Visualizing Two Decades of Central Bank Gold Reserve Changes
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.”
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 2021||Net Change in Gold Reserves (tonnes) since 2000||Purchased Gold USD Value (at $1,730/oz)||Nominal GDP in USD||Purchased Gold as a Percentage of GDP|
*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.
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.
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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