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Value of U.S. assets worries China

A Chinese stock investor reacts as he checks the prices of his shares in Beijing.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Don't tell Russian investors there's no downside to the Kremlin's invasion of Georgia. Moscow stepped in yesterday to shore up the rouble after it fell to its lowest level in a year-and-a-half. That promptly sent the main Russian stock index sliding. The proximate cause of all of that, besides the invasion, is foreign investors taking their money and going home.

Political troubles in Thailand have led to stock market trouble there. And Beijing is worried about how much money it's got in the bank -- a situation caused in part because of economic problems back here.

From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.


ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: China has bought about a trillion dollars' worth of U.S. bonds during the last several years -- Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie. The value of many of those bonds has been falling.

Ted Fishman is the author of China, Inc. He says the slide in value is made worse for China because in the last few years its currency has been strengthening.

TED FISHMAN: That means that any investment that the Chinese have bought abroad goes down in terms of their own currency because the dollar is cheaper.

According to The New York Times, that drop in value of U.S. assets has caused China's central bank to begin scrambling to shore up its small capital base. But not everyone thinks it needs to.

Ted Truman is a former central banker now with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Ted Truman: The capital of a central bank doesn't matter.

MILNE-TYTE: Why?

TRUMAN: Because they print money.

Truman says some banks have gone for years with negative capital. He says China has plenty of assets, not least a huge pile of foreign exchange reserves. Still, he says, the falling value of U.S. assets has attracted critics in China.

TRUMAN: If you want to criticize, looking for something to criticize the central bank -- whether it's on its monetary policy or on its implementation or foreign exchange policy -- then you . . . you're the political whipping boy.

Or you could just blame America. Some in China believe the U.S. deliberately sold the central bank bonds it knew would lose value.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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