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During the first decade of the eighteenth century, these higher wartime interest rates continued. A rate of 7% is mentioned on private credits, and more rentes were created at 81 3%. (400) Thereafter rates declined, and for much of the century a range in quiet times of 4 5% prevailed on good private credits and 5 6% on loans to the State. (400) In 1766 a law sought to lower the legal rate for private credits from 5 to 4%, but it was not obeyed. In addition to these general statements about interest rates in eighteenth-century France, there are some more precise data on interest rates at specified dates. In 1710 all the rentes were converted to a 5% basis. (402) This was a wartime forced conversion; the 81 3% rate previously quoted is probably a better guide to the market. During 1713 1715 the payments on some rentes were arbitrarily cut to 4%. (402) In 1718 the funded debt was unified at 4%. (400) In 1720, at the height of the Mississippi boom, when many rentes were being turned in for stock, their rate was again cut briefly to 2 21 2%. (402) This was peacetime. It was also the period when the English were bringing the rates on their funds down from 6 to 3%. Evidently the ideas behind Dutch finance were spreading through Europe. The French experiment, however, did not enjoy the firmer political and economic foundations that existed in Holland and England. While Law s bank was exchanging its stock and its bank notes freely for government securities, an initial decline in interest rates occurred, but this episode lasted only a very few years. Quotations for rentes during the collapse of the boom in 1720 1721 would be interesting, but have not come down to us. Around 1735, however, the Church and the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles both borrowed at 5%, and the government created new 5% rentes without compulsion. (400) In 1749 the first bearer rentes were created; these were at 5%. In spite of the many vicissitudes of the century, very high yields on rentes were not quoted until after the revolution. There is evidence of persistent saving by the rentiers and a demand for safe investment. Five percent seemed to be the magic rate throughout most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lower and higher rates proved to be temporary. In 1756, when the Seven Years War began, the government created a huge volume of new 5% rentes and apparently sold them without coercion. In 1776 the Caisse d Escompte was established and provided credit as low as 4% at short term. By the end of the old regime, in 1789, the volume of rentes outstanding had increased enormously, but there was no record of nominal rates in excess of 5%. This same rate of 5% was initially paid on the assignats of 1789. Their rate was reduced to 3% in 1790, but owing to their forced issue and heavy discounts, no market rate of interest can be read into their nominal rate. In 1795 the government established a 6% legal maximum for commercial credit and a 5% legal maximum for credit secured by real estate. (398)
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Following the two-thirds bankruptcy of 1797 and as a part of Napoleon s financial reforms, the entire national debt was forcibly refunded into 5% rentes. These rates were nominal interest rates of the revolutionary decade. What were the market rates As might be expected following the political turbulence of this period, its destruction, its wars, its inflation, and its bankruptcies, the market prices of rentes were not very high. A series of consecutive market quotations on rentes was begun in the year 1797. This was the year when two thirds of the income of the rentes was made payable in almost valueless land warrants. It was the year of Napoleon s initial victories, a year when France had no firmly established government and was at war with most of Europe. It was the year when Napoleon was expected momentarily to invade England. (He invaded Egypt instead.) In 1797 the 5% rentes were quoted as fluctuating in price between 61 8 and 361 8 as a percent of 100. If their nominal rate of 5% is applied to these prices, the computed yields were 82 14%. The mean price in 1798 was 165 8, and at this price the yield was 30% (403) if the government paid the interest, and 10% if it paid only one third of the interest. In 1799, when Napoleon was established as First Consul for a ten-year term and began his reform of the government finances, the price of 5% rentes ranged from 221 2 high to 7 low; 143 4 was the mean. Obviously, payment in full was not expected, or the medium of payment was not wanted. In 1800 there was a sharp improvement in the price of rentes. This coincided with several of Napoleon s greatest victories and also with progress in his financial reforms. This was the year when the Bank of France was organized. The 5% rentes sold up to 44, or over six times their recent lows. Their range for 1800 was 44 high and 173 8 low; 303 8 was the mean. These prices equaled yields of 285 8%, 113 8%, and 161 4%, respectively, if 5% interest had been paid. (403) A later chapter tells that the 5% rentes continued to recover rapidly. They reached 68, or 7.35% yield, in 1801 and 933 8, or 5.38%, in 1807. In France, then, the trends of interest rates in the eighteenth century seemed to follow a pattern not too different from that of eighteenthcentury England, but at very different levels. Rates at first were high in both countries, declined importantly during the first two or three decades, remained relatively low for a while, and then rose in both countries to high levels. During the Napoleonic Wars the 3% British consols sold below 50, and the 5% French rentes sold below 10. In spite of wars and revolutions, a taste for bond investment evidently developed in England and France and throughout much of Europe during the eighteenth century. Investors were ready to buy safe long-term government obligations in volume. Their appetite persisted in spite of severe vicissitudes and discouragements and heavy market declines. Long-term funds, or rentes, provided a suitable medium to mobilize the
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