China trims US debt holdings by $800 million

Updated: 2014-05-16 11:43

By Michael Barris in New York (China Daily USA)

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China remained the United States' largest foreign creditor in March, trimming holdings of US Treasuries by just $800 million while No 2 Japan dumped $10.6 billion of US debt.

It was the third straight month that China reduced its US Treasury holdings. Overall foreign capital inflows into US Treasuries declined, with strong demand coming mainly from Belgium, which continued its heavy buying of US debt. Russia was the largest seller during the month amid speculation that its assets would be frozen as part of sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

China's cut "was marginal, so I would not read too much into it," said John Praveen, chief investment strategist with New Jersey-based PrudentialInternational Investments Advisers LLC. "Compared to some of the bigger changes that other countries such as Japan and Russia made, what China did is not really significant."

China held $1.2721 trillion in US debt in March, down from $1.2729 trillion a month earlier and declining from $1.2756 trillion in January, the Treasury Department said Thursday.

Japan cut its holdings for the latest month to $1.2002 trillion from $1.2108 trillion. Russia offloaded $25.8 billion, or one-fifth of its Treasuries to $100.4 billion.

Belgium added $40.2 billion. The European nation has doubled its holdings in the past year to $391.4 billion and is the US's third largest foreign creditor after China and Japan.

The sum total in March of all net foreign acquisitions of long-term securities, short-term US securities, and banking flows was a monthly net outflow of $126.1 billion, the Treasury said. Of this sum, net foreign private outflows were $115.5 billion, and net foreign official outflows were $10.6 billion.

China trims US debt holdings by $800 million

Foreign residents increased their holdings of long-term US securities, making net purchases of $9.3 billion. Net purchases by private foreign investors came to $2.9 billion, while net purchases by foreign official institutions amounted to $6.4 billion.

US residents increased their holdings of long-term foreign securities with net purchases of $5.3 billion.

China's relatively small cuts in US Treasuries suggest that the country's economic strategy remains largely unchanged despite its leaders' stated intention to de-emphasize investment and exports in favor of a more sustainable growth model based on consumption and services, Praveen said.

"If you look at the underlying data it doesn't look there is a big rebalancing going on. It's probably going to take several quarters before you can see any change," he said. "It's like a supertanker that is trying to change course. It's not like a speedboat trying to change direction."

Additionally, the Chinese government's corruption crackdown has "basically added a little bit of a damper on consumption spending", the economist said.

"They are still exporting, so they have export earnings" to put into US Treasuries, which are considered a safe investment, Praveen said.