Charted: 30 Years of Central Bank Gold Demand
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||Country||Amount of |
Gold Bought (tonnes)
|#7||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||180||3%|
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.
|Country||2022 Gold Purchases (tonnes)||% of Total|
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.
Visualized: Real Interest Rates by Country
Currently, over half of the major economies have negative real interest rates.
Visualized: Real Interest Rates of Major World Economies
Interest rates play a crucial role in the economy because they affect consumers, businesses, and investors alike.
They can have significant implications for people’s ability to access credit, manage debts, and buy more expensive goods such as cars and houses.
This graphic uses data from Infinity Asset Management to visualize the real interest rates (ex ante) of 40 major world economies, by subtracting projected inflation over the next 12 months from current nominal rates.
Nominal Interest Rates vs. Real Interest Rates
Nominal interest rates refer to the rate at which money can be borrowed or lent at face value, without considering any other factors like inflation.
Meanwhile, the real interest rate is the nominal interest rate after taking into account inflation, reflecting the true cost of borrowing or lending. Real interest rates can fluctuate over time and are influenced by various factors such as inflation, central bank policies, and economic growth. They can also influence economic growth by affecting investment and consumption decisions.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since the mid-1980s, real interest rates across several advanced economies have declined steadily.
As of March 2023, Brazil has the highest real interest rate among the 40 major economies shown in this dataset.
Below we look at Brazil’s situation, along with the data of the four other major economies with the highest real rates in the dataset:
|Nominal Interest Rate||Real Interest Rate|
In general, countries with high interest rates offer investors higher yields on their investments but also come with higher risks due to volatile economies and political instability.
Below are the five countries in the dataset with the lowest real rates:
|Nominal Interest Rate||Real Interest Rate|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||7.00%||-7.17%|
Hyperinflation, as seen in Argentina, can lead to anomalies in both real and nominal rates, causing problems for the country’s broader economy and financial system.
As you can see above, with a 78% nominal interest rate, Argentina’s real interest rates remain the lowest on the planet due to a staggering annual inflation rate of over 100%.
Interest Rate Outlook
Increasing inflation and tighter monetary policy have resulted in rapid increases in nominal interest rates recently in many countries.
However, IMF analysis suggests that recent increases could be temporary.
Central banks in advanced economies are likely to ease monetary policy and bring interest rates back to pre-pandemic levels when inflation is brought under control, according to the fund.
Visualizing the Assets and Liabilities of U.S. Banks
Banks play a crucial role in the U.S. economy, and understanding their balance sheets can offer insight into why they sometimes fail.
Understanding the Assets and Liabilities of U.S. Banks
The U.S. banking sector has more than 4,000 FDIC-insured banks that play a crucial role in the country’s economy by securely storing deposits and providing credit in the form of loans.
This infographic visualizes all of the deposits, loans, and other assets and liabilities that make up the collective balance sheet of U.S banks using data from the Federal Reserve.
With the spotlight on the banking sector after the collapses of Signature Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and First Republic bank, understanding the assets and liabilities that make up banks’ balance sheets can give insight in how they operate and why they sometimes fail.
Assets: The Building Blocks of Banks’ Business
Assets are the foundation of a bank’s operations, serving as a base to provide loans and credit while also generating income.
A healthy asset portfolio with a mix of loans along with long-dated and short-dated securities is essential for a bank’s financial stability, especially since assets not marked to market may have a lower value than expected if liquidated early.
As of Q4 2022, U.S. banks generated an average interest income of 4.54% on all assets.
Loans and Leases
Loans and leases are the primary income-generating assets for banks, making up 53% of the assets held by U.S. banks.
- Real estate loans for residential and commercial properties (45% of all loans and leases)
- Commercial and industrial loans for business operations (23% of all loans and leases)
- Consumer loans for personal needs like credit cards and auto loans (15% of all loans and leases)
- Various other kinds of credit (17% of all loans and leases)
Securities make up the next largest portion of U.S. banks’ assets (23%) at $5.2 trillion. Banks primarily invest in Treasury and agency securities, which are debt instruments issued by the U.S. government and its agencies.
These securities can be categorized into three types:
- Held-to-maturity (HTM) securities, which are held until they mature and provide a stable income stream
- Available-for-sale (AFS) securities, which can be sold before maturity
- Trading securities, held for short-term trading to profit from price fluctuations
Along with Treasury and agency securities which make up the significant majority (80%) of U.S. banks’ securities, banks also invest in other securities which are non-government-issued debt instruments like corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and asset-backed securities.
Cash assets are a small but essential part of U.S. banks’ balance sheets, making up $3.1 trillion or 13% of all assets. Having enough cash assets ensures adequate liquidity needed to meet short-term obligations and regulatory requirements.
Cash assets include physical currency held in bank vaults, pending collections, and cash balances in accounts with other banks.
Liabilities: Banks’ Financial Obligations
Liabilities represent the obligations banks must fulfill, including customer deposits and borrowings. Careful management of liabilities is essential to maintain liquidity, manage risk, and ensure a bank’s overall solvency.
Deposits make up the largest portion of banks’ liabilities as they represent the money that customers entrust to these institutions. It’s important to note that the FDIC insures deposit accounts up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each type of account (like single accounts, joint accounts, and retirement accounts).
There are two primary types of deposits, large time deposits and other deposits. Large time deposits are defined by the FDIC as time deposits exceeding $100,000, while other deposits include checking accounts, savings accounts, and smaller time deposits.
U.S. banks had $17.18 trillion in overall deposits as of April 12th 2023, with other deposits accounting for 74% of the overall liabilities while large time deposits made up 9%.
After deposits, borrowings are the next largest liability on the balance sheet of U.S. banks, making up nearly 12% of all liabilities at $2.4 trillion.
These include short-term borrowings from other banks or financial institutions such as Federal Funds and repurchase agreements, along with long-term borrowings like subordinated debt which ranks below other loans and securities in the event of a default.
How Deposits, Rates, and Balance Sheets Affect Bank Failures
Just like any other business, banks have to balance their finances to remain solvent; however, successful banking also relies heavily on the trust of depositors.
While in other businesses an erosion of trust with customers might lead to breakdowns in future business deals and revenues, only in banking can a dissolution in customer trust swiftly turn into the immediate removal of deposits that backstop all revenue-generating opportunities.
Although recent bank collapses aren’t solely due to depositors withdrawing funds, bank runs have played a significant role. Most recently, in First Republic’s case, depositors pulled out more than $101 billion in Q1 of 2023, which would’ve been more than 50% of their total deposits, had some of America’s largest banks not injected $30 billion in deposits on March 16th.
It’s important to remember that the rapidly spreading fires of bank runs are initially sparked by poor asset management, which can sometimes be detected on banks’ balance sheets.
A combination of excessive investment in long-dated held-to-maturity securities, one of the fastest rate hiking cycles in recent history, and many depositors fearing for and moving their uninsured deposits of over $250,000 has resulted in the worst year ever for bank failures in terms of total assets.
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