America's most popular export: The $100 bill

Prized among black-marketers, criminals and shaky economies alike, 65% of all Benjamins live outside US borders.

By Jason Notte Apr 10, 2013 7:55AM

Businessman offering $100 bill (copyright Andrea Bricco/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)So, what is America great at exporting these days?


Cars? Toyota (TM) just reclaimed its No. 1 spot in global sales from General Motors (GM). Beer? That assumes MolsonCoors (TAP) and Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) don't have headquarters in Canada and Belgium. Gadgets? Please.


Fortunately, the rest of the world still wants our cash, and the higher the denomination the better. Former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration staffer Bruce Bartlett points out on The New York Times' Economix blog that a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco says U.S. cash is not only flourishing against global competition but thriving in the world market.


Currently, 42% more cash is in circulation than five years ago, and the dollar's anonymity is a big reason why. Sure, pallets of it made their way around the world in recent years to places like Iraq -- where the dollars were promptly absconded with -- but the prevailing theory is that the greenback has become the denomination of choice for the world's criminals.


Drug dealers, tax evaders and other cash-hoarding members of the underground economy have made Mr. Benjamin Franklin and his $100 bill a popular world traveler in recent years. Roughly 84% of the new cash in circulation since 1990 has been in the form of $100 bills. They made up 77% of the value of all cash in circulation in 2012, up from just 52% in 1990.

As Bartlett notes, anyone who wants to stash $1 million away from Uncle Sam or exchange it for something the government doesn't like only needs a bunch of $100 bills, a large briefcase and some motivation.


Meanwhile, the amount of U.S. currency being held abroad has jumped from $280.4 billion in 1990 to more than $454 billion today. The Commerce Department considers it an increase in foreign-owned assets in the U.S. -- kind of like a zero-interest loan. But folks in financially troubled countries like Greece and Cyprus have better reasons for hoarding hundreds than propping up the U.S. deficit.


The European economic crisis isn't instilling much faith in the euro, while the BBC notes that large 500-euro denominations are being taken out of circulation as a crime-fighting measure.


That's making suitcases, briefcases, trunks and mattresses full of $100 bills a lot more popular. According to yet another Federal Reserve study, 65% of all $100 bills in existence circulate outside the U.S.


While struggling Americans would surely rather see a few of those hundreds in their own pockets, it's nice to know America is still producing something the rest of the world loves.


More on moneyNOW

Apr 10, 2013 10:51AM
isnt free trade great.we export jobs,money and oil.look what we get.high unemployment,poverty,a corrupt government,young with no job prospects and the destruction of the middle class.the rich are hiring people to convince you that free trade is a great is for them.
Apr 10, 2013 10:52AM
"Drug dealers, tax evaders and other cash-hoarding members of the underground economy ... "

That statement is a new low in MSN's questionable journalism. What BS. Integrity is a huge black hole at MSN.
Apr 10, 2013 10:39AM
Seems to be the story of our lives as Americans over the last several yrs. Gov, teamed up with global big business to make damn sure that the prosperity we as Americans had once always enjoyed is a thing of the past. Lock and Load Baby!!!
Apr 10, 2013 12:09PM
Not so much these days but I know many people outside the US kept their money in US currency because of it's stability
Apr 10, 2013 11:04AM
Do you know that if you tied a really big role of $100.00 dollar bills to the back of your car and drove 70mph pulling off those $100.00 bills you would have to drive 160 years or to the year 2173 before the national debt of $17,000,000,000,000 is paid off? It's going to be over $23,000,000,000,000 before Obama is done with it. This country is doomed. Hey I got an idea. let's pay a dollar a second and we should get it paid off in a few years right? Right. It would only take 465 thousand years. This country is doomed.
Apr 10, 2013 1:37PM
In the Rural Center of Crabtree Oregon, Weyerhaeuser corporation plans to export a minimum of 2,700 MBF of logs to China a month. There are five people working in the log yard. This equals about forty log trucks a day. In Newport Oregon other timber companies plan to export 110 log truck loads a day. The U.S. is the worlds largest importer of lumber. I guess this way we don't have to deal with those pesky mill jobs. Is this what the government means when they tell us that the economy is getting better? I do not blame Weyerhaeuser as much as I blame the Democrats and the Republicans for fostering an environment that makes it more profitable to sell timber to a country that has industries that have no regard for it's own people or environment at the cost of the jobs that support American families that also pay the taxes that support the friggen politicians.
Apr 10, 2013 12:09PM
This nation truly is doomed. Nothing is left to plunder. Good by
Apr 10, 2013 11:43AM
Cash is King and Plastic is the Prince!
The reality is it takes $100 to do anything - a few drinks $100 - dinner with a friend $100 - food at the store for a week or two $400 - a fishing pole $100 - a cheap used car $2000 - and it goes on and on and on. So what does this mean? If you are going to carry around cash you need it to be in $100 bills because $500 would be a big wad of bills in $20's or $10's.
Apr 10, 2013 6:12PM
What a worthless article - too bad they don't export MSN Money articles !!!  At the rate the fed is printing these bills, it won't be worth much soon.  
Apr 10, 2013 10:34PM
What is 6 inches long, has a big head and every woman wants them, a Benjamin... :) 
Apr 10, 2013 5:19PM
Well there's the "change" we were promised...there is no hope!
Apr 10, 2013 6:38PM
Why is 65% of our money in other countries? Because our government keeps giving it away to them and we as tax payers have to pay it back! That's B.S that we pat for our money to be sent to them. Cut them off and watch how fast we regain our money that we earn.
I  am so glad that i stashed away lots of 100 dollar bills to build my dream home outside the good old USA. good luck suckers
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market finished the Thursday session on a higher note with the S&P 500 climbing 0.5%. The benchmark index registered an early high within the first 90 minutes and inched to a new session best during the final hour of the action.

Equities rallied out of the gate with the financial sector (+1.1%) providing noteworthy support for the second day in a row. The growth-oriented sector extended its September gain to 1.9% versus a more modest uptick of 0.4% for the ... More