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Reports say China may slow US Treasury purchases, trade tensions cited

11 January 2018, 09:27 | Austin Hogan

Reports say China may slow US Treasury purchases, trade tensions cited

Man walks past an electronic screen displaying the Nikkei share average in Tokyo

The three major indexes on Wall Street snapped a six-session rally on Wednesday as investors grew jittery after Bloomberg reported that China, the world's biggest foreign holder of US Treasuries, could slow or halt US government bond purchases.

Officials in Beijing reviewing the nation's foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of US Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. 10-year yield rose to 2.56 percent on Wednesday, hitting levels not seen since last March.

"If the reports turn out to be true and China no longer sees Treasuries as an attractive option, the repercussions could be significant as the country is one of the biggest holders of US debt", Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA in London, said in a note. Trade tensions between the world's two largest economies was also cited as a possible reason why China is thinking about reducing its US holdings, according to Bloomberg.

"While U.S. -China tensions are rising, it is very unlikely that China would slow its purchases of U.S. Treasuries to warn the Trump administration against aggressive trade measures", analysts for the political risk consultancy, including Asia Director Michael Hirson and Global Strategy Director Karthik Sankaran, wrote in a note Thursday.

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"You already had this backdrop of rising rates and people are getting nervous", says Boris Rjavinski, senior interest rate strategist at Wells Fargo Securities in NY. The officials recommended that the nation closely watch factors such as the outlook for supply of USA government debt, along with political developments including trade disputes between the world's two biggest economies when deciding whether to cut some Treasury holdings, the people said.

China, which owns more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt, could cause America's interest rates to increase dramatically and bond prices to collapse if it follows through on that threat. The rate on comparable bunds was one basis point higher at 0.53 per cent.

The fear is that, at a time when the Federal Reserve has started reducing its holdings of US debt (coupled with news that Japan is reducing its Treasury purchases and China might follow suit), there will be less demand for USA debt. "Treasury financing needs are going to rise significantly in 2018 and beyond relative to recent history, so Treasury is going to be looking for as many sources of demand as they can find".

"The dollar was already notably weak ahead of today, despite the fact that USA data remained strong and yields continued to rise", said Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management in NY.



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