‘Not the Only Gorilla in the Jungle’: Japan Overtakes China as Largest U.S. Bondholder

japan-stock-WSJ

Japan’s purchases will help soothe lingering concerns that U.S. bond prices could decline as China slows its buying. 

Min Zeng in New York, Lingling Wei in Beijing and Eleanor Warnock in Tokyo report: Japan dethroned China as the top foreign holder of U.S. Treasurys for the first time since the financial crisis, following a wave of purchases by buyers shifting money to the U.S. as Japan’s economic policies push down interest rates there.

“China is currently the 800-pound gorilla in the U.S. Treasury market. However, it is not the only gorilla in the jungle.”

–James Sarni, a managing principal at investment manager Payden & Rygel, which oversees $90 billion of assets

In reclaiming its status as the largest foreign creditor to America in U.S. official data, Japan is japan-chart-WSJreasserting itself as Beijing holds its Treasury portfolio steady amid a weakening Chinese economy.

“U.S. debt bears higher yields than government bonds offered in other rich nations, thanks to the perception of stronger U.S. growth prospects and to central-bank bond purchases that have driven yields near zero across Europe and in Japan.”

Private investors and official institutions in Japan owned $1.2244 trillion of U.S. government securities at the end of February, compared with $1.2386 trillion at the end of January, according to the latest monthly data released by the Treasury on Wednesday.

China held $1.2237 trillion of Treasury debt at the end of February, compared with $1.2391 trillion a month earlier.

Over the past year, Japan has boosted its holdings by a net $13.6 billion, while China’s holdings dropped by $49.2 billion.

“The single largest holder of U.S. long-term debt is the Federal Reserve, with more than $2 trillion. The amount has surged from $755 billion at the end of 2007, fueled by Fed purchases of long-term securities in response to the financial crisis”.

The Treasury data, released with a two-month lag, don’t capture all of the Treasury-bond holdings China may have parked at middlemen in places such as the U.K. and Belgium. Many analysts and investors believe China has considerable holdings bought through such intermediaries. The Treasury notes on its website that “it is difficult to draw precise conclusions about changes in the foreign holdings of U.S. financial assets by individual countries” from the capital-flow data.

“The shift also reflects changes sweeping China. The world’s most-populous nation has in recent months largely held its Treasury portfolio in place, reflecting a slowdown in the growth of its $3.73 trillion foreign-exchange reserve, the world’s largest, and an effort to shift those reserves toward higher-yielding assets.”

The Japanese purchases have helped drive long-term U.S. bond yields near record lows despite an economic expansion that averaged 2.7% annually over 2013-14. Those low yields have, in turn, helped keep down interest rates for Americans on everything from home loans to credit cards.

The shift also reflects changes sweeping China. The world’s most-populous nation has in recent months largely held its Treasury portfolio in place, reflecting a slowdown in the growth of its $3.73 trillion foreign-exchange reserve, the world’s largest, and an effort to shift those reserves toward higher-yielding assets such as foreign corporate bonds, equities and real estate.

Japanese individuals and institutions are buying Treasurys at a rapid clip. Japanese investors bought a net ¥2.6 trillion ($21.8 billion) of foreign bonds in March, following over ¥1.3 trillion of net purchases in February, according to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Japan’s $1.1 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund….(read more)

WSJ

Write to Min Zeng at min.zeng@wsj.com

 



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