For many centuries, governments around the world have been using gold as a means of exchange. Today, they no longer require that all of their money be backed by gold, but many still store huge amounts of gold bullion in order to protect against hyperinflation or other economic crisis.
Central banks and international financial institutions are the largest gold holders. Here are the top ten owners of gold plus their percentage allocation to foreign exchange reserves.
The United States is by far the largest gold owner in the world. The government owns nearly 6,000 metric tons of gold bullion and coins.
The gold is stored in vaults located in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the US Treasury Department.
During the Great Depression in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt nationalized all gold coin and bullion in an attempt to stimulate the economy and to shore up the exchange rate. Seizing gold allowed the government to print more dollars and buy them on the international market.
Germany, which holds the second-largest gold reserves in the world, is home to an impressive ten million tonnes of physical gold. This is according to a survey carried out by the Research Center for Financial Services (CFIN) on behalf of Reisebank.
Central banks hold gold to increase confidence in their balance sheets and to shield them from political changes and economic shocks. This is why gold remains a popular reserve asset in many countries.
Since the beginning of the financial crisis, interest in gold has grown significantly among policymakers and the public at large. This has led to a significant expansion of the Bundesbank’s gold reserves.
Italy, a boot-shaped peninsula in southern Europe, is a parliamentary republic with a president and a prime minister. It has a population of over 60 million people.
Its economy is the fourth-largest in the European Union. Its main exports are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals and apparel.
According to the World Gold Council, Italy holds 2,451.8 tonnes of gold bullion reserves. Most of this is with the Bank of Italy, but it also has significant amounts in New York and London.
France is the fourth largest custodian of gold in the world, with 2,435 tons worth EUR 76.2 billion in 2015, according to WGC data. The Banque de France is responsible for managing this gold and provides services to other central banks in the world.
In the 1960s, France continued its policy of using gold as a reserve currency, even after the United States opted for a large monetary expansion. French officials favored the gold standard over the dollar exchange standard as a means of pressuring the United States to agree on a reform of the international monetary system.
The Russian government is believed to have amassed the world’s fifth-largest gold stockpile, valued at around $140 billion. The stash was built up over a decade and a half to protect the country from economic sanctions that would diminish the value of the ruble.
The purchase of physical gold has increased in Russia in the last year, following tax cuts that encouraged people to buy it. The government scrapped 20% VAT on physical gold trades for individuals and exempted people from income tax on profits gained from selling gold bars, both of which drove demand.
China is the world’s largest gold producer and exporter. However, it imports quite a bit of the precious metal.
The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) buys gold to diversify its foreign exchange reserves and as a hedge against inflation. In recent years it has boosted its gold holdings.
The PBoC reports its gold reserves each month. But actual gold holdings could be higher than official figures because of proxy gold holdings from state-owned miners, sovereign wealth funds and other government investment vehicles.