One of the world's most precious metals, gold is a bright, reddish yellow mineral with the elemental symbol Au. Because of its unique mix of practical and aesthetic qualities—it is malleable, ductile, electrically conductive, corrosion resistant, largely non-reactive, and of course, beautiful to behold—gold has a myriad of uses. These range from jewelry and coinage to infrared shielding, gold leafing, tooth restoration, and computers and other electrical devices. Despite its usefulness, gold is relatively rare in nature, a fact that makes it all the more valuable.
Gold has been used as a form of currency since ancient times, which eventually led to the establishment of the gold standard. Widely used in the 19th and 20th centuries, the gold standard was a monetary system in which countries ensured the value of their paper money and coins by keeping equivalent values of actual gold under lock and key. The gold standard became less practical as economies grew, and is not currently used by any of the world's countries. However, many nations still hold significant gold reserves. As of September 2021, there were approximately 31,695 tons of gold reserves in the world. The top ten central banks with the largest gold reserves have remained relatively the same over the past few years (full 100+ country list at page end).
Top 10 Countries with the Largest Gold Reserves (in tons)
The United States has the largest gold reserves in the world at 8,133 tons, more than Germany and Italy combined. The U.S also has the highest gold allocation as a percentage of its foreign reserves at approximately 76%. The majority of U.S. gold is held in Fort Knox in Kentucky. Many central banks turned from being net sellers to net buyers in 2010. Russia has been the largest purchaser of gold for the last seven years, purchasing 274 tons in 2018 alone.
Gold reserves explained
A gold reserve is the gold held by a nation’s central bank to support the value of its national currency and, during the gold standard era, was used as a guarantee to redeem promises to pay depositors, noteholders, and trading peers. Additionally, reserves were amassed by governments to meet the costs of waging war and to acquire and hold “treasure,” because the policies of the time emphasized the importance of doing so.
Gold reserves are a helpful tool for governments, which can purchase large amounts of gold to counteract rising inflation. Additionally, the value of imports and exports from a country is highly connected to the country’s currency. If imports exceed exports, the value of the currency declines, and vice versa. This means that a country that exports gold and has a surplus of gold reserves can often see an increase in the strength of its currency. On the other hand, gold can also reduce the value of the currency used to buy it. If many transactions are made in gold, it can devalue the local currency and cause inflation.