What are International Reserves?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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International reserves are financial resources, usually in the form of funds, that are held in reserve and can be transferred between the central banks of various nations with relative ease. The idea behind this type of reserves is to allow for the efficient management of transactions that occur between these central banks. Typically, international reserves are in the form of a specific currency, but may also take the form of some type of precious metal such as gold.

There are situations in which international reserves are set aside for the purpose of backing the currency issued by a given central bank. Often, those reserves are also used as a support for any deposits that are made in the bank, with special drawing rights extended based on the bylaws of the bank and the financial laws and regulations that govern the operation of the bank within that nation. Since monetary policy will vary somewhat from one central bank to another, the exact function of international reserves as they relate to internal activity will also differ slightly between different countries.


While the use of a specific currency is the usual basis for international reserves, there is also the possibility of making use of a metal that is universally recognized to be of value. Most often, the metal of choice is gold. In any form, the transactions that occur between central banks are often conducted under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This actually helps to protect the interests of both parties involved, since all these international transactions are conducted in a manner that complies with the standards that all member nations have agreed to follow in doing business with one another.

The creation and maintenance of international reserves is key to maintaining the stability of the world economy, as well as supporting the financial infrastructure of various nations that participate in the International Money Fund. The presence of the reserves makes it much easier to establish rates of exchange using agreed-upon criteria, which in turn aids in simplifying the task of converting currencies into one common currency for the purposes of lending trading, and process any type of financial transaction. When some crisis threatens to undermine the strength of a nation’s international reserves fund, the potential for economic collapse in that country is greatly enhanced. Fortunately, efforts on the part of the international community can often help to stabilize the problem, and at least partially offset that collapse, making recovery from the crisis an easier task.


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