3. United States
Gold By Country:
2013 Demand: 190.3 tonnes
Jewelry/Coin & Bar Demand: 122.8 tonnes/67.5 tonnes
Reserves: 8,133.5 tonnes
% of Total Forex Reserves: 70%*
2013 GDP: $16.7 trillion
*The United States officially values its gold reserves at $42.44 per troy oz.
The United States has the largest inventory of gold reserves in the world, as well as the highest GDP. However, our propensity to own gold seems to be as fickle as our fashion taste, which is evident not just by our willingness to hold non-physical forms of gold, but also by how quickly we are willing to sell every bit of it off. So long as gold is useful—or has “utility”—we seem willing to hold onto it, but not for a second longer.
After World War II, America was the “last man standing” of the world economic powers. Europe was left in utter ruins, and the populations of Russia and China had suffered massive casualties totaling more than 40 million dead. This left the United States as the preeminent producer for the world, at a time when the world needed rebuilding. By 1949, as a result of being the dominant global trading partner, the United States had acquired more than 22,000 tons of gold in the form of reserves, which was almost 75% of the total known supply of above ground gold at that time. Since then, the United States formally came off of the gold standard and repealed laws on the prohibition of possessing physical gold in the form of bullion, both changes occurring by 1974. Currently, the United States has the largest official holding of physical gold reserves, with more than 8,133 tonnes.
The United States is currently the 3rd largest producer of gold worldwide, with nearly 230 tonnes of domestic production in 2013. The vast majority of gold mining occurs in the state of Nevada, and is primarily conducted by three privately owned mining companies: Newmont Mining, Goldcorp, and Barrick Gold. Despite having such a large commercial demand, the United States is actually a net exporter of gold.
Because the United States is an amalgamation of many cultures, gold is valued to varying degrees by people around the country. Despite the fact that the United States is the 3rd largest consumer of gold in the world, the United States spends less on gold, as a proportion of GDP, than any of the other top 16 consumers of gold worldwide.
As the price of gold rose between 2008 and 2012, Americans increased their demand for gold investment products such as coins, bars, and gold ETFs (exchange-traded funds), while decreasing their consumption of jewelry. As a result of the high cost of jewelry, many Americans started substituting tungsten carbide wedding bands for traditional gold wedding bands. The combination of higher prices for gold and the symbolic significance of tungsten seems to have been enough to motivate many middle-class Americans to make the switch.
To further the argument that Americans only value gold for its utility, let it be noted that commissions on gold ETFs were lower in the United States than any other country in the world. During the gold sell-off of 2013, gold ETFs had an outflow of more than 650 metric tonnes of gold, which was largely precipitated by divestment on the part of American consumers. The American-based SPDR gold ETF alone sold more than 450 tonnes of gold. During the second half of the last decade, gold ETFs were marketed and sold to Americans based on their usefulness in quickly transacting gold investment purchases. Ergo, the moment they were no longer useful, Americans sold them off without a second thought.
Did You Know?
Because it is a melting pot for many different cultures, and has developed a utilitarian perspective on gold, the United States more or less lacks its own distinct gold products (despite a rich gold heritage). Its jewelry is typically of lower purity than found in the East (12- and 14-karat gold), and a large portion of American gold buyers do not hold physical gold, opting instead for paper investments such as gold ETFs. When Americans do buy gold in tangible form, it is often the 22-karat American Gold Eagle or the 24 karat Gold Buffalo, the official gold bullion coins of the U.S. Mint. The United States was once the most prolific producer of gold circulation coinage in the world, striking .9167 fine Gold Liberty Head Double Eagles from 1850 until 1907, as well as the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle from 1907 until 1932. Many Double Eagles were produced in 1933, however they were never authorized for distribution and largely melted down. Today, a handful of 1933 Saint Gaudens exist due to mint employees smuggling examples out prior to the purge, the most famous of which being the King Farouk example that sold for nearly 7 million dollars at auction.