“I know what gold does to men’s souls,” says a grizzled prospector in the movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (John Huston, director)
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
Foreigners hold a massive quantity and substantial share of United States Treasury securities. Such foreign ownership of and trading activity in UST therefore is an important variable for US government interest rate levels and trends, which in turn intertwine with yield elevations and movements in other American debt playgrounds. And of course to some extent, and in various (and sometimes changing) fashions and degrees, given the importance of America within the global economy, UST yields interrelate with and influence yields overseas, as well as assorted currency, stock, and commodity marketplace levels and trends.
Federal Reserve Board (and other key central bank) policy, inflation trends (in America and other major nations), equity adventures (for the S+P 500 and other important advanced nation and emerging marketplace benchmarks), and the strength of the US dollar will influence decisions by current and potential overseas owners of UST. So will numerous other economic as well as political factors such as the America’s November 8, 2016 election and its aftermath.
Many marketplace visionaries focus primarily on the grand total of foreign holdings of United States Treasury securities, ascents and descents in that sum, and that amount’s relative share of US debt outstanding. This indeed can provide observers with helpful information.
Yet in regard to UST ownership by overseas entities, the foreign official and private sectors do not necessarily behave the same way. Sometimes this distinction appears significant enough over time to monitor closely.
Thus concentrating on the grand total of foreign holdings and shifts in that statistic risk overlooking an important pattern which appeared in recent months within those holdings. What is that pattern? The net foreign official holdings have fallen not only as a percentage of overall foreign holdings, but also in absolute levels. This substantial official exodus is important.
Suppose not only that such noteworthy net UST liquidation by the foreign official sector persists, but also that the overseas private sector decides to reduce its net buying significantly, or to become a net seller. All else equal, that will help to push UST yields higher.
Selecting variables regarding as well as presenting explanations (“causes”) for marketplace and other cultural phenomena reflect the subjective viewpoint and rhetoric of the given storyteller. And marketplace history does not necessarily entirely or even partly repeat itself. Net foreign official selling (or net buying) of US Treasury securities of course is not always or the only factor relevant to American stock marketplace trends. Marketplace participants nevertheless should note that sometimes over roughly the past two decades (since 1997), substantial net foreign official selling of UST can be associated with a decline in the S+P 500.
US federal budget deficits indeed have plummeted from their pinnacles reached due to the global economic disaster. But they have not disappeared. And they probably will increase in subsequent years. So looking forward (and all else equal), if substantial net foreign selling of UST by both the foreign official and private groups exists, that will make it increasingly difficult for the American government to finance looming budget deficits. Will this eventually encourage UST yield rises? Perhaps the US public will help to fill the deficit financing gap, but it may take higher rates (better real returns) than currently exist to inspire them.
A DELUGE OF DEBT
“‘A Ti-tan iv Fi-nance,’ said Mr. Dooley, ‘is a man that’s got more money thin he can carry without bein’ disordherly. They’se no intoxicant in th’ wurruld, Hinnissy, like money.’” (Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” commenting “On Wall Street”; spelling as in the original)
There are various measures of US federal (national) indebtedness. Also, reports regarding breakdowns in debt ownership at times vary in their presentation. But regardless of the analytical perspective embraced, foreign ownership of UST is substantial in absolute and percentage of debt terms.
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Running for Cover- Foreign Official Holdings of US Treasury Securities (10-13-16)