MacroScope

Japan’s ‘quadrillion’ feat

August 12, 2013

The age of the quadrillion is finally here.

After years of being stuck in millions, billions, trillions and other terms that usually come up short of twelve zeros, Japan has broken out, with its debt crossing the magical 15 zero barrier.

Japan’s public debt exceeded 1 quadrillion yen — or 1,000 trillion yen ($10.39 trillion) — for the first time in June, Finance Ministry data showed last week.

Those are eye-popping sums even if you consider that a dollar fetches 96 yen today and the U.S. has a much higher public debt burden in dollar terms.

That is twice the sum of all goods and services produced by the country in a year, or GDP. It also means if every Japanese citizen were to try to pay it off, they would have to shell out at least 7,895,172 yen.

The usage of these mind-boggling numbers has increased ever since the financial crisis of 2008 prompted major central banks to print money to support their economies, through quantitative easing.

At first that amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars and now it runs to trillions, so it’s little wonder that people – at least in financial markets – have become desensitised to such large sums.

Some parts of the world, however, have had extensive experience dealing in quadrillions.

Before Turkey rebased its currency in 2005, one quadrillion lira was worth less than $1 billion. They knocked six zeros off one million old lira to form a single new one.

So what comes after a quadrillion?

Quintillion — or 1000 quadrillion — has 18 zeros and it may take some time to reach there.

($1 = 96.2550 Japanese yen)

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