Before we begin, it’s important to understand that countries don’t owe money to each other directly, but rather through buying and selling government bonds.
When a country buys U.S. government bonds, it’s essentially lending money to the U.S.
The following list, sourced from the U.S. Department of the Treasury as of September 2021, details the top 10 foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities, colloquially known as the countries that “owe” the U.S. money.
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As of September 2021, Japan holds the top spot. They own more than $1.3 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. Japan’s substantial holdings are a result of its export-heavy economy and a trade surplus with the U.S.
What’s good: This shows a strong economic relationship between Japan and the U.S.
Concerns: Any major change in Japan’s economy or U.S.-Japan relations could impact these holdings.
China, once the largest foreign creditor of the U.S., now holds just over $1 trillion. China’s holdings have been decreasing in recent years due to economic and political factors.
What’s good: Large holdings indicate strong economic ties.
Concerns: Recent tensions have led to worries about China selling off its holdings.
3. United Kingdom
The U.K. holds about $445 billion in U.S. Treasury securities. These holdings are often used as a safe and secure investment.
What’s good: Indicates a strong economic partnership between the U.K. and the U.S.
Concerns: Brexit and other factors could affect the U.K.’s holdings in the future.
Despite its small size, Ireland holds a significant amount of U.S. Treasury securities — about $335 billion. This can be attributed to Ireland’s attractive corporate tax rates and the presence of multinational corporations.
What’s good: Shows the globalized nature of finance.
Concerns: Changes in Ireland’s tax laws could impact future holdings.
Luxembourg, another small European country, holds approximately $278 billion. Like Ireland, Luxembourg is a major hub for international finance.
What’s good: Further indication of the global nature of finance.
Concerns: Political changes in Europe could affect Luxembourg’s future holdings.
Brazil holds about $258 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, making it the largest holder in Latin America.
What’s good: Indicates a strong economic connection between Brazil and the U.S.
Concerns: Brazil’s sometimes volatile economy could impact these holdings.
Switzerland, home to numerous international financial institutions, holds around $249 billion.
What’s good: Indicates the strong standing of U.S. securities in the global market.
Concerns: Global financial instability could affect these holdings.
8. Hong Kong
Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, holds about $245 billion in U.S. Treasury securities.
What’s good: Highlights the importance of U.S. Treasury securities in the global financial system.
Concerns: Political changes in Hong Kong could affect these holdings.
9. Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands, a major center for global finance, holds about $208 billion in U.S. Treasury securities.
What’s good: Demonstrates the global nature of finance.
Concerns: Changes in global finance regulations could impact these holdings.
Rounding out our list, Belgium holds approximately $192 billion in U.S. Treasury securities.
What’s good: Further shows the international confidence in U.S. government bonds.
Concerns: European political or economic changes could affect these holdings.
Remember, these figures change regularly as countries buy and sell U.S. Treasury securities. For the most up-to-date figures, visit the U.S. Department of the Treasury website.
When analyzing these countries, it’s essential to consider not just their current holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, but also the broader political, economic, and strategic contexts that underlie these holdings.
Japan’s position as the largest holder of U.S. Treasury securities speaks to its robust trade relationship with the U.S. However, as Japan grapples with a slow-growing economy and an aging population, it could seek to diversify its holdings.
China’s decreased holdings are a cause for concern given the country’s increasing economic power and ongoing trade tensions with the U.S. Should these trends continue, it could have significant implications for the U.S. debt market and broader U.S.-China economic relations.
3. United Kingdom
The U.K. maintains a special relationship with the U.S., and its holdings reflect that. However, the implications of Brexit and its impact on the U.K.’s economy and international standing are areas to watch in the future.
Ireland’s high holdings are largely due to its low corporate tax rates, which attract multinational corporations. However, any changes to Ireland’s tax policies or broader European Union tax reforms could influence Ireland’s future holdings.
Like Ireland, Luxembourg’s holdings are significantly influenced by its status as a financial hub. Luxembourg’s continued appeal as a finance destination in a post-Brexit Europe will play a crucial role in shaping its holdings.
As the largest economy in Latin America, Brazil’s holdings underscore its economic ties with the U.S. But, with a history of economic volatility, Brazil’s future holdings could be subject to internal economic conditions.
Switzerland’s holdings reflect its status as a safe haven for international finance. Its continued ability to maintain political and economic stability will be vital to its ongoing role as a major holder.
8. Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s position is unique due to its status as a Special Administrative Region of China. The ongoing political issues in Hong Kong, coupled with mainland China’s influence, make its future holdings unpredictable.
9. Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands, known for being a tax haven, hold a significant amount of U.S. securities. Future global tax reforms aimed at cracking down on tax havens could affect the Cayman Islands’ status and holdings.
Belgium’s holdings reflect its stable economy and the broader economic health of the EU. The impact of European politics and economic policies on Belgium’s holdings will be something to watch closely.
In conclusion, the changing dynamics of these countries’ holdings of U.S. Treasury securities are influenced by a complex interplay of domestic and international factors. Given the interconnectedness of the global economy, changes in any of these countries could have a ripple effect on the others, making this an important area to watch.