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.