China Holdings of U.S. Treasuries Drop to Almost Four-Year Low

By Scott Lanman

October 18, 2016 — 4:00 PM EDT

China’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries fell to the lowest level since November 2012, as the world’s second-largest economy draws down its foreign reserves to prop up the yuan.

The biggest foreign holder of U.S. government debt had $1.19 trillion in bonds, notes and bills in August, down $33.7 billion from the prior month, the biggest drop since 2013, according to U.S. Treasury Department data released Tuesday in Washington and previous figures compiled by Bloomberg.

The portfolio of Japan, the largest holder after China, fell for the first time in three months, down $10.6 billion to $1.14 trillion. Saudi Arabia’s holdings of Treasuries declined for a seventh straight month, to $93 billion.

China sold an estimated $570 billion in foreign-exchange assets from August 2015 to August 2016 in an effort to keep the currency from plunging, according to an estimate by the U.S. Treasury released last week. It reiterated that China’s efforts to support the yuan were preventing a rapid depreciation that would hurt the global economy.

China’s foreign-exchange reserves fell $16 billion to $3.19 trillion in August, and are down from a peak of close to $4 trillion in 2014. The reserves dropped another $19 billion in September to the lowest level since 2011.

The report, which also contains data on international capital flows, showed net foreign buying of long-term securities totaling $48.3 billion in August. It showed a total cross-border inflow, including short-term securities such as Treasury bills and stock swaps, of $73.8 billion.

Net foreign selling of U.S. Treasuries was $24.8 billion in August, while foreigners purchased a net $2.73 billion in equities, $22.8 billion of corporate debt and $29.6 billion in agency debt, according to the report.

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