World Business: Shortchanged

Italy may be prosperous, but it is also almost penniless—thanks mostly to a coin shortage that has put small-change business transactions on a barter basis.

Most popular (and hardest to find) coin is the 500-lire piece, worth 80¢ in U.S. terms. Only last year, the government issued 5,000,000 new 500-lire coins commemorating the 700th anniversary of Dante's birth. Today the Dante coins have just about disappeared —except on the black market, where they bring as much as $4.80. For many Italian bank clerks, the first order of daily business is to roam the streets trying to scrounge coins from train stations and...

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