The Hong Kong government has quietly begun issuing new HK$5 coins, for the first time in 14 years.
A newly minted HK$2 coin also will be put into circulation from December, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
After noticing one of the shiny new HK$5 coins stamped 2012, the South China Morning Post inquired if a new issue was being minted. The HKMA, the city's de facto central bank, said the new HK$5 coin, which has the same design as those already on issue, started circulating in August. The new HK$2 coin would also look like those already in circulation.
In Hong Kong, banknotes are issued by the three note issuing banks - HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of China (Hong Kong) - but the government is responsible for coins. At the end of last year, there was a total of HK$6 billion worth of coins in circulation in denominations ranging from HK$10 to 10 cents.
"The HKMA has ordered 40 million HK$5 coins and 80 million HK$2 coins to be issued gradually to meet demand," said a HKMA spokeswoman. The mint date would be 2012.
The government stopped issuing new coins in 1998 because there was enough inventory to meet demand.
Many people use electronic payments or a stored-value card, such as the Octopus card, to pay transport fares or buy small retail items, and this has reduced the need for coins. But the HKMA found that coin demand had increased in recent years.
"The value of coins in circulation has picked up since 2004, notably in line with Hong Kong's general economic recovery after 2003," the HKMA spokeswoman said.
The authority said the reasons behind the increased demand may be related to inflation, noting that many food and drink prices had increased.
HKMA statistics show the number of HK$5 coins in circulation has grown 32 per cent in the past 10 years, while the number of HK$2 coins rose 21 per cent.
Meanwhile, the government has been withdrawing the so-called "queen's head" series of coins that bear the face of Britain's Queen Elizabeth and is replacing them with bauhinia-series coins, thus running down its inventory. In 1993, the government initiated a programme to replace the queen's head coins with a series showing the bauhinia flower.
By 2011, 12 million the queen's head coins in all denominations had been removed from circulation and replaced.