MODERN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA TO 1900 in .NET

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MODERN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA TO 1900
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Bank rate and the market rate of discount on prime short bills fluctuated widely every year during this decade, partly in response to seasonal pressures. Bank rate often was lifted to 5%, but more often was held down to 3 or 21 2%, or even to 2%. The market rate for bills ranged occasionally up to 4%, but more often fell to 2%, and even occasionally below 1%. Short-term market rates in this decade averaged lower than ever before. Against this background, the yield of consols was stable at around 3%. Consol prices were close to 100 throughout, occasionally rising to 102 and only once falling to a low of 97. This stability, however, was deceptive. Consols were held down by the privilege of the government to redeem at par. The true level of long-term rates should be derived for this decade from the price of a relatively obscure issue of 21 2% annuities created earlier at a discount. A sharp rise in the market for the 21 2s during this decade provided the clue to future events (see Table 29 and Chart 7). From a 781 2 low in 1880, they rose to a 901 2 high in 1881, to 923 4 in 1884, and then up to 971 4 in the conversion year of 1888. This represented a decline in yield from 3.19% in 1880 to 2.56% in 1888. Clearly, a 21 2% rate was in sight. It might prove acceptable if some special inducements were offered. A decade or two earlier, when the consols had been selling at a discount of 5 10 points, the market had preferred the 3s to the 21 2s, which probably reflected a general opinion that the 3s would not be redeemed. The gradual swing in preference toward the 21 2s is shown by the following summary of yield differentials between these two issues: Yield on 21 2s vs. Yield on 3s at Annual High Prices
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Chancellor of the Exchequer Goschen picked a strategic moment to effect his giant conversion. In March of 1888 the country was optimistic, money was cheap, and the 21 2s were above 95. The chancellor offered holders of most of the entire national debt new consols, which would pay 3% for one year, 23 4% for 14 years until 1903, and 21 2% thereafter. He
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ENGLAND IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
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offered a bonus to holders of stock not then redeemable as an inducement to convert. He assumed that all holders of redeemable debt, such as the 3% consols, were willing to accept the conversion unless they protested in form. Those not accepting would be paid off. He offered a commission to brokers and others who brought in stock. The Bank of England was very cooperative: bank rate was held down to 2 3% until fall. After the conversion, Mr. Collet, the Governor of the Bank of England, was given a baronetcy. Holders of 96% of the 591 million of debt involved in the conversion accepted the new consols. The national debt was now funded at what would soon become a 21 2% rate of interest. The Crest of the Market, 1892 1900. By 1892, the great bull market in British funds was at least seventy-five years old. There had been brief reversals in times of financial crises. There had also been one longer period, 1852 1866, when moderate price declines predominated. However, the experience of several generations of British investors proved that market declines in the funds were always temporary, that new high prices always eventually rewarded the patient holder, and that every sharp decline in price was just one more opportunity to buy which probably would never recur. Three percent was now considered a high return for Her Majesty s funds. It was worthwhile to buy funds in spite of the low yields because the buyer was virtually sure of a handsome capital gain. Against this background of precedent, the market for the funds a few years after the great conversion staged one more sweeping advance. This occurred during the final decade of the nineteenth century. The funds established their all-time highs in 1896 1897. The new 23 4 21 2% consols advanced from 95 in 1892 to 1137 8 in 1896, a final capital gain of 20% not large by earlier standards. This represented a decline in yield from 2.71 to 2.21%. The funds never again sold so high, even during the easymoney era of the 1930 s and during the Labor administration of the 1940 s. By 1920, consols were down to a price of 441 4, to yield 5.65%. The year 1896 marked the true crest of a great market fluctuation that filled a full century of time. A tendency to go to extremes is often observed at the highs or the lows of a protracted market trend. At such times, precedent and overwhelming psychological expectations reinforce prevailing economic factors. The renewed advance in the consols in 1894 1895 was accompanied by very low short rates. Bank rate was down to 2% for more than two years, which was without precedent. The open market rate of discount ranged below 1%. Late in 1896 short rates advanced sharply to about 4%. They declined again in mid-1897 and advanced again in late 1897. Throughout these months of higher short rates, consols generally maintained their low yields. It was not until 1899, when bank rate remained between
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