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Biggest economies face US$7t debt refinancing tab in 2016

The global economy is expected to grow by 3.4 per cent in real terms this year, but China's slowdown and continued global pressure on prices could undermine the benefits brought by the US and European recovery, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU).

[LONDON] The amount of debt that the governments of the world's leading economies will need to refinance in 2016 will be little changed from last year as nations make strides in cutting budget deficits to a third of the highs seen during the financial crisis.

The value of bills, notes and bonds coming due for the Group-of-Seven nations plus Brazil, China, India and Russia will total US$7.1 trillion, compared with US$7 trillion in 2015 and down from US$7.6 trillion in 2012. Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada will all see redemptions fall, while the US, China and the UK face increases, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The amount of maturing debt has gradually fallen since Bloomberg began collating the data in 2012. The decline may bring some support to the bond market as the US Federal Reserve gradually raises interest rates, pushing yields up from record lows. Budget deficits are forecast by economists to narrow for a seventh straight year in 2016 as governments extend the maturity of their outstanding debt and continue to cut back on the extra spending put in place to combat the global financial meltdown.

"Most of these countries are moving toward fiscal discipline," said Mohit Kumar, head of rates strategy at Credit Agricole SA's corporate and investment-banking unit in London.

"There was fiscal expansion during the crisis for various reasons: to support growth and to shift liabilities from the private sector into the public sector. Those effects are going away."

While the decline shows there's less pressure on governments to borrow, it doesn't necessarily mean they will issue less - that depends on their overall funding requirements. Germany plans to boost its bond and bill sales to 203 billion euros (S$315 billion) this year from about 175 billion euros in 2015, partly to finance expenses caused by a record influx of migrants.

Russia and Brazil will see the biggest proportional declines in debt redemptions, with securities coming due tumbling by 38 per cent and 26 per cent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Including interest payments, the amount of debt that needs to be refinanced by the G-7 and Bric nations will total US$7.8 trillion this year, also little changed from 2015.

Government bonds eked out a 1.2 per cent gain for investors in 2015, compared with 8.4 per cent in 2014 and an average 4.4 per cent return over the past five years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes. Yields, which move inversely to prices, are now starting to rise as the fallout from recession fades, reducing demand for the securities as a haven, and as the US central bank predicts four rate increases before the year is out.

US 10-year Treasury yields will climb to 2.75 per cent by the end of 2016, according to the median forecast of 65 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, from 2.23 per cent as of 8:45 am in London.

This may prompt investors to demand more compensation to hold other bonds, too, including those from countries such as Germany and Japan, where yields are currently being kept down by their central banks expanding the money supply through debt purchases. The average sovereign yield in Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Global Government Index climbed to 1.1 per cent, from an all-time low of 0.82 per cent reached in January last year.

"Yields will rise and the Fed's tightening will spill over into other bonds," said David Schnautz, a London-based fixed- income strategist at Commerzbank AG in London. "At least the reduced pressure to borrow will be a nice offsetting factor. There's also a lot of structural demand out there still and that will limit the upside for bond yields."

In the US, the world's largest debtor nation with US$13.1 trillion of marketable debt obligations, the amount of government securities coming due will rise 14 per cent from last year to US$3.5 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China faces the biggest percentage increase in refinancing needs in 2016, with a 41 per cent jump to US$254 billion.

The drop in bond redemptions across most of the world's leading economies, plus quantitative-easing programs and subdued inflation, will continue to underpin demand for government bonds, even as higher US interest rates put upward pressure on yields, according to Rabobank International.

Slower inflation boosts the appeal of the fixed payments that bonds offer. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate consumer prices in developed countries rose just 0.5 per cent in 2015, a fraction of the 3.5 per cent increase in 2008.

Budget deficits across the developed world will shrink to an average 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product this year, economists predict, from an estimated 2.6 per cent in 2015 and a peak of 7.2 per cent in 2009.

"The economic and policy backdrop is positive" for government bonds, said Lyn Graham-Taylor, a rates strategist at Rabobank in London. "We remain bullish."