Brother, can you spare a penny?

The US is coming up a few pennies short - a few hundred billion that is. The US Mint has produced more than 312 billion pennies over the past 30 years. Yet only 114 billion are in active circulation today.

Now Mint officials say demand for pennies has increased by 33 percent this year, leading to instances of temporarily low local penny inventories at US commercial banks and other financial institutions.

A recent survey of currency habits offers some insights into the shortage. According to the poll by Coinstar Inc., a maker of self-service coin-counting machines, 54 percent of Americans said the penny is the denomination they use least often in daily transactions. Some 65 percent of Americans do not regularly re-circulate their pennies.

Coin experts say the problem is that people store their pennies idly around the house - in jars, piggy banks, or on the dresser - rather than spending the pennies during the course of their daily transactions.

Coinstar Inc. estimates $7.7 billion worth of change is effectively out of circulation because it is sitting in American households.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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