Financial net worth of general government

Financial net worth, or the difference between governments’ financial assets and liabilities, shows a government’s ability to meet its financial obligations. Assets reflect a source of additional funding and income available to governments; liabilities reflect debts accumulated over time. A consistent increase in the government’s financial net worth over time indicates good financial health. Conversely, net worth may be depleted by public debt, indicating a worsening of the government’s fiscal position that could affect confidence and increase risk.

In 2019, general government financial net worth across OECD countries averaged -65.8% of GDP, meaning that governments were holding significantly more liabilities than assets. Between 2007 and 2019 the average financial net worth of OECD countries deteriorated by 27.2 p.p., largely reflecting a substantial accumulation of debt, particularly in the years following the 2007-08 economic crisis. The negative financial net worth of three countries: Greece (-146.8%), Italy (-126.7%) and Japan (-125.8%) was larger than their GDP in 2019 (Figure 2.11).

Between 2019 and 2020, the financial net worth of the 22 countries which are EU and OECD members (OECD-EU) worsened by 11.6 p.p. on average as a result of the exceptional need for financial resources to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting accumulation of liabilities. Norway (369.4% of GDP), Finland (64.2%), Luxembourg (49%), Sweden, (37.4%) and Estonia (17.3%) are the only countries with data available which had a positive financial net worth in 2020.

An alternative way of understanding financial net worth is in per capita terms. On average, the financial net worth in OECD countries amounted to USD -34 297 PPP per capita in 2019, which is more than double the OECD average in 2007 (USD -14 475 PPP). In 2019, Norway had the highest positive per capita financial net worth (USD 226 240 PPP) and Italy the lowest (USD -56 247 PPP). Between 2019 and 2020 the average financial net worth in OECD-EU countries deteriorated by USD -3 761 PPP per capita (Figure 2.12).

Further reading

OECD (2021), OECD Economic Outlook, Interim Report March 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Figure notes

Data for Australia, Canada, Colombia, Sweden and the United States are reported on an adjusted basis (i.e. excluding unfunded pension liabilities). Data for Iceland and Korea are not available. Data for Colombia, Mexico and Turkey are not included in the OECD average. Data for Israel are for 2018 rather than 2019. Data for Brazil are for 2017 rather than 2019.

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