Foreign buying of US Treasuries in March hits largest since June 2021 -data

Illustration shows U.S. Dollar banknote

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Foreign buying of U.S. Treasuries in March rose to its highest level in more than two years, data from the Treasury Department showed on Monday, as investors snapped safe-haven government debt in the wake of banking stress during the month.

Holdings of U.S. Treasuries rose to $7.573 trillion in March, up roughly $230 billion from $7.343 trillion in the previous month. The monthly accumulation of Treasuries in March was the biggest since June 2021, according to Gennadiy Goldberg, senior rates strategist, at TD Securities in New York.

"The month (March) was particularly significant because it was the time when there was banking sector volatility. The most interesting thing was the sheer amount of buying of Treasuries," Goldberg said.

"Investors were de-risking at the time because of the banking stress. There were lots of buying by China, lots of buying by Japan. Buying by the UK, or through the UK, was also interesting, which suggests buying by hedge funds," he added.

U.S. regional banks remain at the center of the financial turmoil with the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in March that saw deposits flee these institutions to more stable and larger money center banks. First Republic Bank eventually failed as well and was bought by JP Morgan Chase earlier this month.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield started March at 3.996%, falling 50 basis points to 3.49% by the end of the month. U.S. 10-year yields hit a 15-month high of 4.338% in October last year.

Japan remains the largest non-U.S. holder of Treasuries with $1.087 trillion, up from $1.082 trillion in February. Japan, however, had been selling Treasuries for most of 2022 to help boost a weak yen.

Data also showed holdings of China, the second-biggest non-U.S. holder of Treasuries, also increased, rising to $869.3 billion in March from $848.8 billion in February. Its February holdings were the lowest since May 2010 when China had $843.7 billion. China had been selling Treasuries as well, like Japan for most of last year.

Major U.S. asset classes also showed inflows in March.

On a per transaction basis, foreign inflows into Treasuries were $35.8 billion in March, from $57.6 billion the previous month

U.S. equities also saw foreign buying as well, with inflows of $36.1 billion, from net selling of $16.2 billion in February and outflows of $27.5 billion in January.

U.S. residents, meanwhile, increased their holdings of long-term foreign securities, with net purchases of $22.8 billion, compared with net selling of $8.3 billion in February.

Overall, net foreign purchases of long-term securities are estimated to have been $133.3 billion in March, up sharply from February's inflows of $56.6 billion, data showed.

(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Anna Driver and Stephen Coates)