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Treasury data shows Russian holdings of US debt plunged 84% since March, but here's what it really means

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Treasury data shows Russian holdings of US debt plunged 84% since March, but here's what it really means
Issue Time:2018-07-30

The Russian government, previously considered a significant holder of U.S. debt, has been steadily — and sharply — paring down the vast majority of its holdings of U.S. Treasury securities.

Russian holdings of Treasury securities declined 84 percent between March and May, falling to $14.9 billion from $96.1 billion in just two months, according to a U.S. Treasury Department report released July 18.

Financial bloggers have pounced on the news as being potentially ominous, but a few analysts suspect the transactions are more closely related to Russia's sanctions-hit economy, and portfolio allocation.

Russia's ownership of U.S. debt is eclipsed by that of China and Japan, both of whom actively manage their currencies and hold more than $1 trillion each in Treasuries on their books. In fact, China's vast holdings have been cited by some observers as a "nuclear option" in a Sino-American trade war, with the world's largest economy seen vulnerable to Chinese selling that could drive up yields.

The country's moves in the Treasury market come amid a growing furor over Moscow's suspected meddling in the U.S. general election in 2016, which has led to sanctions on its economy. Russia's sell-off of U.S. debt in May also coincided with the benchmark 10-year Treasury note yield, which moves inversely to the note's price, briefly touching its highest level since 2011.

Though the 10-year yield has since retreated from levels above 3 percent, its movements have implications for other financial instruments like mortgages rates and auto loans, which are often based on its rate.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note has subsequently stabilized, trading at 2.958 percent.

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