What happens when gradual dis-hoarding turns into an all-out fire sale?
For the past year, Chinese selling of Treasuries has vexed investors and served as a gauge of the health of the world’s second-largest economy.
The People’s Bank of China, owner of the world’s biggest foreign-exchange reserves, burnt through 20 percent of its war chest since 2014, dumping about $250 billion of U.S. government debt and using the funds to support the yuan and stem capital outflows.
While China’s sales of Treasuries have slowed, its holdings of U.S. equities are now showing steep declines.
The nation’s stash of American stocks sank about $126 billion, or 38 percent, from the end of July through March, to $201 billion, Treasury Department data show. That far outpaces selling by investors globally in that span — total foreign ownership fell just 9 percent. Meanwhile, China’s U.S. government-bond stockpile was relatively stable, dropping roughly $26 billion, or just 2 percent.
“China’s U.S. portfolio doesn’t just consist of Treasuries,” said Brad Setser, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “To gauge China’s activity in the market it’s increasingly important to look beyond the Treasury market.”