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However, there were no more major financial crises and no more crisis bank rates. In 1888 Chancellor Goschen undertook his famous conversion of most of the national debt from 3% consols to 21 2% consols and met with spectacular success. Business improved after 1889. There were booms in shipbuilding, new flotations, African gold, foreign loans, and the organization of investment trusts. The Baring trouble of 1890, based on overextension of credit to Argentina, was not allowed to have wide effect. The years 1894 1896 were remarkable for the fact that interest rates reached their lowest point in this century. The yields of consols reached their historic low, never approached before or since. THE INVESTMENT MARKETS London finance before 1750 was primarily devoted to serving commerce and the State. After 1750 finance began also to serve industry. However, it was not until 1850 that industry began to depend heavily on finance. Thereafter, large aggregations of capital began to seek liquidity and diversification through the market place. (431) Industrial capital heretofore had been largely accumulated internally, but now the markets were called upon and were able to mobilize large resources from many segments of the population at home and abroad. The capitalist spirit was triumphant. A glance at the investment markets of mid-nineteenth-century London suggests that this history has indeed reached modern times. Almost all the principal services provided by today s City and today s Wall Street were then available in London. A twentieth-century Yankee investor would probably not have felt at home in Victoria s Court, but he would have felt very much at home in the City of the 1850 s, provided, of course, that he learned a few differences of terminology. Bonds were and are called stocks. Stocks were called ordinary shares or preference shares, as they are today. Government bonds were called the funds or the gilt-edged. Information on domestic and foreign government bonds was sought, not in Moody s Manuals, but in Fenn on the Funds. Balance sheets presented liabilities to the left and assets to the right. Credit ratings, as established in the discount department of the Bank of England, were not based on alphabetical symbols, but started with persons in extensive business ; continued with dealers in greatest respectability and opulence ; and ran downward through persons in a more confined scale of business to persons in low estimation. Among the assets of the Bank of England, the item desperate debts meant just what it seems to mean; the amount of the item was negligible. Individual issues of government securities had their nicknames, just as they do today. The Goschens were the consols issued a few years later by
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Chancellor Goschen in the greatest of all refundings, that of 1888; the Deadweight was a debt issue put out to fund the burdensome military pensions of the Napoleonic Wars. The personalized and almost familiar term bank rate (not the bank rate) was, and still is, given to the minimum rate of discount charged by the Bank of England. Funded-debt obligations usually did not mature in the modern sense; they were redeemable after a future date, but this was usually at the option of the government or other issuing body. In essence, they were perpetual annuities and were often called just that true descendants of the medieval census. The investor bought income, and he was free to sell his claim to income to another investor. In the nineteenth century, however, maturity was, in fact, provided in issues of exchequer bonds, and some other public and private securities. These are but slight and superficial differences from modern American terminology and usage. The similarities were much more basic. The man of property in the London of 1850 could buy shares in railroads, manufacturers, commercial companies, or public utilities; domestic or foreign; blue chip or speculative; outright or on credit. Daily or hourly quotations were available to him. Tips and promotions abounded. Alternatively, he could buy trusteed securities, principally the funds, both for sure income and for capital gain. Substantial capital gains were, in fact, always eventually realized on the funds if care were taken to avoid issues selling close to redemption value. Again, the investor could deposit with his bankers at interest or buy short-term securities. If he distrusted his own investment acumen, he could always ask his bankers to manage his investments for him. Periods of prosperity alternated with financial crises and depression, and capital values fluctuated. After a few years of feverish projecting and stockjobbing, there would suddenly be announced an unseasonal sharp rise in bank rate. Perhaps the bank knew something. The funds would falter. Then, another rise in bank rate and another, all the way up from 2 or 3% to a crisis rate of 8 or 10%. Rumors of commercial insolvencies would lead to a drain on the Bank of England s reserves. The government would suspend the Bank Act, which meant that the bank was relieved of the necessity of maintaining its statutory reserves. Commercial failures usually followed as expected, sometimes of large and important houses. Then came a period of trade stagnation and falling prices. The government was blamed and the City was blamed. The country was going to pot. Then came trade revival and stirring new projects. THE BANKING SYSTEM In the early nineteenth century the Bank of England was not yet a conscious regulator of the rate of interest. It was as it had always been first
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