In data released Thursday afternoon, the Federal Reserve revealed that its holdings of U.S. government debt had increased to an all-time record of $1,696,691,000,000 as of the close of business on Wednesday.
The Fed’s holdings of U.S. government debt have increased by 257 percent since President Barack Obama was first inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, and the Fed is currently the single largest holder of U.S. government debt.
Political Calculations discusses how the Fed’s various quantitative easing programs are primarily responsible for the Fed’s accumulation of the U.S. government’s debt during the last four years, and the extent to which it has offset an even larger share of debt from being accumulated by foreign interests:
The Federal Reserve’s various quantitative easing programs of recent years, where the U.S. government-chartered central bank has purchased large quantities of U.S. government-issued debt in its attempts to keep the U.S. government’s spending elevated and the U.S. economy stimulated by lowering long-term interest rates, are especially interesting in the degree to which they’ve succeeded in offsetting the share of the U.S. national debt owned by foreign interests.
Here, the Fed boosted its holdings of U.S. Treasury securities from a low of $474 billion on 18 March 2009 when it launched QE 1.0 to a peak of $1.684 trillion on 21 December 2011, which fell back to $1.676 trillion by 26 September 2012 — just before the end of the U.S. government’s 2012 fiscal year.
The Fed also boosted its holdings of other federal agency debt securities from $48 billion on 18 March 2009 to a peak value of $169 billion on 10 March 2010, which has slowly declined to $83 billion as of 26 September 2012. All told, the Federal Reserve held an additional $1.21 trillion of the U.S. national debt compared to what it did before it began its quantitative easing programs.
As a result, the U.S. Federal Reserve has gone from holding 4.7% of all U.S. government-issued debt as of 18 March 2009 to holding 10.8% of it as of the end of the U.S. government’s Fiscal Year 2012. During the peak of the program, the Federal Reserve crowded out almost every other purchaser of U.S. government-issued debt.
Assuming that other U.S. entities would have been unable to accumulate more of the U.S. national debt than they did during this period and that the U.S. government would have spent as much money as it did, if not for the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing programs, the share of the U.S. national debt held by foreign entities would have increased to 41.7%, with the bulk of the foreign acquisitions going to China.
As it stands, a little over 1 out of every 3 dollars borrowed by the U.S. federal government is now owned by foreign interests.
Compared to its previous record, we see that the Fed has now surpassed its previous record from December 2011 for the amount of U.S. government-issued debt that it holds by more than ten billion dollars.
At present, the second largest non-U.S. government agency holder of the United States’ public debt is China, or rather, Chinese individuals and institutions, who hold 8.1% of the total amount of the total U.S. public debt outstanding.