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Korea's debt-to-GDP rate hits record high in 2012
SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- The ratio of South Korea's total debt to its economic output rose to a record high in 2012 as debt grew at a faster pace despite the slowing economy, central bank data showed Wednesday.

   The combined debt of households, companies and the government reached 3,607.3 trillion won (US$3.26 trillion) as of the end of 2012, according to the data by the Bank of Korea.

   The ratio of such debt against Korea's 2012 nominal gross domestic product (GDP) reached a record 283 percent last year, up from 278 percent a year earlier.

   The corresponding ratio reached 227 percent during the 1997-98 Asian-wide financial crisis. At the height of the global financial turmoil, the ratio came in at 274 percent in 2008 and 278 percent in 2009.

   The rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2012 came as debt expanded at a faster pace than the economic output, spawning concerns that excessive debt holding may turn sour amid the economic downturn.

   The nominal GDP grew 3 percent on-year in 2012 while financial debt held by households, companies and the government advanced 4.9 percent.

   Korea's household debt has been repeatedly cited as the main drag on Asia's fourth-largest economy because households' high indebtedness is feared to curb domestic demand and thus crimp economic growth. The country's household credit totaled a record 959.4 trillion won as of end-2012.

   Households excessively borrowed from banks and non-banking institutions to buy houses when the housing market was booming in 2005 and 2006. A long streak of low rates also spurred households into indulging in a borrowing binge, experts said.

   The central and provincial governments' indebtedness more than tripled to 469.6 trillion won last year, compared with 2003, data showed.

   In the same period, debt held by households and non-profit organizations more than doubled to 1,158.8 trillion won.
sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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