China cuts Treasury holding to fund foreign deals
Please don’t call it a liquidity crunch, but it rather looks as though China might have had to sell a sliver of its vast hoard of U.S. Treasury paper to fund its private sector’s big overseas foray.
China’s holding passed $800 billion in May, sparking speculation that it could reach $1 trillion within a year, but the net June figure, published on Monday, showed a 3.1 percent drop to $776.4 billion, the biggest percentage fall in nearly nine years.
It’s clear that China has been keen to use more of its reserves to secure strategic resources supply overseas, as well as diversifying them into emerging markets such as Africa to help create demand for Chinese exports. The unwinding of global imbalances also means China might have fewer dollars to invest, as its July trade surplus more than halved from a year earlier.
In the past, almost all outflows from China come from the government, which by default put the money into U.S. Treasuries. But now the private sector needs more foreign currency.
Just this month, China’s Yanzhou Coal Mining agreed to buy Australian coal miner Felix Resources for $2.9 billion, and Sinochem Corp. spent $878 million buying British oil and gas explorer Emerald Energy.
The government itself also seems to be getting more adventurous. Its $200 billion sovereign fund finished 2008 with almost 90 percent of its assets in cash, but is determined to put more money to work this year.
This week Reuters reported that the fund will soon invest up to $2 billion in U.S. mortgages as it eyes a property market rebound, and last week Reuters revealed the fund’s talks on a $1 billion-plus convertible bond investment in Fortescue Metals Group.
Not all the June sales of U.S. Treasuries were turned into cash. Half the sales of $51.8 billion short-dated debt were rotated into longer-dated maturities, indicating that Beijing now cares more about yield and worries less about the safety of its investment, reversing an earlier trend of reducing the average life of the holdings.
These monthly reports do not tell the whole story, because they exclude trades through London intermediaries. The more accurate numbers are not revealed until February, in the annual survey. Even so, China appears keen to diversify away from U.S. Treasuries, and as the authorities allow more private sector investors access to dollars, this process will accelerate.
– At the time of publication Wei Gu did not own any direct investments in securities mentioned in this article. She may be an owner indirectly as an investor in a fund –