Japan Surpasses China as Top Foreign Holder of U.S. Debt

By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 27, 2019 | 12:12pm EDT
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump at the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France, Aug. 25, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Entities in Japan have surpassed entities in Mainland China as the top foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the latest estimate published this month by the Treasury.

In May of this year, the Chinese owned $1,110,200,000,000 in U.S Treasury securities and the Japanese owned $1,101,000,000,000. In June, however, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities rose only to $1,112,500,000,000 and Japanese ownership climbed to $1,122,900,000,000.

That marked the first time since May 2017 that entities in Japan have owned more U.S. Treasury securities, as estimated by the U.S. Treasury, than entities in China.

In May 2017, the Japanese owned $1,111,500,000,000 in U.S. Treasury securities and the Chinese owned $1,102,200,000,000. In June 2017, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities increased to $1,146,500,000,000 and Japanese ownership declined to $1,090,300,000.000.

Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the estimates, peaked in November 2013 at $1,316,700,000,000.

The $1,112,500,000,000 level it hit in June was $204,200,000,000 below that peak.

The Federal Reserve owns more U.S. Treasury securities than either Japan or China. As of June 27, according to the Federal Reserve's balance statement, the Federal Reserve owned $2,110,256,000,000 in Treasury securities.

U.S. Treasury securities held by entities in Hong Kong are counted separately from those in Mainland China. According to the Treasury’s estimate, entities in Hong Kong owned $215,600,000,000 in U.S. Treasury securities in June.

Entities in the United Kingdom were the third largest foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities after Japan and China. In June, entities in the U.K. owned $341,100,000,000 in U.S. Treasury securities.

In explaining its methodology for estimating foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, the Treasury explained that some countries have higher numbers because owners of Treasury securities from third countries “entrust the safekeeping of their securities” to institutions in these countries.

“Imperfections caused by ‘custodial bias’remain in the current MFH [Major Foreign Holders of U.S. Treasury Securities] table,” said the methodology statement. “Some foreign owners entrust the safekeeping of their securities to institutions that are neither in the United States nor in the owner’s country of residence. For example, a German investor may buy a U.S. security and place it in the custody of a Swiss bank. In both the SLT and the periodic surveys of holdings of long-term securities, such a holding will typically be recorded vis-a-vis Switzerland rather than Germany. This ‘custodial bias’ contributes to the large recorded holdings in major custodial centers including Belgium, the Caribbean banking centers, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.”

 

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