With the December monthly TIC data due out this week, bond traders will be closely watching if the selling of US Treasuries by foreign accounts, and especially central banks, which as we have repeatedly shown for the past several months has hit record levels…
However, this time the surprise may not be China, but its nemesis across the East China Sea, Japan.
As UBS notes, Japanese investor appetite for developed market overseas bonds, and especially US, was a big story during the first seven months of 2016. However, since then interest has waned. Weekly flow data underscores how Japanese investors sold ~¥4 trillion of overseas bonds from the time of the US presidential election to the end of Jan-17. Last week the Japanese government released more granular data for the month of December which highlights a number of notable developments.
Most importantly, while December saw the largest overall net selling flow of overseas bonds since Jun-15, this was entirely due to offloading of US Treasuries – other developed bond markets on aggregate actually saw modest net purchases. Indeed, while Japanese investors bought German and Australian paper, US Treasuries were sold to the tune of ~¥2.4 trillion (~$21bn) in December, the largest net selling flow since May-13.
While last month (i.e. data for November) there were several factors that supported a rebound in Japanese investor demand for overseas debt (e.g., calmer market conditions, higher overseas FX-hedged yields, and supportive seasonality in Q1, a Trump honeymoon that was still in its early stages), so far there is little evidence of any bounce back in December, when yields surged across the curve, spurring widespread sales. Reuters and Bloomberg interviews with Japanese investors suggest that US political concerns and the potential for further Fed hikes are weighing on demand. Still, the potential for reallocation flows should not be overlooked, as highlighted by today’s data.
The selling has been so acute that after ignoring it for months (we first noted the record sales last September), the relentless selling has attracted the attention of Bloomberg which writes that “the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing — particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.”…… last quarter, Japanese investors who hedged all their dollar exposure in Treasuries suffered a 4.7 percent loss, the biggest in at least three decades, Bloomberg reports citing data from Bank of America showed. The same thing happened in Europe, where record currency-hedged losses also stung euro-based buyers.
“It was a deer in the headlights moment,” said Zoltan Pozsar, a research analyst at Credit Suisse.
While the yield pick up in recent weeks has made hedged positions profitable relative to JGBs once again, the Japanese are not rushing in.
Full article: “It Was A Deer In Headlights Moment”: Japan Dumps Most US Treasuries Since May 2013 (ZeroHedge)