Just 50 HK cents puts money in your pocket

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2009, 12:00am

Whether its face value is HK$20 or HK$1,000, the cost of producing a Hong Kong banknote is about the same - just 50 HK cents.

Despite the low cost, however, the procedure for making a banknote is anything but simple.

Hong Kong Note Printing Limited says it takes six to eight weeks, including time waiting for the ink to dry during several printing stages.

The large scale of production - with 320 million banknotes printed each year - is one reason for the low cost of individual notes, company director and general manger Francis Lau said during a media tour of the note-printing plant in Tai Po yesterday.

The plant produces all Hong Kong's banknotes apart from the polymer HK$10 note.

Lau said there were three parts to the security process to guard against counterfeiting - concerning the paper, the printing and the ink.

The specially manufactured banknote paper with security watermarks and security threads is delivered to Hong Kong from overseas.

A full sheet of banknote paper undergoes litho printing for a background pattern, with both sides printed. Then, intaglio printing is used to provide an embossed surface on the banknote through the application of high pressure. A full sheet of banknote paper is then cut into single notes - such as 40 HK$20 notes from one sheet.

About 60 tonnes of ink is used in the printing of banknotes every year.

The inspection process is conducted by a computer system that can screen 140,000 notes per hour.

About 1 per cent of banknotes printed every year are deemed unfit for use and have to be shredded and sent to a landfill.

The lifespan of a banknote is about five years and 1.5 billion circulate in the city.

Lau said the ratio of counterfeit notes in Hong Kong - about two fakes to one million notes - was low by international standards. The ratio for the British pound was 293 in a million notes, and for the euro 51.

Circulation of the polymer HK$10 banknote, issued by the government in 2007, has steadily increased, from 36 per cent of HK$10 banknotes at the end of last year to 45 per cent this month. The HK$10 notes issued by two banks in the 1990s remain legal tender, but are no longer printed.

The printing plant in Tai Po was acquired by the Monetary Authority from the De La Rue group of Britain on behalf of the government in 1996. Fifteen per cent of shares in Hong Kong Note Printing were sold to China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, and 10 per cent to each of the note-issuing banks - HSBC, Bank of China and Standard Chartered.

The government continues to exercise management control and maintains a majority stake in the company, with the Monetary Authority chief executive its chairman.

The company is gearing up to provide 200 million new banknotes for Lunar New Year lai see packets in February.

Red packets

The printing plant for banknotes is located in Tai Po

The number of new banknotes the plant will print for Lunar New Year lai see packets is: 200m