AT the De La Rue Company, they make money the old-fashioned way: They print it. Making money by making money may sound redundant, but currency printers like De La Rue stand to make a tidy profit from the "new world order."
The world's largest printer of currency and security documents, De La Rue of London was a steady performer even before the upheaval in Eastern Europe. Due to normal wear and tear on bills, the company printed an estimated 7 billion bank notes (at a cost of about 4 cents each) every year. But now with new countries popping up almost monthly, De La Rue's presses have been working overtime to supply new customers with everything from currency to passports.
Using special intaglio presses, De La Rue's factories in Britain, Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka supply currency to more than 100 countries around the world.
One of a handful of companies that print currency, De La Rue is by far the biggest. Jeffery Oberg of the New York-based US Banknote Corporation - De La Rue's largest competitor - calls De La Rue the "elephant of the industry." It is an apt description. De La Rue not only controls 70 percent of the private currency printing market, they supply coinage to 60 countries and are the world's largest printer of traveler's checks. They produce passports for more than 60 countries and recently finished printing 5
million new passports for Lithuania.
The contract to print the Lithuania currency, the lita, was hotly contested between De La Rue and US Banknote. Although De La Rue printed the lita in the 1920s, the Lithuanian government awarded the contract to US Banknote, which also prints the new Estonian kroon, the Venezuelan bolivar, and Costa Rica's colone.
While US Banknote's currency business is increasing, they will always be dependent on De La Rue. In partnership with the Swiss firm Giori, De La Rue makes the printing presses on which almost all the world's paper money is printed. Even the US Mint buys its presses from De La Rue.
The surge in demand for currency, along with a reorganization of the company by Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Marshall has sent De La Rue's stock soaring on the London Stock Exchange. Over the past two years, the stock, which now sells for about $10, has more than doubled in price. Last year, profits for the company increased 30 percent to $119 million, more than half that amount coming from printing currency. Brokers in the City of London are bullish on the stock and several London financial publicatio ns have the stock on their buy lists.
Although its products are used from Addis Ababa to San Salvador, De La Rue is not interested in a higher profile. As Mr. Oberg says, "When you dominate an industry like De La Rue does, you don't want to advertise it."
Officials at De La Rue refuse to discuss who their customers are, or how many new countries are using their services. When asked for a tour of their facility outside London, a company employee who refused to identify himself, declined, saying, "We're not too keen on getting publicity. After all, we do print money here."