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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Brazil Treasury Purchases Jump to Record

From Bloomberg today:

Brazil Treasury Purchases Jump to Record

Brazil is purchasing more U.S. Treasury notes than ever as China, for three years the biggest buyer of American government debt, reduces its holdings.

Brazil's portfolio of Treasury securities increased $41.5 billion to a record $93.6 billion in the first half of 2007, Treasury data showed today. That left Brazil ranked fifth among international holders of U.S. debt in June, up from 10th at the end of 2006 and surpassing South Korea and Germany.

The unprecedented demand from Latin America's largest economy is offsetting a weaker appetite in China, which sold U.S. notes for a third month in June. Brazil will sop up more American debt in the short term as Banco Central do Brasil President Henrique Meirelles tries to restrain his country's currency amid a surge in investment, analysts said.

``I would expect the Brazilian central bank to continue intervening and to buy Treasuries,'' said Nuno Camara, an economist who covers Brazil for Dresdner Kleinwort in New York. ``Unlike some Asian central banks that are moving toward some diversification, Brazil can't really take on too much risk, so they put it in Treasuries.''

Brazil has almost doubled its foreign-exchange reserves so far this year to a record of almost $160 billion, from $85.8 billion at the end of 2006. The purchases aim to slow a 49 percent rally in the Brazilian real over the past three years, the biggest gain against the dollar of the 17 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Brazil didn't buy dollars yesterday for the first time since July and refrained again today. The real traded at 2.0295 per dollar at 3 p.m. in New York time, compared with 1.9853 yesterday.

Matching Liabilities

Brazil, the biggest debtor among developing nations, needs to concentrate its reserves buildup on dollar-denominated bonds because most of the country's government and corporate foreign liabilities are in the U.S. currency, said Emilio Garofalo, a former director at the central bank who now runs the investment consulting company EBS Capital in Sao Paulo.

``Brazil's choice of currency for the reserves was always based on future obligations, and that's the way it should be,'' said Garofalo, who managed the reserves for six years. ``Most of Brazil's debt sales have been in dollars.''

Beatriz Dornelles, a spokeswoman for the Brazilian central bank, said the monetary authority doesn't comment on its reserves strategy.

Biggest After China

China, the biggest foreign holder of Treasuries after Japan, sold a net $14.7 billion of U.S. government debt from April through June, the first time the country has sold Treasuries in three straight months since November 2000.

China, with total foreign exchange reserves of about $1.3 trillion, is seeking the prospect of higher returns by shifting some money from the relative safety of U.S. government debt into stocks and corporate bonds: The country bought a record $2.94 billion of U.S. stocks and a net $4.78 billion of corporate bonds in June, the Treasury data showed.

China has more leeway to buy assets denominated in other currencies because its reserves exceed its debt, Garofalo said. For Brazil, buying a bigger proportion of assets in other currencies, betting on bigger gains, would be speculation that the central bank shouldn't engage in, he said.

Swelling Debt

Brazil's total debt owed to creditors abroad -- including liabilities of companies and government -- rose to $182 billion at the end of June, from $157 billion a year earlier. The government's share of foreign debt has risen to $71.2 billion from $64.8 billion over the same period.

While Brazil likely will remain a buyer of Treasuries for at least another year, the country's investments are significant enough ease investors' concern that China will continue selling U.S. debt, said Marc Chandler, the global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York.

Brazil's share of all U.S. Treasuries held abroad in June rose to 4.2 percent, from 1.7 percent a year earlier. By comparison, China and Japan accounted for 46 percent of international holdings in June, down from 50 percent a year earlier, according to Treasury figures.

Brad Setser also ran a version of this story:

Almost all Brazilian purchases of US debt show up in the US data. Brazil bought $13b in long-term debt in June ($12.2b of Treasuries) and added $1.1b to its short-term holdings, for $14.1b in net inflows. In q2, Brazil – almost certainly Brazil’s central bank – bought $24.6 b of US long-term debt, and increased its short-term holdings by $2.4b, for a net inflow of $27b.

The net inflow in q2 though was a slightly smaller share of Brazil’s $37.6b reserve increase than in q1. In q1, net inflows from Brazil totaled $22.5b, almost equal to the $23.7b increase in Brazil’s reserves.

Nonetheless, one of the most stunning facts in the TIC data is that Brazil’s central bank provided far more financing to the US Treasury in the first half of 2007 – it bought $41.9b of US Treasury bonds – than the IMF provided Brazil in 2002-03. The IMF’s total lending to Brazil was only a bit more than $30b at its peak. I am always amazed by that particular data point. It drives home just how much the world has changed.

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