It appears that China is a lot more adept at building currency reserves than in managing them.
One expert told the Financial Times that China lost more than $80 billion diversifying its foreign exchange holdings into global stocks before markets tanked around the world.
The secretive State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which manages $1.8 trillion of currency reserves that China has built up through its huge trade surpluses, began placing bets on overseas stocks in early 2007.
SAFE (perhaps its acronym should be changed to UNSAFE) also dabbled in corporate bonds.
It didn’t stop until the collapse of the quasi-governmental mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in July 2008, according to FT sources.
The administration doesn’t publicly reveal its actions, so it’s difficult to know the exact numbers. But sources estimate that by the end of its buying spree SAFE had pushed more than $270 billion into the speculative investments.
Extrapolating from the drop in stock markets across the globe and a conservative $160 billion estimate for the total of SAFE’s foreign share holdings, China lost more than $80 billion, Brad Setser, an economist at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells the FT.
Ironically enough, while China has lost billions of dollars in its bets on foreign stocks, Premier Wen Jiabao last week voiced concern about the safety of China’s huge Treasury holdings.
Equally ironic: U.S. taxpayers have lost $86.5 billion so far on stocks the Treasury took in since the end of October as part of the first Wall Street bailout, reports think tank Ethisphere.
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