The Bank for International Settlements does not mince words. Sovereign debt is already starting to cross the danger threshold in the United States, Japan, Britain, and most of Western Europe, threatening to set off a bond crisis at the heart of the global economy.
"The aftermath of the financial crisis is poised to bring a simmering fiscal problem in industrial economies to the boiling point", said the Swiss-based bank for central bankers -- the oldest and most venerable of the world's financial watchdogs. Drastic austerity measures will be needed to head off a compound interest spiral, if it is not already too late for some.
The risk is an "abrupt rise in government bond yields" as investors choke on a surfeit of public debt. "Bond traders are notoriously short-sighted, assuming they can get out before the storm hits: their time horizons are days or weeks, not years or decade. We take a longer and less benign view of current developments," said the study, entitled "The Future of Public Debt", by the bank's chief economist Stephen Cecchetti.
"The question is when markets will start putting pressure on governments, not if. When will investors start demanding a much higher compensation for holding increasingly large amounts of public debt? In some countries, unstable debt dynamics -- in which higher debt levels lead to higher interest rates, which then lead to even higher debt levels -- are already clearly on the horizon."
Official debt figures in the West are "very misleading" since they fail to take in account the contingent liabilities and pension debts that have mushroomed over recent years. "Rapidly ageing populations present a number of countries with the prospect of enormous future costs that are not wholly recognised in current budget projections. The size of these future obligations is anybody's guess," said the report. The BIS lamented the lack of any systematic data on the scale of unfunded IOUs that care-free politicians have handed out like confetti.
Britain emerges in the BIS paper as an arch-sinner. The country may have entered the crisis with a low public debt but this shock absorber has already been used up, exposing the underlying rot in the UK's public accounts.
Tucked away in the BIS report are charts and tables showing that Britain faces the highest structural deficit in the OECD club of rich states, with a mounting risk that public debt will explode out of control.
Interest payments on the UK's public debt will double from 5pc of GDP to 10pc within a decade under the bank's 'baseline scenario' before spiralling upwards to 27pc by 2040, the highest in the industrial world.