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LAWRIE WILLIAMS: Russia now World no. 5 national gold holder – but is it?

The day has come.  Russia, which added 600,000 ounces (18.7 tonnes) of gold to its forex reserves in January is now officially the world’s fifth largest national holder of gold as reported to the IMF. This latest figure moves it  ahead of China, which has not reported any increases in its gold reserves since October 2016, in terms of reported official gold holdings.

The Russian reported total is now 1,857 tonnes according to the country's central bank, as against China’s 1,842.6 tonnes, still well short of the U.S., German, Italian and French totals, but closing the gap as neither the USA, or big European gold holders have changed their reported holdings for a number of years now.  It should be recognised that none of these are audited figures and the IMF relies on the levels of gold holdings as reported to it as being genuine.  We have often stated that we do not believe the Chinese figures as reported, but then, in reality, one should perhaps also cast doubts on the veracity of other reported figures too – especially in relation to available gold given that, under the IMF’s reporting rules, gold which has been leased, or swapped, is allowed to remain in the official holding figure.  It is known that some central banks have participated in gold leasing, or gold swap arrangements, but do not tend to report the amounts involved.  The sizes of individual countries’ gold holdings have an overtly political agenda.

Regardless, we suspect the real Chinese gold reserve is considerably larger than stated and thus Russia’s position as the World No. 5 national holder of gold is perhaps unlikely with China, in reality, actually still in 5th place – or possibly even higher up the table!

Table: World Top 10 National Gold Holders*





United States





























Source: IMF,

*As reported to IMF.  Russian figure as reported by central bank

As can be seen from the above table, Russia still has a long way to go before catching France and Italy in the size of its gold reserve, but at the current rate of reserve growth could be there in a little over 2 years.  Given the growth in its domestic gold production, from which it is believed to source most of its reserve gold, that is not an unrealistic target.  Russia is probably the World's No. 2 gold producer - after China - after its ouput grew by 6.7% in 2017.

But the enigma among world gold holders is China.  Apart from a 15-month period leading up to the yuan’s (renminbi’s) acceptance as a constituent of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right basket of currencies, China has resolutely insisted on non-reporting of monthly increases in its gold reserve figure.  Instead it would announce big increases in its holdings at five or six year intervals.  It very much looks as if it is returning to this policy having not announced any increase in its gold reserve for 15 straight months – yet is understood to be a firm believer in the size and value of its gold holdings in any future global economic re-alignment, as is Russia.

In both China’s and Russia’s cases, building gold reserves as an integral, and growing, part of their forex reserves may also be in order to reduce their reliance on the U.S. dollar and dollar related financial instruments in their reserves.  There certainly seems to be a degree of growing U.S. economic hostility towards both nations and should this lead to a cutting off of some key financial dollar-related elements – such as access to the SWIFT global interbank system, controlled by the U.S. and its allies – then this diversification of reserves makes a lot of sense.  Both Russia and China have been setting up an alternative to SWIFT which is just about ready to go live if needed.

21 Feb 2018 | Categories: Gold, China, Russia

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