3.1.13

Japan's Growing Sovereign Debt Time Bomb(Der Spiegel)

"...Japanese governments have piled up debts worth some €11 trillion ($14.6 trillion). This corresponds to 230 percent of annual gross domestic product, a debt level that is far higher than Greece's 165 percent...

Japan, the postwar economic miracle, has never managed to recover from the stock market crash and real estate crisis that convulsed the country in the 1990s. The government had to bail out banks; insurance companies went bust. Since then, annual growth rates have often been paltry and tax revenues don't even cover half of government expenditures. Indeed, the country has gotten trapped in an inescapable spiral of deficit spending.

The fact that this tragedy has been playing out in relative obscurity can be attributed to a bizarre phenomenon: In contrast to the debt-ridden economies in the euro zone, Japan continues to pay hardly any interest on what it borrows. While Greece has recently had to cough up interest at double-digit rates, for example, the comparable figure for Japan has been a mere 0.75 percent. Even Germany, the euro zone's healthiest economy, has to pay more.

The reason is simple: Unlike countries in the euro zone, Japan borrows most of its money from its own people. Domestic banks and insurers have purchased 95 percent of the country's sovereign debt using the savings deposits of the general population. What's more, the Japanese are apparently so convinced that their country will be able to pay off its debts one day that they continue to lend their government a seemingly endless amount of money.

Experts warn that this system cannot go on for much longer..."

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