Year of the Snake note rush starts

The passion for banknotes marking the lunar year is still strong, but this time round efforts are being made to hold speculators in check

The sheer volume of online applications by Macau residents for special banknotes marking the forthcoming lunar Year of the Snake crashed Banco Nacional Ultramarino SA’s (BNU’s) system on its first day in operation on Wednesday.
“This is the first time that we had this kind of crash. There were too many people rushing to register and it dragged the system down,” a BNU spokeswoman told Business Daily.
The spokeswoman said that the service had been restored later that day and had been running well since.
The Macau Branch of Bank of China Ltd, the other bank authorised to issue notes marking the lunar year, had no problems with its online application system.
The rush to reserve Year of the Snake notes online was similar to the rush to get Year of the Dragon notes last year, BNU and Bank of China said.
By 6pm on Wednesday some 214,000 people had reserved Year of the Snake notes, Bank of China said.
From 2012 to 2023, BNU and Bank of China are each authorised to issue a maximum of 20 million special notes with a face value of 10 patacas (US$1.25) to mark each lunar year.
The limit was imposed at the end of last January in an effort to curb the kind of crazed speculation that took hold after the Year of the Dragon notes were put in circulation in that month.
BNU and Bank of China at first intended to issue only 10 million Year of the Dragon notes each, but people formed long queues to get them.


“The dragon notes evaporated within three days of being released and there was much speculation,” said Chan Io Kuong, chairman of Chinese Paper Money Society of Macau, which does research on antique bank notes and sells them.
“For the dragon notes with good numbers, such as the ones with a serial number ending with 88888, the price would reach several thousand patacas,” Mr Chan told Business Daily.
“Even for the notes ending with a single eight or three, a pair of dragon notes can be worth 300 patacas in the market,” he said, meaning one note each from BNU and Bank of China.
This year, the online reservation system is meant to end the speculation.
The Monetary Authority of Macau no longer allows applicants to choose the serial numbers of the notes they reserve.
Each resident is now permitted to reserve a maximum of 30 Year of the Snake notes at each of the issuing banks.
People that apply online before January 31 will get the notes sometime between March 1 and August 30.
“The authority has now successfully set a cool-off period in between the registration time and getting the notes, which will help curb the speculation craze,” said Mr Chan.
“But to completely wipe out speculation over the lunar year notes is impossible, especially because the demand for these notes from mainland China is strong,” he said.
Mr Chan believes the market for notes marking the lunar year is now more mature than a year ago.
He said a pair of Year of the Snake notes might eventually fetch 60 patacas to 70 patacas on the open market, similar to what a pair of Year of the Dragon notes ended up fetching last year after they were issued for a second time.