Fed Custody Holdings Increase Damps Russian Selling Speculation

U.S. government securities held in custody at the Federal Reserve increased, damping speculation that last week’s record drop reflected Russia shifting its holdings out of America amid the threat of sanctions.

Treasuries held by foreign central banks rose by $32.2 billion to $2.89 trillion as of March 19, according to Fed data. The holdings had dropped $104.5 billion as of March 12.

“If it wasn’t for the $100 billion decline, $32 billion would be eye-popping,” said Tom Simons, an economist in New York at Jefferies Group LLC, one of 22 primary dealers that trade with the Fed. “It suggests there was more at work last week than the Russian central bank.”

President Barack Obama ordered financial sanctions on a wider swath of Russian officials and a Russian bank as he authorized potential future penalties that would directly target sectors of the Russian economy. Obama said Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and continuing military movements carry “dangerous risks of escalation” and must be met by unified global opposition.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s central bank said March 14 it hasn’t disclosed changes in its foreign-asset holdings.

“Bank Rossii publishes data on managing foreign-currency assets not earlier than six months after the given period because of the high sensitivity of prices on global financial markets to the actions of largest market participants, including the Russian central bank,” Anna Granik, a spokeswoman for Moscow-based central bank, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

As of January, Russia held $131.8 billion of Treasuries, making it the ninth largest country holder. Russia’s holdings are about 1 percent of the $12.3 trillion in marketable Treasuries outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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