Russia Sold Off Almost All Holdings In US Securities Before Helsinki Meeting
Credit: Goat4421
July 29, 2018

I can't claim to understand fully the implications of this, but it does seem important to note:

The Russian government has sold off the vast majority of its holdings of US Treasury securities for reasons that remain mysterious, in a dramatic move that experts are calling unprecedented.

A US Treasury report released on July 18 shows that Russian holdings of Treasury securities declined by 84 per cent between March and May, down to just $14.9 billion from March holdings of $96.1 billion.

The report was issued quietly amid the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump's July 16 meeting with Russian President Valdimir Putin in Helsinki, dropping Russia from the list of major Treasuries holders without comment.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields saw a spike during mid-May to a seven-year high of 3.11 per cent, possibly indicating excess supply during the sell off. But yields quickly stabilized, indicating that any Russian bond dumping had little effect on the overall market or the US government's cost of borrowing.

Part of the reason it had little effect speaks to the economic strength of Russia on the global stage, which is relatively minor (and speaks to one of Putin's main motivations for destroying coalitions of the stronger US and EU.).

Now, one might assume that this liquidation prior to the Helsinki meeting would indicate some nervousness about anticipating stronger sanctions and being unable to access the funds. But come on, this is Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meeting without any other officials. Putin can't possibly be worried that his puppet is going to be "tough" on him. If anything, they've indicated they're prepared to go much, much lighter.


Journalist Julia Davis, who specializes in Russian news, has a few thoughts on why this is happening.

Others have speculated that this is a warning that they plan to adversely affect value to the American dollar in the future, again, as Putin's motivation is to raise Russia's standings by destroying everyone else's.

But it's interesting that this is flying almost completely under the radar of American media outlets. It wasn't mentioned once in the Sunday shows. It also was not in any major print outlets, though CNBC's online article pooh-poohs the significance of such an unprecedented move.

Bond experts like Raymond James's Kevin Giddis pointed to a flood of Treasury supply for higher long-term rates back in May. However, most of the excess likely came from historically large Treasury auctions to help pay for Washington's new tax cuts and spending bill, not Moscow's selling.

"While this liquidation by the Russians is curious, the amount they held, along with the amount they sold, is really insignificant to the multi-trillion dollar Treasury market," Giddis, head of fixed income capital markets at Raymond James, said on Sunday.

"If I had to wager, I would bet that this is part sanctions and part portfolio adjustment and little to do with a real market move," he added. "If this was China or Japan, then the story would be quite different, and so the muted market movement, or lack thereof, pretty much tells the story of the move."

Or perhaps it's just such an under-reported story--and what coverage it gets doesn't connect the dots-- that the markets haven't had a chance to react.

Either way, it's worthy to put a pin on this story and see what the long term impacts will be as we learn more about Russia's election hacking and how the related investigations pan out.

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