada 1.01 trillion 30 June 2010 64%
19 Greece 532.9 billion 30 June 2010 174%
22 China 406.6 billion 31 December 2010 7%
28 India 237.1 billion 31 December 2010 15%
30 Indonesia 196.1 billion 31 December 2010 28%
42 Thailand 82.5 billion 31 December 2010 26%
44 Malaysia 72.6 billion 31 December 2010 31%
47 Philippines 59.78 billion 30 September 2010 32%

Another debt statistic that is of utmost importance is the country’s level of public debt. Public debt is the “cumulative total of all government borrowings less repayments that are denominated in a country’s home currency.” In layman’s terms, public debt is the total loan amount of the sovereign state’s government.

Comparing the level of public debt with the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) produces the Debt-to-GDP ratio. A low debt-to-GDP ratio indicates that the county’s economy is generally healthy because it produces a large number of goods and services that are high enough to pay back its debts.

Below is a table showing the public debt-to-GDP percentage of selected countries.

PUBLIC DEBT OF SELECTED COUNTRIES AS A PERCENTAGE OF GDP

Rank Country % of GDP As of
1 Japan 225.8% 2010
2 Saint Kitts and Nevis 185.0% 2010
3 Lebanon 150.7% 2010
4 Zimbabwe 149.0% 2010
5 Greece 144.0% 2010
6 Iceland 123.8% 2010
7 Jamaica 123.2% 2010
8 Italy 118.1% 2010
9 Singapore 102.4% 2010
10 Belgium 98.6% 2010
11 Ireland 94.2% 2010
14 France 83.5% 2010
19 Germany 78.8% 2010
23 United Kingdom 76.5% 2010
36 United States 58.9% 2010
41 Vietnam 56.7% 2010
42 Philippines 56.5% 2010
44 India 55.9% 2010
48 Malaysia 53.1% 2010
62 Thailand 42.3% 2010

Source: The World Factbook, US Central Intelligence Agency

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