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Who’s buying Treasuries? Domestic vs. foreign ownernship of U.S. federal debt


As long as a government runs deficits, it has to find buyers for its bonds. In the years after the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve was a willing buyer of U.S. Treasury bonds. Since 2014, though, the Fed has put its buying spree on hold. So, somebody else must be taking up the slack. But who? The graph above addresses this question. Contrary to some reports, foreigners are not soaking up federal government debt. It seems to be domestic private investors, given that their holdings have continued increasing, while foreigners’ holdings have not. In terms of shares, as shown in the graph below, this becomes even clearer. It looks like the ownership of federal debt is actually shifting away from foreign investors toward domestic investors. (Take a look back at this FRED Blog post from May 2014.)

 

How these graphs were created: For the first, search for “federal debt held,” check the three series, and click on “Add to Graph.” For the second, start with the first: From the “Edit Graph” menu, open the panel for the line with the debt held by private investors, add to it the series with foreign debt holders, apply formula a-b, and restrict the dates to the past ten years. Finally, from the “Format Graph” tab, select graph type “Area” with stacking “Percent.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: FDHBFIN, FDHBFRBN, FDHBPIN


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