Central banks have been net buyers of gold for 11 consecutive years. According to World Gold Council (WGC) data, central banks around the world bought 272.9 tonnes of bullion in 2020.
Purchases last year were a whopping 60% lower than the record 668 tonnes added in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic was a stronger driver for some central banks to sell reserves and inject liquidity into their economies. Purchasing was concentrated in the first half of the year, then turned nearly nonexistent in the third quarter and resumed in the last three months of the year.
The top 10 central banks with the largest gold reserves have remained mostly unchanged for the last few years. The United States holds the number one spot with over 8,000 tonnes of gold in its vaults – nearly as much as the next three countries combined – and accounting for 79% of total reserves. The only countries where gold represents a higher percent of reserves are Portugal at 80.1% and Venezuela at 82.4%
10 central banks made net purchases of one tonne or more in 2020, highlighting the continued demand for the precious metal. Turkey was the number one buyer for the second straight year – adding 134.5 tonnes – and was also the largest seller after decreasing holdings by 36.3 tonnes. WGC notes sales were concentrated among a small number of central banks that buy gold from domestic production, including Mongolia and Uzbekistan.
Below are the top 10 countries with the largest gold holdings, with the rankings remaining unchanged from 2019. Figures are as of April 2021 and do not include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a country, or else it would hold the number three spot with 2,814 tonnes.