The United States holds the largest stockpile of gold reserves in the world by a considerable margin. In fact, the U.S. government has almost as many reserves as the next three largest countries combined (Germany, Italy and France). Russia rounds out the top five. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is reported to have more gold reserves than Italy but less than Germany.
Gold has served as a means of exchange, to varying degrees, for thousands of years. For much of the 17th to 20th centuries, the paper money issued by national governments was denominated in terms of gold and acted as a legal claim to physical gold. International trade was conducted using gold. For this reason, countries needed to maintain a store of gold for both economic and political reasons.
There is no contemporary government that requires all of its money to backed by gold. Nevertheless, governments still house huge stacks of bullion, which are measured in terms of metric tons, as a failsafe against hyperinflation or other economic calamity. Every year, governments increase their gold reserves by hundreds of tons.
Gold is the most followed and most globally traded commodity, according to a 2013 Futures magazine report. For businesses, gold represents a commodity asset that is used in medicine, jewelry and electronics. For many investors, both institutional and retail, gold is a hedge against inflation or recession.
Largest Gold Reserves in the World
As of 2018, these are the five countries with the largest gold reserves:
1. United States: 8,133.5 tons. During the height of the Bretton Woods system of international exchange, when the U.S. offered to house other countries' gold in exchange for dollars, it was reported that between 90% and 95% of the entire world's gold reserves lay in American vaults. Decades later, the U.S. still holds the most; gold makes up over 75% of its foreign reserves.
2. Germany: 3,371 tons. Germany only keeps about one-third of its gold reserves in its country. Nearly half are kept in at the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank branch in New York, and another 20% are kept in either London or Paris.
3. Italy: 2,451.8 tons. The eurozone crisis led some to call for Italy's government to sell some of its gold reserves to raise funds, but no such plans ever materialized.
4. France: 2,436 tons. Former President of France Charles de Gaulle was partially responsible for the collapse of the Bretton Woods system when he called the U.S. bluff and began actually trading dollars in for gold from the Fort Knox reserves. Then-president Richard Nixon, who knew that the fixed rate of $35 per gold ounce was too low, eventually was forced to eventually take the U.S. off the gold standard, ending the dollar's automatic convertibility into gold.
5. Russia: 1909.8 tons. Russia overtook China as the fifth-largest holder of the yellow metal in 2018. Its increase of its stores has been as an attempt to diversity from American investments. Russia mainly sold U.S. Treasury bonds to buy the bullion.