By Colin Barr
May 16, 2011

China’s holdings of U.S. government debt inched lower for the fifth straight month.

But America’s biggest foreign creditor continued to hold $1.14 trillion of Treasury securities through official channels as of March – 26% more than Japan, the second-biggest lender to the United States.

And with China struggling with its own economic ills, such as slowing growth and persistent inflation, the idea of China dumping its dollar holdings seems more remote than ever — even as the U.S. hits the debt ceiling, taking the world’s biggest bond market into strange territory.

The latest report on the major foreign holders of U.S. debt comes as economists are starting to question the strength of the economic recovery. Those worries tend to boost demand for government bonds, as investors trade out of riskier assets such as stocks and commodities.

All told, foreigners bought a net $24 billion of U.S. securities in March.

At the same time the United States is bumping up against its debt ceiling, a fact that Republicans in Congress are using to push the Obama administration to agree to spending cuts. The political impasse could lead to a technical default on U.S. debt, though that is far from certain and there is no sign the markets are nervous about the same.

The 10-year Treasury recently yielded 3.18%, down from 3.58% in March before economic data turned sour. The world may eventually flee the dollar, but first it will have to have an alternative —  something that isn’t even on the horizon right now.

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