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What if China and Japan dump their US Treasuries?

TOKYO – The Japanese yen’s sharp decline may be producing an unexpected loser: the US Treasury Department.

One of the most intriguing mysteries of the last three months is this: Why is Japan, the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury securities, placing so many “sell” orders? In three months, Japanese institutional managers have dumped a cool $60 billion of US paper.

Granted, that is a drop in the proverbial bucket considering Tokyo holds a $1.3 trillion stack of Washington’s IOUs. But the magnitude of the selling is getting increasingly hard to ignore. 

The most plausible explanation is the yen’s 13% drop so far this year. That fall complicates the economics of loading up on US debt at a moment when US inflation is at 40-year highs. That’s despite the negligible 0.22% return investors receive on 10-year Japanese government bonds.