TIC Release Will Be Watched For Russians

The June Treasury International Capital (TIC) flows data is due Wednesday at 4 pm ET. There will be scrutiny after Russian holdings “disappeared” from the May list of “Major Foreign Holder of Treasury Securities.” There has been much speculation that the Russians moved holdings into less identifiable accounts.

In the June report Russia’s total security holdings plunged to $14.9 billion (below the $30 billion minimum for inclusion on the list) from $48.7 billion in April and from $96.1 billion in March. Note that total Treasury holdings were as high as $108.7 billion in May 2017, and $171.1 billion in October 2012. Most of the recent decline was in coupons, which dropped to $9.1 billion in May from $48.7 billion in April and $94.9 billion in March.

Chatter about the Russian “disappearance” has revolved around the timing of the drop, which was curious as it was around the time political tensions between the US and Russia were heating up. There’s never any explanation behind the flows, just the data, although Treasury cautions in its Methodology section that there are imperfections due to “custodial bias,” where some foreign owners entrust their holdings to institutions that are neither in the US nor in the owner’s country. Talk is that Russia has moved to domiciling its Treasuries in say Belgium or the Cayman Islands (a proxy for hedge fund holdings), which saw monthly gains of $12.9 billion and $5.1 billion, respectively.

It is estimated that outright liquidation would have cost Russia dearly as yields climbed (prices fell) in May, though perhaps some selling was the reason for the cheapening. Foreign holders as of May included 33 countries ranging from China with $1.18 trillion in Treasuries to Chile with $30.2 billion.