Yesterday Reuters reported  that foreign central banks have been net sellers of agency debt, the senior debt of GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for the sixth straight week. In order to get a better handle on the context for this story, Doom went to The NY Fed’s H.4.1 table  and extracted their weekly statistics on the holdings by foreign central banks of US treasuries and agencies. We collected  the data back to the start of the series on Wednesday Feb 9, 2000.
When Twist performed her chart magic on the data some interesting trends emerged. From the start of 2007 to the present, agencies as compared to treasuries held by cenbanks increased smoothly from 52 to 74 percent, then fell off noticeably over the last few weeks. It is possible that the present GSE crisis is affecting the appetite for agency debt among foreign central bankers.
If we stretch the timeline for this graph back to the beginning of the data in early 2000, we see that the upward trend commenced in late 2004.
Agencies were only about 23 percent of treasuries then.
Simply graphing the absolute cenbanks holdings from 2000 tells an important tale. It’s evident that the foreign central bankers’ exposure to (mostly) Fannie’s and Freddie’s debt increased smoothly and exponentially throughout the great US housing bubble, and even through the first year and a half of the subprime crisis.
The big question is: What happens now?
Notes and References: "Foreign cenbanks sell agency debt for sixth week", Reuters, August 28, 2008. : "H.4.1 Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", Federal Reserve Statistical Release (weekly), Federal Reserve Bank of New York. : We formatted the data set as a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file here. Enjoy.