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Largest Foreign Exchange Market

by Uneeb Khan

Every nation has a foreign currency reserve used to pay for important imports such as crude oil, commodities, etc. These reserves play a fundamental role in ensuring that a nation remains stable and sound economically. External debts are also cleared or services using forex and may even cripple the central bank’s response to an economic crisis if enough funds are not available. 

Global trade can also be affected by a nation’s foreign currency reserves as they’re used to manage exchange rates. When a situation arises where a fixed or a floating currency shifts from its expected rate with respect to a foreign currency, the central bank has the liberty to trade reserves and restore the exchange rate. 

However, it is interesting to note that a government does not have just foreign currencies as assets. As per the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a nation’s foreign currency reserves are external assets. Monetary authorities of every nation are free to use these assets for various purposes like balancing out payments for financial requirements, changing currency rates, etc. Foreign currency deposits owned by citizens and monetary authorities are the only things referred to as forex reserves. But, when official reserves are being considered, it is common to club together gold reserves, special drawing rights, and IMF reserves as well. 

As per IMF’s Feb 2022 data, the below-listed nations have the largest foreign currency reserves: 

RankCountryForeign Currency Reserves (in millions of U.S. dollars)
1China 3,373,159
7Hong Kong481,600
8South Korea457,810
9Saudi Arabia441,224

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_foreign-exchange_reserves

Why China tops the list

China’s foreign-exchange reserves has superseded the reserves of every other country consistently for over 14 years. The Chinese forex reserves are mainly made up of USD (about two-thirds), Euros (one-fifth) as well as the Japanese Yen and Pound Sterling. Only China has net reserves worth $2 trillion. While this is not confirmed by any official number, it is speculated that Chinese forex reserves stood at $4 trillion before July 2014. This was followed by global concerns about having way too high forex reserves and as a result, China began to reduce its reserves for about one and a half years. Finally, in 2017, the Chinese reserves fell below $3 trillion and since then it has stood above that level consistently. 

Note that Hong Kong and China’s forex reserves are mentioned separately. If this demarcation is dissolved, together they account for $3.7 trillion worth of forex reserves. Japan comes second with a forex reserve that’s two and a half times less than what China has. 

The Bottom Line

If you combine the forex reserves of the nations that lead the tally, the total worth was equal to $8.8 trillion in December 2021. China and Hong Kong together make up over 40% of these reserves.

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