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U.S. Treasury: China Has Decreased Its Holdings of U.S. Debt

Friday, April 29, 2011 

( - Mainland China has decreased its holdings of U.S. Treasury securities since last October, according to a report updated today by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Since September 2008, when they eclipsed Japan, entities in mainland China have been the largest foreign owners of U.S. government debt. But, as indicated by the Treasury Department chart linked here, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities peaked in October 2010 and has declined in each of the four most recent months reported by the Treasury Department.

At the end of October 2010, China owned 1.1753 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. That dropped to $1.1641 trillion by the end of November, $1.1601 trillion by the end of December, $1.1547 trillion by the end of January, and $1.1541 trillion by the end of February 2011.

February is the latest month for which the Treasury has estimated foreign holdings of U.S. debt.

Back in February 2001, according to historical data reported by the Treasury, the mainland Chinese owned only $63.7 billion in U.S. debt. In the ensuing decade, the Chinese massively increased their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, and especially in the past five years. In February 2006, China owned $318.4 billion in U.S. debt and Japan owned $656.4 billion.

In September 2008, the Chinese moved ahead of the Japanese in their U.S. debt holdings. At the end of that month, the mainland Chinese owned $618.2 billion in U.S. government debt and the Japanese owned $617.5 billion.

In the two years between September 2008 and September 2010, China increased its U.S. government debt holdings by $533.7 billion—from $618.2 billion to 1.1519 trillion. By the end of October 2010, China’s holdings of U.S. government debt had increased to their peak of 1.1753 trillion.

After that, mainland Chinese holding of U.S. government debt declined for four straight months.

Entities in Hong Kong have also been decreasing their ownership of U.S. government debt.  Hong Kong ownership of U.S. Treasury securities peaked at $152.4 billion in February 2010. By the end of February 2011, that had dropped to $124.6 billion.

In fiscal 2010—which ended on Sept. 30, 2010—the U.S. Treasury needed to redeem $7.206965 trillion in maturing U.S. Treasury securities. In order to cover the principle on those securities and borrow the money needed to cover government expenses that exceeded government revenues, the Treasury needed to turn around and sell $8.649171 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities during that fiscal year.

So far in fiscal 2011—which began on Oct. 1, 2010—the U.S. Treasury has needed to redeem $4.176308 trillion in maturing Treasury securities and sell $4.769522 in new Treasury securities.

At the end of February, according to the Treasury, the total U.S. debt was $14.194764 trillion of which $9.565541 trillion was publicly traded Treasury securities. Of those $9.565541 trillion in public Treasury securities, foreigners owned $4.4743 trillion—or almost 47 percent.

The $1.1541 trillion in U.S. debt owned by the mainland Chinese as of the end of February equaled about 12 percent of the publicly held portion of the U.S. debt and almost 26 percent of the publicly held portion of the U.S. debt that was owned by foreign interests.



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