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World Banks Panic Selling U.S. Treasuries

Wednesday May 18th, 2016   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:35am PDT   •  

the-impact-of-the-falling-yen-on-us-import-prices-imageWhat happens when a number of the world’s central banks begin selling off their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities—the money the U.S. federal government borrows to sustain its spending?

That’s a real question today because according to CNN, that’s exactly what three of the U.S. government’s largest lenders did in the first quarter of 2016:

China, Russia and Brazil sold off U.S. Treasury bonds as they tried to soften the blow of the global economic slowdown. They each sold off at least $1 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds in March.

In all, central banks sold a net $17 billion. Sales had hit a record $57 billion in January.

So far this year, the global bank debt dump has reached $123 billion.

It’s the fastest pace for a U.S. debt selloff by global central banks since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data published Monday afternoon.

The article goes on to explain their motive for selling off such large quantities of their U.S. Treasury holdings:

Judging by the selloff, policymakers across the globe were hitting the panic button often and early in the year as oil prices fell, concerns about China’s economy rose and stock markets were very volatile.

In response, countries may be selling Treasuries to prop up their currencies, some of which lost lots of value against the dollar last year. By selling U.S. debt, central banks can get hard cash to buy up their local currency and prevent it from losing too much value.

The U.S. government gets one major benefit from having the world in financial turmoil—the same panic that prompted foreign central banks to sell their U.S. Treasury holdings to prop up their currencies also prompted large numbers of U.S.-based individuals and institutions to buy more U.S. Treasuries, which pushed down their yields, which means that the U.S. government can borrow more money at lower interest rates to sustain its spending, as the following chart from Bloomberg illustrates. Note the more-than-20% sustained decline beginning in January 2016:

Bloomberg: USGG10YR.IND - 10 Year U.S. Treasury - Beginning 2015-05-17 - Ending-2016-05-17

Because the U.S. government realizes this kind of benefit, it has a very strong incentive to continue to promote instability elsewhere in the world so long as it continues to sustain its deficit spending at elevated levels, as illustrated by the following chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget from January 2016.


All of which would go a long way toward explaining the Obama administration’s active pursuit of a multitude of half measures in response to various developing global crises.

Featured Image:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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May 2016