When it comes to managing reserves, central banks play a crucial role due to their large gold holdings. Gold reserve mainly refers to the gold that a country’s central bank owns and would use to back its currency and fulfill its obligations to pay noteholders, depositors, and trading partners.
The metal represents a valuable asset if a nation’s gold reserves are extremely high. When governments notice an increase in inflation, they often respond by purchasing significant quantities of gold.
What Will I Learn?
- Key Statistics
- Top Countries with the Largest Gold Reserves Worldwide
- The United States, with 8,133.5 Tons of Gold
- Germany, with 3,362.4 Tons of Gold
- Italy, with 2,451.8 Tons of Gold
- France, with 2,436.2 Tons of Gold
- Russia, with 2,298.5 Tons of Gold
- China, with 1,958.3 Tons of Gold
- Switzerland, with 1,040 Tons of Gold
- Japan, with 765.2 Tons of Gold
- India, with 686.8 Tons of Gold
- The Netherlands, with 612.4 Tons of Gold
- Can the International Monetary Fund Be Considered Among the Countries with the Largest Gold Reserves?
- Why Do Central Banks Buy Gold?
- How Do Gold Reserves Work?
- What Is a Gold Standard?
- What Impact Do Gold Reserves Have on a Country?
Physical gold purchases, in particular for national reserves, were reported by the World Gold Council at the end of 2020 to be at a 50-year high and the second-largest sum on record. While many nations choose to diversify the reserve funds over a range of assets as per directions from the central bank, the economic instability and uncertainty of the last decade have led to a steady rise in gold purchases as well as an increase in the proportion of reserve funds that gold bullion makes up for each nation.
Offsetting economic growth is a goal shared by all nations. Therefore, gold hoarding is a viable option. Since the currency and economy of a country are directly proportional to the gold price, an increase in one would lead to a subsequent increase in others.
Below is a list of the top 10 countries that stockpiled the most of this precious metal, making them the largest gold reserves owners.
Top Countries with the Largest Gold Reserves Worldwide
The United States, with 8,133.5 Tons of Gold
The United States has the largest gold reserves in the world and tops the list with 8,133.5 tons of gold. Near the U.S. Army base known as Fort Knox in Kentucky lies a protected vault known simply as Fort Knox or the United States Bullion Depository.
It is mainly controlled by the United States Treasury Department. Most of the United States’ gold reserves, foreign reserves, and other valuables in governmental possession are stored in this vault.
Moreover, the United States Mint Police are in charge of keeping an eye on all federal depositories.
Germany, with 3,362.4 Tons of Gold
The bulk of Germany’s foreign reserves up to 74.5 percent is made up of gold. Germany’s largest gold reserves are held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Bank of England in London, and the Deutsche Bundesbank in Frankfurt am Main.
About 674 tons of gold were returned to Germany in 2017 via repatriation from the Banque de France and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Italy, with 2,451.8 Tons of Gold
Gold constitutes 69.3 percent of Italy’s foreign reserves. The European Central Bank (ECB) is supported by its president, Mario Draghi, who has affirmed that Italy has kept its reserve levels stable over time.
Among one of the top central banks, the Italian central bank, Bank of Italy manages Italy’s largest gold reserves and a proportion of the European Central Bank’s reserves, as do the other national central banks in the Eurosystem.
The Bank of Italy has the world’s fourth-largest foreign reserves in the form of gold holdings, following the US Federal Reserve Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank, and the IMF. This bank has 2,452 tons of the country’s currency, gold, most of which is in the form of bars (95,493) but also includes some coins.
France, with 2,436.2 Tons of Gold
France dropped from third to fourth after selling 500 metric tons of gold. Former French Economy Minister Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the Bank of France to take this measure.
Sarkozy began the sale in May 2004 and cut France’s gold reserves by 20%. The plan was to invest the proceeds in other currencies, bonds, and foreign reserves, with the interest earned going toward France’s debt.
France has roughly 64.5% of its gold reserves. It has sold very little gold in recent years, and some have proposed stopping the practice altogether. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front that exports gold, wants to end it and bring home the total amount now stored abroad. It stands second in importance to the IMF.
Russia, with 2,298.5 Tons of Gold
Russia has been the world’s second-largest importer of gold for the past seven years (Turkey has scored first place as it purchased 134 tons of gold for the second consecutive year).
As a result, it is now one of the countries with the highest gold reserves in 2018, even more so than China.
Russia has only a small percentage of its assets in gold (22%). To diversify its currency from the US dollar, it purchased 227 metric tons of gold.
As its relationship with the West has deteriorated over the past three years, Russia has made concerted efforts to diversify its foreign reserves away from the US dollar and toward the gold reserve and other foreign currencies.
Russia acquired this massive quantity of gold by selling most of its U.S. treasuries.
China, with 1,958.3 Tons of Gold
China’s economic policy was to mine gold, sell it and reinvest the proceeds in the country’s economy. However, as the country’s economy has caught up to that of major Western nations, it has been increasing the proportion of its reserves in gold.
Its Central Bank, the People’s Bank of China, started reporting monthly on its gold-buying operations for the first time since 2009 in the summer of 2015. Even though China has the world’s sixth-largest gold reserves, the country’s overall assets are only 3.4% gold.
Switzerland, with 1,040 Tons of Gold
Switzerland remained neutral during World War II and became the hub of European gold trade, despite persistent rumors that it stole Nazi gold after World War II due to its extensive commerce with both Allied and Axis nations.
Trade with Hong Kong and China has become its main focus. The foreign reserves of Switzerland are 5.4% gold. Moreover, its per-person gold holdings and gold investors are the biggest in the world.
Approximately 70% of Switzerland’s gold reserves are stored in the Swiss National Bank in Bern, with the remaining 20% split between the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada for further security.
Japan, with 765.2 Tons of Gold
Japan’s gold reserves were estimated at 42.878 USD billion in February 2021. This is less than the prior January 2021’s number of 45.854 billion USD. Japan, being the third-largest economy in the world, ranks eighth largest in terms of the countries with the largest gold reserves.
The percentage of Japan’s total reserves that are held in gold is close to 2%. When the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred in 2011, the country’s normal program of routinely purchasing gold was put on hold.
After selling gold reserves to assist in stabilizing the economy after the catastrophe, the country never fully got back on track.
India, with 686.8 Tons of Gold
Although it may come as a surprise, India is the world’s second-biggest consumer of gold. The start of wedding season in the fourth quarter of 2020 boosted India’s gold reserves.
This increase was from 676.61 tons to 686.8 tons. According to the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s gold reserves rose from $1.008 billion to $37.020 billion in the final week of December 2020. However, gold represents only 6.5% of the foreign reserves in India.
Given the country’s continuous political and economic volatility, India’s addition of six metric tons of gold bullion to its reserves in the past year is surprising but still small.
These gold reserves are split between the Bank of England and the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, with the rest held by the Reserve Bank of India in Mumbai.
The Netherlands, with 612.4 Tons of Gold
The Netherlands, which has long been a metal seller, has also secured a position on the list. This is because it has not made any additional bullion sales in recent years due to its economic changes under the Erdogan administration in Turkey.
Overall, the majority of the country’s gold was returned in 2014. Half of all Dutch gold was located in New York at the time. This difference between Amsterdam and New York was closed by returning 20% of the country’s gold reserves to the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank.
A further 18% (or around 110 tons) is kept in London at the Bank of England, while another 20% is kept in Ottawa.
Can the International Monetary Fund Be Considered Among the Countries with the Largest Gold Reserves?
As of April 2021, figures from the World Gold Council (WGC) indicated that central banks had purchased 272.9 tons of gold in 2020.
Due to obvious reasons, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cannot be listed among the countries with the largest gold reserves because it is not a nation. However, with 2,814 tons of gold stored away, the International Monetary Fund could have secured a third place on the list.
The IMF has occasionally sold gold or returned it to its member countries. Diverse factors have contributed to this:
In order to restock its currency reserves, the IMF traded gold many times between 1957 and 1971. Furthermore, to cover operating deficits, the IMF sold gold to the US in 1956–1960, with the proceeds invested in US Government securities.
To fund the IMF’s involvement in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, the IMF’s Executive Board approved off-market gold sales in 1999. At the end of the day, the IMF transacted with Brazil and Mexico to sell a total of 12.94 million ounces of gold.
The International Monetary Fund sold off 12.97 million ounces of gold in 2009, or about 1/8 of its gold reserves at the time. These proceeds were used to strengthen the IMF’s long-term financial health, expand the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust’s ability to lend at low or no interest to developing nations, and reduce the Fund’s own operating costs.
Direct trades at market pricing with central banks and other official holders started in October 2009. It was indicated in February 2010 that the IMF would spread out market sales over several months to prevent market disruptions. In December 2010, the IMF completed its sales.
The IMF made a profit of SDR 6.85 billion above the book value of the gold, which was more than it expected at the time it approved the sales. Its Executive Board authorized the initial payout of SDR 700 million to members in February 2012 from these earnings, with the distribution taking effect in October 2012.
Why Do Central Banks Buy Gold?
Gold is a finite physical commodity that has been an integral part of national financial reserves for centuries, and its popularity shows no sign of waning, with central banks expected to be net purchasers of gold almost every year. More than 35,000 metric tons of gold, or roughly 20% of all gold ever mined, is presently stored in the world’s central banks.
It is well acknowledged that central banks buying gold use it as a means of diversifying their holdings. The banks of each nation issue and manage their currencies, which can experience wild fluctuations in value based on the public perceptions of the world economy.
Since interest rates, the traditional lever of monetary regulation, have been stuck near zero for over a decade, central banks may be compelled to print more money in times of need.
This monetary expansion could be necessary to prevent economic collapse, but it would come at the expense of national currency devaluation.
However, the amount of gold owned in existence is fixed and cannot be increased. That’s why it makes gold reserves a great inflation hedge.
Furthermore, gold reserves are one of the most important assets in the world, alongside government bonds, because the metal acts as a source of trust in a country and in all economic circumstances.
How Do Gold Reserves Work?
Gold has been used as a medium of exchange for countless centuries. Paper money produced by national governments was often pegged to the value of gold from the 17th through the 20th centuries, giving holders of paper money a legal claim on the precious metals.
Overall, Gold was the currency of international trade. Due to these reasons, economic and political stability requires that nations keep a gold reserve, as gold is a safe haven asset for them.
There is currently no government that insists on 100% gold-backing for paper currency. However, governments continue to keep large quantities of bullion or precious metals as insurance against a major economic catastrophe.
In fact, governments add hundreds of tons (of gold, which is measured in metric tons) to their stockpiles every year.
Gold is a commodities asset for businesses due to its numerous industrial applications. It is seen as a hedge against inflation concerns and economic downturns by many institutional and individual investors.
What Is a Gold Standard?
During the time of the Gold Standard system, virtually all nations pegged their currencies to a predetermined amount of gold or pegged their currency to the currency of another nation that did so.
This Gold Standard system further enabled gold to be imported and exported freely, and domestic currencies could be exchanged for gold at a predetermined price.
Gold coins, along with a variety of other precious metals coins, and notes, were commonly used as domestic currency in many countries.
Exchange rates between currencies were also set, as each was pegged to the value of gold. Under the classical Gold Standard, the primary roles of central banks in monetary policy were as follows:
Protecting the exchange rate and ensuring that paper money can always be exchanged for gold held at a certain rate.
Quickening the process of resolving a trade deficit, despite the fact that this was frequently disregarded.
What Impact Do Gold Reserves Have on a Country?
As the price and gold demand increase, the currency of any country that exports gold or has a sizable gold reserve will appreciate it.
The rising gold price has boosted trade and may have contributed to a reduction in the trade deficit. There is a rise in the country’s exports as well.
Conversely, if a country has little gold in reserve and must import a lot of it, its economy will suffer if the price of gold rises.
More than one metric ton of gold was moved among the top 10 countries in 2020, demonstrating the metal’s vital role in global trade.
Gold’s rare chemical characteristics have ensured that it has been a status symbol for riches and emerging economies since the beginning of time.
Right from 1694, when the Bank of England first adopted the gold standard system, until the 1930s when countries began to forsake it, gold was central to the global economic system.
There was a period when international central banks sold more gold than they bought, leading to an imbalance in the money supply.
By 2010, however, as governments worldwide began to raise their gold holdings in anticipation of economic turmoil, gold had begun to regain its luster as a safe investment alternative. Moreover, foreign reserves at central banks have increased by millions of tons of gold since then.