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WALL STREETIntroduction It’s rare that someone should develop an obsession with Wall Street with- out sharing its driving passion, the accumulation of money. It would prob- ably take years of psychoanalysis to untangle that contradiction, not to mention others too sensitive to name here. No doubt that contradictory obsession has early roots, but its most po- tent adult influence was probably my first job out of college, at a small brokerage firm in downtown Manhattan. The firm had been started by a former Bell Labs physicist, who wanted to use his quantitative skills to analyze and trade a then-new instrument known as listed options. The refugee physicist was considerably ahead of his time; few people under- stood options in 1975, and fewer still were interested in using the kinds of high-tech trading strategies that would later sweep Wall Street. My title was secretary to the chairman, which meant not only that I typed his letters, but also that I got his lunch and went out to buy him new socks when he’d left his old ones in a massage parlor. And I studied the place like an anthropologist, absorbing the mentality and culture of money. It was fascinating in its own way, but it also struck me as utterly cynical and empty, a profound waste of human effort. One morning, riding the elevator up to work, I noticed a cop standing next to me, a gun on his hip. I realized in an instant that all the sophisti- cated machinations that went on upstairs and around the whole Wall Street neighborhood rested ultimately on force. Financial power, too, grows out of the barrel of a gun. Of course a serious analysis of the political economy of finance has to delve into all those sophisticated machinations, but the image of that gun should be kept firmly in mind. On what is loosely called the left, such as it is these days, two unhappy attitudes towards modern finance prevail — one, the everything’s-changed- 1WALL STREET and-capital-no-longer-matters school, and two, a stance of uninformed condemnation. An example of the first is this silly but representative erup- tion from Jean Baudrillard (1993, pp. 10–11, 33): Marx simply did not foresee that it would be possible for capital, in the face of the imminent threat to its existence, to transpoliticize itself, as it were: to launch itself into an orbit beyond the relations of production and political contradictions, to make itself autonomous in a free-floating, ecstatic and haphazard form, and thus to totalize the world in its own image. Capital (if it may still be so called) has barred the way of political economy and the law of value; it is in this sense that it has successfully escaped its own end. Henceforward it can function independently of its own former aims, and absolutely without reference to any aims whatsoever…. Money is now the only genuine artificial satellite. A pure artifact, it enjoys a truly astral mobil- ity; and it is instantly convertible. Money has now found its proper place, a place far more wondrous than the stock exchange: the orbit in which it rises and sets like some artificial sun. This isn’t that surprising from a writer who can declare the Gulf War a media event. But it displays an understanding of finance apparently de- rived from capital’s own publicists, like George Gilder, who celebrate the obsolescence of matter and the transcendence of all the old hostile rela- tions of production. Cybertopians and other immaterialists are lost in a second- or even third-order fetishism, unable to decode the relations of power behind the disembodied ecstasies of computerized trading. And, on the other hand, lefties of all sorts — liberal, populist, and so- cialist — who haven’t succumbed to vulgar postmodernism have contin- ued the long tradition of beating up on finance, denouncing it as a stinkpot of parasitism, irrelevance, malignancy, and corruption, without providing much detail beyond that. Many critics denounce “speculation” as a waste of social resources, without making any connections between it and the supposedly more fundamental world of “production.” Sociologists who study power structures write portentously of “the banks,” but their evi- dence is often vague and obsolete (see, for example, Glasberg 1989b, a piece written at the end of one of the great financial manias of all time that nonetheless relies heavily on evidence from the 1970s). It’s as if such people stopped thinking and collecting evidence 20 or even 60 years ago. This book is an attempt to get down and dirty with how modern Ameri- can finance works and how it’s connected to the real world. It’s a system that seems overwhelming at times — almost sublime in its complexity and 2INTRODUCTION power, reminiscent of Fredric Jameson’s (1991, pp. 39–44) reading of John Portman’s Bonaventure Hotel, at once packed and empty, a spatial ana- logue of our disorientation as subjects in the dizzy world of modern mul- tinational capitalism. (It seems especially dizzying as I write this in early 1998, with the U.S. stock market at or near its highest levels of valuation in 125 years, and the broad public the most deeply involved it’s been in decades, and maybe ever.) As an antidote to that sense of disorientation, Jameson suggested the need for “cognitive mapping,” critical expositions of that vertiginous world that remind us that despite its vast scope, it is the product of human intelligence and society, comprehensible with a little effort, and maybe even transformable with a little more. In a soundbite, the U.S. financial system performs dismally at its adver- tised task, that of efficiently directing society’s savings towards their opti- mal investment pursuits. The system is stupefyingly expensive, gives terrible signals for the allocation of capital, and has surprisingly little to do with real investment. Most money managers can barely match market av- erages — and there’s evidence that active trading reduces performance rather than improving it — yet they still haul in big fees, and their brokers, big commissions (Lakonishok, Shleifer, and Vishny 1992). Over the long haul, almost all corporate capital expenditures are internally financed, through profits and depreciation allowances. And instead of promoting investment, the U.S. financial system seems to do quite the opposite; U.S. investment levels rank towards the bottom of the First World (OECD) coun- tries, and are below what even quite orthodox economists — like Darrel Cohen, Kevin Hassett, and Jim Kennedy (1995) of the Federal Reserve — term “optimal” levels. Real investment, not buying shares in a mutual fund. Take, for example, the stock market, which is probably the centerpiece 1 of the whole enterprise. What does it do? Both civilians and professional apologists would probably answer by saying that it raises capital for in- vestment. In fact it doesn’t. Between 1981 and 1997, U.S. nonfinancial corporations retired 813 billion more in stock than they issued, thanks to takeovers and buybacks. Of course, some individual firms did issue stock to raise money, but surprisingly little of that went to investment either. A Wall Street Journal article on 1996’s dizzying pace of stock issuance (McGeehan 1996) named overseas privatizations (some of which, like Deutsche Telekom, spilled into U.S. markets) “and the continuing restruc- turing of U.S. corporations” as the driving forces behind the torrent of new paper. In other words, even the new-issues market has more to do with the arrangement and rearrangement of ownership patterns than it 3WALL STREET does with raising fresh capital — a point I’ll return to throughout this book. But most of the trading in the stock market is of existing shares, not newly issued ones. New issues in 1997 totaled 100 billion, a record — 2 but that’s about a week’s trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange. One thing the financial markets do very well, however, is concentrate wealth. Government debt, for example, can be thought of as a means for upward redistribution of income, from ordinary taxpayers to rich bond- holders. Instead of taxing rich people, governments borrow from them, and pay them interest for the privilege. Consumer credit also enriches the rich; people suffering stagnant wages who use the VISA card to make ends meet only fatten the wallets of their creditors with each monthly payment. Nonfinancial corporations pay their stockholders billions in an- nual dividends rather than reinvesting them in the business. It’s no won- der, then, that wealth has congealed so spectacularly at the top. Chapter 2 offers detailed numbers; for the purposes of this introduction, however, a couple of gee-whiz factoids will do. Leaving aside the principal residence, 1 the richest /2% of the U.S. population claims a larger share of national wealth than the bottom 90%, and the richest 10% account for over three- quarters of the total. And with that wealth comes extraordinary social power — the power to buy politicians, pundits, and professors, and to dictate both public and corporate policy. That power, the subject of Chapter 6, is something economists often ignore. With the vast increase of government debt since the Reagan ex- periment began has come an increasing political power of “the markets,” which typically means cuts in social programs in the name of fiscal pro- bity. Less visibly, the increased prominence of institutional investors, par- ticularly pension funds, in the stock market has increased rentier power over corporate policy. Though globalization and technology have gotten most of the blame for the recent wave of downsizings, the prime culprits are really portfolio managers demanding higher stock prices — a demand that translates into layoffs and investment cutbacks. This growth in stock- holder influence has come despite the fact that outside shareholders serve no useful social purpose; they trade on emotion and perceptions of emo- tion, and know nothing of the businesses whose management they’re in- creasingly directing. They’re walking arguments for worker ownership. This book concentrates almost entirely on American markets. That’s not only for reasons of the author’s nationality, but also because the U.S. (and British) financial system, with the central role it accords to loosely regu- 4INTRODUCTION lated stock and bond markets, has been spreading around the globe. Henry Kaufman (1994) called this “the ‘Americanization’ of global finance.” The World Bank and its comrades in the development establishment have urged a stock-market-driven model of finance and corporate control on its client countries in the Third World and the former socialist world, and the En- glish-language business press is full of stories on how the Germans and Japanese are coming to their senses, or have to if they know what’s good for them, and junk their stodgy old regulated, bank-centered systems for a Wall Street/City of London model. And all evidence is that they are, though never quickly enough for the editorialists. Also, the international financial markets, which Japanese and German investors participate in, resemble the Anglo-Saxon system in all their loose- ness and speed. Finally, the stock market has become a kind of economic ideal in the minds of neoliberal reformers everywhere: every market, whether for airline tickets or human labor, has been or is being restruc- tured to resemble the constantly fluid world of Wall Street, in which prices float freely and arrangements are as impermanent as possible. For these reasons, a study of the U.S. financial markets, particularly the stock mar- ket, could be of interest to an audience beyond those specifically curious about the American way of financial life. This book inhabits a strange world between journalism and scholar- ship: the first three chapters in particular look at the empirical realities of the financial markets — the instruments traded and the agents doing the trading — and then the fourth and fifth chapters look at some of the things economists have said about finance over the past two centuries. I hope that I’ve managed to bring the two normally separate worlds together in an illuminating way, but of course the risk is that I’ll only succeed at alien- ating both the popular and the academic audience. It’s worth the risk. Most financial journalism is innocent of any theoretical and historical per- spective, and academic work — mainstream and radical — is often indif- ferent to daily practice. I must confess that I am not a “trained” economist. For someone not initiated into the priesthood, several years spent exploring the professional literature can be a traumatic experience. One of the finest glosses on that experience came long ago from, of all people, H.L. Mencken, in his essay “The Dismal Science”: “The amateur of such things must be content to wrestle with the professors, seeking the violet of human interest beneath the avalanche of their graceless parts of speech. A hard business, I daresay, to one not practiced, and to its hardness there is added the disquiet of a 5WALL STREET doubt.” That doubt, Mencken wrote — after conceding that in things eco- nomic he was about as orthodox as they come — was inspired by the fact that the discipline hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foun- dations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole exist- ence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors. Apostates, Mencken argued, were far more unwelcome in the field than in others of less material consequence (like, say, literary studies). There are few subspecialties of economics where this is truer than in finance. The bulk of the finance literature consists of painfully fine-grained studies designed for the owners and managers of money capital. Impor- tant matters, like whether the financial markets serve their advertised pur- pose of allocating social capital effectively, are studied with an infrequency surprising only to someone unfamiliar with Mencken’s Law. But the violet of interests is no longer hidden behind graceless parts of speech alone; mathematics is now the preferred disguise. The dismal sci- ence now flatters itself with delusions of rigor — an elaborate statistical apparatus built on the weakest of foundations, isolated from the other social sciences, not to mention the broader culture, and totally dead to the asking of any fundamental questions about the goals of either the disci- pline or the organization of economic life itself. I do ask, and I hope answer, lots of those difficult questions, but I also want to take on the dismal scientists on their own terms. For many non- specialist readers, this may seem like heavy going. I’ve tried, wherever possible, to isolate the heavily technical bits and plaster appropriately cau- tionary headlines on the dangerous sections. But too much writing these days, and not only on the left, consists of anecdote, narrative, moralizing, and exhortation. Even though both the financial markets and the disci- pline of economics have penetrated so deeply and broadly into much of social life, these institutions remain largely immune to critical examina- tion. The next 300 pages undertake that examination, and perhaps in more detail than some readers might like, but I don’t ever want to lose sight of this simple fact: behind the abstraction known as “the markets” lurks a set 6INTRODUCTION of institutions designed to maximize the wealth and power of the most privileged group of people in the world, the creditor–rentier class of the First World and their junior partners in the Third. I’ve committed at least two commercial sins in writing this book — one, the omission of practical investment advice, and two, going lightly on scandal-mongering and naming of rotten apples. As penance for the first, I’ll offer this bit of advice: forget about beating the market; it can be done, but those who can do it are rare. And for the second: pointing to rotten apples implies that the rest of the barrel is pure and refreshing. My point is that the entire batch of apples is pretty poor nourishment. By this I don’t mean to imply that everyone who works in finance is devious, corrupt, or merely rapacious. There are many fine people who under- write, analyze, trade, and sell securities; some of them are my friends and neighbors. Their personal characteristics have nothing to do with what follows. That’s the point of a systemic analysis — to take apart the institu- tions that are larger than the personalities who inhabit them. Between the publication of the hardcover edition of this book and the paperback, the U.S. stock market rose almost without interruption, to truly extraordinary levels of valuation, the highest since modern records begin in 1871. In the past, high valuations have been associated with nasty sub- sequent declines, but it’s always possible this is a new era, a Nirvana of capital, in which the old rules don’t apply. If Social Security is privatized, it could constitute an official stock price support mechanism. Households — presumably mostly in the upper half of the income dis- tribution — plunged into stocks (through the medium of mutual funds) in a way not seen in 30, or maybe 70, years. At the same time, households — presumably poorer ones than the mutual fund buyers — have also contin- ued to go deeper into debt, and with record debt levels matched by record bankruptcy filings. The more a society polarizes, the more people on the bottom borrow from those on the top. When I started this book, the prestige of Anglo-American stock-market- centered capitalism was a lot lower than it was when I finished it. I say a few kind things about Japanese and Germanic systems of corporate finance, ownership, and governance that would have been taken as semi- respectable in 1992. In 1998, it is deeply against the grain (though not as against the grain as saying kind things about Marx). But I’ll stick to my position. The stagnation of Europe has a lot less to do with rigid structures and pampered citizens than it does with fiscal and monetary austerity dictated by the Maastricht project of unification. To blame Japan’s problems 7WALL STREET on overregulation is to ignore that the 1980s bubble was the product of deregulation and a speculative mania. Isn’t enthusiasm about the American Way in 1998 a bit reminiscent of that about Japan ten years earlier? Coming after Japan’s extended slump, the collapse of the Southeast Asian economies in 1997 was a great booster shot for American triumphalism. Quickly forgetting the extraordinary growth performance that led up to it — which, together with Japan’s is without precedent in the history of capitalism, sustained rates of growth two to three times what Britain and the U.S. experienced during their rise to wealth — Alan Greenspan, editorialists, and professors of economics have pronounced this the final word on economic policy. It’s not clear why the weakest U.S. expansion in decades should be taken as vindication of the American Way. Growth between the recession’s trough in 1991 and the last quarter of 1997 was the slowest of any post- World War II business cycle. Despite the mighty stock market, investment levels are only middling, and productivity growth, modest. From the hype, you’d also think the U.S. was leaving its major rivals in the dust, but com- parisons of per capita GDP growth rates don’t bear this out. At the end of 1997, the U.S. was tied with France at second in the growth league, be- hind Canada, and just tenths of a point ahead of the major European coun- tries. Step back a bit, and the U.S. sags badly. For the 1989–95 period, when the U.S. was stuck in a credit crunch and a sputtering recovery, it was at the bottom of the G7 growth league, along with Canada and the U.K. Between 1979 and 1988, there’s no contest, with the U.S. tying France for the worst numbers in the G-7. Comparisons with the pre-crisis Asian tigers are hardly worth making. It may be as capitalisms mature, financial surpluses break the bounds of regulated systems, and force an American-style loosening of the bonds. So all these questions of comparative capitalisms may be academic; it may be the destiny of Japan and Western Europe to become more like the U.S. Certainly that’s one of the likely effects of European monetary union. But if that’s the case, then the debate shouldn’t turn on what “works better” in some sort of engineering sense. And moving beyond this technocratic terrain, to say a U.S.-style system “works better” doesn’t say what it’s better at. The November 22, 1997, issue of the Financial Times had three stories above its fold: two on the crises in Asia, and one headlined “Reform may push US poor into squa- lor.” According to the last, a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that “huge numbers” of poor Americans could face utter ruin 8INTRODUCTION when welfare “reform” takes full effect in 1999. That prospect, surely a social disaster of great magnitude, is not defined by official lexicographers as either a disgrace or a crisis. The planned immiseration of the American poor has a lot to do with the subject of this book. U.S. financial and ownership relations, which are fragmented, abstract, and manic, seem deeply connected to other social mechanisms — partly as causes, partly as effects — that make this such a voracious, atomized, polarized, turbulent, often violent culture, one that insists each of us be in competition with every other. If this is success, then the U.S. model is a great success. It may even be partly duplicable in countries interested in a fresh lifestyle strategy. After several hundred pages of diagnosis, readers have a right to ex- pect a prescription for cure at the end. I’ve tried to fulfill that, but the final chapter is short and mainly suggestive. I could get high-minded and say that the reason for that is that a transformative agenda is worth a book in itself, which is true enough. But another reason is that financial reforms are no easy or isolated matter. Money is at the heart of what capitalism is all about, and reforms in the monetary sphere alone won’t cut much ice. If you find the hypertrophy of finance to be appallingly wasteful and de- structive then you’re making a judgment on capitalism itself. That’s not very chic these days, but if I thought that this cultural pathology would persist forever, then I wouldn’t have written this book. Doug Henwood (dhenwoodpanix.com) New York, April 1998 textual note Almost all the figures in this edition have been updated since the hardcover; major exceptions are those used for illustrative pur- poses only. Aside from correcting a few typos and egregious anachro- nisms, the text is unchanged. notes 1. In many ways, credit markets are more important, but they don’t enjoy the same atten- tion from the broad public, nor do they inspire the same lusts that stocks do. 2. Despite the prominence of the stock market, daily trading volume in U.S. Treasury securities is over four times that of the NYSE — about 225 billion in federal paper in early 1998, compared with 50 billion in stocks. 91 Instruments In February 1998, 1.4 trillion a day cr ossed the wire connecting the world’s major banks. That figur e — which captures most of the world’s financial action with the U.S. dollar on at least one side of the trade — was a mer e 600 billion ar ound the time of the 1987 stock market crash. After that inconsequential cataclysm, daily volume r esumed its mighty rise, passing 800 billion in 1989, and 1 trillion in 1993 (Grant 1995, 1996). It is a pr o- digious number: an amount equal to a year’s U.S. gr oss domestic product (GDP) tur ns over in a week, and total world pr oduct in about a month. Where does it all come from, and where does it go? Open the Wall Street Journal or the business section of a major metropolitan daily, and you get a clue. Every day, they publish an overwhelming array of price quotes — thousands upon thousands — for stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities, options, futures, options on futures, indexes, options on indexes, mutual funds…. If you own a hundr ed shares of Iomega, or you’re short wheat for April delivery, then you have no problem deciding what they all mean — your money is at stake. But do all these prices, with acr es of type and graphics devoted to analyzing and charting their often fe- vered movements in loving detail, have any meaning beyond the narr owly mercenary? Is the movement of the Dow, reported in about 30 seconds on every evening network newscast, of interest to anyone besides the half of the population that owns stocks, or the 1% of the population that owns them in meaningful quantity? And do these price gyrations have any r ela- tion to the other news reported in the paper or on TV — to the fate of corporations, to the real standar d of living, to our public lives? Figuring that out has to start with a pictur e of the elements of this finan- cial universe — the instruments and institutions that construct the claims that people make on each other over time and space. These claims are denominated in money, the stuff that economists study, but economists 10INSTRUMENTS forget that money is a form of social power. One of the persistent delu- sions of conventional theory is that money is “neutral,” a lubricant with no influence of its own, one that mer ely simplifies transactions in an economy 1 based on the exchange of goods. In a barter economy, the seller of wheat would have to find a personal buyer; in a money economy, the wheat- holder can sell for money, and let the system take care of the rest. Money is a richer phenomenon than that explanation allows; it is one of our fundamental principles of social or ganization. Ownership is r epre- sented through monetary claims, and the exchange of those claims in the financial markets amounts to the social construction of ownership. Over the last decade or so, these “markets” — usually conveniently referred to as an anonymous exter nal for ce, as pervasive and inevitable as gravity — have gr own enormously. It’s a cliché of the daily press that the markets ar e now more powerful than governments, that the daily votes cast by the bond and curr ency markets ar e more important than elections, legislatur es, and public budgets. The cliché contains a partial truth: these markets ar e tremendously powerful. But they ar e social institutions, in- struments of power, that derive their power in part fr om the sense of pow- erless awe they inspire among non-initiates. Say “the markets won’t like” a minimum wage incr ease or a public jobs program, and critical scrutiny often evaporates, like wishes crushed by the unfriendly voice of God. While modern financial markets seem sublimely complex, they’r e es- sentially composed of several basic instruments and institutional partici- pants. Most of the instruments, despite their apparent novelty, are quite old, their age measur ed better in centuries than decades. What ar e these markets, and who populates them? stocks To many people, the stock market is W all Str eet, and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is the stock market. A recent edition of Paul Samuelson’s warhorse economics text even described the exchange as the “hub” of capitalism, with no further explanation. Geography r einforces this per- ception; the NYSE stands at the intersection of Broad and W all, at the spiri- tual epicenter of Manhattan’s financial district. But in fact, stock market trading volume is dwar fed by trading in bonds and for eign exchange, and the NYSE itself accounts for a declining shar e of stock market volume. These mere facts aside, there is some justification in giving the stock market the prominence it enjoys in the popular mind. But one notion that 11WALL STREET must be quickly dismissed is the idea that the market raises lots of capital 2 for real investment. Corporations typically sell lar ge blocks of stock when they go from private (a small cir cle of family or otherwise tight owners) or state hands (in a privatization) to “public” hands. It goes without saying that a very narr ow segment of the public is involved. Afterwards, public fir ms rar ely issue significant amounts of stock, and new flotations ar e but a blip in the chart of corporate cash flows. Since the early 1980s, thanks to buyouts and buybacks, mor e stock was retired than newly floated, trans- actions that wer e mostly funded through heavy borrowing. But just because the stock market plays a very minor role in raising investment finance doesn’t mean it’s a sideshow. Shar es of stock repre- sent ownership claims on an economy’s real productive assets, and claims as well to a portion of the present and futur e profits generated by those assets. Though managers of public corporations enjoy partial autonomy — just how much is a matter of dispute — they ar e the hired agents of the stockholders, and ultimately answerable to them. In moments of crisis, stockholders can intervene directly in the running of their corporation; in more normal times, pleasing investors, which means pushing up the stock price, is a prime managerial concer n. Failur es to please are punished by a chronically low stock price, a condition that can be an invitation to a take- over. In mainstr eam theory, this is how the market disciplines managers; that it doesn’t work very well is one of the themes of this book. Stock comes in many flavors. Most prevalent — 98% of the market value of the NYSE, almost all the Nasdaq — is common stock. Common stock- holders have the last claim on a corporation’s income and assets; though fir ms will occasionally str etch to meet a dividend, dividends ar e normally paid after inter est owed to creditors — making common stockholders “re- sidual claimants” in legal jar gon. After debtholders but ahead of common stockholders are holders of preferred stock, who must be paid all divi- dends due them before owners of the common stock can get a penny. In a bankruptcy, common stockholders are often wiped out; creditors and holders of the preferred get paid off first. Common’s allur e is that if a corporation does well, creditors and preferred stockholders can be easily satisfied, and the excess juice all goes to the stockholders. evolution from a founding principle Today’s stock markets have their roots, as do many institutions of modern finance, in medieval Italy, though unlike the more sophisticated early Italian financial institutions, their early stock markets wer e pretty rudimentary. 12INSTRUMENTS Modern versions took shape first in Amsterdam in the 17th century and then in London in the 18th, with the gr owth of gover nment debt and cor - porate shares. Free-market ideology to the contrary, the role of govern- ment debt in the development of finance can’t be exaggerated; while American practice tr eats stock and government bond markets as being as distinct as chur ch and state, in Britain, wher e church and state ar en’t so separate either, people still call public debt certificates gover nment stock. In the early 17th century, the Dutch and English East India Companies issued shares to the public to fund their early imperial enterprises (an- other state link to the development of finance); in return, investors were granted a shar e of the profits in the form of dividends. But since the inves- tors didn’t want to wed themselves irrevocably to these companies with- out any possibility of divorce, the share certificates were made freely transferable. As R.C. Michie (1992) puts it, “what was being established were markets to claims to futur e income” — fictitious capital, in Marx’s famous phrase: not r eal capital, but claims on capital. This enables a whole class to own an economy’s productive assets, rather than being bound to a specific property as they once were. The transfor mation of a futur e stream of dividend or inter est payments into an easily tradeable capital asset is the founding principle of all finan- cial markets. While the futur e payment stream of a bond is usually fixed, and barring default fairly certain, dividends and the pr ofits on which they ar e based are largely unpredictable. In most cases, they can be expected to grow over time with the rest of the economy, but not always. Figuring out the likelihood and speed of that growth is what much of the stock game is all about. Amsterdam’s early market was quite loosely organized; br okers and their clients simply congregated ar ound the pillars of the exchange build- ing and did deals. Ther e was no formal or ganization designed to police conduct and of fer some guarantee against default until 1787. The first for - mally organized exchange was established in Paris in 1724. The r evolu- tion, however, so disturbed trading — war isn’t always good for business — that London stepped into the breach. The opening of the London Stock Exchange in 1802 marked the real beginning of r ecognizably modern stock exchanges, with regular trading and a fixed, self-r egulating membership. New Y ork’s stock exchange was founded 10 years before London’s (by 24 brokers meeting under a button- wood tree at what is now 68 Wall Str eet), but the New Y ork market would take a back seat to London until fairly late in the 19th century. Paris would 13WALL STREET return to prominence some decades later as the major exchange for trad- ing continental Eur opean shares (not just Fr ench ones), but it would never again match London as a financial center . What government debts and state-licensed monopolies were to the fi- nancial markets of the 18th century, railr oad shar es and bonds were to the 19th — claims on wealth that pr oliferated wildly and pr ovided rich raw material for trading. British railway shar es grew from £48 million in 1848 to £1.3 billion in 1913; over the same period, U.S. railway stocks gr ew from 318 million to 19.8 billion. Also over the same period, the London exchange saw a tr emendous increase in trading of for eign shares — a reminder that in spite of today’s talk about the globalization of finance, finance has long been as transnational as politics and technology allowed. Modern American stock markets came of age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, simultaneously with the emer gence of modern corpora- tions, with dispersed owners and professional managers. The stock mar- ket was central to the establishment of these new institutions in the first place, as small fir ms were combined into giants, and it quickly became essential to settling matters ar ound their subsequent ownership. Late 19th century promoters also thought of the market as a way to ease the burden on small producers who were being displaced or enveloped by corporatization: modest stock holdings were a compensation for the loss of real capital ownership (Livingston 1986). After World War I, ther e was an attempt to r estore the borderless order of the decades befor e the conflict, but the attempt never really took. Though the U.S. enjoyed a tremendous boom during the 1920s, Eur ope wasn’t so lucky; Britain suf fered chronically high unemployment, and Ger many was a wreck. When the U.S. boom ended with the 1929 crash, and the world entered depression, the loose financial markets of the 1920s wer e indicted as prime suspects. Many European markets were shut or sharply restricted, 3 and the New Deal brought the U.S. market under tight r egulation. Stock markets and financial gunslinging in general r emained under heavy suspicion until well after end of World War II; policy and habit con- spired to keep stock and other financial markets sleepy for decades. New York Stock Exchange trading volume for all of 1950 totaled 525 million shar es, equal to about two average days’ trading in 1993, and a vigor ous day in 1996. By the end of the 1950s, however , the market was beginning to shake off this torpor; volume took off in the 1960s, plateaued in the 1970s, and then exploded during the 1980s (New Y ork Stock Exchange 1994, pp. 100, 101). 14INSTRUMENTS As this is written, stock markets in general ar e enjoying a period of high 4 prices and high prestige, and not only in the First World. Encouraged by official institutions like the W orld Bank and Inter national Monetary Fund (IMF), Thir d World stock markets have flourished as tar gets for First World investors, bored with the prospects of their own mature home markets. Despite their growth in the last decade, they remain quite small, however, and it doesn’t take much Norther n money to drive up prices ten- or a hundr ed-fold — nor does it take much to generate a panic exit and a stunning collapse in prices. taxonomy While just about every country in the world now has a stock market, their size and importance vary gr eatly. One easy way of making this point is by grouping national financial systems into bank-center ed and stock-mar - ket-centered ones. In the former, stock markets tend to be small in size and importance; not only do banks, rather than the stock and bond mar - kets, provide most corporate finance, they own a great deal of corporate stock as well. Germany is the classic example of a bank-center ed system, with a market capitalization (measur ed relative to GDP) a quarter the level of the U.S. and a fifth that of the U.K. Most of the continental Eur opean countries tend towards Germanic levels of market capitalization, while other English-speaking countries tend toward Anglo-American ones. With the wave of free-market “reforms” of the last 15 years has come a tremendous growth in stock markets in what is alter nately called the “de- veloping” or Third World; in financial jar gon, their stock markets ar e usu- ally called the “emerging” markets (though at moments like the 1994–95 Mexican crisis, wits call them submer ging markets). On balance, the “emerging” markets r emain quite small, even after all this gr owth; in 1996, the markets followed by the Inter national Finance Corporation, the W orld Bank’s in-house investment bank, accounted for just 11% of world stock market capitalization, half their 21% shar e of global GDP . Still, within that group, there ar e considerable variations, with Chile and South Africa show- ing market caps that would put them in the Anglo-American league, and China bar ely on the radar scr een, at least in 1996. Y et despite the relative size of some of these markets, they r emain tiny on a world scale; an influx of what would seem like pocket change to investors in New Y ork or Lon- don could easily buy up the entire Philippine or Argentine stock market. The small size, when combined with the limited number of stocks traded, make the emerging markets extraor dinarily volatile. 15WALL STREET stock market capitalization, 1996 percent of millions of percent GDP US of world emerging Malaysia 310 307,179 1.5 South Africa 191 241,571 1.2 Taiwan 105 273,608 1.4 Philippines 96 80,649 0.4 Chile 89 65,940 0.3 Thailand 54 99,828 0.5 Indonesia 40 91,106 0.5 India 34 122,605 0.6 Mexico 32 106,540 0.5 Brazil 29 216,990 1.1 Korea 29 138,817 0.7 Argentina 15 44,769 0.2 China 14 113,755 0.6 developed Hong Kong 290 449,381 2.2 Singapore 160 150,215 0.7 U.K. 152 1,740,246 8.6 Switzerland 137 402,104 2.0 U.S. 116 8,484,433 42.0 Sweden 99 247,217 1.2 Netherlands 97 378,721 1.9 Canada 84 486,268 2.4 Australia 79 311,968 1.5 Japan 67 3,088,850 15.3 Spain 42 242,779 1.2 France 38 591,123 2.9 Germany 29 670,997 3.3 Italy 21 258,160 1.3 totals emerging 37 2,225,957 11.0 developed 81 17,951,705 89.0 world 72 20,177,662 100.0 The terms “emerging” and “developed” are in common use, though one could write a book on that choice of words alone. Markets shown accounted for 86% of “emerging” markets and 98% of developed markets. Between 1994 and 1996, world market capitalization grew more than three times as fast as GDP (33% vs. 11%). Source: International Finance Cor- poration, Emerging Stock Markets Factbook 1995, 1997. 16INSTRUMENTS In the predominantly English-speaking countries, stock markets ar e also essential mechanisms for r egulating how corporations ar e owned and run. (This market style is sometimes called Anglo-Saxon, despite the pr esence of many non-Anglo-Saxons in their populations. Anglo-American is a less problematic label.) Nearly anyone with suf ficient cash or cr edit can enter the open market and buy a contr olling inter est in a publicly traded corpo- 5 ration. In Germanic countries, however, contr olling inter ests are typically in the hands of lar ge banks, and it’s practically impossible for fir ms to be bought and sold on the open market. With incr eased foreign investment by German fir ms, and their listings on for eign stock exchanges, their model appears to be taking on a mor e Anglo-Saxon cast. Japan has slid in the rankings, fr om near -Anglo-American in its size, to the lower third of the table. Controlling inter ests are typically held by banks and close business partners like suppliers and customers, making it nearly impossible for uninvited actors to buy up a Japanese fir m. technical details In the U.S., stocks and other securities are traded in two kinds of insti- tutional envir onments: organized exchanges and over -the-counter (OTC). In exchange trading, or ders to buy or sell are transmitted fr om customers to a central trading floor which, despite computerization, is still populated by specialized human traders who shout and gesticulate at each other to consummate deals. With OTC trading, ther e is no central floor — just a virtual exchange made up of networked computers. The largest U.S. exchange is the New Y ork Stock Exchange, which de- spite its relentless loss of market share to OTC trading, is still the home of the shares of most large American corporations — over 2,300 fir ms in all — as well as the U.S. trading for major for eign firms. To be listed on the NYSE, firms must meet several criteria: a r ecord of consecutive profitabil- ity at least thr ee years long, tangible assets and a total market value of 18 million or mor e, a minimum of 1.1 million shar es outstanding, and at least 2,000 shar eholders (NYSE 1994, p. 31). While these standards may not sound too rigorous, they rule out most U.S. corporations. A customer buying a stock traded on the NYSE, whether an individual trading 10 shar es or a money manager trading 100,000, transmits an or der to his or her broker. The broker transmits the order to the firm’s trading desk, which passes it on to the NYSE floor . (To trade on the floor, the firm must be a member of the exchange.) The order can be filled in one of two ways. Small, simple orders are filled through the NYSE’s SuperDot com- 17WALL STREET puter system; bigger orders ar e filled by human br okers cutting deals on the exchange floor. At the heart of the NYSE is its specialist system. Specialists are inhabitants of the exchange floor who are assigned to make markets in specified stocks; they’re annointed in this r ole by a board elected by exchange member . Though their role isn’t especially obscure, their names usually ar e; unlike brokers and portfolio managers, there are no celebrity specialists. They have several tasks, for which they are handsomely rewarded. Specialists maintain “the book,” once literally a paper r ecord but now a computer- ized r egistry, containing price and quantity infor mation on curr ent bids (offers to buy) and asks (offers to sell) for the stocks assigned to them. Customer orders may be placed either at the market or at a limit — that is, either at pr evailing prices or at a specific price. Limit or ders can be placed at prices far away fr om the prevailing price; investors may want to sell shar es they own if they hit a certain price, either to limit losses or lock in profits. When the market price hits the limit, the customer’s order is ex- ecuted by the specialist. In unusual cases wher e specialists are unable to find a willing buyer for an eager seller, or vice versa, usually because of a ferocious buying or selling stampede, they are supposed to step in and satisfy the or der, using stock from their own inventory or money from their own pockets. Some discretion is allowed here; specialists aren’t supposed to bankrupt them- selves to maintain “a fair and orderly market,” as their brief is usually phrased. But they do seem to smooth out the gyrations in moderately extreme markets. Specialists make a good deal of money in this role. Their books of fer them insights into patterns of supply and demand that ar e offered to no other market players, and they know when it’s better to meet orders from their own resources or by matching public customers’ orders. Market stu- dents often scrutinize published data on specialists’ positions for insights 6 into what the supposedly smart money is doing. In over-the-counter trading, ther e is no central auction market. Cus- tomers still transmit or ders to brokers, but instead of going to the corner of Broad and W all, the order is presented by phone or computer network to other brokers, called market makers, who specialize in trading certain stocks. A market maker, accor ding to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, is “any dealer who holds himself out…as being willing to buy and sell security for his own account on a r egular or continuous basis.” T o do that, a market maker publishes, either on paper or on computer screens, bid 18INSTRUMENTS and offer price quotations, and, in the wor ds of the Securities and Ex- change Commission r egulation, “is r eady, willing, and able to ef fect trans- actions in r easonable quantities at his quote prices with other brokers and dealers” (quoted in Watson 1992). At the organizational peak is the National Association of Securities Deal- ers (NASD) and its automated quotation system (Nasdaq), which pr ovides live computer quotes of stock trades to brokers around the world. The National Market System (NMS), a subset of Nasdaq universe, is the trading home of the biggest OTC stocks, like Micr osoft and Intel. Many of the NMS companies could trade on the NYSE, but for various reasons they choose not to have their stocks listed ther e. But despite the sprinkling of giants, listing r equirements for the NMS are significantly looser than the NYSE’s: if a fir m is profitable, it needs tangible assets of at least 4 million and a market value of at least 3 million; if the fir m is unprofitable, it needs to hit values of 12 million and 15 million r espectively. In most cases, it needs only 400 public shar eholders. Traveling down the foodchain, you pass the Nasdaq stocks that ar en’t part of the national system; these tend to be relatively obscure companies whose stocks ar e somewhat thinly traded; a listing on the Nasdaq SmallCap (small capitalization) market r equires only 4 million in assets, a market value of 1 million, and 300 public shar eholders. But these look like blue chips compared to stocks outside the Nasdaq system — like those that trade on the so-called pink sheets, a price list distributed daily to brokers on pink paper containing price quotes for stocks that trade essentially by appointment only, with as few as one market-maker. By contrast, the big NMS stocks can have as many as 30 or mor e market-makers, with the average Nasdaq stock having ar ound 10. In 1994, the Nasdaq came under heavy criticism in the academic and popular press for unfair trading practices, notably wide spr eads between bid and ask prices (Christie and Schultz 1994). That is, in comparison to NYSE trading, buyers of stock paid high prices, and sellers received low prices, with the dealers pocketing the dif ference. In particular , suspiciously few Nasdaq quotes were for odd-eighths of a point and too many for even quarters — like 10 1/4 instead of 10 1/8 or 10 3/8 — a r ounding that, of course, favored the dealer. The academics concluded, modestly, that this raised “the question of whether Nasdaq dealers implicitly collude to maintain wide spr eads.” These spreads mysteriously narr owed the moment preliminary findings wer e published in the press (Christie et al. 1994). The American Stock Exchange dr ew marketing blood by pointing out 19

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