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But a banker naturally takes care not to allow overdrafts unless he has great confidence in his customer, or has received a guarantee of repayment from him or his friends.
86. Discount of Bills. The most common and proper way in which a banker gives credit and employs his funds is in the discount of bills, that is, in advancing money in exchange for a definite promise to pay it back at a stated time. Suppose that John Smith has sold a thousand pounds worth of cotton goods to Thomas Jones, a shopkeeper; several months will pass perhaps before Jones can sell the goods over the counter, and if he has not much capital, he agrees that John Smith shall give credit for the thousand pounds, but in the mean time draw a bill upon Jones. This bill would very likely be somewhat in this form
LONDON, ist February, 1878. £1000, os. od.
Three months after date pay to me or my order the sum of one thousand pounds, value received.
JOHN SMITH. To Mr. Thomas Jones. John Smith is said to be the drawer of the bill ; Thomas Jones is the drawee, and the bill amounts to a claim on the part of John Smith that Thomas Jones owes him the sum named. If the drawee acknowledges that this is the case, he signifies it when the bill is presented to him, by writing on the back the word “accepted,” together with his name.
Now if the drawer and drawee of a bill are persons of good credit, a banker will readily discount such a bill, that is, buy it up for the sum due, after subtracting interest at the rate of say five per cent. per annum for the length of time the bill has to run. The bill forms good security, because, when accepted, John Smith is bound to pay the thousand pounds when due, and if
fails, the drawee is liable. Such bills are often bought by one person after another, being endorsed by each to the next, that is, impressed with an order that the money shall be paid to the next person named. When due the last owner must claim the money from John Smith, and if he refuses to pay, each owner has a claim upon the previous
CREDIT CYCLES. 87. Industry is Periodic. Everybody ought to understand that trade varies in activity, from time to time, in a periodic manner. A thing is said to vary periodically, when it comes and goes at nearly equal intervals like the sun, or rises and falls like the tides. Now, in industry, as Mr. William Langton pointed out twenty years ago, there are tides almost as regular as those of the sea. Shakespeare says truly
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." Some of these tides depend upon the seasons of the year; business is more active in the spring and summer, and falls off in winter. It is comparatively easy to borrow money in January, February, March, June, July, August, and September ; October and November are particularly bad months ; the rate of interest then often runs up rapidly, and the bankruptcies in these months are more numerous than at any other time of year. April and May are also dangerous months, but in a less degree. Men of business should always bear these facts in mind, and, by being prepared beforehand, they may escape disaster.
There is also a much longer kind of tide in business, which usually takes somewhere about ten years to rise and fall. The cause of this tide not well understood,
but there can be no doubt that in some years men become confident and hopeful. They think that the country is going to be very prosperous, and that if they invest their capital in new factories, banks, railways, ships, or other enterprises, they will make much profit. When some people are thus hopeful, others readily become so too, just as a few cheerful people in a party make everybody cheerful. Thus the hopefulness gradually spreads itself through all the trades of the country. Clever men then propose schemes for new inventions and novel undertakings, and they find that they can readily get capitalists to subscribe for shares. This encourages other speculators to put forth proposals, and when the shares of some companies have risen in value, it is supposed that other shares will do so likewise. The most absurd schemes find supporters in a time of great hopefulness, and there thus arises what is called a bubble or mania.
88. Commercial Bubbles or Manias. When the schemes started during a bubble begin to be carried out, great quantities of materials are required for building, and the prices of these materials rise rapidly. The work people who produce these materials then earn high wages, and they spend these wages in better living, in pleasure, or in buying an unusual quantity of new clothes, furniture, &c. Thus the demand for commodities increases, and tradespeople make large profits. ven when there is no sufficient reason, the prices of the remaining commodities usually rise, as it is called, by sympathy, because those who deal in them think their goods will probably rise like other goods, and they buy up stocks in the hope of making profits. Every trader now wants to buy, because he believes that prices will rise higher and higher, and that, by selling at the right time, the loss of any subsequent fall of prices will be thrown upon other people.
This state of things, however, cannot go on ery
long. Those who have subscribed for shares in new companies have to pay up the calls, that is, find the capital which they promised. They are obliged to draw out the money which they had formerly deposited in banks, and then the bankers have less to lend. Manufacturers, merchants, and speculators, who are making or buying large stocks of goods, wish to borrow more and more money, in order that they may have a larger business, the profit seeming likely to be so great. Then according to the laws of supply and demand, the price of money rises, which means that the rate of interest for short loans, from a week to three or six months in duration, is increased. The bubble goes on growing, until the more venturesome and unscrupulous speculators have borrowed many times as much money as they themselves really pos
Credit is said to be greatly extended, and a firm, which perhaps owns a capital worth ten thousand pounds, will have undertaken to pay two or three hundred thousand pounds, for the goods which they have bought on speculation.
But the sudden rise which, sooner or later, occurs in the rate of interest, is very disastrous to such speculators; when they began to speculate interest was, perhaps, only two or three per cent. ; but when it becomes seven or eight per cent., there is fear that much of the profit will go in interest paid to the lenders of capital. Moreover, those who lent the money, by discounting the speculators' bills, or making advances on the security of goods, become anxious to have it paid back. Thus the speculators are forced at last to begin selling their stocks, at the best prices they can get. As soon as some people begin to sell in this way, others who hold goods think they had better sell before the prices fall seriously; then there arises a sudden rush to sell, and buyers being alarmed, refuse to buy except at much reduced rates. The bad speculators now find themselves unable to maintain their credit, because, if they sell their large stocks at a considerable loss, their own real capital will be quite insufficient to cover this loss. They are thus unable to pay what they have engaged to pay, and stop payment, or, in other words, become bankrupt. This is very awkward for other people, manufacturers, for instance, who had sold goods to the bankrupts on credit; they do not receive the money they expected, and as they also perhaps have borrowed money while making the goods, they become bankrupt likewise. Thus the discredit spreads, and firms even which had borrowed only moderate sums of money, in proportion to their capital, are in danger of failing.
89. Commercial Crisis or Collapse. The state of things described in the last section is called a commercial collapse, because there is a sudden falling in of prices, credit, and enterprise. It is also called a Crisis, that is, a dangerous and decisive moment (Greek, kpívw, to decide), when it will soon be seen who is to become bankrupt, and who not. No sooner has such a crisis arrived, than everything changes. No one ventures to propose a new scheme, or a new company, because he knows that people in general have great difficulty in paying up what they promised to the schemes started during the bubble. This bubble is now burst, and it is found that many of the new works and undertakings from which people expected so much profit, are absurd and hopeless mistakes. It was proposed to make railways where there was nothing to carry; to sink mines where there was no coal nor metal; to build ships which would not sail; all kinds of impracticable schemes have to be given up, and the capital spent upon them is lost.
Not only does this collapse ruin many of the subscribers to these schemes, but it presently causes workpeople to be thrown out of employment. The more successful schemes indeed are carried out, and, for a year or two, give employment to builders, ironmanufacturers, and others, who furnish the materials.