Russia bought 55 metric tons of gold in the third quarter of this year to strengthen its central bank as the ruble dove under the weight of Western sanctions and low oil prices. That’s twice the amount of gold bought by the next largest buyer, former Soviet republic Kazakhstan, according to the World Gold Council.
The Central Bank of Russia took advantage of some of the lowest gold prices in four years. Gold hit an all-time high of $1,921.50 per ounce on Sept. 6, 2011, but has dropped more than 35 percent since. It’s currently trading at around $1,100 per ounce.
“Central banks do not accumulate gold for no reason; you hold gold as part of your reserves to guard against these worst-case scenarios,” Natixis analyst Nic Brown said. “It would make sense that in a situation in which the Russians found their dollar reserves were no longer useful, for whatever reason, they would want to use alternatives, and the country has accumulated a large amount of gold in recent years.”
The central bank has reportedly bought up large amounts of domestic gold from suppliers to offset the loss in international business because of European and American sanctions related to Russian incursions into Ukraine, although it’s not clear how much of the third quarter’s 55-metric-ton buy is part of that effort, according to Reuters.
The ruble has plummeted this year against the dollar. The central bank floated the ruble this week to avoid having to spend any more of its dollar reserves to stabilize it. The bank spent $30 billion in October in that effort and more than $110 billion since the start of the year. The bank lowered its estimated GDP growth for 2015 to 0.3 percent earlier this month.
Nearly half of Russia’s budget is made up of revenue from selling oil and gas to foreign buyers, but the benchmark Brent crude oil blend is selling for under $80 per barrel for the first time since 2010.
Russia has tripled its stocks of gold to around 1,150 metric tons over the last decade, according to the Telegraph.
Kazakhstan bought up 28 metric tons and third-largest buyer Azerbaijan bought seven metric tons. Both are former members of the Soviet Union and Kazahstan is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. More than a third of Kazakhstan’s imports come from Russia, more than any other country, and about 10 percent of Kazakhstan’s exports go to Russia, making Russia its largest trading partner. Azerbaijan imports around 14 percent of its products from Russia.