Tuesday, November 20, 2007

U.S. DEBT | Foreign Holdings

Nov. 20, 2007–Watch what they do, not what they say. Based on the latest available data issued November 16, amid the posturing at the recent OPEC meetings, oil exporters have been adding to their holdings of U.S. securities over the past year, from $114 billion to $126 billion.

Japan has pared $36 billion, but is by far the largest foreign holder of U.S. dollars ($582 billion). The People's Republic of China has added $7 billion (to $397 billion). The biggest friends of the United States have been the UK, which added $204 billion (to $266 billion), and Brazil, which added $64 billion (to $109 billion). These two buyers more than account for the growth in foreign holdings of U.S. securities of $222 billion (to $2,247 billion). The top five holders of U.S. securities (counting oil exporters as one holder) account for 66 percent of all foreign holdings.

The year-over-year increase in holdings uses the dollar measuring stick. It looks differently to someone translating the dollars to yen or renminbi or the euro. The euro rose from $1.27 in September 2006 to $1.39 in September 2007, so from the perspective of someone buying most of their goods from Europe, the value of the U.S. securities fell 9 percent, canceling out what Uncle Sam is paying by way of interest.

Two caveats: (1) The numbers for November and December may have a different look–we will know in January and February 2008. (2) The U.S. Treasury International Capital reports are "estimated" based "on annual surveys ... and monthly data".