China now owns $1.16 trillion of U.S. debt

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CBS/AP
(AP) WASHINGTON - China, the biggest buyer of U.S. Treasury securities, owns a lot more than previously estimated.

In an annual revision of the figures, the Treasury Department said Monday that China's holdings totaled $1.16 trillion at the end of December. That was an increase of 30 percent from an estimate the government made two weeks ago.

The government made the change to its monthly report based on more accurate information it obtains in an annual survey. That survey more does a better job of determining the actual owners of Treasury securities.

China was firmly in the top spot as the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt even before the revisions. But the big increase in Chinese holdings could ease fears that Chinese investors might begin dumping their U.S. holdings. Such a development could send U.S. interest rates rising. That would slow America's economic recovery and increase Washington's costs for financing the $14.3 trillion national debt.

China and Britain were the countries with the biggest revisions in the new report.

The amount of U.S. Treasury securities held by Britain fell to $272.1 billion in the new report. That's a drop of $269.2 billion from the last monthly report which put the Britain's holdings of U.S. debt at $541.3 billion. The holdings of the two countries often show big revisions when the annual report is released.

The reason for the change is that Chinese investors who purchase their Treasury securities in London are often counted as British investors. The more detailed annual report does a better job of tracking the countries in which investors reside as opposed to the location where investors make their purchases.

Even with the revision, Britain remained the third largest holder of U.S. Treasurys.

Japan had the second highest foreign holdings, totaling $882.3 billion at the end of December. The revision was only slightly below the original estimate.

The total foreign holdings of Treasury debt stood at $4.44 trillion at the end of December, according to the new report. That's up 1.5 percent from the estimate made two weeks ago. About two-thirds of U.S. Treasurys owned overseas are held by foreign governments and central banks.

The U.S. government is selling huge amounts of debt to finance record-high budget deficits. The Obama administration in its new budget released on Feb. 14 projected that this year's deficit will reach a record $1.65 trillion. It would be the third consecutive year the federal deficit has exceeded $1 trillion.

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