Bloomberg News

International Demand for U.S. Assets Rises

May 15, 2012

International demand for U.S. financial assets rose in March as investors continued to seek safety from the debt crisis in Europe.

Net buying of long-term equities, notes and bonds totaled $36.2 billion during the month, compared with net purchases of $10.1 billion in February, the Treasury Department said today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected net buying of $32.5 billion of long-term assets, according to the median estimate.

“The continued buoyancy in foreign demand for U.S. Treasuries is consistent with the preeminent safe-haven appeal of these securities to global investors,” Millan Mulraine, a senior U.S. strategist at TD Securities in New York, said. “We expect the souring in global risk sentiment in recent months, as concerns about the deteriorating European debt crisis and slowing global growth momentum intensifies, to continue to bolster foreign investors’ appetite for U.S. Treasury securities.”

The report showed that net foreign purchases of U.S. Treasuries totaled $20.5 billion in March, compared with net buying of $15.4 billion the month before.

U.S. assets maintained their attraction as the European debt crisis mounted on concerns that Greece may leave the euro area. Greece’s impasse over forming a government has raised the possibility of another election to be held as early as next month, threatening the implementation of austerity pledges under the international financial rescue plan.

Greek Elections

Greece will hold new elections after President Karolos Papoulias failed to broker creation of a government following an inconclusive May 6 vote, Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the socialist Pasok party, said today.

Estimates of foreign purchases of long-term U.S. assets in March ranged from net buying of $25 billion to $75 billion, according to four economists surveyed by Bloomberg before the report.

China remained the biggest foreign owner of U.S. Treasuries in March after its holdings rose $14.7 billion to $1.17 trillion, according to the Treasury.

Hong Kong, counted separately from China, lowered its holdings of Treasuries by $3 billion to $138.8 billion, while Brazil increased its holdings by $9 billion to $237.4 billion in March.

International demand for U.S. Treasuries rose for an eighth straight month in March, as total foreign holdings of the securities reached $5.12 trillion.

Including short-term securities such as stock swaps, foreigners sold a net $49.9 billion in March, compared with net buying of $92.6 billion the previous month.

International Purchases

The Treasury Department’s data capture international purchases of government notes and bonds, stocks, corporate debt and securities issued by U.S. agencies.

The Treasury said in February it was shifting from a transaction-based survey to a custodial survey to keep track of foreigners’ holdings. As a result, month-to-month comparisons are not comparable.

“These data help provide a window into foreign ownership of U.S. securities, but they cannot attribute holdings of U.S. securities with complete accuracy,” Treasury said in a press release today. “It is difficult to draw precise conclusions from,” these data “about changes in the foreign holdings of U.S. financial assets by individual countries.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Meera Louis in Washington at mlouis1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net


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