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Japan dumping treasuries puts spotlight on Euro-area debt

[LONDON] Sovereign issuers that are selling bonds in euros at a record pace could well be finding some of the world's most prolific buyers ready to pounce.

Investors in Japan and China are shunning US Treasuries, and the conditions are ripe for that cash to find a home in Europe. Early signs of a shift may already be visible: Belgium sold 16 per cent of a new deal to Asia this week, compared to just one per cent a year ago.

A widening deficit may double US government bond supply this year, while tax cuts threaten to curb corporate demand for Treasuries. At the same time, Europe's economy is booming, the euro is the best-performing currency in the Group of 10 in the past 12 months, and the region's central bank is still buying bonds.

Throw in US dollar-yen hedging costs, calculated using currency forwards, near the highest level since the financial crisis, and the stars are aligning for Asian money to flow to Europe. Japanese investors dumped US government obligations for a second straight month in November while snapping up more German and French notes, data published last Friday show.

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Market voices on:

"Rising currency-hedging costs could drive more Asians out of US Treasuries and into European bonds," said Ben Emons, chief economist at Intellectus Partners LLC. "It's certainly true the market is worried about more supply in the US." China and Japan's combined share of Treasuries fell to approximately 36 percent of all foreign-held US government debt in November, the lowest level in about 18 years. China is the biggest foreign holder of US bonds.

Outperformance

Euro-area government bonds with lower yields continue to outperform US Treasuries. America's benchmark 10-year yield rose to the highest level in more than three years on Friday, widening the gap to European bonds even further.

A steeper German yield curve helps compensate for lower absolute yields in the euro area for Asian investors after taking into account their funding costs, according to Peter Tchir, the head of macro strategy at Academy Securities Inc.

To be sure, Asian demand for US securities - the most liquid market in the world - is largely determined by currency and trade policies as well as technical drivers like hedging costs.

"Lightening up on US Treasuries given the deficit-busting tax cut and the other potentially negative news? Sure," said Aaron Kohli, an interest-rate strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York. "But these things have rarely left a mark in the US Treasury market in the long-run."

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