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low by modern and by ancient standards. Yields had declined and prices had advanced most of the time for one hundred years. This somewhat resembled the easy-money periods in Holland in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Almost all important trading nations enjoyed low long-term interest rates in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Low interest rates were not then primarily a doctrine of reformers. Conservative business leaders were proud of their low market rates. They enjoyed the easy terms of credit available to finance the vast industrial installations then under construction. Conservative governments were delighted to ease their burden of debt by converting at low rates. The business community liked to see the funds rise in the market. A prominent editor of The Economist wrote some years later: For British Consols to yield more than 3% in time of peace and prosperous trade is certainly abnormal. (445) It was then that Eugen B hm von Bawerk declared that the higher are a people s intelligence and moral strength, the lower will be the rate of interest. (446) Central banks referred to their low discount rates as a measure of achievement. (447) OTHER LONG-TERM INTEREST RATES The spectrum of yields available to British investors was always very wide. The low yields from the funds were by no means representative of the entire market. Many kinds of long-term debt instruments were traded in volume on the London Stock Exchange of the nineteenth century. Many new issues of securities were offered by prospectuses to the public. There were loans to United Kingdom municipalities and governmental boards, loans to colonial governments, loans to foreign governments, and loans to domestic and foreign companies. No continuous and uniform series of interest rates on these various types of securities is available to us, and lack of standard ratings and uniformity would make such a series of questionable value. Some examples of debt issues other than the funds will illustrate the level and range of available long-term yields and the differences between other yields and yields on the funds. The lowest yields, next to those from the funds, were understandably provided by issues of domestic governing bodies. These yields, however, sometimes covered a sizable range, as illustrated by Table 20, which lists representative issues from 1869 through 1886. During the limited period of time covered by the above table, yields on consols were declining gradually, and thus the market was favorable. The yields on the only repetitive offerings, those of the Metropolitan Board of Works of London, declined even faster than consol yields. Thus, their yield premium narrowed from almost 50 basis points in 1869 to 15 basis points twelve years later. Obviously, these securities achieved a prime
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Table 20 New Issues by British Local Governments (448)
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credit rating with investors. Most other issues sold at larger differentials from the funds. The table shows that it was possible to obtain domestic obligations of a non-speculative character at yields in the range of 3.50 4% when the funds were yielding close to 3%. Much higher yields were available from the obligations of colonial governments reported for 1860 1882 in Table 21. The colonial loans and the other foreign loans discussed later were all borrowings in sterling in the London market. Therefore, they are presented as a part of the history of rates prevailing in London on foreign securities rather than as part of the interest-rate histories of the debtor countries.
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The sample of colonial sterling issues in Table 21 reflects the gradual decline in consol yields over most of this period, the improving popularity of colonial obligations, which resulted in declining yield spreads from consols, and the diversity of rates and ratings within this department of the investment market. It illustrates the use of the concept of bond maturity as a claim of investors rather than a privilege of borrowers. British investors, however, were not limited to domestic and colonial securities. London was the banker for the world. Most foreign countries could borrow in London at a price. The British investor s appetite was good for high-yielding foreign bonds. It survived a long succession of defaults. History tends to emphasize newsworthy defaults and leaves in obscurity a great volume of routine periodic debt repayments between nations. When a credit was dubious or off the beaten path, British nineteenth-century investors insisted on high rates of interest. Foreign loans were made in volume soon after the Napoleonic Wars. Demand for foreign bonds in the 1820 s was no doubt stimulated by the rapid conversions of the British government debt from 5s to 4s and later to 3s. Recognition of the new South American republics after their secession from Spain probably also encouraged investors. Between 1818 and 1832, twenty-six foreign governments floated issues in London. By 1837 only ten of these still paid. Nevertheless as the century progressed and the yield on the funds continued to decline, British investors continued to absorb foreign securities. Some of these new issues and their yields are recorded in Table 22. British investors were by no means restricted to investment in domestic and foreign bonds. Domestic and foreign equities were increasingly available. Also prime short bills could be bought in times of credit stringency at 4 7%. Good mortgages could be bought at rates up to 1% above consols. In 1866, Australian banks offered to pay 8% to Londoners for deposits. Securities listed on the London Stock Exchange had a total value of 1.2 billion in 1843, of which 63% were obligations of the British government, 17% of British colonial and foreign governments, while 20% were securities of private companies. By 1875, the total listing had quadrupled to 4.5 billion. Obligations of the British government now comprised only 13% of the total; obligations of British municipalities and colonial and foreign governments comprised 55% of the total (up 2.2 billion in twenty-two years); and securities of private companies, domestic and foreign, comprised 32% of the total (up 1.2 billion in twenty-two years). (451) The funds were no longer the dominant outlet for British investors. Finally, for those in search of a really worthwhile return, there was, as always, the opportunity to lend to a friend in need. After the repeal of the usury law, the courts came to consider 48% a ceiling above which they would not enforce collection. About 1840, Benjamin Disraeli was forced
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