The total debt of 101 countries reporting to the World Bank rose 14.5 percent to a record $529 billion last year, the bank said yesterday, but it contended that there is no crisis.
In what it described as "an unfashionably positive view," the bank, in issuing its annual "World Debt Tables," says that the external debt of the developing countries poses little threat to the international banking system.
It acknowledged the existence of a "burden" for the banks, but says that it "stems primarily from depressed economic conditions generally, and therefore from the banks' exposure to their domestic corporate borrowers rather than to sovereign borrowers."
The report says its "positive tone does not extend to the internal situation of the developing countries," because their costs of servicing debt have been great in terms of lost economic growth. It predicts little relief on that score before 1984.
The broad theme of the report is that "there is no generalized debt crisis." Most developing countries, it reports, have not borrowed excessively or "squandered the proceeds." Rather, the report said, the problems of a minority of countries are an outgrowth of stagnating world trade, high interest rates and the decline of raw material prices.
The statistical volume of nearly 300 pages also shows that the growth of debt in the past few years has slowed sharply from peaks reached at the end of the 1970s, as a result of more cautious borrowing by the public sectors in many of the borrowing countries.
The resolution of the global problem lies in a resumption of growth, the report said, a theme that was echoed in a lecture at Harvard University yesterday by Bank President A. W. Clausen. He also cautioned commercial bankers not to cut back their loans in an imprudent fashion.
Because interest rates had risen so dramatically since 1978, boosting the cost of servicing debt, the net transfers of funds left in these developing countries for investment reached a peak of $32.8 billion in 1978, declining by 18 percent to $25 billion in 1982.
The report blamed "excessive reliance" on monetary restraint by the major powers for producing very high and fluctuating interest rates that "entailed a special cost for developing countries." High interest rates hit hard at the big three among the debtors--Argentina, Brazil and Mexico--who borrow at floating rates from commercial banks.
"At the other extreme, a number of poorer countries . . . dependent on commodity exports, rescheduled parts of their external debt following steep falls--in some cases to their lowest levels since 1945--in world raw material prices," the report said.
Such rescheduling zoomed to $10.9 billion in 1982 from $6.1 billion in 1979, counting rollover through the "Paris Club," which deals with government loans, and by consortiums and commercial banks. A major part of the 1982 bulge represented a commercial bank rescheduling of $5.35 billion for Poland, and $3.1 billion for Romania.
The steep fall in interest rates at the end of last year has eased the cost of debt for the major borrowing countries, but the report said, "conditions do not yet presage a resumption of heavy borrowing in advance of a recovery in the debt-servicing capacity of developing economies."
This debt reported in the tables is a sub-total of an estimated $700 billion in total Third World debt as of the end of 1982.