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Expand chart
Reproduced from Institute of International Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

The world's debt rose by $3 trillion in the first quarter of 2019 — an almost unprecedented borrowing binge that brought total global debt to $246.5 trillion.

Why it matters: High levels of debt put countries in a vulnerable position in the event of a downturn and could endanger the world's economic recovery, said economists from the Institute of International Finance, which released the study today.

What's happening: Countries had been reducing their debt burdens since the beginning of 2018, when global debt reached its highest level on record, $248 trillion. But Q1's major uptick brought it to nearly 320% of the world's GDP, also near the all-time high, according to IIF's data.

  • Lower global interest rates and increased government spending are fueling the trend.
  • Total U.S. debt rose to a new all-time high of more than $69 trillion — led by federal government debt, which is now over 101% of GDP.
  • The U.S. corporate sector is also issuing more debt, boosted by an increase in bank lending, IIF noted.

What they're saying: "The 2018 slowdown in debt accumulation is looking more blip than trend," Emre Tiftik, IIF's deputy director of global policy initiatives, said in the report, released today.

  • "Helped by the substantial easing in financial conditions, borrowers took on debt in Q1 2019 at the fastest pace in over a year."
  • Further, Tiftik added, there's growing concern that central banks easing policy around the globe will prompt countries to issue more debt. "For some vulnerable low-income countries, debt sustainability is already at risk," he said.

Background: The Fed is expected to lower U.S. overnight interest rates at its policy meeting this month, following rate cuts from the central banks of Australia, India and New Zealand as well as multiple emerging market countries this year.

  • Market analysts are expecting the world's largest monetary authorities to embark on a coordinated effort to loosen policy, as the ECB and BOJ also are expected to cut rates.

Watch this space: Substantial debt growth is taking place in Finland, Canada and Japan, which have seen the largest increase in debt-to-GDP ratios of all countries IIF tracks over the past year. Developed markets, like the U.S., Western Europe and Japan, saw total debt rise by $1.6 trillion in Q1, with debt outstanding now totaling $177 trillion.

Go deeper: One nation, drowning in debt

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
36 mins ago - Technology

Israel's new PM Naftali Bennett made his name as a millionaire tech founder

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Naftali Bennett yesterday became prime minister of Israel, succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu, after his power-sharing government survived a vote of confidence.

Why it matters: Bennett becomes Israel's first new prime minister since 2009, and he takes office as Netanyahu stands trial for corruption.

1 hour ago - World

Biden at NATO summit: Collective defense is "a sacred obligation"

President Joe Biden is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO summit. Photo: Patrick Semansky/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden reaffirmed the United States' commitment to NATO during a sit-down with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the president's first meeting of NATO's 2021 summit in Brussels.

Why it matters: Biden has used his first international trip as president to reassure allies of his administration's commitment to multilateralism and to NATO's Article 5, which stipulates that the entire alliance will respond to an attack on any member nation.

Climate reality collides with rhetoric at the G7 summit

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Leaders of the G7 agreed to a sweeping new agenda over the weekend. But while the communique they issued is lofty in goals, it lacks crucial details on climate.

Why it matters: The G7's paucity of specifics on climate finance and domestic coal consumption, in particular, calls into question the ability of the wealthiest nations to take sufficient action on global warming.