Top Ten Countries With the Highest Gold Reserves
Gold has always been an important part of foreign reserves of nations across the globe. However, the year 2018 witnessed a surge in the demand for gold by central banks as they indulged in buying 656.2 tons of the yellow metal. The buying trend continued in 2019 with an annual total of 650.3 trillion, 1% lower than 2018. During Q1 2020, as much as 145 tons was purchased.
Here's a list of the top ten countries holding the highest official gold reserves. These nations together add up to almost three-fourths of the central bank official reserves globally.
The U.S. has the largest official holdings of gold in the world. The massive 8,133.5 tons of U.S. official gold holdings are equivalent to the next three countries combined. The world’s largest economy has maintained gold reserves hovering round 8,000 tons since 2000 and is among the top names even in terms of percentage of foreign reserves allocated to gold. Currently, 78.3% of its foreign reserves are held in gold. The U.S. foreign exchange reserves are a basket of foreign exchange, SDRs, U.S. reserve position in the IMF, and gold.
Germany is the second-largest holder of gold in the world. The Deutsche Bundesbank currently holds around 3,364.2 tons of gold. Back in 2013, Germany unveiled its gold storage plan with the intent to store half of its gold reserves within the country. The repatriation of gold by Germany was completed three years ahead of schedule in 2017. Today, 50% of Germany’s gold reserves are stored within the country while the other half continues to remain in custodian storage with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York (37%) and the Bank of England in London (13%). Germany’s gold reserves are close to three-fourth (74.3%) of its total foreign reserves.
The third-largest official gold reserves in the world are held by Italy. The country’s official gold reserves of 2,451.8 tons, which account for 69.5% of its total foreign reserves, are mostly held in bars with a small portion of coins. The country’s gold is valued according to the Euro system’s accounting rules. “The purpose of the gold reserves is to boost confidence in the stability of Italy's financial system and of the single currency. This function becomes all the more important when geopolitical conditions or the international economic situation could put the financial markets at additional risk, such as of a foreign exchange or financial crisis,” reads a note by the country’s central bank.
The Banque de France is the fourth-largest custodian of 2,436 tons of gold. Gold accounts for around 63.4% of its foreign exchange reserves; the remainder is made up of foreign currencies, such as the dollar and yen. The gold held by Banque de France is stored in its Underground Vault, situated 27 meters below street level. A substantial reduction in its gold reserves was witnessed during the sale of gold that took place during a five-year period (2004 - 2009) as part of the Second Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA2). Additionally, some sale of gold took place during CBGA 1, 3, and 4.
Russia’s official gold reserves of 2,299.2 tons are the fifth largest in the world, constituting around one-fifth of its foreign exchange reserves. Russia surpassed China in terms of gold reserves in early 2018. It had overtaken by China for a period of four quarters back in 2014–15 (Q2, Q3, and Q4 2014 and Q1 2015). Russia has bought more than 1,900 tons of gold since 2005. The Bank of Russia announced the suspension purchases of gold in the domestic bullion market (effective April 1, 2020). It said, “Moving forward, subsequent decisions on gold purchases will be made subject to financial market developments.”
China is the largest gold consumer and producer in the world. However, China’s official gold reserves stand at 1,948.3 tons, constituting 3.2% of its foreign reserves. During 2019, its reserves grew by 95.8 tons. Meanwhile, China reduced its holdings of U.S. treasury securities from $1,130.9 billion in February 2019 to $1,092.3 billion in February 2020. Since 2000, some of the major spurts of gold buying by China were seen in 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2015. During Q4 2001, China increased its gold reserves by 105 tons and again in Q4 2002, its gold reserves moved up by almost 100 tons to reach 599.98 tonnes. Mainland maintained these levels until the beginning of 2009, the period of the global financial crisis. During 2009, China almost doubled its gold holdings within a quarter, moving from $599.98 tons in Q1 2009 to 1,054.9 tonnes in Q2 2009. The next big buying was witnessed in 2015, when its reserves moved up from 1,054.9 tons in Q1 2015 to 1,658.42 tons in Q2 2015.
Switzerland has the seventh-largest reserves of gold in the world. Its reserves of 1,040.0 tons account for 6.3% of its foreign reserves. In June 1999, the Governing Board of the SNB decided that half of its then gold reserves of 2,590 tons were no longer required for monetary purposes. The intent of the Swiss National Bank to sell gold can be seen as one of the factors which led to the first Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA1), also known as the Washington Agreement on Gold, announced in September 1999. Under the agreement, signed by 15 European central banks, it was concluded that “gold would remain an important element of global monetary reserves, and agreed to limit their collective sales to 2,000 tons over the following five years.” Switzerland followed it and reduced its gold reserves under CBGA 1 and 2 with minor sales during CBGA 3 and 4 as well.
Japan’s gold reserves of 765.2 tons constitute 2.9% of its foreign reserves. Its reserves were 753.55 in Q1 2000 and then moved up to the present figure over the next couple of quarters. Japan has broadly maintained his number since Q2 2001. Bank of Japan decided to introduce “Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing with a Negative Interest Rate” in 2016. A regime of Negative Interest Rate Policies (NIRP) tends to push the demand higher for gold. A report highlights, “Gold returns in periods of low rates are historically twice as high as their long-run average.” Japan is currently the largest foreign holder of U.S. treasury securities; its allocation stood at $1,268.3 billion in February 2020.
India’s gold reserves are the ninth-highest in the world at 641.8 tons which constitutes 6.8% of its total foreign reserves. One of the biggest one-time surge in its gold reserves was in 2009 when its gold holdings swelled from 357.75 tonnes Q3 to 557.75 tonnes by the end of Q4. During the last year, approximately 34 tons of gold was added by the country’s central bank. India added 6.8 tons of gold during Q1 2020. India is among the largest markets for gold. However, amid COVID-19 and high gold prices, the country witnessed a 41% fall in the demand of gold during Q1 2020, falling to an 11-year low of 73.9 tons vis-à-vis 125.4 tons in Q1 2019.
The Netherlands has 612.5 tons of gold as its official holdings, which is equivalent to a significant 70.5% of its foreign reserves. The country was a part of the consortium along with Switzerland, which signed the first Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA1) wherein 15 European central banks decided to sell a pre-decided amount of gold. Subsequent to the decision, its gold reserves fell from 911.82 tons in Q1 2000 to 656.71 tons in Q1 2006. In addition to CBGA1, the Netherlands has engaged in sale of gold under CBGA 2, 3, and 4. The reserves have gradually reduced further setting at the current levels by Q4 2008. In 2014, De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) repatriated some gold back from the U.S. to make its gold spread in terms of location more balanced. DNB was holding 51% of its gold in the U.S., which was reduced by 20% to increase gold held at Amsterdam to 31%.
Disclaimer: The report has been carefully prepared, and any exclusions or errors in reporting are unintentional. The author has no position in any stocks mentioned. Investors should consider the above information not as a de facto recommendation, but as an idea for further consideration. The data is based on International Financial Statistics, May 2020* and World Gold Council reports as well as individual country wise central bank figures.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.