What Would Happen If Everyone Joins China In Dumping Treasurys?

On Tuesday evening in "Devaluation Stunner: China Has Dumped $100 Billion In Treasurys In The Past Two Weeks," we quantified the cost of China’s near daily open FX operations in support of the yuan. 

As BNP’s Mole Hau put it on Monday, "whereas the daily fix was previously used to fix the spot rate, the PBoC now seemingly fixes the spot rate to determine the daily fix, [thus] the role of the market in determining the exchange rate has, if anything, been reduced in the short term.And a reduced role for the market means a larger role for the PBoC and that, in turn, means burning through more FX reserves to steady the yuan.

Translation and quantification (with the latter coming courtesy of SocGen): as part of China's devaluation and subsequent attempts to contain said devaluation, China has sold a gargantuan $106 (or more) billion in US paper just as a result of the change in the currency regime. 

Notably, that means China has sold as much in Treasurys in the past 2 weeks - over $100 billion - as it has sold in the entire first half of the year. Today, we got what looks like confirmation late in the session when Bloomberg, citing fixed income desks, reported "substantial selling pressure in long end Treasuries coming from Far East."

The question or rather, the series of questions, that need to be considered going forward are: 

"What happens when China liquidates all of its Treasury holdings is anyone's guess, and an even better question is will anyone else decide to join China as its sells US Treasurys at a never before seen pace, and best of all: will the Fed just sit there and watch as the biggest offshore holder of US Treasurys liquidates its entire inventory…"

And make no mistake, these are timely questions, because the combination of collapsing commodity prices, China’s devaluation, and the threat of a Fed hike have put enormous pressure on EM currencies the world over and that, in turn, means a drawdown of EM FX reserves and pressure on DM bonds. As JP Morgan put it last month, "the sharp reversal in EM FX reserve accumulation between Q1 and Q2 is consistent with the sharp reversal in DM core bond markets. Core bond market yields collapsed in Q1 but saw a big rise in Q2. This is a good reminder of how important FX reserve managers remain in driving core bond markets."

Indeed. And just how important, you ask, is that for US Treasurys and, in turn, for Fed policy going forward? For the answer, we go to Citi:

Taken in isolation, a reserves drop of 1% of USD GDP (=$178bn) would infer a rise in 10y UST yields by 15-35bp based on a range of academic studies.

And more to the point:

Suppose EM and developing countries, which hold $5491 bn in reserves, reduce holdings by 10% over one year. This amounts to 3.07% of US GDP and means 10yr Treasury yields rates rise by a mammoth 108bp (35bp*3.07).

In other words, if EM currencies remain under pressure - and there is every reason to believe that they well - the reserve drawdown necessary to stabilize currencies and maintain unsustainable pegs means more Treasury liquidation and massive upward pressure on yields. Here's a look at EM reserve accumlation vs. the yield on the 10Y (inverted):

As for what this means in the US, we go to Citi one more time:

These moves are unlikely to happen in a vacuum. For instance, any move by these magnitudes would choke off the US housing market and see the Fed stand still or ease. 

Of course one of the catalysts for the EM outflows is the looming Fed hike which, when taken together with the above, means that if the FOMC raises rates, they will almost surely accelerate the pressure on EM, triggering further FX reserve drawdowns (i.e. UST dumping), resulting in substantial upward pressure on yields and prompting an immediate policy reversal and perhaps even QE4.

And as we never, ever tire of reminding readers, it all harkens back to last November...