Amid unprecedented disruption to all aspects of life in H1, global central banks bought 233.4t of gold on a net basis. This is 39% lower than the 385.7t seen in H1 2019 – the highest level of H1 net purchases in our records going back to 2000. But H1 2020 demand was only 6% below the H1 average of 247.1t going back to 2010, when central banks became net purchasers on an annual basis.
The continued buying is broadly in line with our 2020 Central Bank Survey. 20% of respondents indicated that they intend to buy gold in the next 12 months (compared with 8% in 2019), citing factors related to the economic environment – such as negative interest rates – as reasons for their positive sentiment. We expect central banks to remain net purchasers in 2020, but in volumes below those of the two preceding years.
While the coronavirus outbreak took hold in Q1, sending shockwaves through financial markets, Q2 proved to be just as – if not more – tumultuous. Economies across the world were marked by continued lockdowns and widespread uncertainty over the ultimate impact of the pandemic. Amidst these gloomy conditions, central bank net purchases totalled 114.7t (-50% y-o-y), 15% below the five-year quarterly average of 134.6t and well below the ~165t quarterly average in both 2018 and 2019. Q2 also marked the first quarter since Russia – a major gold buyer since 2014 – suspended its gold purchasing.
Q2 purchases were also more concentrated than we have seen in recent years. During the quarter, six central banks increased their gold reserves by a tonne or more.2 This compares with an average of nine over the last 12 quarters. Turkey remained the largest gold buyer by some distance. Turkish gold reserves grew by 97.8t, accounting for 85% of the quarterly global total, taking its gold reserves to 583t (38% of total reserves). Y-t-d net purchases total 170.5t, while net purchases since May 2017 – when it resumed buying – now exceed 450t. Ecuador (7.5t), India (4.7t), Uzbekistan (4.7t), and Czech Republic (1.2t) were the other significant, and familiar, buyers during the quarter.
Turning to net sales, H1 2020 saw a slight rise in the number of banks reducing their gold reserves by a tonne or more compared to H1 2019 (seven versus two). But despite this, the absolute volume of gold being sold remains modest: in H1, gross sales totalled 42.5t.