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Charted: 30 Years of Central Bank Gold Demand

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30 Years of Central Bank Gold Demand

Did you know that nearly one-fifth of all the gold ever mined is held by central banks?

Besides investors and jewelry consumers, central banks are a major source of gold demand. In fact, in 2022, central banks snapped up gold at the fastest pace since 1967.

However, the record gold purchases of 2022 are in stark contrast to the 1990s and early 2000s, when central banks were net sellers of gold.

The above infographic uses data from the World Gold Council to show 30 years of central bank gold demand, highlighting how official attitudes toward gold have changed in the last 30 years.

Why Do Central Banks Buy Gold?

Gold plays an important role in the financial reserves of numerous nations. Here are three of the reasons why central banks hold gold:

  • Balancing foreign exchange reserves
    Central banks have long held gold as part of their reserves to manage risk from currency holdings and to promote stability during economic turmoil.
  • Hedging against fiat currencies
    Gold offers a hedge against the eroding purchasing power of currencies (mainly the U.S. dollar) due to inflation.
  • Diversifying portfolios
    Gold has an inverse correlation with the U.S. dollar. When the dollar falls in value, gold prices tend to rise, protecting central banks from volatility.
  • The Switch from Selling to Buying

    In the 1990s and early 2000s, central banks were net sellers of gold.

    There were several reasons behind the selling, including good macroeconomic conditions and a downward trend in gold prices. Due to strong economic growth, gold’s safe-haven properties were less valuable, and low returns made it unattractive as an investment.

    Central bank attitudes toward gold started changing following the 1997 Asian financial crisis and then later, the 2007–08 financial crisis. Since 2010, central banks have been net buyers of gold on an annual basis.

    Here’s a look at the 10 largest official buyers of gold from the end of 1999 to end of 2021:

    Rank CountryAmount of
    Gold Bought (tonnes)
    % of
    All Buying
    #1🇷🇺 Russia 1,88828%
    #2🇨🇳 China 1,55223%
    #3🇹🇷 Türkiye 5418%
    #4🇮🇳 India 3956%
    #5🇰🇿 Kazakhstan 3455%
    #6🇺🇿 Uzbekistan 3115%
    #7🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 1803%
    #8🇹🇭 Thailand 1682%
    #9🇵🇱 Poland1282%
    #10🇲🇽 Mexico 1152%
    Total5,62384%

    Source: IMF

    The top 10 official buyers of gold between end-1999 and end-2021 represent 84% of all the gold bought by central banks during this period.

    Russia and China—arguably the United States’ top geopolitical rivals—have been the largest gold buyers over the last two decades. Russia, in particular, accelerated its gold purchases after being hit by Western sanctions following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

    Interestingly, the majority of nations on the above list are emerging economies. These countries have likely been stockpiling gold to hedge against financial and geopolitical risks affecting currencies, primarily the U.S. dollar.

    Meanwhile, European nations including Switzerland, France, Netherlands, and the UK were the largest sellers of gold between 1999 and 2021, under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) framework.

    Which Central Banks Bought Gold in 2022?

    In 2022, central banks bought a record 1,136 tonnes of gold, worth around $70 billion.

    Country2022 Gold Purchases (tonnes)% of Total
    🇹🇷 Türkiye14813%
    🇨🇳 China 625%
    🇪🇬 Egypt 474%
    🇶🇦 Qatar333%
    🇮🇶 Iraq 343%
    🇮🇳 India 333%
    🇦🇪 UAE 252%
    🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan 61%
    🇹🇯 Tajikistan 40.4%
    🇪🇨 Ecuador 30.3%
    🌍 Unreported 74165%
    Total1,136100%

    Türkiye, experiencing 86% year-over-year inflation as of October 2022, was the largest buyer, adding 148 tonnes to its reserves. China continued its gold-buying spree with 62 tonnes added in the months of November and December, amid rising geopolitical tensions with the United States.

    Overall, emerging markets continued the trend that started in the 2000s, accounting for the bulk of gold purchases. Meanwhile, a significant two-thirds, or 741 tonnes of official gold purchases were unreported in 2022.

    According to analysts, unreported gold purchases are likely to have come from countries like China and Russia, who are looking to de-dollarize global trade to circumvent Western sanctions.

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200 Years of Global Gold Production, by Country

Global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s, with 86% of all above-ground gold mined in the last 200 years.

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Visualizing Global Gold Production Over 200 Years

Although the practice of gold mining has been around for thousands of years, it’s estimated that roughly 86% of all above-ground gold was extracted in the last 200 years.

With modern mining techniques making large-scale production possible, global gold production has grown exponentially since the 1800s.

The above infographic uses data from Our World in Data to visualize global gold production by country from 1820 to 2022, showing how gold mining has evolved to become increasingly global over time.

A Brief History of Gold Mining

The best-known gold rush in modern history occurred in California in 1848, when James Marshall discovered gold in Sacramento Valley. As word spread, thousands of migrants flocked to California in search of gold, and by 1855, miners had extracted around $2 billion worth of gold.

The United States, Australia, and Russia were (interchangeably) the three largest gold producers until the 1890s. Then, South Africa took the helm thanks to the massive discovery in the Witwatersrand Basin, now regarded today as one of the world’s greatest ever goldfields.

South Africa’s annual gold production peaked in 1970 at 1,002 tonnes—by far the largest amount of gold produced by any country in a year.

With the price of gold rising since the 1980s, global gold production has become increasingly widespread. By 2007, China was the world’s largest gold-producing nation, and today a significant quantity of gold is being mined in over 40 countries.

The Top Gold-Producing Countries in 2022

Around 31% of the world’s gold production in 2022 came from three countries—China, Russia, and Australia, with each producing over 300 tonnes of the precious metal.

RankCountry2022E Gold Production, tonnes% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China33011%
#2🇷🇺 Russia32010%
#3🇦🇺 Australia32010%
#4🇨🇦 Canada2207%
#5🇺🇸 United States1705%
#6🇲🇽 Mexico1204%
#7🇰🇿 Kazakhstan1204%
#8🇿🇦 South Africa1104%
#9🇵🇪 Peru1003%
#10🇺🇿 Uzbekistan1003%
#11🇬🇭 Ghana903%
#12🇮🇩 Indonesia702%
-🌍 Rest of the World1,03033%
-World Total3,100100%

North American countries Canada, the U.S., and Mexico round out the top six gold producers, collectively making up 16% of the global total. The state of Nevada alone accounted for 72% of U.S. production, hosting the world’s largest gold mining complex (including six mines) owned by Nevada Gold Mines.

Meanwhile, South Africa produced 110 tonnes of gold in 2022, down by 74% relative to its output of 430 tonnes in 2000. This long-term decline is the result of mine closures, maturing assets, and industrial conflict, according to the World Gold Council.

Interestingly, two smaller gold producers on the list, Uzbekistan and Indonesia, host the second and third-largest gold mining operations in the world, respectively.

The Outlook for Global Gold Production

As of April 25, gold prices were hovering around the $2,000 per ounce mark and nearing all-time highs. For mining companies, higher gold prices can mean more profits per ounce if costs remain unaffected.

According to the World Gold Council, mined gold production is expected to increase in 2023 and could surpass the record set in 2018 (3,300 tonnes), led by the expansion of existing projects in North America. The chances of record mine output could be higher if gold prices continue to increase.

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All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization

This infographic visualizes the 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2022.

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All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization

Metals are a big part of our daily lives, found in every building we enter and all devices we use.

Today, major industries that directly consume processed mineral materials contribute 14% of the United States economy.

The above infographic visualizes all 2.8 billion tonnes of metals mined in 2022 and highlights each metal’s largest end-use using data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Iron Ore Dominance

Iron ore dominates the metals mining landscape, comprising 93% of the total mined. In 2022, 2.6 billion tonnes of iron ore were mined, containing about 1.6 billion tonnes of iron.

Metal/OreQuantity Mined in 2022 (tonnes)% of Total
Iron ore2,600,000,00093.3%
Industrial metals185,111,8356.6%
Technology and Precious Metals1,500,0080.05%
Total2,786,611,843100%

Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Iron ores are found in various geologic environments, such as igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rocks, and can contain over 70% iron, with many falling in the 50-60% range.

Combined with other materials like coke and limestone, iron ore is primarily used in steel production. Today, almost all (98%) iron ore is dedicated to steelmaking.

The ore is typically mined in about 50 countries, but Australia, Brazil, China, and India are responsible for 75% of the production.

Because of its essential role in infrastructure development, iron ore is one of the most crucial materials underpinning urbanization and economic growth.

Industrial Metals

Industrial metals occupy the second position on our list, constituting 6.6% of all metals mined in 2022. These metals, including copper, aluminum, lead, and zinc, are employed in construction and industrial applications.

Aluminum constituted nearly 40% of industrial metal production in 2022. China was responsible for 56% of all aluminum produced.

Industrial Metals2022 Mine Production (tonnes)% of Total
Aluminum69,000,00037.3%
Chromium41,000,00022.1%
Copper22,000,00011.9%
Manganese20,000,00010.8%
Zinc13,000,0007.0%
Titanium (mineral concentrates)9,500,0005.1%
Lead4,500,0002.4%
Nickel3,300,0001.8%
Zirconium Minerals (Zircon)1,400,0000.8%
Magnesium1,000,0000.5%
Strontium340,0000.2%
Uranium49,3550.03%
Bismuth20,0000.01%
Mercury2,2000.00%
Beryllium2800.00%
Total185,111,835100%

In the second position is chromium, which plays a primary role in rendering stainless steel corrosion-resistant. South Africa led chromium production, accounting for 44% of the total mined last year.

Technology and Precious Metals

Despite representing less than 1% of all the metals mined, technology metals have been on the news over the last few years as countries and companies seek these materials to reduce carbon emissions and improve productivity.

Technology and Precious Metals2022 Mine Production (tonnes)% of Total
Tin310,00020.7%
Rare Earth Oxides300,00020.0%
Molybdenum250,00016.7%
Cobalt190,00012.7%
Lithium130,0008.7%
Vanadium100,0006.7%
Tungsten84,0005.6%
Niobium79,0005.3%
Silver26,0001.7%
Cadmium24,0001.6%
Gold3,1000.2%
Tantalum2,0000.1%
Indium9000.1%
Gallium5500.04%
Platinum Group Metals4000.03%
Rhenium580.004%
Total1,500,008100%

They include lithium and cobalt, used in electric vehicles and battery storage, and rare earths, used in magnets, metal alloys, and electronics. Many of them are considered critical for countries’ security due to their role in clean energy technologies and dependency on other nations to supply domestic demand.

However, despite increasing interest in these metals, they are still behind precious metals such as gold and silver regarding market size.

The gold market, for example, reached $196 billion in 2022, compared to $10.6 billion for the rare earths market.

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