The US government owes trillions of dollars in debt to foreign entities, including governments, central banks, companies, and individual investors.
This debt includes US Treasury bonds and other securities, which are popular as they are considered safe investments.
Many nations buy US Treasury securities (also called “Treasurys”) because they are considered one of the safest investment options available.
How much US debt do foreign countries own?
As of January 2023, foreign countries own $7.4 trillion in Treasurys — or roughly 24% of total US debt. Over the past two decades, central banks and other government entities have owned 50-75% of foreign-owned debt. Independent investors and companies held the rest.
In 2000, $1.7 trillion or 18% of total debt was foreign-owned. This grew to $7.7 trillion in 2014, or 34% — the highest percentage in US history.
Early in the pandemic, foreign ownership of US debt fell as countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil sold their shares of US Treasurys for short-term capital. Though foreign countries resumed buying foreign debt by the end of 2020, total foreign-owned debt has fallen since.
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Which countries holdthe most US debt?
Over the past 20 years, Japan and China have owned more US Treasurys than any other foreign nation.
Between 2000 and 2022, Japan grew from owning $534 billion to just over $1 trillion, while China’s ownership grew from $101 billion to $855 billion.
As of January 2023, the five countries owning the most US debt are Japan ($1.1 trillion), China ($859 billion), the United Kingdom ($668 billion), Belgium ($331 billion), and Luxembourg ($318 billion).
Investors from Russia, China, and Indonesia had sharp drops in US Treasurys over the last several years due to sanctions and short-term capital needs, among other reasons.
Today, most foreign investors own more US debt than they did a decade ago.
What types of debt do foreign countries hold?
The US offers two main types of debt: public and intragovernmental. Public debt is sold as Treasury bonds, bills, and notes to outside investors, including foreign governments. It funds various government activities and pays off older debts. Intragovernmental debt, on the other hand, is what the government owes to its own programs, like Social Security, Medicare, retirement funds, and more.
Foreign governments primarily purchase public debt because it's marketable and can be resold. In contrast, intragovernmental debt is mainly controlled by the US government, and isn't traded on the open market.
Why do foreign countries buy US debt?
Foreign investors buy US Treasury securities because they're among the world's most secure assets.
The US government's commitment to timely debt repayment, especially during economic uncertainty, makes Treasuries a staple in many foreign monetary policies.
Holding a significant amount of US dollars can be advantageous because it is a widely accepted currency in international trade and transactions. Owning US Treasury securities can provide further benefits such as portfolio diversification, as well as a higher rate of return compared to other government bonds available worldwide