Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stock Exchange Information Prior to 1901 (4)

At that time all precedents of every kind in Stock Exchange history were broken. Where a few years before, transactions of 200,000 shares a day had been regarded as constituting a large market and half a million shares as a day of extreme activity, scarcely a day now elapsed in which the volume of business did not run from one to two million shares, culminating on April 30, 1901, in transactions of 3,200,000 shares. Prices in the meantime were advancing at a rate which brought the entire financial public into the field as a speculator.

The real force underlying the movement was the purchase of stock companies by other companies which pledged their credit to raise the funds requisite to provide for the purchase. This movement culminated in the famous Northern Pacific corner of May 9, 1901, when the efforts of two rival groups of capitalists to get hold of that railroad property forced its shares to the price of $1000, the stock having never touched $100 until three weeks before. Apprehension that operators who were unable to deliver stock which they had pledged would be dealt with summarily, caused one of the most violent collapses of values in the Stock Exchange's History.

Recovery was prompt, and both 1901 and 1902 were characterized by numerous sensational movements for the advance, the second of those years scoring as a rule the higher values. In general, however, it was recognized that high-water mark in Stock Exchange activity had been reached. In the autumn of 1901 and in the fall of 1902 and the early part of 1903 severe reaction in values supervened.

The noteworthy characteristic of the period was the employment of enormously wealthy syndicates to sustain prices for the newly issued shares on the Stock Exchange until the public could be induced to buy. Such syndicates were remunerated at first by large allotments of stock and later by heavy cash payments, the syndicate formed in March, 1901, to "underwrite" the billion-dollar stock issued by the United States Steel Corporation to take up the shares of other steel and iron combinations, pledging itself, in case of necessity, to advance $200,000,000 capital for the purpose. The stock issue worked out so successfully, however, that only a small fraction of the guarantee was called for, and two years later the original capital subscribed was returned to subscribers, with an additional cash allotment sufficient to raise profits to 200 per cent.

A second syndicate, formed in 1902 to underwrite a $50,000,000 bond issue by the same corporation and the conversion of $200,000,000 of its stocks into bonds, fared less fortunately, being obliged to perform the whole of its guarantee at a time of falling prices. In the spring of 1903 it was generally recognized that the extensive employment of the syndicate underwriting plan had "tied up" immense amounts of capital which were usually available in the general market. The investing public having bought very sparingly and the syndicate banking interests being unable to support prices, a very severe and general decline on the Stock Exchange ensued.

To be continued: Stock Exchange Information Prior to 1901 (5)

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