Foreign investors still buying American

April 17, 2012

Overseas investors have yet to sour towards U.S. assets despite high government debt levels, according the latest figures on capital flows.

Including short-dated assets such as bills, foreigners snapped up $107.7 billion in U.S. securities in February, following a downwardly revised $3.1 billion inflow for January. At the same time, the United States attracted a net long-term capital inflow of just $10.1 billion in February after drawing an upwardly revised $102.4 billion in the first month of 2012.

The data showed China boosted purchases of U.S. government debt for a second month in February, but also some waning of demand for longer-dated securities.

Still, recurring fears that foreign investors might be scared off by high levels of U.S. debt have thus far proven overdone. Writes Millan Mulraine at TD Securities:

Overall, the massive foreign flow into U.S. assets in March suggests that US securities continue to enjoy healthy global appetite in time of fear (Treasuries) and times of hope (equities). The reallocation from Treasuries to shorter-term securities in February is broadly consistent with the risk-on tone that prevailed during the month, reversing the trend of the past few months, when concerns in Europe resulted in the flight to quality.

Even the downtrend in Treasuries may have been short-lived, said George Goncalves at Nomura, as evidence by the recent drop in benchmark 10-year yields to around 2 percent:

While the sell-off in Treasuries during March points to a possible reversal of foreign net buying from February, price action since the start of April suggests that the weakening in flight-to-quality flows may be temporary, in our view.

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