GLOBAL DEBT LEVELS could reach about 260% of gross domestic product (GDP) by yearend, though low interest rates mean the ability to service it will be manageable, according to S&P Global Ratings.

The pile-on of debt was necessary given policy responses during the pandemic, Vera Chaplin, the credit ratings agency’s managing director and lead analytical manager, said on Thursday at the Asia Briefing Live forum co-hosted by Bloomberg and Asia Society Australia. Higher leverage and weakened credit metrics amid the recovery will probably trigger more defaults, she added. 

Ms. Chaplin said the recovery won’t be complete until vaccinations are widespread enough to make people more comfortable to move about, and that the pandemic hasn’t wrecked the “Asian century.”

Bruce Gosper, a vice-president at the Asian Development Bank and speaking on the same panel on Thursday, agreed the region’s recovery is underway and trade continues to rebound. Poverty reduction, however, has “more or less stalled across the region” and small businesses are still disproportionately struggling, he said.

“There is a new poor that’s emerging, mostly in urban areas” since agriculture has fared relatively better amid the crisis, he said. The ADB is focused on supporting informal workers who make up about two-thirds of the labor market in the economies they cover and are disproportionately women. — Bloomberg