The Treasury Department has released a breakdown of Saudi Arabia’s holdings of U.S. debt, after keeping the figures secret for more than four decades. The stockpile of the world’s biggest oil exporter stood at $116.8 billion as of March, down almost 6 percent from a record in January, according to data the Treasury disclosed Monday in response to a Freedom-of-Information Act request. The tally ranks Saudi Arabia among the top dozen foreign nations in terms of holdings of U.S. debt, and compares with China’s $1.3 trillion trove, and $1.1 trillion for Japan.Yet the disclosure may bring more questions than answers, because Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves amount to $587 billion, and central banks typically put about two-thirds of their coffers in dollars, according to International Monetary Fund data. Some nations accumulate Treasuries in offshore financial centers, meaning the holdings show up under the data of other countries. For example, Belgium, which held $143 billion of U.S. government debt as of February, is home to Chinese custodial accounts, analysts say.“As we look at official and central bank and investment holdings of Treasuries around the world, we’ve seen a lot of fluctuations, we’ve seen a gradual erosion of positions that have been held for some time,” said Jim Vogel, head of interest-rate strategy at FTN Financial in Memphis, Tennessee. The impact of those reductions has been mitigated by purchases by overseas private investors, he said.
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