Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt?
Which Countries Hold the Most U.S. Debt in 2022?
Today, America owes foreign investors of its national debt $7.3 trillion.
These are in the form of Treasury securities, some of the most liquid assets worldwide. Central banks use them for foreign exchange reserves and private investors flock to them during flights to safety thanks to their perceived low default risk.
Beyond these reasons, foreign investors may buy Treasuries as a store of value. They are often used as collateral during certain international trade transactions, or countries can use them to help manage exchange rate policy. For example, countries may buy Treasuries to protect their currency’s exchange rate from speculation.
In the above graphic, we show the foreign holders of the U.S. national debt using data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Top Foreign Holders of U.S. Debt
With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.
Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.
This bond offloading by China is the one way the country can manage the yuan’s exchange rate. This is because if it sells dollars, it can buy the yuan when the currency falls. At the same time, China doesn’t solely use the dollar to manage its currency—it now uses a basket of currencies.
Here are the countries that hold the most U.S. debt:
|Rank||Country||U.S. Treasury Holdings||Share of Total|
|3||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$655B||8.9%|
|6||🇰🇾 Cayman Islands||$284B||3.9%|
|11||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$221B||3.0%|
|16||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$120B||1.6%|
|17||🇰🇷 South Korea||$103B||1.4%|
As the above table shows, the United Kingdom is the third highest holder, at over $655 billion in Treasuries. Across Europe, 13 countries are notable holders of these securities, the highest in any region, followed by Asia-Pacific at 11 different holders.
A handful of small nations own a surprising amount of U.S. debt. With a population of 70,000, the Cayman Islands own a towering amount of Treasury bonds to the tune of $284 billion. There are more hedge funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands per capita than any other nation worldwide.
In fact, the four smallest nations in the visualization above—Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, and Luxembourg—have a combined population of just 1.2 million people, but own a staggering $741 billion in Treasuries.
Interest Rates and Treasury Market Dynamics
Over 2022, foreign demand for Treasuries sank 6% as higher interest rates and a strong U.S. dollar made owning these bonds less profitable.
This is because rising interest rates on U.S. debt makes the present value of their future income payments lower. Meanwhile, their prices also fall.
As the chart below shows, this drop in demand is a sharp reversal from 2018-2020, when demand jumped as interest rates hovered at historic lows. A similar trend took place in the decade after the 2008-09 financial crisis when U.S. debt holdings effectively tripled from $2 to $6 trillion.
Driving this trend was China’s rapid purchase of Treasuries, which ballooned from $100 billion in 2002 to a peak of $1.3 trillion in 2013. As the country’s exports and output expanded, it sold yuan and bought dollars to help alleviate exchange rate pressure on its currency.
Fast-forward to today, and global interest-rate uncertainty—which in turn can impact national currency valuations and therefore demand for Treasuries—continues to be a factor impacting the future direction of foreign U.S. debt holdings.
Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country
Global house prices were resilient in 2022, rising 6%. We compare nominal and real price growth by country as interest rates surged.
Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country
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Global housing prices rose an average of 6% annually, between Q4 2021 and Q4 2022.
In real terms that take inflation into account, prices actually fell 2% for the first decline in 12 years. Despite a surge in interest rates and mortgage costs, housing markets were noticeably stable. Real prices remain 7% above pre-pandemic levels.
In this graphic, we show the change in residential property prices with data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).
The Growth in House Prices, Ranked
The following dataset from the BIS covers nominal and real house price growth across 58 countries and regions as of the fourth quarter of 2022:
|4||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||20.6||1.0|
|15||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||10.0||-0.7|
|16||🇸🇰 Slovak Republic||9.7||-4.8|
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
|26||🇺🇸 United States||7.1||0.0|
|40||🇿🇦 South Africa||3.1||-4.0|
|47||🇰🇷 South Korea||-0.1||-5.0|
|57||🇳🇿 New Zealand||-10.4||-16.5|
|58||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||-13.5||-15.1|
Türkiye’s property prices jumped the highest globally, at nearly 168% amid soaring inflation.
Real estate demand has increased alongside declining interest rates. The government drastically cut interest rates from 19% in late 2021 to 8.5% to support a weakening economy.
Many European countries saw some of the highest price growth in nominal terms. A strong labor market and low interest rates pushed up prices, even as mortgage rates broadly doubled across the continent. For real price growth, most countries were in negative territory—notably Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.
Nominal U.S. housing prices grew just over 7%, while real price growth halted to 0%. Prices have remained elevated given the stubbornly low supply of inventory. In fact, residential prices remain 45% above pre-pandemic levels.
How Do Interest Rates Impact Property Markets?
Global house prices boomed during the pandemic as central banks cut interest rates to prop up economies.
Now, rates have returned to levels last seen before the Global Financial Crisis. On average, rates have increased four percentage points in many major economies. Roughly three-quarters of the countries in the BIS dataset witnessed negative year-over-year real house price growth as of the fourth quarter of 2022.
Interest rates have a large impact on property prices. Cross-country evidence shows that for every one percentage point increase in real interest rates, the growth rate of housing prices tends to fall by about two percentage points.
When Will Housing Prices Fall?
The rise in U.S. interest rates has been counteracted by homeowners being reluctant to sell so they can keep their low mortgage rates. As a result, it is keeping inventory low and prices high. Homeowners can’t sell and keep their low mortgage rates unless they meet strict conditions on a new property.
Additionally, several other factors impact price dynamics. Construction costs, income growth, labor shortages, and population growth all play a role.
With a strong labor market continuing through 2023, stable incomes may help stave off prices from falling. On the other hand, buyers with floating-rate mortgages face steeper costs and may be unable to afford new rates. This could increase housing supply in the market, potentially leading to lower prices.
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