Gold is a peculiar asset in the global financial system. Discussions about acquiring the physical metal often conjures up images of paranoid hoarders hiding out somewhere in the wilderness. Uncivilized and irrational, they count their so-called barbaric stacks of gold, which are located next to a lifetime supply of canned beans. While this portrayal may be amusing, the biggest hoarders of gold are some of the most advanced nations in the world.
Last year, global gold demand reached an estimated 3,923.7 tonnes, down 4% from the prior year but still worth almost $160 billion, according to a new report from the World Gold Council (WGC). Although bar and coin demand fell from the 2013 record, central banks continue to fill their vaults. In fact, central banks around the world purchased 477.2 tonnes of gold in 2014, worth $19.4 billion. That is up 17% from 2013 and represents the second highest year of net purchases in 50 years, trailing only the record haul of 544 tonnes in 2012. Ukraine was the only central bank to significantly decrease gold reserves, selling 19 tonnes.
Let’s take a look at the ten nations with the largest gold reserves, based on the latest international financial statistics and the WGC.
India officially holds 557.7 tonnes of gold, which represents 6.7% of its reserves. In 2009, the nation purchased 200 tonnes of gold from the International Monetary Fund for $6.7 billion. It was the IMF’s first such sale in almost a decade. India is the second-largest gold consumer in the world, and also a big believer in silver.
India is home to the tenth-largest economy in the world but consumes more silver than any other country. In 2013, India imported an estimated 5,400 tonnes of silver, according to Endeavour Silver. That is more than double the 1,900 tonnes imported in 2012 and higher than the recent peak of 5,049 tonnes imported in 2008. Of the world’s annual silver production, India consumes more than 20%.
With a large economy in relation to its population, the Netherlands holds 612.5 tonnes of gold, which represents 55.2% of its reserves. In 2013, a citizens committee in the nation filed a petition demanding the central bank release information about the Netherlands gold hoard, including the storage location. It is estimated that the majority of the nation’s stockpile is held abroad.
After two decades of low interest rates, it’s not too surprising that Japan has one of the largest gold reserves in the world. The nation holds 765.2 tonnes of gold, representing only 2.4% of its reserves.
Interestingly, the Japanese yen and gold became a well-known investment pick for 2014. Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital, said last year that if he could only put on one trade for the next ten years it would be to purchase gold in yen.
The land of international banking holds 1,040 tonnes of gold, which represents 7.7% of its reserves. Some citizens feel very strongly about gold. In 2013, the Swiss People’s Party collected enough signatures to force a referendum on a proposal to prevent the nation’s central bank form selling any of its gold reserves and require it to hold at least 20% of its assets in the precious metal.
The world’s second-largest economy holds 1,054.1 tonnes of gold, which represents only 1% of its reserves. However, this underestimates China’s true holdings. The People’s Bank of China has not formally disclosed any changes to its gold holdings in years, and it’s widely believed that the central bank is purchasing gold to diversify its reserve holdings.
In 2009, China announced that it boosted its gold reserves by 454 tonnes via acquiring gold quietly over the previous five years. It represented an impressive 76% increase in gold reserves. Today, China is estimated by gold analysts to have at least 2,000-3,000 tonnes of gold reserves. In 2014, Greater China was once again the world’s largest gold consumer, with demand totaling 867.5 tonnes.
Russia holds 1,208.2 tonnes of gold, which represents 12.2% of its reserves. Russia has more than doubled its gold reserves in recent years and is likely to keep buying. In 2011, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed the United States was “like a parasite” on the global economy and said the dominance of the dollar as a world reserve currency is a threat to the financial system. In 2013, Russia’s central bank added 77 tonnes of gold to its official reserves. Last year, Russia bought another 173 tonnes to its reserves, accounting for 36% of total central bank demand.
France holds 2,435.4 tonnes of gold, which represents about 65.6% of its reserves. The nation has been relatively quiet in the gold market, but six men were arrested a couple years ago in Paris and surrounding areas for involvement in stealing gold bars worth about 1.6 million euros from an Air France plane. The gold was stolen from the plane shortly before it left Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. The plane was bound for Switzerland.
During the depths of the eurozone crisis, some analysts recommended that Italy use its gold stockpile to raise funds and restore confidence. However, the nation still holds 2,451.8 tonnes of gold, representing 66.6% of its reserves.
Much like Italy, speculation suggested that Germany might ultimately use its gold reserves to boost the European bailout fund, but this never materialized. Germany holds 3,384.2 tonnes of gold, which represents 67.8% of reserves.
At the beginning of 2013, Germany’s Bundesbank confirmed reports and announced that it would repatriate a portion of its foreign gold reserves. Over the next seven years, the central bank intends to store half of Germany’s gold reserves in its own vaults within the country. The other half will remain in New York and London. In 2014, the Bundesbank transferred 35 tonnes from Paris and 85 tonnes from New York to Frankfurt. Since the transfers began two years ago, the central bank has relocated a total of 157 tonnes of gold to Frankfurt.
In a press release, the central bank explained, “With this new storage plan, the Bundesbank is focusing on the two primary functions of the gold reserves: to build trust and confidence domestically, and the ability to exchange gold for foreign currencies at gold trading centers abroad within a short space of time.”
1. United States
Despite ending the gold standard in 1971, the world’s largest economy holds 8,133.5 tonnes of gold, representing 72.6% of reserves. America’s gold reserve peaked during the 1950s, but has held steady since the 1980s. On August 15, 1971, President Nixon made the following statement that gold bugs will remember forever.
“In recent weeks, the speculators have been waging an all-out war on the American dollar. The strength of a nation’s currency is based on the strength of that nation’s economy — and the American economy is by far the strongest in the world,” he said. “Accordingly, I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connally to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the American dollar except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interests of the United States.”
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