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Foreign holdings of US Debt

Foreigners have picked up an appetite for US debt. Non-financial foreign companies have borrowed over $9T in US dollars. Much of this money has been borrowed by emerging markets, especially those like Brazil South Africa and Turkey who use dollars to finance their current-account gaps. Because interest rates are so low those holding US dollars have sought out markets where they can hope to make a better return. But debts taken on in dollars must be paid back in dollars and many such foreign firms have meager dollar earnings. Asian firms seem in a better position to repay their US denominated debt because their percentage of debt matches up with their dollar earnings. China is the big exception; it holds large US debt and it is concentrated at several large debtors. Were there defaults, large issues are unlikely, because the banks that have made the loans have received better regulation than in the past.



Source: The mighty dollar: Feeling green


  1. HeeJu HeeJu

    Which Asian countries and firms do you have in mind that seem to be in a better position to repay their dollar denominated debt? In this post, you exempt China for its large U.S debt. As we discussed in class this week, Japan may be also ruled out due to their crippling national debt. Southeast Asian countries may be still struggling from the shadow of 1997 Meltdown.

  2. See Keifer’s earlier post and comments thereon.

    As to China, my sense is that their cross-bordering borrowing is not that great (and the Chinese RMB has not depreciated relative to the dollar). Japan also has record-low interest rates, even lower than in the US, so there’s no incentive to borrow in dollars only to then convert the proceeds into yen. Data may however make it hard to differentiate between a Japanese firm that borrows in the US to finance US operations (Toyota) from a firm that borrows in the US, has US operations, but wants to use the cash elsewhere, thereby incurring exchange rate risk.

  3. winn winn

    I thought it was interesting that the Brazilian companies that took on U.S. debt were largely in the sugar industry. I wonder what the explanation for this is. Could one firm gained advantage after successfully paying off this type of debt (and therefore increasing profits), inducing other firms in the market to follow suit? Would the competition in Brazil’s sugar industry be that competitive?

    • The only Brazilian firm I saw mentioned in the article is Petrobras. Except on a regional basis, sugar is not dominant in Brazil — while natural resources and agriculture are important, it is a large, diversified economy.

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