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Circulating U.S. coin output falls dramatically

It’s worse than I thought.

Circulating coin production is falling faster and faster.

The latest figures provided by the U.S. Mint show that 13,125,414,000 coins were struck in calendar year 2018.

That’s a decline of 11.7 percent from the year before.

This is the third year in a row for drops.

Worryingly, this is occurring in a time of prosperity, which usually pushes up coin production.

The pace is accelerating.

The breaking of the link between higher coin output and prosperity now looks well established.

Coin output in the present economic cycle peaked in 2015 when 17,046,700,000 coins were made.

This was a recovery from the dismally low 3.5 billion struck in 2009 at the depths of the Great Recession.

But in 2016, the bounceback stopped.

Then, 16,017,410,000 came off the Mint’s production lines.

This was 6 percent fewer than 2015.

In 2017, the production figure of 14,859,360,000 was 7 percent lower than 2016.

Now we can add the 2018 decline of 11.7 percent to the string.

Minus 6 percent, minus 7 percent, minus 11.7 percent.

Should the Mint start planning for the closure of the Denver facility?

It might seem far fetched, but if the coins are not needed by the economy, the production facilities will be downsized.

As the old math puzzles asks, what’s the next number in this sequence?

Minus 16 percent? Minus 20 percent?

Part of the reason the U.S. Mint says it costs more than a cent to coin a cent is the huge overhead costs that are applied to it.

This overhead of running two major manufacturing establishments takes on greater and greater weight as coin output declines.

What happens when the next recession hits?

Will we revisit the 3.5 billion 2009 number?

At the time, this was the lowest since the 1950s.

We know coin use is declining.

Is there a point where everyone simply just stops using them?

Scott Travers introduced me to James Passin at the Florida United Numismatists convention.

He is chairman of Blockchain Holdings, Ltd.

Passin’s forecast is no more coins at all in 20 years.

With accelerating annual production drops at the Mint, we could reach the no-coin point even faster.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017. He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."