Has the world's largest banknote printer already printed the post-euro currencies?

Rumours that British firm De La Rue Currency has printed substantial reserves of all 17 pre-euro banknote currencies are gathering pace. What next?

A return to the Deutschmark?
Peter C. Glover
On 5 June 2012 12:26

Rumours that British firm De La Rue Currency, the world’s largest banknote printer, has started printing drachmas in anticipation of Greece’s euro exit have been rife for a while. However, I have received information that a De La Rue insider confirms that not only has the Hampshire-based company printed drachma, it has already printed substantial reserves of all 17 pre-euro banknote currencies, including the Deutschmark.

While there is no way of independently verifying this, it would make sense for a number of reasons. Not least the inevitability that ‘something's gotta give’, and soon, in Euroland. And no one can predict the extent of the economic fallout. De La Rue’s CEO, Tim Cobbold, has already stated that to print new currency in the space of a couple of weeks “would be impossible”. Indeed the sheer number of banknotes required to replace a national currency requires strategic forward planning. It would not be at all surprising therefore if a currency Plan B was in place in the event of a euro break-up, or in lieu of an exit by the Greeks. And I am advised that De La Rue is currently in an even higher state of information lockdown than usual. 

There is little point in asking De La Rue; they have a long-standing and strict policy of never commenting on their currency printing arrangements. Cobbold would only, as he has done before, point out that most Eurozone states have their own printers. True enough. But De La Rue has the advantage of a solid history of high security and its printing press is outside prying Eurozone eyes. Given that news of an official sanctioning of the printing of pre-euro currencies would likely create a run on European banks already teetering on the brink of crisis, keeping tight-lipped about contingency arrangements is hardly surprising.

And there is background that lends support to the view that anyone looking for a good investment could do a lot worse than consider how well-placed De La Rue is to cash in on the meltdown of the European single currency.

De La Rue is a half a billion pound operation that prints banknotes and other security documents, including passports for 150 countries. As recently as 2011, the discovery of “production irregularities” at De La Rue caused it to lose some market credibility, a key customer (India), and its then chief executive. Rumours of a takeover by French rival Oberthur surfaced. As a listed UK company, De La Rue’s economic fortunes remained unchanged for a number of years until last year. 

With the arrival of Tim Cobbold, De La Rue’s market stock has stabilised and steadily risen. But it was Cobbold’s reference to “a strong pipeline of opportunities” in the group’s annual results published in May that sent the currency whispers into overdrive. The company admits that its order book has increased by 14 percent to £248 million, but it won’t reveal details. Operating profits are also currently up post-tax by 56 percent. At the beginning of this year a further formal bid from Oberthur was again rebuffed. Just a few months later De La Rue’s shares are trading just above the £10 mark.

Even so, investors considering De La Rue for a quick killing on the back of the euro crisis should be warned it would not be without risk. Even if oodles of pre-euro currencies are sitting in De La Rue’s warehouse in southern England, the EU has a history of making political decisions aimed at keeping the ‘European Dream’ alive at almost any cost to its constituent states and its taxpayers.

Meanwhile the chorus for a new economic arrangement is growing by the day. The latest voice calling for a Plan B for the eurozone is that of Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank. Draghi has lately made it clear that the current set up for the euro is “unsustainable”. Just how far EU and Eurozone leaders will go to sustain Plan A remains unclear. And that means that investors considering a swoop for De La Rue shares could still get their fingers burnt, printed pre-euro currencies or not.

But, as former UK PM Maggie Thatcher famously pointed out, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”. The moment the Germans pulled the life support system plug on the profligate southern socialist states, the writing was on the wall. Indeed, Belshazzar’s mene, mene, Tekel u-pharsin is a more than apt analogy for a collapsing empire and its centrally planned economic system weighed by market forces – and found wanting.

Peter C Glover is the International Associate Editor, Energy Tribune & author of Energy and Climate Wars, Power Politics: The Inside Track On Energy. For more: www.petercglover.com 

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