Central banks and governments around the world stockpile gold for a number of reasons. They may hold it as a hedge against inflation and currency fluctuations, or they may want to diversify their wealth portfolios.
While storing gold can be helpful, it also has some disadvantages. For instance, it does not earn interest, which means it can reduce a country’s revenue.
The United States holds the largest stockpile of gold reserves in the world by a considerable margin. Its government has almost as many reserves as the next three largest gold-holding countries combined (Germany, Italy, and France).
While governments no longer require that all of their money be backed by gold, they still house huge stacks of bullion to protect against hyperinflation or another economic calamity.
Most of the gold held by the United States is located at Fort Knox, Kentucky; West Point, New York; and Denver, Colorado. These facilities are adjacent to US military bases and are inspected annually by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Inspector General.
France holds 2,435.4 tonnes of gold in its official reserves, making it the world’s fifth largest official sector gold holder. This is ahead of China’s official reported sovereign gold holdings.
In addition to custody of physical gold in its vault in Paris, the Banque de France offers a range of gold services to reserve managers, including gold swaps and gold lease transactions as principal with foreign central banks. These are designed to help central banks manage their gold holdings more effectively, without increasing their counterparty risk.
Italy is the world’s third-largest holder of gold reserves, behind the United States and Germany. The Bank of Italy holds about 90.8 billion euros in gold.
The Italian government has been considering using part of the country’s gold reserves to avoid a budget correction this year and a VAT increase in 2020. According to La Stampa, the idea was triggered by a blog post from the founder of the Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, and a bill from ruling League party economics spokesman Claudio Borghi.
A new survey published by German bank Reisebank this month has found that Germany is the country with the most gold reserves among Western nations. In fact, more than 26 million adults in Germany own investment gold, largely in the form of bars and coins.
This is a huge number, and if the trend continues, it will be close to China’s and India’s private gold holdings figures. Although these two countries often get a lot of attention for their gold demand and imports, Germany also is a big market when it comes to privately held physical gold.
Switzerland is a landlocked country in Central Europe with mountains (Alps in the south and Jura in the northwest) and a central plateau of rolling hills, lakes, and plains. It has a strong democratic system with robust elections and an independent electoral commission.
In Switzerland, gold is refined in four of the world’s six largest refineries. Refining in Switzerland is highly profitable because of the country’s low labor costs and good infrastructure.
The Swiss population has a lot of private gold, which can be stored in vaults all around the country. However, monetary gold is normally kept at the central bank in Berne.
Russia is a complex country with a rich history, vast territories of the Arctic north, immense forests, grain farms rivaling those in Kansas, and world-class cities. It is a country in transition from communism to capitalism.
While Western countries froze US$300 billion from Russian gold reserves held overseas in response to the invasion of Crimea, Russia has resorted to exploiting a loophole that allows it to soften the financial impact of sanctions.
The United States and its allies are moving to close that loophole in the form of secondary sanctions. These would deter anyone knowingly transacting with or transporting gold from Russia’s central bank holdings, or selling gold physically or electronically in Russia.