FRANCE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY in .NET

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rate on the discounts of recognized prime borrowers because the Bank of France competed directly for this business. Therefore, the discount rate of the Bank of France during the first half of this century probably provides a good picture of the highest prime rate at any one time, but not the lowest. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the open-market discount rate, when it was regularly reported after 1862 always averaged below the Bank of France s discount rate. It is reported that in the 1830 s, with the bank s rate at 4%, good commercial paper was at times discounted privately as low as 2 3%. (468) Table 27 and Chart 15 are based on only two series: (a) the discount rate of the Bank of France, all the fluctuations of which from 1800 are fully reported as annual averages and as annual ranges; and (b) a series of openmarket discount rates for prime short-term bills reported as annual averages and as the annual range of monthly averages from 1863. There were, of course, many other short-term rates of interest in nineteenth-century France, most of which are not regularly reported, but these two must suffice. The rigidity of the first half century was, of course, a matter of central bank policy and not of market stability. For example, the revolution of 1830 brought no fluctuation at all in the bank s discount rate and the revolution of 1847 1848 brought only a brief excursion from 4 to 5% and quickly back to 4%. Chart 13 showed the sharp fluctuations in the rentes during both these episodes. We can conjecture that discounts were very hard indeed to negotiate during these crises at the rigid discount rate and that lower rates were available during periods of ease. We have no real market history of short rates until 1863, while after 1863 the market rate of discount was evidently importantly controlled by the Bank of France s discount policy. As in Britain, the short-term market rate of discount was limited by central bank policy. Much freer market rates are provided in most countries, even today, by the yields on long-term obligations than by the rates on short-term prime paper. Broadly speaking, the pattern of French prime short-term interest rates during the nineteenth century was similar to the British pattern. In both countries there was rigidity during the first four of five decades of the century, usually at rates neither very high nor very low, that is to say, between 4 and 5%. After mid-century the ranges in both countries became very wide, for example, 11 2 8% in France and 11 2 10% in Britain during the 1860 s. In both countries a high degree of volatility at sharply declining average levels characterized the last three decades of the century. While the yields on French rentes were higher than the yields on British consols throughout this century, French short rates here quoted were often lower than the British short rates quoted. For example, the Bank of France lowered its discount rate from 6 to 4% in 1807, fifteen years before the Bank of England reduced its traditional 5% rate to 4%. Again in the 1860 s the French open-market rate of discount often was below the British. For the years 1863 through 1869 the French average was 3.37% and the British
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FRANCE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
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Table 27 Short-Term French Interest Rates: Nineteenth Century
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MODERN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA TO 1900
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Table 27
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Continued
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FRANCE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
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was 4.31%. This was the only period in the century when British rates maintained a rising trend. In the 1870 s and 1880 s the French openmarket rate was again above the British. During the 1890 s, the decade of extreme ease in both countries, the decennial averages of French and British open-market discount rates were identical at 2.09%. At this time French rentes continued to yield much more than British consols. The decennial averages in Chart 12 indicated that the short-term French interest rates reported almost always averaged lower than the long-term French interest rates as measured by the rentes. This contrasted with the relationship in Britain where the short rates averaged higher than the long rates until the easy-money period at the end of the century. The spread of long-term rates in France above short-term rates was very large in the early decades, but seemed to vanish briefly in the 1820 s when the yield of 3% rentes fell to 3.75% while the discount rate remained at 4%. However, a true market short rate at that time may well have been below 4%. Similarly in the 1830 s the rigid 4% discount rate did not reflect lower market rates which at times at least prevailed. However, following the development of a flexible discount rate policy in the 1850 s, the discount rate and the open-market rate always averaged well below the average yield on rentes. Occasions when short market rates rose above long were rare in nineteenth-century France and frequent in nineteenth-century Britain. In Britain bank-rate policy was much more vigorously used to regulate the international flow of funds and to protect the small reserves, whereas the Bank of France relied more on its large metallic reserves and less on its rate to protect the currency. These short-term money market rates of interest were, of course, far below short-term rates charged in France for less marketable and less well known credits. There were very few large banks in France. Frenchmen generally complained of high interest rates and looked with envy on the low rates in Britain. French private bankers often paid 4 5% for their funds and loaned them to small business concerns at 7 10%. (469) In some purely agricultural districts at mid-century a rate of discount of 15 20% was charged landowners. At Bordeaux around 1820, 15% is quoted for money at the season of the wine harvest and 5% during other seasons. In the 1830 s rates of 6 12% are quoted at Chateauroux. Quotations of this sort are ill-defined and haphazard. They merely serve to reemphasize that the main stream of money-market rates is at the low limit of a very wide band of rates of interest. During the second half of the nineteenth century the benefits of lower interest rates were gradually extended to the French provinces by the spread of branch banking and by the establishment of specialized popular lending institutions under government auspices. Small consumer-credit loans, however, continued to be obtainable chiefly from pawnshops and individual moneylenders; the lowest rates quoted were 20 30%.
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