Foreign Holdings of U.S. Treasuries Grow for a Third Year

(Bloomberg) -- The pile of U.S. Treasuries held outside the country grew in 2019 to nearly $6.7 trillion from $6.3 trillion at the end of the previous year, as the government’s borrowing picked up to fresh record levels.

Total foreign ownership of U.S. government notes, bills and bonds rose for the third consecutive year, despite a second straight annual decline in China’s holdings, according to a Treasury Department report released Tuesday. The 2019 increase included a $44 billion decline in December after a $39.3 billion decline a month earlier.

The question is whether foreign demand is keeping up with the stepped-up supply. Exante’s Alex Etra says the clearest takeaway is that the investor base is shifting, with the share among global central banks sliding relative to private buyers such as pension funds and insurers, particularly in Asia’s larger surplus economies.

Last year, “foreign investors remain heavily interested in U.S. Treasury securities, partly because the nominal yield you get on them is relatively rare these days,” Etra said. “But we’re seeing a shift in the composition of who is holding those securities.”

Japan remains the largest foreign holder with $1.15 trillion, having added $115.2 billion over the year, the data showed. China’s total shrank $54.4 billion on the year to $1.07 trillion. Its holdings dropped in December for a sixth straight month to the smallest amount since early 2017.

Each nation still owns more U.S. government securities than the rest of the top five holders combined: the U.K., Brazil and Ireland.