World Economy

Just how much debt do Asian economies have?

Neelabh Chaturvedi and Janine Tan
AFP | Getty Images

Asia's economies just can't catch a break.

A slowdown in China, a sluggish commodity market, and uncertainty over the timing of an interest rate hike in the U.S. have already pinched growth from Manila to Mumbai. Domestic indebtedness could be the next headwind, says HSBC.

So just how much debt do companies, consumers, and governments have? Here are some charts from the bank on debt levels across the region:

Bank credit

The situation is not as alarming as during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, when the impact of a debt binge was exacerbated by lower foreign exchange reserves and currency regimes that in many countries were effectively pegged to the dollar.

And growth should still be above what is likely to be witnessed in most others corners in the world.

Still, Singapore and Hong Kong have seen increase in bank credit, which HSBC reckons is a likely combination of higher borrowing rates by residents as well as firms elsewhere in Asia.

The growth in bank credit in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan in comparison has been more modest.

Bond markets

Local bond markets are also far more developed than they were during the Asian Financial Crisis, so some of the reduction in dependence on conventional banking channels was largely due to borrowers switching to the bond market.

This also has repercussions for getting a handle on measuring their vulnerabilities. As South Korean corporations have turned enthusiastically to local bond markets, just looking at their bank credit data might not give a complete picture of their leverage.


What about the composition of debt in China, where the slowdown and a botched response to a stock market selloff sparked unease the world over?

"China, of course, has seen a sharp increase in shadow banking, borrowing not captured by either direct bank credit or the size of the bond market (although all three are tightly interwoven)," HSBC says.

The bulk of credit in China still comes in the form of bank lending — roughly 70 percent — but a big chunk of the increase in leverage since 2007 stems from other forms of financing, HSBC notes.

Who owes how much?

The split among households, companies and the government makes for interesting reading as well.

Indonesia, which has been hit particularly hard during the emerging market tumult, actually has some of the lowest debt ratios for a major economy, HSBC notes. India and the Philippines also fare well.

Thailand, on the other hand, has nearly as much debt as a share of output, as Taiwan. Singapore and Hong Kong, both have debt ratios as well, although that could be partly explained by the high bank lending to companies category.