March 2024

Demand for U.S Banknotes at Home and Abroad: A Post-Covid Update

Ruth Judson


In principle, physical currency should be disappearing: payments are increasingly electronic, with new technologies emerging rapidly, and governments increasingly restrict large-denomination notes as a way to reduce crime and tax evasion. Nonetheless, demand for U.S. banknotes continues to grow, and consistently increases at times of crisis both within and outside the United States because dollar banknotes remain a desirable store of value and medium of exchange when local currency or bank deposits are inferior. Most recently, the COVID crisis resulted in historic increases in currency demand. After allowing for the effect of crises, U.S. banknote demand appears to be driven by the usual factors determining money demand, with no discernible downward trend.

In this work, I review developments in demand for U.S. currency over the past few decades with a focus on developments since early 2020. In addition, I revisit the question of international demand: I present the raw data available for measuring international banknote flows and updates on indirect methods of estimating the stock of currency held abroad. These methods continue to indicate that a large share of U.S. currency is held abroad, especially in the $100 denomination.

As shown earlier (Judson 2012, 2017), once a country or region begins using dollars, subsequent crises result in additional inflows: the dominant sources of international demand over recent decades are the countries and regions that were already heavy dollar users in the early to mid-1990s. While international demand for U.S. currency eased during the early 2000s as financial conditions improved, the abrupt return to strong international demand that began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 has not slowed and reached new heights over 2020 and 2021. In contrast, however, the growth rate of demand for smaller denominations is slowing, perhaps indicating the first signs of declining domestic cash demand.

Keywords: Currency, Banknotes, Dollarization, Crisis


PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: March 25, 2024