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Visualizing Two Decades of Central Bank Gold Reserve Changes

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Changes in central bank gold reserves

Gold-Hoarding Nations: Changing Gold Reserves Since 2000

Gold has long been an important hedge in times of uncertainty, and unlike foreign currencies, equities, or debt securities, its value is not dependent on any company or nation’s solvency.

This has made gold an essential part of many national central bank reserves, especially as the monetary supply of many nations continues to expand and central banks are exploring digital currencies which could be reserve or gold backed.

With gold still making up a large part of many nations’ reserves, how have central banks been managing the precious metal?

Using data from the IMF’s International Financial Statistics, this infographic looks at the top 20 countries by their central bank’s gold holdings and how their national gold reserves have changed since 2000.

European Nations Sold Gold, but Still Hold Plenty

Many European nations started the millennium by reducing their gold holdings. The Euro Area (including the European Central Bank) sold a total of 1,885.3 tonnes over the past two decades, reducing gold holdings by around 15%.

Despite this, European nations like Germany, Italy, and France still retain some of the largest gold reserves, with Italy not having touched their gold at all over the past 20 years.

After the termination of the Central Bank Gold Agreement in July of 2019, the European Central Bank made it clear that gold is still held in high standard by the Euro Area’s nations:

“The signatories confirm that gold remains an important element of global monetary reserves, as it continues to provide asset diversification benefits and none of them currently has plans to sell significant amounts of gold.”
ECB

Small Countries, Big Buyers

While nations across Europe sold off some of their central bank gold reserves, smaller countries like Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Kyrgyz Republic, Belarus, Qatar, and Uzbekistan have been some of the biggest gold purchasers relative to their GDP.

Large Gold Purchases of Six Small Nations

 Central Bank Gold Reserves (tonnes) in 2021Net Change in Gold Reserves (tonnes) since 2000Purchased Gold USD Value (at $1,730/oz)Nominal GDP in USDPurchased Gold as a Percentage of GDP
Uzbekistan*340.6+159.9$8.89B$63.30B14.0%
Kazakhstan390.7+334.7$18.64B$180.72B10.3%
Kyrgyz Republic16.8+14.2$0.79B$8.45B9.3%
Cambodia45.5+33.1$1.84B$28.55B6.4%
Belarus**50.0+40.7$2.26B$60.97B3.7%
Qatar56.7+56.1$3.12B$155.57B2.0%

*Uzbekistan data only available from 2013 onwards
**Belarus data only available from 2002 onwards
Source: IMF World Economic Outlook Database

None of the nations in the table above rank in the top 50 by nominal GDP, however, their central bank reserves have greatly grown in value thanks to their gold accumulation over the past 20 years. Along with this, countries like Uzbekistan are focusing on making gold production and circulation a key part of their economies.

In November of 2020, Uzbekistan introduced a new gold product available at commercial banks to make buying and selling gold more accessible: gold bars weighing 5, 10, 20, and 50 grams in a protective card packaging with a matching QR code for authentication.

As Uzbekistan pushes to become one of the world’s largest gold producers over the next few years, this product reintroduces gold in smaller purchasable amounts for everyday citizens.

A Turkish Delight of Gold Purchases

Since 2017, Turkey has increased gold within their central bank reserves from 116 to 527 tonnes (a 354% increase), while wrestling with rising inflation and a plummeting Turkish lira.

Alongside the central bank’s gold purchases, the Turkish government introduced gold-backed bonds and changes to gold regulations in an attempt to draw out household gold deposits. To further strengthen the nation’s economic independence and cut down gold import costs, Turkey is planning to radically ramp up domestic gold production to 100 tonnes of gold per year.

The country broke records in 2020 with 42 tonnes of gold produced, and the recent discovery of a 3.5M oz gold deposit (valued ~$6B) will help supply the nation’s surging demand for the precious metal.

A Common Trend: Gold is Rising as a Percentage of Reserves

One trend that is common across many nations: gold as a percentage of reserves has risen consistently since Q3 of 2018 as gold’s price has skyrocketed.

Most European central banks have gold reserves above the 50% mark of their reserves despite mostly selling gold over the past two decades. On the other hand, China and India have been aggressively purchasing gold since 2000, and yet gold still remains at single-digit percentages of their total reserves with plenty of room for expansion.

chart of gold as a percentage of central bank reserves

While some major nations’ gold holdings are reaching 70-80% of their reserves, the head of foreign exchange reserves management for the Central Bank of Hungary, Róbert Rékási, doesn’t think that nations are approaching a ceiling for this figure, and that central banks are still willing to increase their gold exposure.

China and Russia’s 20-Year Accumulation

The two nations that have increased their gold exposure the most over these past two decades have been China and Russia, which have purchased 1,553 tonnes (393% increase) and 1,873 tonnes (443% increase) respectively.

These aggressive purchases highlight a potential distancing from a weakening U.S. monetary system. The U.S. dollar was recently overtaken by gold as a percentage of Russian reserves, and has fallen to 25-year lows in global central bank foreign exchange reserves.

As both China and Russia have begun preparing central bank digital currencies, the two nations could be looking to set new monetary standards and strengthen their roles in the world’s evolving financial system.

The Next 20 Years of Gold Reserves

Gold’s value has stagnated over the past few months while bitcoin and equities have taken the spotlight, however, central banks still consider it an essential part of their reserves.

Developing nations and global heavyweights like Russia, China, and India have all been accumulating and prioritizing gold production, and while European countries have sold some gold the past two decades, they still rank among the largest holders of the precious metal.

As central bank digital currencies loom on the horizon, gold still plays an essential role in the composition of national central bank reserves backing these new financial systems, providing a familiar inflation hedge for central banks and investors in these uncertain monetary times.

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Real Assets

Charting the Gold-to-Silver Ratio Over 200 Years

The gold-to-silver ratio used to define the value of currencies and still remains an important metric for metals investors today.

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historical gold to silver ratio chart

Charting 200 Years of the Gold-to-Silver Ratio

Gold and silver have been precious and monetary metals for millennia, with the gold-to-silver ratio having been measured since the days of Ancient Rome.

Historically, the ratio between gold and silver played an important role in ensuring coins had their appropriate value, and it remains an important technical metric for metals investors today.

This graphic charts 200 years of the gold-to-silver ratio, plotting the pivotal historical events that have shaped its peaks and valleys.

What is the Gold-to-Silver Ratio?

The gold-to-silver ratio represents the amount of silver ounces equivalent to a single ounce of gold, enabling us to see if one of the two precious metals is particularly under or overvalued.

Currently, the ratio sits at about 80 ounces of silver equivalent to one ounce of gold. This is after the ratio spiked to new highs of 123.3 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While gold is primarily viewed as an inflation and recession hedge, silver is also an industrial metal and asset. The ratio between the two can reveal whether industrial metals demand is on the rise or if an economic slowdown or recession may be looming.

The History of the Gold-to-Silver Ratio

Long before the gold-to-silver ratio was allowed to float freely, the ratio between these two metals was fixed by empires and governments to control the value of their currency and coinage.

The earliest recorded instance of the gold-to-silver ratio dates back to 3200 BCE, when Menes, the first king of Ancient Egypt set a ratio of 2.5:1. Since then, the ratio has only seen gold’s value rise as empires and governments became more familiar with the scarcity and difficulty of production for the two metals.

Gold and Silver’s Ancient Beginnings

Ancient Rome was one of the earliest ancient civilizations to set a gold-to-silver ratio, starting as low as 8:1 in 210 BCE. Over the decades, varying gold and silver inflows from Rome’s conquests caused the ratio to fluctuate between 8-12 ounces of silver for every ounce of gold.

By 46 BCE, Julius Caesar had established a standard gold-to-silver ratio of 11.5:1, shortly before it was bumped to 11.75:1 under emperor Augustus.

As centuries progressed, ratios around the world fluctuated between 6-12 ounces of silver for every ounce of gold, with many Middle Eastern and Asian empires and nations often valuing silver more highly than Western counterparts, thus having a lower ratio.

The Rise of the Fixed Ratio

By the 18th century, the gold-to-silver ratio was being redefined by the U.S. government’s Coinage Act of 1792 which set the ratio at 15:1. This act was the basis for U.S. coinage, defining coins’ values by their metallic compositions and weights.

Around the same time period, France had enacted a ratio of 15.5:1, however, neither of these fixed ratios lasted long. The growth of the industrial revolution and the volatility of two world wars resulted in massive fluctuations in currencies, gold, and silver. By the 20th century, the ratio had already reached highs of around 40:1, with the start of World War II further pushing the ratio to a high of nearly 100:1.

Recently in 2020, the ratio set new highs of more than 123:1, as pandemic fears saw investors pile into gold as a safe-haven asset. While the gold-to-silver ratio has since fallen to roughly 80:1, runaway inflation and a potential recession has put gold in the spotlight again, likely bringing further volatility to this historic ratio.

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Real Assets

2022’s Stores of Value: Gold, Oil and Grains

The start of 2022 has seen commodities surge with crude oil, gold, and grains acting as the new stores of value.

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Chart of 2022 price performance of gold, crude oil, grains, the S&P500, and bitcoin

Gold, Oil and Grains Emerge as 2022’s Stores of Value

2022 started off with a slump for equity and cryptocurrency prices, but real assets like gold, crude oil, and agricultural commodities have more than held their dollar value.

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in extreme uncertainty over energy and raw material exports from both nations, commodities had already started to outperform other assets.

This graphic looks at how five key assets have performed in 2022 thus far, comparing the prices of WTI crude oil, the Invesco DB Agriculture Fund, gold, the S&P 500, and bitcoin.

Commodities Surge to Start off 2022

Just a few months into 2022 and commodities have already surged by double digits while nearly every other asset class has struggled to hold its value. Equity indices have continued to slide downwards from their all-time highs set in January of this year, with the S&P 500 down 13.4% from its all-time high.

Although the Energy sector of the S&P 500 is up 33.4% and the Information Technology sector is down 18.9% YTD, tech makes up more than a quarter of the index at 28.1% while Energy only makes up 3.7%. Other speculative tech assets like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have also significantly drawn down in 2022, with bitcoin down 16.3% and the total crypto sector’s market cap down by 22.4%.

Asset2021 Performance2022 Performance YTD
WTI Crude Oil+56.4%+34.4%
Invesco DB Agriculture Fund+22.4%+10.4%
Gold-3.6%+6.7%
S&P 500+26.9%-12.4%
Bitcoin+59.4%-16.3%

Source: TradingView
Prices as of March 14, 2022

In the meantime, commodity investors have seen record-breaking rallies and volatility, especially in the energy and agricultural sectors. Crude oil is already up 34.4% in 2022 after WTI Crude reached highs of $129 a barrel, and the Invesco DB Agriculture fund which tracks wheat, corn, soybeans, and other agricultural commodities is up 10.4% YTD.

Gold Recovers 2021’s Losses as Rate Hike Looms

While 2021 saw metals and energy prices surge, precious metals like gold and silver lagged behind the pack with negative returns. However, the Fed’s suggestion of raising interest rates has seen investors move out of speculative growth assets and into gold which has historically outperformed other assets in tightening cycles.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also spurred investors towards gold in a flight to safety, with the yellow metal’s price rallying by more than six percent in February, the month of the invasion.

As Russia is cut off and cuts itself off from trade with the U.S. and other Western countries, a new trade system with China that primarily uses gold-backed settlement akin to the petroyuan could push gold prices even higher.

Sanctions and Supply Shocks Fuel Crude Oil and Wheat Rallies

Not long after the U.S. announced sanctions against Russia alongside the European Union and G7 nations, Russia immediately responded with comprehensive export bans against 48 different countries including the U.S. and the EU.

Currently, Russia is one of the biggest crude oil exporters in the world and exported around 4.7 million barrels of crude oil a day for a total export value of $110 billion in 2021.

Agriculture and specifically wheat prices have also surged as the invasion began, as both Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s biggest wheat exporters. As a result of the uncertainty around these vital agricultural exports, wheat prices have skyrocketed nearly 40% over the past two months, and Russia has added fuel to the fire with a temporary grain export ban against ex-Soviet nations.

While the start of 2022 has seen a sizable shift in value towards commodities, we’ll see if these prices stabilize while stocks and crypto recover, or if this year is the beginning of a new commodity supercycle.

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