FRANKFURT, Germany – A third of the countries gearing up for euro cash have opted out of printing large denomination notes, saying the big bills are too unwieldy for citizens used to more meager pocket change.
Spain, Greece and Ireland have joined Portugal in deciding not to print the 500 euro note ($425), while Ireland, Portugal and Greece have also ruled out the 200 euro note ($170).
Greece won't even print the 100 euro note ($85), which soars above that country's current biggest bill - the 10,000 drachma note, which is worth roughly $25.10.
``You can't just put into circulation any denomination when you know nobody's going to use it,'' said Regina Schueller, spokeswoman of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank, which is orchestrating the Jan. 1 launch of euro cash for 300 million people in 12 European Union countries.
Part of the problem is people in some countries don't have a culture of using large-denominated bills.
With the high-end euro notes worth so much more than bills currently circulating in some countries, many of their central banks just don't think its worth the extra expense of setting up presses to print them.
``There won't be much need for that kind of money, so it's too expensive to adjust the printing machine,'' said Bank of Spain spokeswoman Angela Esteve.
In the United States, the $100 bill has been the largest denomination of U.S. currency in circulation since 1969.
Portugal is a perfect example of why demand for big bills in is low.
The 500 euro note is nearly double the nation's minimum monthly salary of $261 and roughly equal to the average monthly salary of $548. The highest denomination in circulation there is 10,000 escudos, or roughly $42 - but even that is rarely encountered.
All notes - even the 500 euro bill - will be legal tender in the 12 countries using the euro, but decisions regarding printing the bills and putting them into circulation is up to each nation.
Countries like Ireland, for example, will contract with printers in other euro-countries to supply a limited number of big bills for use at their banks.
``We anticipate very little demand for the large notes,'' said Hugh O'Donnell, spokesman for the Central Bank of Ireland. ``When I was younger, the 100 pound note was called the cattle dealers' note because any deal being done at that level would have been done only between people dealing in cattle.''
An Irish 100 pound note is worth roughly $107.
As of New Year's Day, the Frankfurt-based ECB, which manages monetary policy in euro-using countries, will have issued 14.25 billion bank notes in seven different bills through the 12 national banks: 5 euros, 10 euros, 20 euros, 50 euros, 100 euros, 200 euros and 500 euros ($4.25, $8.50, $17, $42.5, $85, $170 and $425, respectively).
But the ECB cannot force national banks to print the notes, or even actively circulate them.
Luxembourg is the only other euro-zone country not printing notes. Without its own printing presses, the tiny nation is setting up contracts with other euro-using countries to print its notes.