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Economy in Brief

Treasury TIC Data Shows Strong Investment Flows into US, but Also Sizable Outflows Abroad by US Investors
by Carol Stone November 16, 2006

The US Treasury today reported its "TIC" data for September. Besides the usual monthly flows of security purchases, there is a new compilation of summary data on short-term liabilities and on return of capital to foreign investors through such vehicles as stock swaps and repayments of principal on mortgage-backed securities. The new table is called "TIC Monthly Reports on Cross-Border Financial Flows".

The flows themselves are large, but relatively unsurprising, given the size and direction of world trade. Foreign investors continue to buy domestic US securities in size, totaling $88.0 billion in September and the same average over the past year. This year, though, they have reduced their purchases of Treasuries and increased their participation in agencies ("GSEs") and corporate bonds. The trend in purchases of corporate equities remains far smaller than other assets, but considerably larger than anytime in the past five years -- since the "dot.com" bust.

We often argue that the capital accounts do not exist simply to "finance the trade deficit". People make investment decisions based on their assessments of relative return in its own right. So we note with interest that in addition to the outflows of funds associated with the current account deficit, there are capital outflows as US investors participate in foreign financial markets. In September this amounted to nearly $23 billion and has averaged $15 billion over the past 12 months, an unprecedented amount.

Further, as the Treasury's new summary table shows, "other acquisition of long-term securities" is responsible for net capital outflows of about $12.0 billion monthly. These data have long been available, but hidden far down in the tables. This move by the Treasury to put them in a main table highlights the growing importance of these flows -- mortgage prepayments and swaps. In another helpful action, the Treasury has also summarized the detailed bank-reported data on Treasury bills and custody holdings. These perhaps can be seen as transactions that help put the "balance of payments" in balance. And they are volatile; for instance, they generated inflows of almost $30 billion in July, but outflows of nearly $11 billion in September. Over the last 12 months, net foreign acquisition of these short-term assets has averaged $9.2 billion, but there were net foreign liquidations in 2005 of almost $4 billion a month.

In a final new item, "Monthly Net TIC Flows", the sum of the Treasury's data shows that foreign investors have invested about $75 billion a month over the last year, up from $55.6 billion in 2005 but less than the $81.6 billion in 2004. These flows omit direct investment and other banking and non-banking instruments, so they are not a complete balance of payments set, but they are strong indicators of investor interest in both US and international capital markets.

Monthly Average
Net Foreign Pur chases from US Residents, Bil $ Sept 2006 Aug 2006 July 2006
Last 12 Months 2005 2004 2003
1. Domestic Securities 88.0 117.2 54.5 88.0 84.2 76.4 60.0
   Treasuries -0.4 44.3 6.2 17.8 28.2 29.3 22.0
   Agencies 26.0 31.4 18.6 23.4 18.3 18.9 13.0
   Corporate Bonds 52.7 37.0 19.1 37.5 31.0 25.8 22.1
   Equities 9.6 4.4 10.4 9.2 6.7 2.4 2.9
2. Foreign Securities -22.9 -2.7 -21.8 -15.2 -14.4 -12.7 -4.7
3. "Other Acquisition"* -11.9 -11.1 -14.5 -12.0 -11.7 -3.2 -11.6
4. Net Foreign Acquisition (1+2+3) 53.2 103.3 18.3 60.8 58.2 60.4 43.7
5. Short-Term Liabilities -10.8 9.6 29.7 9.2 -3.9 15.8 1.3
6. Total TIC Flows**  53.7 97.1 53.9 75.4 55.6 81.6 60.0
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