Saudi treasury revelation prompts more questions

US savings bondA revelation that, according to official US data, Saudi Arabia owns just under $117 billion of US government bonds threatened to raise more questions than it answers.

If the figure is accurate, it means roughly a fifth of Saudi Arabia’s $587 billion of foreign reserves are held in treasuries.

But a number of analysts claim the official number is too low and have suggested the mismatch came because the official data doesn’t include treasuries owned by Saudi Arabia via offshore vehicles and funds.

The US Treasury Department revealed the figure in response to a request under the US Freedom of Information Act from Bloomberg News. The department, which has released data on foreign ownership of treasuries since 1974, previously grouped Saudi Arabia’s holdings together with 14 other countries, most of which are members of OPEC.

Traders appeared comforted by the revelation, which suggests Saudi Arabia has less power to disrupt the US debt market than previously thought. According to a report in the New York Times last month, Saudi officials threatened to sell $750 billion of treasuries and other dollar-denominated assets if the US passed a law that could allow the Saudi monarchy to be held responsible for the September 11, 2001 terror attack.

The Treasury Department statement also stated that the UAE owns $62.5 billion of treasuries, Kuwait owns $31.2 billion and Oman $15.9 billion.

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