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Debt and Development Finance Indicators

Total External Debt in 2014




​​​​​The total external debt stocks of developing countries and countries with economies in transition (henceforth "developing countries") reached $6.7 trillion in 2014 (see annex), an increase of 5.2 per cent compared with 2013 stocks.[1] Long-term debt constituted nearly three-quarters of total debt stocks and was mainly owed to private creditors (78.8 per cent). Official lending to developing countries, which accounted for 21.2 per cent of total long-term external debt, has been on a downward trend following the global crisis. Meanwhile, the stock of short-term debt has been increasing rapidly, totaling $1.8 trillion in 2014, an increase of 60 per cent compared with 2010.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of the developing countries grew by 4.4 per cent in 2014, which was lower than the growth rate of total debt stocks. Consequently, the ratio of total debt to GDP increased slightly, from 23.3 per cent in 2013 to 23.5 per cent in 2014. Owing to a slowdown in export growth from 4.4 per cent in 2013 to 1.8 per cent in 2014, the ratios of debt to exports and debt service to exports rose from 81.1 to 84.0 per cent and from 8.8 to 9.2 per cent, respectively.

International reserves for developing countries as a group are estimated to have decreased slightly, from $6.8 trillion in 2013 to $6.7 trillion in 2014, with China accounting for more than half the stock of total reserves. The decrease, which resulted from a fall in the reserves of China in the last quarter of 2014, marks the first time that international reserves have declined after more than a decade of rapid growth. Total reserves now just barely cover the stocks of total external debt for all developing countries. The ratio of total reserves to short-term debt also fell, from 424.6 per cent in 2013 to 382.5 per cent in 2014. Of 117 countries for which short-term debt data was available for 2014, 108 countries had international reserves that covered more than 100 per cent of short-term debt. The nine countries with international reserves lower than the amount of short-term debt were Belarus, Guyana, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Seychelles, the Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Zimbabwe. ​

Regional trends

Total debt stocks in Europe and Central Asia fell by 3.9 per cent, from $1.93 trillion in 2013 to $1.86 trillion in 2014, after increasing by nearly 10 per cent in 2013. A high share (90 per cent) of the region's private debt is in long-term debt. The amount of short-term debt fell by 11.2 per cent in 2014, while international reserves fell significantly, by nearly 20 per cent, from $762 billion in 2013 to $612 billion in 2014, resulting in the further deterioration of the ratio of reserves to short-term debt. All other debt indicators for the region also worsened in 2014. Although total debt stocks declined, the region's total debt to GDP ratio increased from 44 per cent to 45.7 per cent as a result of major GDP contractions in some countries (Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Ukraine). Europe and Central Asia region, among all regions, continues to have the highest ratio of debt to GDP.

Total external debt stocks in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 7.6 per cent in 2014, to reach $395 billion. The majority of long-term debt in that region is public and publicly guaranteed debt (81.3 per cent). International reserves fell by 5 per cent in 2014 compared with 2013 but still covered around three times the level of short-term debt. The GDP growth rate of the region slowed to 4.3 per cent in 2014, from 5 per cent in 2013, owing to such factors as declining commodity prices, the Ebola epidemic in some countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and lower oil prices that severely affected the region's oil exporters (e.g., Chad and Nigeria). The total value of exports for the region also declined by 3 per cent in 2014. As a result, the ratio of debt to GDP increased from 26.1 per cent to 27 per cent and that of debt to exports increased from 76.8 per cent to 85.2 per cent. The favourable global financing conditions in 2014 enabled the continuation of the recent surge in sovereign bond issuance, which increased from $6.5 billion in 2013 to $8.7 billion in 2014 for the region,[2] with maiden issuances by Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya. However, yields on the region's bonds have been trending up, especially in Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, as a result of high fiscal deficits or lower oil prices. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, total external debt stocks rose by 11 per cent to $1.8 trillion in 2014, giving the region the second-highest debt level. Most of the debt is long-term and the majority of long-term debt (82.4 per cent) is owed to private creditors. Short-term debt increased by 20 per cent in 2014, while international reserves increased by only 3 per cent, resulting in a deterioration of the ratio of reserves to short-term debt from 336.9 per cent in 2013 to 288.5 per cent in 2014. Growth in the region declined for the fourth consecutive year, to 1.3 per cent in 2014, owing to subdued external demand and worsening terms of trade. Falling commodity prices resulted in a loss of 1.8 per cent in export value and further widened external current account deficits in most commodity-exporting economies. Both sluggish growth and falling exports in 2014 contributed to a worsening of all debt indicators for the region, with the ratio of total debt to GDP increasing from 27.8 per cent to 30.2 per cent and that of total debt to exports from 128.3 per cent to 145.1 per cent.

Total debt stocks in the Middle East and North Africa continued to grow at a rate of 5 per cent in 2014 to reach $200 billion. The long-term debt consisted mainly of public and publicly guaranteed debt (93 per cent). In 2014, short-term debt increased by 2 per cent while international reserves declined by 2.5 per cent. Nevertheless, international reserves still covered more than 11 times the amount of short-term debt, making it the highest ratio among all the regions. Debt-to-GDP ratios increased from 14.8 per cent in 2013 to 16.2 per cent in 2014, owing to slower growth in the region as a result of declining oil prices, ongoing conflicts and political instability. Many of the region's oil exporting countries (e.g., Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) have seen substantial downward revisions to their growth forecasts. Exports were also hit by declining oil prices and high volatility, with a fall of 2.5 per cent in the value of exports. As a result, the ratio of debt to exports rose from 58.7 per cent to 63.2 per cent.

The growth of total debt stocks in East Asia and the Pacific slowed to 7.6 per cent in 2014 after a period of, on average, more than 10 per cent annual growth. Private debt accounted for a large share of long-term debt (77.2 per cent) and continued on an upward trend. The region experienced strong growth in 2014despite slowdowns in several large economies, including those of China, Indonesia and Japan, helping to lower the total debt-to-GDP ratio from 14.6 per cent to 14.2 per cent, the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of all regions. In 2014, the share of short-term debt of total external debt continued to increase and surpassed long-term debt to reach more than half of the region's total debt stocks. By contrast, international reserves remained unchanged in 2014, slowing down, owing to a fall in the reserves of China in the last quarter of 2014, after a period of rapid accumulation and a 12.5 per cent increase in 2013. Consequently, the ratio of reserves to short-term debt deteriorated from 505.8 per cent in 2013 to 445.5 per cent in 2014. Since the region is a net oil importer, the drop in oil prices in 2014 benefited many oil-importing countries, generating a windfall and improving current accounts. However, the region remains vulnerable to capital outflows, slower corporate debt issuance (especially in emerging Asia), and rising short-term market interest rates since the last quarter of 2014, in line with global trends and expectations of higher policy rates in the United States of America.

For further analysis see the Report of the Secretary General on external debt and development​ (A/70/278)

[1] United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) secretariat calculations based on the World Bank 2015 International Debt Statistics online database (the database does not include debt data for Chile, the Russian Federation or Uruguay).

[2] International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Economic Outlook, World Economic and Financial Surveys (Washington, D.C., April 2015).