China has dropped 97 percent of its holdings
in U.S. Treasury bills, decreasing its ownership of the short-term U.S. government securities
from a peak of $210.4 billion in May 2009 to $5.69 billion in March 2011, the most recent month reported by the U.S. Treasury.
Until October, the Chinese were generally making up for their decreasing holdings in Treasury bills by increasing their holdings of longer-term U.S. Treasury securities
. Thus, until October, China’s overall holdings of U.S. debt continued to increase.
Since October, however, China has also started to divest from longer-term U.S. Treasury securities. Thus, as reported by the Treasury Department, China’s ownership of the U.S. national debt has decreased in each of the last five months on record, including November, December, January, February and March. [but only by about 2%]
Most of the U.S. national debt is made up of publicly marketable securities sold by the Treasury Department and I.O.U.s called “intragovernmental” bonds that the Treasury has given to so-called government trust funds—such as the Social Security trust funds—when it has spent the trust funds’ money on other government expenses.
The publicly marketable segment of the national debt includes Treasury bills
, which (as defined by the Treasury) mature in terms of one-year or less; Treasury notes
, which mature in terms of 2 to 10 years; Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS),
which mature in terms of 5, 10 and 30 years; and Treasury bonds
, which mature in terms of 30 years.
At the end of August 2008, before the financial bailout and the stimulus, the publicly marketable segment of the U.S. national debt was 4.88 trillion. Of that, $1.22 trillion was in short-term Treasury bills, $2.56 trillion was in the intermediate-term Treasury notes, $521.3 billion was in TIPS, and $582.8 billion was in long-term Treasury bonds.
At the end of March 2011
, by which time the Chinese had dropped their Treasury bill holdings 97 percent from their peak, the publicly marketable segment of the U.S. national debt had almost doubled from August 2008, hitting $9.11 trillion. Of that $9.11 trillion, $1.7 trillion was in short-term Treasury bills, $5.8 trillion was in intermediate-term Treasury notes, $640.7 billion was in TIPS, and $931.5 billion was in long-term Treasury bonds
Before the end of March 2012, the Treasury must redeem all of the $1.7 trillion in Treasury bills that were extant as of March 2011 and find new or old buyers who will continue to invest in U.S. debt. But, for now, the Chinese at least do not appear to be bullish customers of short-term U.S. debt.