Infographic: The Countries That Own the Most U.S. Debt
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Which Countries Own the Most U.S. Debt?

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Foreign Countries Holding the Most U.S. Debt

The Foreign Countries Holding the Most U.S. Debt

In the international finance system, U.S. debt can be bought and held by virtually anyone.

In fact, if you hold a U.S. Treasury bond or a T-Bill in your portfolio right now, you are already a creditor to the United States government.

And as you can see in today’s chart from HowMuch.net, foreign countries like China and Japan can also accumulate large positions in U.S. Treasurys, making them significant players in the overall United States debt pie.

U.S. Debt: The Big Picture

The United States federal debt currently sits at $22 trillion, and it’s held by a range of domestic and foreign investors.

EntityDebt HoldingsShare of Total
U.S. Government and Federal Reserve$8.1 trillion36.8%
Foreign and international$6.3 trillion28.5%
Mutual funds$2.06 trillion9.4%
Pension funds$0.92 trillion4.2%
Banks$0.77 trillion3.5%
State and local governments$0.69 trillion3.1%
Other investors$3.18 trillion14.5%
Total$21.97 trillion100.0%

As you can see, about $8.1 trillion of debt is held by departments of the U.S. government or the Federal Reserve. This number would include securities sitting in retirement accounts of federal employees, social security trust funds, or any of the Treasurys sitting on the Fed’s balance sheet.

Next, another $7.6 trillion of debt is held by domestic investors. These are marketable securities held by banks, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, and other investors.

While debt held domestically is mostly uninteresting, a bigger question mark is the $6.3 trillion of debt that is owned by foreign countries. After all, couldn’t a country like China “weaponize” its large holdings of Treasury securities as a form of retaliation in the ongoing trade war?

Foreign Owners of the Debt

Internationally, the biggest owners of debt include China and Japan, each with over $1 trillion.

RankCountryU.S. Debt HoldingsPercentage of Foreign U.S. Debt Held (%)
#1🇨🇳 China$1.11 trillion17.3%
#2🇯🇵 Japan$1.06 trillion16.5%
#3🇧🇷 Brazil$307 billion4.8%
#4🇬🇧 United Kingdom$301 billion4.7%
#5🇮🇪 Ireland$270 billion4.2%
#6🇨🇭 Switzerland$227 billion3.5%
#7🇱🇺 Luxembourg$224 billion3.5%
#8🇰🇾 Cayman Islands$217 billion3.4%
#9🇭🇰 Hong Kong$206 billion3.2%
#10🇧🇪 Belgium$180 billion2.8%
#11🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$177 billion2.8%
#12🇹🇼 Taiwan$171 billion2.7%

Why does China hold so much of the foreign-owned U.S. debt?

China has accumulated Treasury securities over decades, as part of its strategy to keep its domestic currency from strengthening. Interestingly, the export-heavy nation has reduced its swath of Treasurys in recent months, selling off close to $200 billion of them.

Treasury Holdings China vs. Japan

Although China has $1.11 trillion of Treasurys left in reserve, the general consensus is that dumping all of them at once would destabilize the global financial system, having an equally negative effect on China as well.

That said, with foreign nations holding U.S. debt, such a risk will always exist.

Gimme Shelter

While it’s not surprising to see countries like China, Japan, or Brazil on the list of top foreign debt holders, what are places like the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, or Ireland doing on the list?

Two simple facts help to explain these anomalies.

Firstly, despite having a population of just 60,000 people, the Cayman Islands is a hedge fund capital with over 10,000 funds domiciled there. Luxembourg makes the list for similar reasons, given that it is the European-based tax shelter equivalent.

Ireland, on the other hand, is the overseas headquarters for many U.S.-based tech giants like Facebook or Alphabet. Apparently, these corporations like to hold their overseas profits in highly-liquid Treasurys, rather than paying a repatriation tax to bring the cash back to American soil.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)

Energy fuels led the way as commodity prices surged in 2021, with only precious metals providing negative returns.

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commodity returns 2021 preview

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)

For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.

The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.

This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.

Commodity Prices Surge in 2021

After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.

The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.

Commodity2021 Returns
Coal160.61%
Crude Oil55.01%
Gas46.91%
Aluminum42.18%
Zinc31.53%
Nickel26.14%
Copper25.70%
Corn22.57%
Wheat20.34%
Lead18.32%
Gold-3.64%
Platinum-9.64%
Silver-11.72%
Palladium-22.21%

Source: U.S. Global Investors

The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.

Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.

Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens

The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.

After crude oil’s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.

Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europe’s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.

Energy commodity returns 2021

Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021’s best commodity.

High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.

Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals

2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.

Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last year’s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investors’ attention.

Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.

Metals price performance 2021

On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.

Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.

Grains Bring Steady Gains

In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.

Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021’s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.

Grains price performance 2021

As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fed’s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.

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Technology

Apple’s Colossal Market Cap as it Hits $3 Trillion

Apple’s market cap recently hit $3 trillion. To put that scale into context, this visualization compares Apple to European indexes.

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apple 3 trillion market cap

Apple’s Colossal Market Cap in Context

In January of 2019, Apple’s market capitalization stood at $700 billion.

While this was perceived as a colossal figure at the time, when we fast forward to today, that valuation seems a lot more modest. Since then, Apple has surged to touch a $3 trillion valuation on January 3rd, 2022.

To gauge just how monstrous of a figure this is, consider that Apple is no longer comparable to just companies, but to countries and even entire stock indexes. This animation from James Eagle ranks the growth in Apple’s market cap alongside top indexes from the UK, France, and Germany.

Let’s take a closer look.

Apple Takes On Europe

The three indexes Apple is compared to are heavyweights in their own right.

The FTSE 100 consists of giants like HSBC and vaccine producer AstraZeneca, while the CAC 40 Index is home to LVMH, which made Bernard Arnault the richest man in the world for a period of time last year.

Nonetheless, Apple’s market cap exceeds that of the 100 companies in the FTSE, as well as the 40 in each of the CAC and DAX indexes.

Stock/IndexMarket Cap ($T)Country of Origin
Apple$3.00T🇺🇸
FTSE 100$2.90T🇬🇧
CAC 40 Index$2.76T🇫🇷
DAX 40 (Dax 30) Index*$2.50T🇩🇪

*Germany’s flagship DAX Index expanded from 30 to 40 constituents in September 2021.

It’s important to note, that while Apple’s growth is stellar, European companies have simultaneously seen a decline in their share of the overall global stock market, which helps make these comparisons even more eye-catching.

For example, before 2005, publicly-traded European companies represented almost 30% of global stock market capitalization, but those figures have been cut in half to just 15% today.

Here are some other approaches to measure Apple’s dominance.

Apple’s Revenue Per Minute vs Other Tech Giants

Stepping away from market capitalization, another unique way to measure Apple’s success is in how much sales they generate on a per minute basis. In doing so, we see that they generate a massive $848,090 per minute.

Here’s how Apple revenue per minute compares to other Big Tech giants:

CompanyRevenue Per Minute
Amazon$955,517
Apple$848,090
Alphabet (Google)$433,014
Microsoft$327,823
Facebook$213,628
Tesla$81,766
Netflix$50,566

Furthermore, Apple’s profits aren’t too shabby either: their $20.5 billion in net income last quarter equates to $156,000 in profits per minute.

How Apple Compares To Countries

Lastly, we can compare Apple’s market cap to the GDP of countries.

Country (excluding Apple)Total Value ($T)
Apple$3.0T
Italy$2.0T
Brazil$1.8T
Canada$1.7T
Russia$1.7T
South Korea$1.6T
Australia$1.4T
Spain$1.4T
Mexico$1.3T
Indonesia$1.1T

What might be most impressive here is that Apple’s market cap eclipses the GDP of major developed economies, such as Canada and Australia. That means the company is more valuable than the entire economic production of these countries in a calendar year.

That’s some serious scale.

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