Facts and Fictions in The Securities Industry 1st edition


Also published by United Press International (UPI)



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Also published by United Press International (UPI)

Claud Cockburn, writing for the "Times of London" from New-York, described the irrational exuberance that gripped the nation just prior to the Great Depression. As Europe wallowed in post-war malaise, America seemed to have discovered a new economy, the secret of uninterrupted growth and prosperity, the fount of transforming technology:

"The atmosphere of the great boom was savagely exciting, but there were times when a person with my European background felt alarmingly lonely. He would have liked to believe, as these people believed, in the eternal upswing of the big bull market or else to meet just one person with whom he might discuss some general doubts without being regarded as an imbecile or a person of deliberately evil intent - some kind of anarchist, perhaps."

The greatest analysts with the most impeccable credentials and track records failed to predict the forthcoming crash and the unprecedented economic depression that followed it. Irving Fisher, a preeminent economist, who, according to his biographer-son, Irving Norton Fisher, lost the equivalent of $140 million in today's money in the crash, made a series of soothing predictions. On October 22 he uttered these avuncular statements: "Quotations have not caught up with real values as yet ... (There is) no cause for a slump ... The market has not been inflated but merely readjusted..."

Even as the market convulsed on Black Thursday, October 24, 1929 and on Black Tuesday, October 29 - the New York Times wrote: "Rally at close cheers brokers, bankers optimistic".

In an editorial on October 26, it blasted rabid speculators and compliant analysts: "We shall hear considerably less in the future of those newly invented conceptions of finance which revised the principles of political economy with a view solely to fitting the stock market's vagaries.'' But it ended thus: "(The Federal Reserve has) insured the soundness of the business situation when the speculative markets went on the rocks.''

Compare this to Alan Greenspan Congressional testimony this summer: "While bubbles that burst are scarcely benign, the consequences need not be catastrophic for the economy ... (The Depression was brought on by) ensuing failures of policy."

Investors, their equity leveraged with bank and broker loans, crowded into stocks of exciting "new technologies", such as the radio and mass electrification. The bull market - especially in issues of public utilities - was fueled by "mergers, new groupings, combinations and good earnings" and by corporate purchasing for "employee stock funds".

Cautionary voices - such as Paul Warburg, the influential banker, Roger Babson, the "Prophet of Loss" and Alexander Noyes, the eternal Cassandra from the New York Times - were derided. The number of brokerage accounts doubled between March 1927 and March 1929.

When the market corrected by 8 percent between March 18-27 - following a Fed induced credit crunch and a series of mysterious closed-door sessions of the Fed's board - bankers rushed in. The New York Times reported: "Responsible bankers agree that stocks should now be supported, having reached a level that makes them attractive.'' By August, the market was up 35 percent on its March lows. But it reached a peak on September 3 and it was downhill since then.

On October 19, five days before "Black Thursday", Business Week published this sanguine prognosis:

"Now, of course, the crucial weaknesses of such periods - price inflation, heavy inventories, over-extension of commercial credit - are totally absent. The security market seems to be suffering only an attack of stock indigestion... There is additional reassurance in the fact that, should business show any further signs of fatigue, the banking system is in a good position now to administer any needed credit tonic from its excellent Reserve supply."

The crash unfolded gradually. Black Thursday actually ended with an inspiring rally. Friday and Saturday - trading ceased only on Sundays - witnessed an upswing followed by mild profit taking. The market dropped 12.8 percent on Monday, with Winston Churchill watching from the visitors' gallery - incurring a loss of $10-14 billion.

The Wall Street Journal warned naive investors:





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