Seigniorage is the net revenue derived from the issuing of coins or bank notes. It arises from the (often substantial) difference between the face value of a coin or bank note and the cost of producing and distributing it.
Seigniorage derived from coins
The Minister of Finance pays the Royal Canadian Mint to produce and distribute all Canadian circulation coins. It costs the Mint about 12 cents to produce and distribute a dollar coin. Consequently, this Crown corporation generates for the Government of Canada approximately 88 cents in seigniorage on each $1 coin sold to financial institutions at face value. Since coins have a very long life and the government does not redeem surplus coins, seigniorage is generated at the time of sale and accrued to the Government of Canada.
Seigniorage derived from notes
The Bank of Canada is responsible for issuing bank notes. Their life is relatively short—ranging from seven years for $100 notes to two years or less for $10 and $5 notes.
Since deposit institutions are able to return their surplus notes to the Bank of Canada for payment, these notes represent a payable liability for the Bank. For this reason, the accounting process for revenue and costs associated with the issuance of bank notes differs from that for coins. In compensation for the issuing of bank notes recorded as a liability, the Bank of Canada acquires interest-bearing federal government securities (treasury bills and bonds).
Seigniorage is the difference between the interest earned on the government's securities portfolio, and the costs of producing and distributing bank notes. Unlike the seigniorage for coins, bank note seigniorage is collected in instalments over a period of years.
Take, for example, a $20 bill, which is the most highly used denomination. At an average interest rate of 5 per cent, one $20 note in circulation produces revenue of about $1 per year. The production cost of this note is 6 cents for a life of about three years, which yields a cost of 2 cents per year. If average annual distribution expenses of about 2 cents are added to this cost, the result is an average annual cost of approximately 4 cents to put this note in circulation and replace it when it is worn. The Bank of Canada thus clears an annual net revenue of about 96 cents for each $20 note in circulation.
Use of seigniorage revenue
In recent years, just over $35 billion in notes has been in circulation. The interest revenue of the Bank of Canada has fluctuated between $1.7 and $2.2 billion per year. A small portion of this—$130 million, on average—has been used to finance the Bank's general operating expenses. The remainder has been paid to the Receiver General. Seigniorage revenue thus allows the federal government to finance a portion of its expenditures without having to collect taxes.