Gold is one of the most important metals on the planet. For millennia it has been used in jewelry, art and currency, capturing the collective imagination as a thing of wonder. Gold’s association with royalty and wealth has inspired explorers and treasure hunters alike, who put themselves at risk for a chance to strike it rich.
Today, gold’s hold on us as a precious metal is no less powerful. Still used for jewelry and as a store of wealth, the metal also has a variety of modern industrial and electronic applications.
Even though gold seems to be everywhere, in reality it’s a finite resource. Only 208,000 metric tons (MT) of gold have ever been mined, and two-thirds of that has been extracted since 1950. Comparing that amount to the more than 700 million MT of copper that have been pulled from the ground provides an idea of how precious a resource gold truly is.
For investors interested in the yellow metal and the companies that mine it, it’s important to understand global gold reserves. This data can provide critical information on the long-term viability of supply and which countries have room to grow.
This article uses the most recent data from the US Geological Survey, which uses metric tons for its figures. As gold is often measured and discussed in ounces, this article will contain a mix of the two measurements. To add some perspective, 1 MT of gold is equal to 35,274 ounces — this means at a gold price of US$1,900 per ounce, 1 MT is over US$67 million worth of gold.
According to the US Geological Survey, identified economic gold reserves currently stand at just 52,000 MT globally. So which countries have the largest gold reserves? These 10 top the list.
Gold reserves: 8,400 MT
Outsized is one way to describe Australia. The sixth largest country by land area, it has the most gold reserves of any nation, coming in at 8,400 MT. Australia has been going through somewhat of a modern boom and has been consistent in producing more than 300 MT of gold every year since 2017. Over 60 percent of its gold deposits are in Western Australia.
Large mining operations coupled with elevated levels of production have helped Australia’s Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,TSX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF) become one of the largest and most important gold-mining companies in the world. In its 2023 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, the company produced 597,000 ounces from its Cadia mine and 349,000 ounces from its Telfer mine. Cadia is still expanding — the year saw Newcrest deliver the first ore from its new PC2-3 panel cave, and PC1-2 is now under development.
Gold reserves: 6,800 MT
Russia has the largest land area of any country, and unsurprisingly is among the top countries for gold reserves. It boasts an impressive 6,800 MT, although this is down from 7,500 MT in 2021. Russia’s output was steady in 2022 with 320 MT extracted.
Polyus operates four of the country’s five largest mines, including the Olimpiada open-pit mine in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region. The company’s four Russian mines combined for 69.48 MT in 2022, 28 MT of which came from Olimpiada alone.
Despite steady production, Russian gold is having difficulties reaching most markets following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The London Bullion Market Association halted trading and removed Russian refiners from its accredited list in March 2022. However, a significant portion of the metal was exported to the United Arab Emirates last year, according to Reuters, and Russian gold has also made its way into the country’s stockpiles.
3. South Africa
Gold reserves: 5,000 MT
South Africa remains a powerhouse in terms of global gold reserves, and the country’s Witwatersrand Basin is among the top gold jurisdictions in the world. However, while South Africa remains comfortably in the top three countries for reserves with 5,000 MT, the country has lost some of its luster when it comes to production. At the turn of the century, South Africa was the top gold-producing country, with 431 MT extracted in 2000. The country’s output has slowly fallen in the decades since though, and has hit all-time lows in recent years — South Africa extracted just 110 MT in 2022.
One reason for lowered production is decreasing gold grades, which have led miners operating in the country to move to greater depths. In fact, as of 2019, eight of South Africa’s gold mines were among the 10 deepest mines for any commodity, with AngloGold Ashanti’s (NYSE:AU,JSE:ANG) Mponeng gold mine topping the list at 2.4 kilometers to over 3.9 kilometers below surface. This has made makes industrial mining operations prohibitively expensive and more dangerous.
Other factors negatively affecting the mining sector are constant power outages in recent years and limited investment in exploration outside the Witwatersrand Basin.
4. United States
Gold reserves: 3,000 MT
Gold reserves in the US have remained steady at 3,000 MT since 2012. The country is home to well-developed infrastructure, highly experienced companies and an advanced workforce. However, over the last decade, production and refinement of the yellow metal in the US has been in decline, dropping from 230 MT in 2012 to 170 MT in 2022.
One of the largest operations in the country is Nevada Gold Mines (NGM), a joint venture between Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX,NYSE:GOLD) and Newmont (NYSE:NEM,TSX:NGT). NGM includes three of the largest gold mines in the world: Goldstrike, Carlin and Cortez. NGM’s operations in Nevada produced more than 3 million ounces in 2022 from a total of five sites, while holding an estimated 47 million ounces more in proven and probable reserves.
Gold reserves: 2,900 MT
Gold has been an important part of Peru’s economy for centuries. The country has a well-documented mining industry, and it ranks as one of the top nations in the world when it comes to gold reserves. Between 2012 and 2022, Peru increased its gold reserves from 2,000 MT to 2,900 MT. During this time, production fell from 160 MT to 100 MT. This fall was due to a combination of factors, including increased regulation to combat illegal operations, instability in the country and COVID-19 restrictions.
Large players make up the bulk of Peru’s gold industry, with major miner Newmont leading the way at Yanacocha, the biggest gold mine in Peru. There are also artisanal operations in the country, along with operations being run by criminal organizations. While environmental concerns are common in the mining industry, illegal and small-scale gold miners often employ mercury during the extraction process, which is very damaging to the environment.
To counteract illegal mining operations, the Peruvian government instituted Operation Mercury in 2019, which involved military interventions at illegal mine sites and the destruction of mining operations. For small-scale and artisanal mining, programs such as the Fairmined Ecological Gold certification exist to encourage environmentally friendly mining methods by introducing premium prices for gold that meets particular requirements. This also allows gold buyers to identify gold from legal operations that reduce the use of toxic treatments like mercury during the extraction process.
Gold reserves: 2,600 MT
Home to remote mining sites and enormous reserves, Indonesia is a destination for gold companies looking to stake a claim. It consistently ranks in the top 10 for gold reserves and is home to the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s largest gold operations.
Operated by Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), the open-pit copper and gold mine in Papua province has extracted more than 46 million ounces of gold since 1990; as of 2019 it had proven and probable reserves of a further 58.89 million ounces.
Gold reserves: 2,400 MT
Home to the first modern gold rush over 300 years ago, Brazil has an undeniable history with the precious metal. The country currently has 2,400 MT of reserves, although it extracted only 60 MT in 2022.
Companies like G Mining Ventures (TSXV:GMIN,OTCQX:GMINF) with its Tocantinzinho asset may boost Brazil’s gold position in the years to come. Belo Sun Mining (TSX:BSX,OTCQX:BSXGF) has been stymied by regulatory hurdles at its Volta Grande project, but management remains committed to moving the permitting process forward.
Much like Peru, gold mining in Brazil has a darker side as well. Illegal operators, many of which have found their into mining through social media sites like YouTube and TikTok, are impacting both sensitive rainforest ecosystems and local Indigenous communities. Despite government crackdowns, new operations continue to pop up throughout the Amazon.
Gold reserves: 2,300 MT
Canada has a rich history of gold mining since the metal was first discovered in Québec in the early 1800s. Mining operations can now be found across Canada, but more than 70 percent of the country’s gold is produced in Ontario and Québec. Other significant producers are BC with 9 percent, the Yukon with 4 percent and Manitoba with 2 percent.
Canada’s gold reserves have remained constant since 2012 and currently sit at 2,300 MT. However, the country has more than doubled its gold output in that time, jumping from 97 MT in 2012 to 220 MT in 2022.
Because of its well-established natural resource sector, Canada is leading the way in sustainable initiatives to protect the environment and communities. The Mining Association of Canada’s Toward Sustainable Mining initiative has been adopted by organizations around the world, including those in Finland, Brazil and the Philippines.
Gold reserves: 1,900 MT
While smaller in comparison to the other nations on this list, China’s 1,900 MT of gold reserves have remained unchanged for the past 10 years, as has the country’s output of approximately 350 MT per year.
While some deposits have been found in the western part of the country, the largest operations are in Shandong, which is home to the largest find in the country: the Xiling mine. Xiling, which is owned by Shandong Gold Group (SHA:600547), contains more than 580 MT of gold in reserves. The mine is expected to process 10,000 MT of ore per day for the next 30 years.
Gold reserves 1,800 MT
Even though the first gold mine in Uzbekistan began operating in the 1960s, it’s only recently that the country has begun to develop its resources. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the mining industry in Uzbekistan was in disarray, and most mining projects had stalled. Production hit a low of 65 MT per year in the mid-1990s, but since 2020 output has nearly doubled to 100 MT per year.
Most of Uzbekistan’s gold is mined at the massive state-owned Muruntau gold mine in the Qizilqum Desert. This open-pit mine produced 56.7 MT tonnes of gold in 2020 and is calculated to hold more than 4,000 MT in total reserves.
Securities Disclosure: I, Dean Belder, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.