NEW YORK (Reuters) - China returned as the United States' largest foreign creditor in March, even as overall foreign central bank holdings of U.S. Treasuries fell, U.S. government data showed on Friday.
China held $1.261 trillion in U.S. Treasuries in March, the most since September and up from $1.224 trillion from February, the Treasury Department data showed.
Japan slipped back to No. 2 with $1.227 trillion, above $1.224 trillion in February.
Belgium, which as recently as February was the No. 3 holder of U.S. debt, saw its holdings plunge in March by $92.5 billion to $252.8 billion.
Analysts have said the country's holdings had risen due to foreign accumulation of Treasuries held in custody accounts at Belgium-based clearing houses.
"This suggests that the run-up is finally starting to unwind, with Chinese holdings spiking $37.3 billion in March," Gennadiy Goldberg, interest rate strategist with TD Securities, wrote in a research note.
The decline in overall foreign central bank holdings of Treasuries accelerated in March. They fell $23.69 billion, marking the largest monthly decline since April 2013 when they decreased by $23.78 billion.
Private investors bought $35.35 billion U.S. government debt in March, the highest amount since September.
Net buying of long-term U.S. assets totaled $17.6 billion in March from a revised inflow of $20.9 billion in February.
Including short-dated assets such as bills, overseas investors sold $100.9 billion March after a revised inflow of $28.8 billion the month before. The drop was the first in three months.
In December, net foreign sales of all U.S. assets totaled $191.5 billion.
Private overseas investors sold $90.5 billion in U.S. assets, the most since a $160.5 billion drop in December.
Official foreign sales of U.S. assets totaled 10.4 billion following combined net purchases of $39.1 billion in January and February.
Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Richard Leong; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang