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Visualizing Gold Investment Compared to Global Assets

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How Gold Compares to Global Assets

Gold has been a vital asset for investors and speculators to hedge against uncertainty and currency devaluation, but today it is just a small part of the investment landscape.

While gold investment holdings stand at $1.1T, this figure is dwarfed by various other global assets and funds.

This graphic compares the size of gold investment holdings to global assets, highlighting the difference in dollars invested, and where modern day investors have (or haven’t) been allocating their money.

Gold vs. Global Assets

Despite amounting to over $1 trillion dollars, gold investment holdings are a small fish in the large pond of major global assets.

Largely outsized by private equity funds, hedge funds, and more, gold has taken a backseat for today’s investors when it comes to where they allocate their capital.

AssetValue
2020 Gold Investment $90.0B
Total Gold Investment Holdings$1.1T
Top 10 Global Private Equity Funds$1.9T
U.S. Hedge Funds$3.1T
Sovereign Wealth Funds$7.9T
10 Largest Investment Banks$32.3T
Global Pension Funds$49.3T
30 Largest U.S. Mutual Funds$59.0T

Sources: Mutualfunddirectory.org, Willis Towers, relbanks.com, swfininstitute.org, barclayhedge.com, investopedia.com, CPM, Incrementum AG

Even with 2020’s large inflow of gold investment worth $90 billion, gold investment remains small on the scale of the world’s financial assets.

With its fairly small market, around 90% of gold’s global trading volume flows through three major exchanges, with the remaining volume coming from smaller OTC and secondary markets.

The Major Gold Exchanges Today

Although gold investment has been overtaken by other global assets, it still remains an important investment asset and has one of the most active markets in the world. Gold markets are split among three primary trading hubs which transact millions of dollars in volume every day.

  • London Metal Exchange (LME): Established in 1877, the LME offers futures contracts for metals including gold.
  • COMEX: A division of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) COMEX offers physically settled gold futures and options contracts.
  • Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) and Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE): While relatively young, these two exchanges have captured a large amount of gold trading volume, with the SGE being the largest purely physical gold spot exchange in the world.

Gold Exchange Trading Volumes

Gold ExchangeFY 2020 Trading Volume
London Metal Exchange (LME)$160M
COMEX$54.4B
Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE)$6.19B
Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE)$6.22B

Source: World Gold Council

These three hubs and four exchanges host the majority of the world’s gold trading, and saw ~$67B worth of gold trading volume in the fiscal year of 2020.

ETFs are Making Gold Investment Accessible

While the exchanges mentioned above transact millions of dollars worth of gold a day, gold-backed ETFs have made gold more accessible to the everyday investor. The top 3 U.S.-traded gold ETFs have more than $94B in assets under management between each other.

These ETFs offer investors one of the easiest ways to get gold exposure in their investment accounts, and see billions in flows every year.

Quarterly Gold ETF Flows

RegionQ1 2020Q2 2020Q3 2020Q4 2020Q1 2021Q2 2021
North America$6.8B$18.2B$11.8B-$5B-$8.1B$1.1B
Europe$8.1B$4.4B$3.4B-$2.1B-$2.4B$1.6B
Asia$0.7B$0.5B$1.2B-$0.3B$1B-$0.1B
Other$0.3B$0.5B$0.4B-$0.3B$0.1B-$0.1B
Total$15.9B$23.6B$16.8B-$7.7B-$9.4B$2.5B

Source: World Gold Council

Last year saw record inflows into gold ETFs, as investors sought a safe haven for their capital during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, gold ETFs have seen an overall outflow of $6.1B in 2021 so far, with North American gold ETFs seeing $402M in outflows just this July.

At the same time, European gold ETFs have seen a recent rise in inflows, highlighting a divergence in sentiment between the two regions. In the month of July, European gold ETFs saw $999M worth of inflows, with Asian gold ETFs also registering positive inflows of $54M.

Central Banks Still Believe in Gold’s Future

While gold is not attracting immediate investment flow into ETFs, the world’s central banks still maintain large amounts of their reserve assets in gold. While they primarily hold gold to hedge against currency depreciation and to diversify their reserves, gold has proved an incredibly valuable investment for central banks over the decades.

Some central banks like the U.S., Germany, and Italy, have more than 50% of their reserves’ dollar value in gold, showing truly how much they value the precious metal.

With the world’s central banks holding around $1.69T worth of gold in their reserves currently, gold remains an essential investment for both big and small players alike.

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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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