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Slowdown at the Mint

They’re not making as many coins as they used to.

As falls the economy, so falls the jingle of coinmaking at the U.S. Mint.

Production at the federal government’s coin factory in Denver fell a sharp 26 percent in 2008 from the previous year, contributing to a national output decline of 30 percent.

Mint officials said the drop is a direct reflection of the plunging economy and the resulting fall in cash-register transactions that require merchants to provide change.

“Coin demand is definitely affected by economic activity,” said Greg Hernandez, acting director of public affairs in Washington for the U.S. Mint.

“Banks are not ordering as many coins as they were,” he said. “If local banks are not getting orders from local merchants, it’s going to affect Mint production.”

The U.S. Mint in 2008 produced 10.1 billion general-circulation coins, the fewest in at least 10 years.

[...]

Part of the coin-production decline stems from diminishing consumer interest in collecting quarters issued for each of the 50 states — a phenomenon that had ramped up the minting of quarters to a record level in 2000.

And some analysts say increasing use of credit and debit cards, and other electronic transactions, has played a role in reduced demand for coins and currency.

But economic conditions are believed to be the biggest factor.

“If people are just buying fewer things and there are fewer transactions, that will have an effect” on the demand for cash, said Dennis Stansbury, assistant vice president for cash operations at the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

That makes sense, though I admit it’s not something I ever would have thought of. Learn something new every day.

Mint officials said they expect production of at least one coin type — the relatively new U.S. presidential $1 coin — to increase as the government conducts a marketing push for merchant and consumer acceptance of the coin.

It’s been more than a year, and I’ve still never seen one of these coins. Maybe some day.

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