Earlier this month we published a graph about the US Treasury purchases by foreign countries. From these numbers we concluded China and Japan were the main buyers of this dollar denominated debt, together with the United Kingdom and the Caribbean banking sector. The oil-exporting countries, Russia, Hong Kong, Thailand and some other countries decided to reduce their US Treasury holdings in 2013. It should be clear by now that most countries are not so keen on adding more dollars to their total reserves (with the expection from some countries like Venezuela and Iran). Instead, more countries want to diversify their foreign currency holdings with a tangible asset like gold. Mortymer sent me a tweet earlier this week with the suggestion to put dollar and gold purchases together in one graph…
@frankknopers Could you please make a paper where you put both in the same pic? Buy/sell treasuries/gold. Would be nice! Thanks.
— Mortymer (@mortymer001) November 25, 2013
We already had the data to put such a graph together. We started with the TIC-data, published monthly with some delay by the Federal Reserve. We took the time period between January 2002 and September 2013. From these two months we collected data about the gold reserves, mostly from the World Gold Council website. They publish a monthly statement with the official gold holdings. Some missing numbers could be retrieved from the IMF website.
Unfortunately the data is not 100% complete, because we couldn’t find reliable information on the Iranian gold reserve and the gold held by the Caribbean banking sector. There are some numbers about the Iranian gold reserve, varying from 320 to 500 tonnes, but these are not official numbers. This is the same problem we have with the Chinese gold holdings. We expect them to be much larger than the 1054 tonnes published in 2009. The figure could be multiple thousands right now, but we simply don’t have data to prove it.
Gold reserves versus dollar reserves
Despite the shortcomings mentioned above we still get an interesting result if we put all the information together in one graph. The blue bars show the change in US Treasury holdings between January 2002 and September 2013 (in billion dollars), while the yellow bars represent the purchase or sale of official gold holdings (in metric tonnes). Click on the graph to see the full size version.
Change in dollar and gold holdings since 2002
Central banks act in their own way
We can’t draw a clear conclusion based on the graph above, given there is no correlation between the amount of dollars and gold added by central banks during this period. Countries like Russia, Turkey, Mexico, India, Korea, and Thailand bought way more gold than dollars.
The oil-exporting countries (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bahrain, Iran, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, the U.A.E., Algeria, Gabon, Libya en Nigeria) have added both gold and dollars in a balanced matter. China is probably working hard to put more gold against the pile of dollar reserves, but we have no official data to rely on.
A special case is Japan, which has been supporting the dollar by buying billions of US Treasuries and not adding a single ounce of gold to their reserves. The central banks from Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Spain did’nt buy a whole lot of US debt, but they were liquidating a substantial amount of goud reserves between January 2002 and September 2013!