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The World’s Biggest Debtor Nations

The World’s Biggest Debtor Nations
Throughout the financial crisis, many national economies have looked to their government and foreign lenders for financial support, which translates to increased spending, borrowing and in most cases, growing national debt.Deficit spending, government debt and private sector borrowing are the norm in most western countries, but due in part to the financial crisis, some nations and economies are in considerably worse debt positions than others.External debt is a measure of a nation's foreign liab
Source: External debt information from The World Bank, GDP information from the CIA World Factbook.

During the financial crisis, many national economies have looked to their government and foreign lenders for financial support, which has translated to increased spending, borrowing, and, in most cases, growing national debt. Overleveraged consumers and companies struggled to survive their crippling debts, while highly indebted governments enacted austerity measures and sought the aid of international organizations for bailouts in the face of soverign defaults.

Deficit spending, government debt and private sector borrowing are the norm in most Western countries, but due in part to the rough economy, some nations are in considerably worse debt positions than others.

One way to get the big picture of the level of borrowing is through external debt. External debt is a measure of a total debt in a country that is owed to creditors outside that country; foreign liabilities, capital plus interest that the government, institutions and people within a nation’s borders must eventually pay. In short, this number extends beyond simply government debt, but also debt owed by corporations and individuals. For instance, debt owed by the U.S. governmentis not only held by countries such as China and Japan, but also by institutions within the U.S., such as financial instutitions, mutual funds and intragovernmental organizations. These domestic holdings would not factor into external debt totals.

So, how does the U.S. debt position compare to that of other countries? A useful measure of a country’s debt position is by comparing gross external debt to gross domestic product. By comparing a nation’s total debt to what it produces, this ratio can be used to help determine the likelihood that a country as a whole will be able to repay its debt.

This report takes a look at the world’s 75 largest economies to see which ones have the highest external debt-to-GDP ratio, calculated using the most recent numbers (Q3 2011) from the World Bank. We’ve listed the top 20 here.

Since the first time this report was published in April 2009, the debt situations of many countries have become of increasingly influential in the markets. In many European nations, these debt levels have caused international organizations and bond investors to pressure governments to cut public debt through austerity measures and additional reductions in spending. The countries in the most dire need are the ones in which government debt is a large proportion of external debt, such as the Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, the so-called PIIGS.

So, what are the world’s biggest debtor nations? Click ahead to find out.

By Paul Toscano
Updated 13 March 2012
Originally published in April 2009

20. United States: 99.46%
External debt (as % of GDP): 98.4%Gross external debt: $13.92 trillion2009 GDP (est): $14.14 trillionExternal debt per capita: $45,302
Photo: AP

External debt (as % of GDP): 99.46%

Gross external debt: $14.959 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $15.040 trillion

External debt per capita: $47,664

19. Hungary: 110.3%
External debt (as % of GDP): 120.6%Gross external debt: $224.36 billion2009 GDP (est): $186 billion External debt per capita: $22,650
Photo: Stuart Westmorland | Photodisc | Getty Images

External debt (as % of GDP): 110.3%

Gross external debt: $216.16 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $195.9 billion

External debt per capita: $21,706

18. Italy: 136.6%
External debt (as % of GDP): 141.3%Gross external debt: $2.456 trillion2009 GDP (est): $1.74 trillionExternal debt per capita: $42,267
Photo: Guy Vanderelst | Photographer’s Choice | Getty Images

External debt (as % of GDP): 136.6%

Gross external debt: $2.494 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $1.826 trillion

External debt per capita: $40,724

17. Australia: 139.9%
External debt (as % of GDP): 121.9%Gross external debt: $1.037 trillion 2009 GDP (est): $851.1 billion External debt per capita: $48,787
Photo: Image Source | Getty Images

External debt (as % of GDP): 139.9%

Gross external debt: $1.283 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $917.7 billion

External debt per capita: $58,322

16. Spain: 169.5%
External debt (as % of GDP): 176.9% Gross external debt: $2.40 trillion2009 GDP (est): $1.36 trillionExternal debt per capita: $59,459
Photo: Jill Damico

External debt (as % of GDP): 169.5%

Gross external debt: $2.392 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $1.411 trillion

External debt per capita: $50,868

15. Greece: 178.9%
External debt (as % of GDP): 167.2%Gross external debt: $557.4 billion2009 GDP (est): $333.4 billionExternal debt per capita: $51,916
Photo: Jorg Greuel | The Image Bank | Getty Images

External debt (as % of GDP): 178.9%

Gross external debt: $546.92 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $305.6 billion

External debt per capita: $50,792

14. Germany: 183.9%
External debt (as % of GDP): 176.8%Gross external debt: $4.97 trillion2009 GDP (est): $2.81 trillionExternal debt per capita: $60,357
Photo: Robert Debowski

External debt (as % of GDP): 183.9%

Gross external debt: $5.674 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $3.085 trillion

External debt per capita: $69,788

13. Portugal: 207.3%
External debt (as % of GDP): 231.2%Gross external debt: $537.85 billion2009 GDP (est): $232.6 billionExternal debt per capita: $50,230
Photo: Davis McCardle | The Image Bank | Getty Images

External debt (as % of GDP): 207.3%

Gross external debt: $511.94 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $246.9 billion

External debt per capita: $47,483

12. Austria: 241.3%
External debt (as % of GDP): 251.4%Gross external debt: $809.2 billion2009 GDP (est): $321.8 billionExternal debt per capita: $98,554
Photo: AP

External debt (as % of GDP): 241.3%

Gross external debt: $847.95 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $351.4 billion

External debt per capita: $103,160

11. Finland: 244.8%
External debt (as % of GDP): 215%Gross external debt: $383.7 billion2009 GDP (est): $178.8 billionExternal debt per capita: $73,082
Photo: Lyn Gateley

External debt (as % of GDP): 244.8%

Gross external debt: $478.84 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $195.6 billion

External debt per capita: $90,984

10. Norway: 246.9%
External debt (as % of GDP): 208.8%Gross external debt: $558.4 billion2009 GDP (est): $267.4 billionExternal debt per capita: $119,805
Photo: Alex Steffier

External debt (as % of GDP): 246.9%

Gross external debt: $653.29 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $264.5 billion

External debt per capita: $138,783

9. France: 254.4%
External debt (as % of GDP): 244.3%Gross external debt: $5.23 trillion2009 GDP (est): $2.09 trillionExternal debt per capita: $79,982
Photo: Al Ianni

External debt (as % of GDP): 254.4%

Gross external debt: $5.632 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $2.21 trillion

External debt per capita: $85,824

8. Sweden: 262.3%
External debt (as % of GDP): 269.7%Gross external debt: $893.86 billion2009 GDP (est): $331.4 billionExternal debt per capita: $98,664
Photo: Stefan Lins

External debt (as % of GDP): 262.3%

Gross external debt: $995.2 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $379.4 billion

External debt per capita: $109,318

7. Hong Kong: 265.7%
External debt (as % of GDP): 224.7%Gross external debt: $678.29 billion2009 GDP (est): $301.8 billionExternal debt per capita: $96,142
Photo: TW Angel

External debt (as % of GDP): 265.7%

Gross external debt: $939.83 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $353.7 billion

External debt per capita: $131,380

6. Denmark: 283.2%
External debt (as % of GDP): 307.3%Gross external debt: $607.818 billion2009 GDP (est): $197.8 billionExternal debt per capita: $110,502
Photo: Jimg944

External debt (as % of GDP): 283.2%

Gross external debt: $591.4 billion
2011 GDP (est.): $208.8 billion

External debt per capita: $106,680

5. Belgium: 353.7%
External debt (as % of GDP): 326.7%Gross external debt: $1.253 trillion2009 GDP (est): $383.4 billionExternal debt per capita: $120,267
Photo: Eddie Van

External debt (as % of GDP): 353.7%

Gross external debt: $1.457 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $412 billion

External debt per capita: $139,613

4. Netherlands: 367%
External debt (as % of GDP): 369.6%Gross external debt: $2.44 trillion2009 GDP (est): $660 billionExternal debt per capita: $145,928
Photo: BK59

External debt (as % of GDP): 367%

Gross external debt: $2.590 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $705.7 billion

External debt per capita: $154,820

3. Switzerland: 391.3%
External debt (as % of GDP): 378.6%Gross external debt: $1.191 trillion (2009 Q3)2009 GDP (est): $314.7 billionExternal debt per capita: $156,694
Photo: AP

External debt (as % of GDP): 391.3%

Gross external debt: $1.332 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $340.5 billion

External debt per capita: $174,022

2. United Kingdom: 451.4%
External debt (as % of GDP): 428.8%Gross external debt: $9.12 trillion2009 GDP (est): $2.128 trillionExternal debt per capita: $149,281
Photo: AP

External debt (as % of GDP): 451.4%

Gross external debt: $10.157 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $2.250 trillion

External debt per capita: $161,110

1. Ireland: 1,239%
External debt (as % of GDP): 1,305%Gross external debt: $2.25 trillion2009 GDP (est): $172.5 billionExternal debt per capita: $535,529
Photo: William Murphy

External debt (as % of GDP): 1,239%

Gross external debt: $2.26 trillion
2011 GDP (est.): $182.1 billion

External debt per capita: $478,087

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