Front Page Titles (by Subject) BANKING IN RUSSIA. - A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 2 (Great Britain, Russian Empire, Savings-Banks in the U.S.)
Return to Title Page for A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 2 (Great Britain, Russian Empire, Savings-Banks in the U.S.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
BANKING IN RUSSIA. - Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, vol. 2 (Great Britain, Russian Empire, Savings-Banks in the U.S.) 
A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations; comprising the United States; Great Britain; Germany; Austro-Hungary; France; Italy; Belgium; Spain; Switzerland; Portugal; Roumania; Russia; Holland; The Scandinavian Nations; Canada; China; Japan; compiled by thirteen authors. Edited by the Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin. In Four Volumes. (New York: The Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, 1896). Vol. 2 A History of Banking in Great Britain, the Russian Empire, and Savings-Banks in the U.S.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
BANKING IN RUSSIA.
THE EARLY STAGES OF MONEY AND CREDIT.
The Policy of State Prescription—The Copper Era and Its Crisis—Debasements of the Copeck—Imperial Trading on the Coinage.
IN examining the credit system of Russia, the fact that first of all strikes us is that it has always been conducted, if not in accordance with invariable principles, yet at least after a uniform method and one which has conformed to the political policy of the Empire.
The State is the great dispenser of favors, the general manager of all affairs of its subjects. It exercises its control according to its own ideas, but with a very sincere desire to further all those interests of which it assumes the care; to profit by the experiences of other countries, while avoiding their mistakes, and to excel them if possible; but its success has been only such as a bureaucracy, more or less intelligent, is capable of attaining. That the intelligence of this bureaucracy has not always been equal to the mission it has undertaken; that its final aims have not remained constant, but have varied with the controlling powers and their advisers; that the highest interests of the State have often been construed in a sense adverse alike to the dictates of wisdom and the economic progress of the country; that the tutelage exercised by the State over commerce and industry has not always been to their advantage,—all of this will be made sufficiently manifest in the history of the Russian banking system which is to be here laid before the reader.
That system is to-day what it has been for more than a century. The issue and circulation of money are entirely in the hands of the State. There have been brief intervals when emancipation from that control has appeared possible, and even in the way of being accomplished; but they have yielded no result.
Before treating of note circulation as it now exists, it may be well to take a rapid glance at the monetary situation in the period when paper money was unknown.
Such information as is procurable upon this branch of the history is fragmentary, and must be culled from certain personal memoirs rather than from records of incontestable historical value. However, aside from the influence of local peculiarities, the history we are about to sketch is parallel to the experience of all countries.
Until the middle of the seventeenth century there was no copper money in Russia, except one small coin called a “poul.” There were in circulation some gold and silver pieces of foreign origin and some small silver coins of Russian mintage. The Government, which held a monopoly in more than one branch of commerce, sold its merchandise to foreigners for ducats or thalers, and had the receipts recoined at the local mints to its own great profit. About 1650, three new silver coins were introduced which, according to the statements of all the chronicles of the time, partook very largely of the character of counterfeit money, having the appearance but not the weight of coins of an intrinsic value greater than their own. Russian subjects were forbidden to pay out these coins in the purchase of imported goods, the Government fearing that such a course would result in raising the price of imports. Somewhat later, it was deemed advisable to debase even the copper coins, and the difference between their official and real value soon became so great that farmers refused to bring their products to market. A contemporaneous writer states that for 160 copecks the Czar bought enough copper to make coins officially valued at R. 100, thus giving them a fictitious value about sixty-five times as great as their real value.
According to Meyerberg, the Czar put in circulation more than R. 20,000,000 of this money. This traffic, by which the Czar Alexis is said to have gained R. 20,000,000, produced numerous revolts, resulting in massacres and the execution of some citizens. Yet such is the force of actual facts that even a Czar Alexis could not keep his spurious copper roubles at par, and their price, which, up to March 1, 1659, had been 104 copecks at Moscow and 103 at Novgorod, gradually declined. On January 1, 1663, the quotation at Moscow was ten copper roubles for one of silver, and on June 15th it was fifteen at Moscow and twelve at Novgorod. That is to say, the fictitious rouble was valued at only 6⅔ per cent. of par in Moscow and 8⅓ per cent. in Novgorod. A general increase in prices resulted. Naturally the blame was laid upon speculators and forestallers, and many accused of these offences were convicted. Nevertheless, in 1662, the Government acknowledged the force of accomplished facts; but it consulted its own interests even in the readjustment. The copper coins were called in at 1 per cent. of their nominal value; but, inasmuch as their real value was 1.6 per cent., many citizens preferred to keep their copper and turn it into household utensils; so the poorest citizens, who were unable to bear the expense of this change, were the chief sufferers.
Less than a century later, copper was once more called upon to play the rôle of Providence for the imperial treasury. It is said that Peter the Great boasted of having carried on all his wars without contracting a debt. In order to do so, he had found it sufficient at first to debase all the gold and silver coinage, and afterward to issue large quantities of five-copeck copper pieces. These latter gradually drove out the other coins and remained practically the only form of money in Russia until the beginning of the reign of Catherine II.
At this period our sources of information become more abundant and more authentic. We need merely mention, however, that the official debasement of the currency was all the more disastrous because it had as an ally, or rather as a competitor, counterfeiting on private account. An official report of 1740 accuses Russia’s dishonest neighbors, Poles and others, of this treacherous rivalry against the State. No greater indulgence was shown to these malefactors than had been extended a century earlier to those who trafficked in roubles. It was decreed that every person coming from a foreign land and found in possession of copper copecks should be hanged at the frontier. But the culprit usually escaped if he had the good fortune to reach the Senate with an appeal from this grievous sentence. As early as 1730, the depreciation had become so great that the Government itself refused to accept its copecks in payment of taxes; and in 1731 it authorized the public to melt them for domestic uses. There was, nevertheless, some sense of the obligation resting upon the State to redeem at par the copecks it had issued. But the Czar’s advisers constantly protested against the burden which such a transaction would lay upon the Treasury; and, in 1744, they made an estimate of the loss, putting it at R. 4,000,000—an amount much beyond the then available resources of the Treasury. Nevertheless, it was imperative that something be done; and, on May 11, 1744, it was announced that, on and after August 1st, the public treasuries would refuse to accept five-copeck pieces except as the equivalent of four copecks, and that, after October 1, 1745, they would be taken for only three copecks; and a further reduction to two copecks was to become effective on August 28, 1746. No further change was made until 1754. Then it was resolved to issue copper money at the rate of R. 8 to the “pood” (about 36 pounds avoirdupois); and, with this end in view, dealers in copper were forbidden to retain more than one-fourth of their stock. This was almost a return to monetary honesty; for, from 1728 to 1740, the pood of copper had been coined into R. 40. In 1755, the last five-copeck pieces of the old mintage were called in at two copecks each. It had been feared that large quantities of counterfeit money would be brought forward for redemption; but an official report of April 8, 1757, shows that there were presented altogether only R. 3,250,000, or R. 205,723 less than the State itself had issued. Evidently, a large number of persons had concluded to pocket their loss and had melted down their copper money. As for counterfeiters, they found their occupation gone as soon as the coins ceased to have a value that made their manufacture profitable.
INTRODUCTION OF PAPER MONEY.
Beginning of Note Circulation—A Sound Issue of Assignats—An Unsound Issue of Assignats—The Volume Inflated for War Purposes—Ruinous Depreciation of Notes—Hoarding of Silver—A Ukase Against Exportation of Silver—Remedial Measure—Failure to Fund the Assignats—Assignats made a Legal Tender—Count Cancrine’s Financing—Origin of the “Credit-Rouble.”
NOTE circulation in Russia dates from a rescript issued on December 29, 1768, by the Empress Catherine II. The decree provided for the establishment of two banks of issue, one at St. Petersburg and the other at Moscow, having a right, or rather being commanded, to issue “assignats.” As a matter of fact, the assignats were issued by the State, the banks merely putting them in circulation and redeeming them. This redemption was to be made on demand; all State departments were commanded to accept the assignats at par; and of every payment of R. 500 made to the State at least R. 25 was required to be in these bills. Prompt redemption was assured, because each bank was required to keep on hand an amount of silver equal to its outstanding bills, and each bank redeemed only its own issues. The avowed objects of these issues were, (1) the creation of a more convenient form of money than the silver and copper then in use; and (2) an increase of the circulating medium. The assignats were not made a legal tender, and anyone who chose to do so might refuse to accept them in payments. The new undertaking developed slowly. In 1770, the provincial officers having money to forward to St. Petersburg were requested to send it in the form of these notes, and in 1771 each of the banks began to accept the other’s bills. In 1781-2, branch banks, each having from R. 100,000 to R. 300,000 in assignats, were opened in the cities of Novgorod, Pskov, Tver, Nezheen, Kiev, Koursk, Kharkov, Tambov, Orel, Toola, Kazan, Archangel, Kherson, Riga, and Revel. Yet in 1786, eighteen years after the ukase of Catherine, the total issues were only about R. 40,000,000; and it has been estimated that there were at this time in the country R. 110,000,000 to R. 120,000,000 in Russian silver and copper money, and some R. 10,000,000 of foreign coin, the total circulation certainly not exceeding R. 180,000,000. This, however, must be taken as merely an approximation.
The year 1786 marks the first departure from the prudent system of note issues previously adhered to. By a manifesto of June 28th of that year, the two banks of issue were consolidated with the loan bank of the Empire. At the same time, a new issue of R. 60,000,000 was decreed, R. 22,000,000 of which were to be employed in loans to the nobility, and R. 11,000,000 in loans to cities. The total amount of assignats, this manifesto declared, should never exceed R. 100,000,000; but their redemption could no longer be demanded of the banks, because the circulation was not entirely covered by a metallic reserve, but was secured in part by mortgage loans. A new form was given to the assignats, and very soon, in addition to those of R. 100 and of R. 50, others were issued of the denominations of R. 10 and R. 5. Soon the necessities of the State, arising out of the wars in Europe and the East, impelled it to overstep the maximum limit fixed by the manifesto of 1786. As early as 1790, there was a new issue of R. 11,000,000, and twenty years later (in 1810), the circulation had reached the formidable volume of R. 577,000,000. Aside from the R. 33,000,000 reserved for mortgage loans, all of this money had been devoted to the needs of the national treasury.
Though there was no law giving to the assignats a legal-tender quality, yet in 1793, when the amount in circulation was only R. 124,000,000, there was a variance between their value and that of metallic money amounting to forty-five per cent. It resulted from this lack of legal-tender power that specie, while it had entirely disappeared from the interior of the country, formed in the frontier provinces, Baltic and Polish, practically the only circulating medium. At St. Petersburg, all prices were quoted in assignat roubles, while at Riga business was transacted upon the basis of the Reichsthaler, assignats being in use merely as a supplementary form of currency. In order to check the variance between the value of paper and metallic money, and to prevent the further disappearance of silver from circulation, a ukase was issued toward the end of 1791, forbidding under severe penalties the exportation of any Russian money. On February 22, 1808, the Governor-General of Little Russia was commanded to take such measures as would prevent the Jews from sending silver money out of the country, and in 1809 the order was extended to include even copper. But naturally these measures neither brought silver into circulation again nor put an end to the premium upon it. From 1786 to 1807, the value of that metal, measured in paper, had varied between 102 and 164; in 1808 it rose to 201½, in 1810 to 401, and finally in 1812 it reached 423, so that an assignat rouble was worth only 23½ copecks in silver.
In his work “Das Russische Papier-geld,”* M. Goldmann notes that while this depreciation of paper money resulted in a general increase in prices, the increase was not in all cases proportional to the depreciation. Thus, in 1808, the value of a “last” (about two tons) of rye at Riga was R. 160 and in 1812 it was R. 240; for the same years a “pood” (36 lbs.) of butter was quoted at R. 16 and R. 20 respectively, and a “loof” (2 bushels) of wheat flour at R. 10½ and R. 12; during the interval, however, the rouble had depreciated from fifty per cent. of its nominal value to twenty-five per cent. This variance, however, may have arisen from other causes affecting the value of the articles. Complaints were numerous both on the part of the consumer, who objected to the higher prices, and on the part of the producer, who found the purchasing power of his income less than before. The State also had its grievance, for having determined that the taxes should serve as security for its issues, it was bound to receive the assignats at par; thus the deficit increased in proportion to the amount of new issues, which were intended to stop the increase of deficiencies, but which resulted always in enlarging them. Accordingly, in 1812, the Government resolved to put an end to this “tax-foundation”; in a word, the State refused to recognize its assignats as a legal tender to the Treasury. But, in view of the general situation in Europe, the moment was not favorable for returning to the owners of assignats the whole or any part of the loss which an over-issue had brought upon them.
The lesson had been a severe one. Whatever it could do by decrees and ukases toward helping itself and the people, the State freely did. To begin with, an imperial decree of June 20, 1810, provided that for the future the silver rouble should become once more the only legal money—5 livres 6 zoltonik (about 4½ pounds) of silver, 83⅓ per cent. fine, being valued at R. 100. Subsidiary silver coins of a less degree of fineness were likewise to be a legal tender, and regulations were also made with reference to copper money. At the same time there was appointed an imperial Committee of the Public Debt, its duty being to reduce the circulation and prevent all new issues. To this end, the committee received a “special fund,” consisting of lands and forests, which it was to sell within five years. It began by the issue of a loan of R. 100,000,000 in five series of R. 20,000,000 each, the first being put out on July 15, 1810. This first series was issued in two forms—one falling due in seven years and the other running indefinitely. Subscriptions for the loan payable in 1817 were accepted on the basis of two assignat roubles for one of silver, and the interest was 6 per cent.; for the other, on the basis of 1½ to 1, the interest being 4½ per cent.; in both cases repayment was to be made in silver. The assignats paid in on these subscriptions were to be publicly burned. The promise of repayment at a fixed date resulted in a prompt sale of the new securities, and in May and June, 1812, on the eve of Napoleon’s arrival at Moscow, they were quoted at a premium of 42 per cent.
Thus the remedial scheme was apparently a brilliant success. But the money brought into the treasury by these new creditors was taken out through the doors of the various credit and deposit institutions maintained by the same treasury; so that the State was gaining nothing, but was simply converting a comparatively inexpensive debt into another much more burdensome. Only R. 5,000,000 of assignats were burned, and the four remaining series of obligations were never issued. The State having constituted itself the sole dispenser of credit, could not, of course, demand credit of the public. Once having absorbed in the form of deposits all the available savings of the country, it could not call them a second time to its aid. The attempt to do so was simply a bookkeeping operation; the money was taken out over one treasury counter and paid in over another. We shall meet this same phenomenon again and again in the course of the century; the lesson such operations have to teach has not yet been thoroughly learned.
The system outlined in the ukase of 1810 was promptly abandoned, and there was no further attempt to establish the silver rouble as the only legal form of money. Yet some change was imperatively demanded. It was decreed, therefore, that the Committee of the Public Debt should be intrusted, not merely with the redemption of the assignats, which function had now become a sinecure, but also with the management of all the public debts; that it should pay them with the aid of its “special fund,” and should use the surplus in the redemption of assignats. Its operations were to be superintended by a council partially composed of merchants and having a Grand Duke at its head.
On April 9, 1812, it was decreed by a ukase, amending that of 1810, that taxes might be paid in assignats at the rate prevailing when payment was due; that all contracts with the State or between individuals might be settled upon the same terms, and that all payments stipulated to be made in silver or any other form of money might, at the option of the debtor, be made in assignats at the current rate. This was a legal-tender act with no circumlocution.
It is needless to say that the years 1812-15, those of the French invasion and of the two great wars that carried the Russian armies to the gates of Paris, were not years in which the circulation of assignats could be reduced. On the contrary, it is estimated that in 1817 their volume had increased to R. 800,000,000; after that time, however, there was no further increase. In view of the depreciation which had already occurred (the rouble was worth about twenty-five per cent.), the legal-tender decree did not prevent metallic money from coming into circulation once more. Its position was established, because the value of the assignat was purely fictitious. It remained at twenty-five per cent. until 1820, after which it rose gradually and reached twenty-eight in 1840; thus its value was practically stable. Everyone had become resigned to the depreciation, and business adjusted itself accordingly. The burden of the loss of R. 600,000,000 out of R. 800,000,000 issued had, to a large extent, ceased to be felt with the passing of the generation that had been its victim.
As to the Government, it had in 1817 made a new attempt to raise its assignats to par. In accordance with a manifesto of April 16, 1817, and of imperial decrees of May 10, 1817, and June 16, 1818, the State was to buy up assignats until they had advanced to par, and to this end the Committee of the Public Debt was to receive R. 20,000,000 annually from the Treasury. It was instructed to invite deposits at six per cent., and to use them all for this purpose. In order, further, to hasten the retirement of the paper money, a manifesto of August 16, 1820, ordered that a foreign loan be placed with Baring & Hope for R. 40,000,000, and that this money also should be used exclusively in the purchase of assignats. By these means the paper circulation was reduced from R. 800,000,000 to R. 595,000,000. But the order for liquidation did not last. M. Cancrine, who became Finance Minister in 1823, considered it his first duty to put an end to what he called the “imprudent system” of transforming such a mass of assignats into an interest-bearing debt. From the memoirs of this statesman, who was at the head of Russian finances for a quarter of a century, we learn that he prided himself on having saved to the Russian treasury in this manner R. 18,000,000 per year. The depreciation continued from that time, and the State thought no more of redeeming the assignats at par. Nevertheless, the general peace of Europe was of great advantage to the economic situation; military expenses were less, and Cancrine says in his memoirs that he reduced the annual public disbursements from R. 114,614,147 silver to R. 100,829,053 silver. In 1830, it was deemed safe to revoke the order forbidding the export of the precious metals. They had begun to return to the country, and Cancrine says that the value of assignats rose to 350 after having been for some time at 400 and 380. These fluctuations resulted in the inconveniences and losses to which we have previously referred, for the common people and small tradesmen fell a prey to speculators, who exploited the situation for their own profit. Communication throughout the vast Empire was so imperfect that local speculation in the medium of exchange became an easy matter. Debts would be contracted in one kind of money and paid in another kind, which had been artificially depressed in the meantime for this purpose, or vice versâ. Each province had its own discount, which varied sometimes by ten or twenty per cent. from that of the capital. Decrees were, indeed, issued forbidding all speculation of this kind, but it is needless to say that they were ineffectual, and M. Cancrine himself was at last compelled to admit the necessity of retiring the assignats.
The retirement was accomplished by a series of steps taken between 1839 and 1843. A manifesto of July 1, 1839, amending that of 1810, provided that for the future silver money should be the only legal tender; that all taxes should be estimated and paid in that money, as well as all private debts. At the same time, the ratio between the silver and assignat rouble was fixed once for all at 1 to 3½, and all persons were forbidden to deal with them at any other ratio or to give to silver a higher value under the guise of a fictitious rate of interest; meanwhile, all debtors were at liberty to make payment in either form of money at the official ratio. Finally, the State treasuries were to exchange R. 100 for any individual on demand. In 1841, a further step was taken by the creation of a new form of note, such as it exists to-day, known as the “Credit-Rouble” or silver-rouble. The last of this series of manifestoes was that of June 1, 1843, decreeing the retirement of all outstanding assignats, amounting to R. 595,777,310, in exchange for the new form of bill, at the rate fixed in 1839, 1 to 3½, the exchange to be completed by January 1, 1848.
As we have just said, the credit-rouble, first issued in 1843, is still the legal tender of Russia. Its chief virtue was that it drove out of circulation a form of money which had become entirely discredited, and the exchange value of which was only 282/7 per cent. of its nominal value. Besides, the new bill was to be exchangeable on demand for specie (silver), and in this respect it was to be on a par with the circulating mediums of other countries.
Has this result been attained? Could it have been? It should be borne in mind that these reforms in Russia’s monetary system were being carried forward at the time when the subject of note circulation was being thoroughly investigated in England, and when the Act of Sir Robert Peel was just giving to the Bank of England its final form, such as it has retained to the present moment. Count Cancrine was thoroughly advised of that investigation and its results. Let us see how he turned them to the profit of Russia.
In the first place, notwithstanding that he was a foreigner, a fault which Russia has never forgiven him, he set to work in a truly Russian manner, carefully retaining in the hands of the State entire control of the circulation and of credits. Not only did the State insist upon its exclusive right to issue paper money, in spite of the sad experiences of the recent past, but it claimed a monopoly also of banking operations properly so called; the discounting of paper and the receipt of deposits were confined to the State Bank, and Cancrine in his memoirs says it is a matter for congratulation that when the Bank was unable to use all of its deposits in loans to individuals, the State itself came forward time and again and borrowed from them to build fortifications, canals, and highways, and for naval and other public uses, thereby supplying the deficiencies of the public revenues.
One is constrained almost to admire the empiricism with which Count Cancrine handled a matter so delicate as the redemption of fiduciary money. In the system we are examining—if it be permissible to call it a system—a beginning had been made in 1839 by the creation of bills upon depositories always exchangeable for specie. These deposits having in a short time increased to several millions of roubles, with few demands for repayment, it was straightway determined that one-sixth of the issue would suffice to meet all demands; accordingly, when bills of credit were issued in 1841, it was decreed that one-sixth of the amount should always be covered by a metallic reserve, the total issue being further secured by all the resources of the State. Thus some R. 30,000,000 was thought to be sufficient to secure the circulation. This is the process by which that conclusion was reached. At the time we speak of and long afterward, it was held as a sort of doctrine in Europe that every bank of issue should keep on hand a metallic reserve representing a third of the circulation. To-day that theory merely causes a smile; but half a century ago it was accepted almost as a dogma. In view of the fact that the new bills during their earlier years had seldom been presented for redemption, Cancrine thought that half of the usual reserve would be sufficient for Russia, and thus he fixed it at one-sixth.
This exchangeability secured to the bills of credit (for such is the name by which they are still known) did not prevent the State from making their acceptance obligatory upon every citizen, that is, from clothing them with a legal-tender power. Thanks to this preventive measure, it has never been necessary to revoke the formula inscribed upon each bill, declaring that it is redeemable on demand. Half a century has gone by since the first issue of bills of credit, and they still bear this promise upon their face, but it is a dead letter. In any event, it could not have been difficult to foresee that the State would not long resist the temptation which the printing press held out to it. In fact, as early as 1849 a supplementary issue of R. 20,000,000 was ordered, and in 1853 another of R. 40,000,000, carrying the total circulation above R. 250,000,000. As a result of the Crimean war and the difficulty of placing loans abroad, a ukase of January 10, 1855, authorized the Treasury to meet all extraordinary expenses by temporary issues of bills of credit; at each new issue the Treasury was to deposit with the issuing office one-sixth of the sum in metal, and these temporary bills were to be retired within three years after the close of the war. It is unnecessary to say that they are in circulation yet. The authority for their issue was rescinded on April 5, 1857, one year after the treaty of peace. The circulation, which had amounted to R. 345,000,000 in September, 1854, to R. 356,000,000 at the end of that year, to R. 509,000,000 at the end of 1855, and to R. 689,000,000 at the end of 1856, had now reached a total of R. 725,000,000. Thus, fifteen years had sufficed to bring to naught the reformatory projects of Count Cancrine. He, however, was no longer Minister of Finance, and the final liquidation of the Crimean war expenses did not devolve upon him.
FINANCIAL RECONSTRUCTION UNDER ALEXANDER II. AND THE FOUNDING OF THE STATE BANK.
The State Ceases to be a Lender—Emancipation of Serfs Disables Nobles from Borrowing—Redundance of Bank Deposits—The Great Liquidation of 1859—The Creation of the State Bank; Its Functions, Powers, and Limitations; Modeled after the Bank of England; Its Initial Nonsuccess.
THE reign of Alexander II. (1855-1881) was destined to be one of great reforms. It was not merely the emancipation of the serfs, the opening of the courts to the public, the establishment of the jury system and of judicial elections, the abolition of the monopoly in brandies, and the convocation of provincial legislatures (Zemstvo) that made memorable the earlier years of this brilliant reign. Sound ideas seem to have prevailed also in the domain of economics and finance.
The new regime went seriously to work to release the State from its position as the sole source of credit, and to emancipate commerce and industry from governmental tutelage exercised through a system of institutions entirely under control of the State. Moreover, the Government was no longer anxious to loan to landed proprietors now that the security they offered was about to disappear. The basis of landed credit had been the number of “souls,” of serfs, dwelling upon the estate mortgaged. The emancipation of these in 1861 was going to put an end to that security, and nothing would be left upon which the State could safely base a loan. The contemplated reforms began vigorously at this point, and the first step was to clear the ground of those institutions through which the State had acted as the chief lender, and also as the chief borrower, of the Empire. These institutions were of two classes; those acting under the supervision of the Minister of Finance and the Committee of Credit Establishments, and those in charge of the Imperial Board of Education.
In the first category were: (a) The Sinking Fund Commission, whose duties are indicated by its title; (b) the Imperial Loan Bank, which received deposits on interest and loaned them on country and city real estate for terms of ten, twenty-eight, and thirty-three years; (c) the Imperial Commercial Bank, which received deposits on interest, both for transfer and for safe-keeping, and loaned on securities, merchandise, and public funds; and (d) the bureau for the issue of bills, whose duties are indicated by its name. The Imperial Board of Education had under its charge: (a) the trust depositories (caisses de dépôts et de consignations) at St. Petersburg and Moscow, receiving deposits on interest and loaning them for long terms on real estate and public funds; (b) the widows’ banks; (c) lombards, loaning on personal property, jewels, etc.; (d) the savings-banks. Thus it appears that every transaction having any reference to borrowing or lending was under the control of some State institution, and for all those charitable and credit establishments the Treasury was responsible. It is needless to dwell at length upon the fatal defect of this system. As a matter of fact, the State was in a position of chronic insolvency, for deposits payable on demand or shortly after demand were secured only by long-term loans, not to speak of the very serious inroads which the needs of the State itself had made upon those deposits. The credit establishments having undertaken to pay interest to depositors at a fixed rate, and the war having increased the mass of bills of credit by nearly R. 500,000,000, this strange anomaly presented itself in 1857, that the State had in its coffers some R. 180,000,000 of deposits on interest for which it could find no employment.*
An imperial decree of July 20, 1857, reduced the interest rate from five to four per cent. On January 5, 1859, the various State institutions had outstanding loans aggregating more than R. 1,038,000,000, of which R. 37,900,000 were for less than a year, R. 31,400,000 for one to fifteen years, and R. 969,000,000 for more than fifteen years. The bank reserves aggregated R. 68,800,000, against which individual depositors had claims amounting to R. 725,100,000, while there was due to the national treasury R. 242,000,000, or R. 967,100,000 in all. Thus the reserves represented less than one-fourteenth of the claims against the banks, and even if the State had been willing to waive its demands there yet remained R. 725,000,000 of claims covered by a reserve of R. 68,800,000, or less than ten per cent., and part of it was in public funds. The practice of loaning on mortgage was stopped; the interest on deposits was reduced to two per cent.; and temporary deposits, payable on demand, were changed into deposits for a long term by the issue of four per cent. State bills (March, 1859). This change not proving acceptable to depositors, five per cent. bills were offered to them in September, 1859, payable in thirty-seven years and obtainable only in exchange for certificates of deposit. These measures and a long list of other conversions and new issues, together with a sterling three per cent. loan of £7,000,000, were partially responsible for the floating debt which weighed upon the State through the instrumentality of its various fiduciary establishments. By the close of 1859, this debt had been reduced by R. 638,555,023, and then stood at R. 328,550,000. At this point, the State may be said to have emerged from the worst of its difficulties, for about half of this last amount consisted of deposits belonging to corporations, municipalities, and public institutions, which were not likely to demand immediate payment. A year later (December 31, 1860), these deposits had been reduced to R. 191,900,000.
The liquidation of the past being thus nearly completed, the next step was the founding of the State Bank by the ukase of May 31, 1860, in its present form, barring such modifications as were made in 1894. The laws under which it was formed aimed to make it an essentially commercial establishment. It was forbidden to loan on mortgage security, and was to conform closely to the practice of the Bank of England; acting as cashier for the national treasury, but having no other connection with it. There was to be no secrecy about its operations, its balance-sheets were to be published weekly and delivered to all applicants. So great was the desire to make of the bank a credit establishment, modeled after the best European institutions, that it was given a capital stock of R. 15,000,000 and a reserve fund of R. 3,000,000, in spite of the fact that all its liabilities were guaranteed by the State. A résumé of the Bank’s regulations is here presented; which need be but brief, as the new regulations adopted in 1894 will be stated on subsequent pages.
In 1860, the State Bank was founded to invigorate commercial undertakings and to consolidate the note circulation (Art. 1); and, to that end, it was provided (Art. 2), with the aforenamed capital of R. 15,000,000 and a reserve of R. 3,000,000, backed by all the resources of the State treasury. Its profits (Art. 3) were to be devoted to the payment of the five per cent. Bills of Credit and the amount loaned by the State to the former credit institutions, as well as to establish a reserve against possible losses. It was forbidden to use individual deposits for State purposes (Art. 9). Idle funds in the hands of State or provincial departments were to be kept on deposit with the Bank (Art. 12). The Bank was empowered to buy and sell State securities, but the total amount on hand should never exceed its capital stock.* The State was to be responsible, to the full extent of its resources, for all the undertakings of the Bank, and rentes were to be delivered to the latter to enable it to pay the amounts borrowed by the State from its depositors, the Bank being primarily liable for these (Art. 16). Commercial loans and discounts were not to be made for a longer term than nine months (Art. 23). No bills were to be discounted unless they represented a commercial transaction (Art. 27). It was made the duty of the courts to facilitate the sale of goods belonging to insolvent debtors of the Bank (Art. 39). The Bank was authorized to buy gold and silver at home or abroad (Art. 40). It could accept deposits for safe-keeping (Art. 48), or on accounts current (Art. 53), and deposits on interest (Art. 60). Every change in the conditions under which these deposits were received was to be published one month in advance (Art. 63). The Bank could loan on public funds, on the precious metals, and on merchandise (Art. 71); but these loans were not to exceed seventy-five or at most eighty-five per cent. of the value of the security as shown by bourse quotations (Art. 73). Upon certain classes of merchandise, the loans were not to exceed fifty or sixty per cent. of the value; and the term of the loan was to be not less than one nor more than six months (Art. 89). All the executive officers of the Bank were to be appointed by the State; but representatives of the nobility and of commerce were to be admitted to the directory, with a deliberative voice regarding certain transactions.
In order to emphasize the somewhat modernized character of the institution, there was placed at its head, not a public functionary, but an old banker, Baron Stieglitz, a business man whose fortune was such that it should have insured him the utmost independence of action, and who gave up his banking business to accept the position of Governor of the Bank of Russia. He devoted himself entirely to the work, but, unfortunately, it must be candidly said that he was not equal to the task. True, he was no bureaucratist, but still less was he a financier. He was an honest parvenu, humble and timid, very deeply impressed with the importance of his office and the honor conferred upon him, but not sufficiently imbued with a sense of the responsibilities of his new position; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he looked at his duty only from one point of view, that of the Government under which he held office. We may dismiss Baron Stieglitz with the remark that he quitted his position in the fall of 1866.
The Baron had as assistant, and afterward as successor, M. Eugene Lamanski, the ablest financier and banker in all Russia; a bureaucratist, indeed, but at the same time a man of education. He was very bold in his conceptions—to some of which we shall have occasion to allude later—but not consistent in their application. Was he the author of the new regulations of the Bank? We believe not; but he was bound to submit to them. The current was then setting in another direction, and M. Lamanski would have asked nothing better than to be allowed to float with it. His aspirations and convictions, founded upon a thorough understanding of the situation, and upon ideas which were entirely modern, had to yield to official exigencies, and he bravely undertook to make of the Bank an establishment modeled, as far as possible, upon European institutions of a like kind. We are about to see him at this work in his first semi-annual report of the business of the Bank. The extract from that report which we present shows that, from the beginning, the Bank was simply a branch of the national administration, and that its commercial business was of very small importance. The former credit establishments were closed, but the Bank had merely taken their place as part of the State machinery, and—the statement is true even at the present time—at thirty-five years from its beginning it has not materially altered its position or its methods.
The next chapter exhibits the condition of the Bank after the first six months of M. Lamanski’s management.
METHODS AND OPERATIONS OF THE STATE BANK.
THE “Journal de St. Petersbourg” of August 20 (September 20) contains a report of the operations of the State Bank for the second half of the year 1860. As the document comprises no less than ninety quarto pages, we can here present only a brief condensation of its more important features.
The directors announce that, in publishing an account of the first half-year’s business of the Bank, they consider it advisable to enter into certain details touching not only the principles involved and the progress made by the Bank itself, but also the operations with which it was intrusted for account of the Treasury and those which it was authorized to undertake in order to stimulate trade and industry.
The business of the Bank is divided into two main categories. To the first belong all its operations for account of the State; to the second, its commercial transactions proper. The Bank having entered upon both in the middle of the year, and having taken over all the accounts of the existing branches and of the Bank of Commerce, as they respectively stood on July 1, 1860, the directors found it indispensable, both for the symmetry of the report and as furnishing a just basis of comparison with the business of preceding years, to place in this document, besides the detailed figures relating to the operations of the Bank, certain totals showing the transactions of the Bank itself and those of the branches.
Before entering into the details of these operations the directors furnish the following figures of the liquidation of the accounts of the former credit institutions. According to the balance-sheet of the Bank of Commerce, the State Bank took over on July 1, 1860, as liabilities:
On the other hand, the Bank received from the Bank of Commerce, as assets:
In addition to the accounts of the late Bank of Commerce, which it replaced, and its branches, the State Bank had to take over:
1. All the deposits held by the various credit institutions of the Empire.
2. All the accounts of the 4 per cent. Consolidated Loan for the cancellation of a corresponding proportion of the Treasury debt to the State Bank.
3. All the deposits converted into 5 per cent. bills of the State Bank.
4. The accounts of the Commission for the Issue of Bills of Credit, which now became a department of the State Bank.
5. All the loans made to the Treasury, or to public departments by the credit institutions, to be consolidated into a general account of the Treasury’s debt to the State Bank.
6. The capital stock of the Loan Bank, which the State Bank was to turn to the account of its capital and reserve.
During the second half of the year 1860, the State Bank had finished its settlement with the credit institutions of St. Petersburg only. As to the Commission for the Issue of Credit Bills, the R. 704,904,927 of those bills in circulation on the day of the consolidation of its accounts with those of the State Bank were carried to the debit of the latter, and these were carried to its credit, for account of the redemption fund, R. 92,533,777 in gold and silver, coin and bullion, and in public funds. The R. 612,371,149 forming the surplus of bills in circulation over the redemption fund were brought into the account as a non-interest-bearing debt of the Treasury. The credit bills issued in 1859 to strengthen the cash accounts of the credit institutions, and charged to them at that time, were stricken out of their accounts in 1860, as an offset against their loans to the Treasury, so that the latter became sole debtor to the full extent of credit bills in circulation. Since then, all the business of issuing, exchanging, and redeeming credit bills has become part of the duty of the State Bank.
The liquidation of the affairs of the Loan Bank and of the Lombard of St. Petersburg gave the following general results:
The State Bank entered on the debit side of its account:
To balance these amounts entered to the credit of the respective accounts, the State Bank received:
As the Bank of Commerce was creditor of the Loan Bank to the extent of R. 174,186,574 on account of deposits, interest included, when all the preceding amounts were transferred to the accounts of the State Bank, that claim of the latter against the Loan Bank was settled by the following items: R. 162,549,039 carried over to the liquidation account as above (No. 11); R. 4,000,000 owing by the Bank of Commerce to the Commission of credit bills in exchange for an equal amount deducted from the deposits of said Bank of Commerce with the Loan Bank; R. 5,285,653 of the interest-bearing funds of the latter transferred to the State Bank; and lastly, R. 2,351,881, being the interest due to the Bank of Commerce on its deposits for 1859; total, R. 174,186,574. Immediately after having finished that liquidation, the State Bank began to separate its commercial business from that transacted for the account of the Treasury; to this end it was necessary: (1) To set aside as capital stock, R. 15,000,000, and as a reserve fund, R. 1,000,000; (2) to carry to the credit of the Treasury all the amounts not belonging to the Bank; and (3) to hold the surplus as a security for such outstanding credits as were considered doubtful, and also to cover loans not sanctioned by the new regulations of the Bank.
That sum, carried to a temporary account, was not, however, altogether available, because it had to be used to secure doubtful credits and transactions not authorized by the new regulations, as well as several items of expense to be charged against the Reserve Fund and the profits of the Loan Bank, and the income of the Lombard. By order of the Minister of Finance, there was deducted from that total R. 14,975,835; namely, R. 12,000,000 to counterbalance an equal sum owing by the Treasury for credit bills; R. 1,601,727 for protested bills of exchange belonging to the Bank of Commerce, in order to close that account; R. 175,799 for loans on merchandise not paid to said bank at maturity; R. 1,174,500 for loans contrary to the regulations, but made in accordance with the orders of the Sovereign, and R. 23,809, surplus of expenses arising from loans on merchandise. As a result of these deductions, the amount remaining at the disposition of the Treasury on January 1, 1861, was R. 10,106,524.
The transactions which the Bank undertakes for account of the Treasury have reference to: (1) The credit bills; (2) the repayment of deposits, principal and interest; (3) the payment of coupons and the redemption of the 5 per cent. Bank bills; (4) various conversions into bonds of the 4 per cent. Consolidated Loan; (5) the collection of interest on loans to meet the above payments; (6) the accounts of the Treasury debt and of the Lombard loans.
1.Credit Bills.—On January 1, 1860, there were R. 678,211,187 of credit bills in circulation. During that year, R. 45,679,306 were issued, including R. 7,179,306 against deposits of specie; R. 10,913,924 were withdrawn from circulation, including R. 9,714,322 paid in specie. There were, therefore, R. 712,976,569 of credit bills in circulation on January 1, 1861.
On January 1, 1860, the fund for the redemption of credit bills amounted to R. 95,674,981. This, as has just been noted, was increased by R. 7,179,315 and decreased by R. 9,969,864 during the year, so that on January 1, 1861, it amounted to R. 92,884,431, of which R. 43,123,731 was in gold coin, R. 8,482,078 in gold bars, R. 32,729,198 in silver coin, and R. 8,549,424 in public funds. This redemption fund being deducted from the total of credit bills in circulation, the balance, amounting to R. 620,092,137, formed the non-interest-bearing debt of the Treasury. During that year 18,847,000 new credit bills were printed for an amount of R. 42,253,000; 7,757,315 old bills, aggregating R. 36,888,950 were burned. The Bank received from boards of finance and local treasuries R. 728,240 of copper coin, and from the national treasury R. 110,000 in subsidiary silver coin, to be exchanged for credit bills. On January 1, 1861, R. 38,876 of the former and R. 15,250 of the latter still remained in the hands of the Bank.
2.Deposits at interest; Deposits with former credit institutions and the Bank of Commerce.—On July 1, 1860, the sum total of deposits with the State Bank, including those received from the Bank of Commerce, the Loan Bank, the Lombard, and the balance of deposits after conversion into 5 per cent. bills of the Bank, amounted to R. 288,978,318. Of that amount, during the second half-year R. 97,058,000 were converted into bonds of the 4 per cent. Consolidated Loan and into 5 per cent. bills of the Bank. There remained on January 1, R. 191,920,318 of deposits originally made with various credit institutions of St. Petersburg, but for which the State Bank was now liable. Prior to 1860, the branches of the Bank of Commerce at Kiev and Odessa were the only ones receiving deposits on interest, and on January 1st of that year they had R. 33,683,084 of deposits. All the branches having then been authorized to accept such deposits, the receipts for 1860 were R. 16,568,711 by the branches in Moscow, Archangel, Kharkov, Kiev, Riga, Catherinebourg, and Odessa; the withdrawals were R. 20,307,436, so that there remained R. 29,944,359 in the branches of the State Bank on January 1, 1861.
3.Deposits with the State Bank.—In accordance with its regulations, the Bank receives interest deposits on certain conditions at rates of interest fixed by itself according to the state of business and the length of time for which the deposit is to remain. The acceptance of deposits under the new conditions began at the Bank at its opening, and later at its branch in Moscow. At the other branches it did not begin until 1861. In 1860, the Bank received deposits amounting to R. 29,982,319, of which R. 2,174,757 were withdrawn during the year; so that at the beginning of 1861 there was a balance of R. 27,807,561. That amount was made up as follows: deposits to be withdrawn at will and bearing three per cent. interest, R. 19,038,352; deposits for three to five years and yielding four per cent., R. 2,409,509; deposits for six to ten years and yielding four and a half per cent., R. 6,359,698.
The branch at Moscow received deposits aggregating R. 4,217,072, of which R. 44,030 was withdrawn during the year; balance on January 1, 1861, R. 4,173,042. Among those deposits appeared a certain number of bills of former credit institutions and even bills of the Lombard of Moscow and of several public charitable establishments. After settlement had been made with these establishments and with the Lombard, the Bank (on January 1st) was still their creditor for R. 667,359, and its Moscow branch for R. 545,012.
The old Bank of Commerce kept a special account for interest due but unclaimed by the depositors, on which account the State Bank was debited with R. 13,594,228; on the same account R. 3,115,924 was carried to its credit as profits of the Bank of Commerce. That account must henceforth change its form, and the amount of unclaimed interest accumulated to January 1, 1860 (the date at which the payment of compound interest was stopped), must be carried to the deposits account, when the liquidation of the transfer to the Bank of all the deposits of the other credit institutions is completed.
4.Five Per Cent. Bills of the State Bank.—Before the first of July the Bank of Commerce had converted into five per cent. bills of the State Bank deposits amounting to R. 91,223,545; together with those that were transferred to it for purposes of this conversion in the second half-year by the Loan Bank, the Lombard of St. Petersburg, and the branch at Odessa, the total amount of those deposits being R. 155,114,910. On January 1, 1860, the branches of the Bank of Commerce at Kiev and Odessa had R. 6,327,652 of deposits converted into five per cent. bills of the Bank, and the conversions made during the year were R. 3,785,166. While this conversion was proceeding, the Bank received in sundry small amounts R. 148,516, and repaid (R. 31,165 deposited anew being deducted) R. 1,134,862 to the depositors.
Up to January 1, 1861, the total value of the five per cent. bills of the State Bank exchanged against deposits on interest amounted to R. 276,578,500. During the second half-year, the Bank exchanged R. 10,740,200 of these bills for the same amount in bills of other denominations.
5.Bonds of the Consolidated Loan.—It is the duty of the Sinking Fund Commission to provide for the interest on these bonds, but the State Bank is intrusted with the collection of the amounts paid for them, with the conversion of the deposits of credit institutions into said bonds, and with the delivery of the bonds themselves. The total amount collected by the Bank from the Sinking Fund Commission, the Loan Bank, and the Lombard of St. Petersburg for these purposes and also for the continuation of the exchange until January 1, 1861, was R. 59,609,340. The total amount of deposits converted into these bonds must form a new debt registered in the ledger of the Public Debt, and must be deducted from the debt of the Treasury to the Bank. The latter, not having yet received the total amount of the subscriptions, had a claim of R. 109,313,487 upon that account on January 1, 1861.
6.Debt of the Treasury for Loans from Credit Institutions.—The Bank received from the Loan Bank and from the Lombard of St. Petersburg claims against the Treasury aggregating R. 262,510,589; it recovered in cash (R. 23,856,297) and by offsetting several accounts, R. 158,612,170, which leaves a balance of R. 103,898,418.
7.Long-Term Debts of Individuals and Corporations to the Old Credit Institutions.—The Lombard of St. Petersburg remains intrusted with the recovery of these debts for account of the State Bank, and they constitute a guarantee fund for the payment of its five per cent. bills. The total thus carried to its credit, both from the Loan Bank and the Lombard, amounted (unpaid arrears included) to R. 232,876,418. The Bank has recovered R. 1,492,671; balance due, R. 231,383,746.
8.Loans to Credit Institutions.—On July 1, 1860, claims against the credit institutions amounting to R. 4,014,121 were transferred to the State Bank; during the second half-year the Bank made further advances to them of R. 21,331,598; of that amount, R. 19,290,281 was settled by a balance of accounts, so that, on January 1, 1861, the claims of the Bank on that score amounted to R. 6,055,438.
9.Interest on Long-Term Loans.—As a fund for the payment of interest on deposits and on its five per cent. bills, and of certain expenses for account of the Treasury which formerly had to be deducted from the profits of the Loan Bank, the interest on all loans made by the credit institutions must be remitted to the Bank; but it is carried to the credit of the Treasury, on account of which the above-mentioned payments are made, and the balance, if any, goes to reduce its debt to the Bank. During the year 1860, the Bank received only interest on loans made by the credit institutions of St. Petersburg, although the payment of coupons of the five per cent. bills fell almost entirely upon it. The Bank will recover the remainder when it makes its final settlement with the credit institutions outside of St. Petersburg. The amount the Bank collected for interest during 1860 was R. 17,690,946, from which have been deducted R. 5,285,643, the interest due the Bank of Commerce from the Loan Bank at the time of the liquidation, and R. 238,702 for sundry expenses on Treasury account.
10.Interest Paid to Depositors.—During the second half of 1860, the State Bank paid to depositors interest amounting to R. 3,432,439; the Bank of Commerce had paid R. 13,817,673 during the first half of the year.
11.Payment of the Coupons of the Bank’s Five Per Cent. Bills.—The first coupon of these bills was due on November 1st; up to the end of the year R. 7,043,168 of these coupons was paid by the Bank or brought into its account for payments made by the branches and by local treasuries. Thus, coupons upon about R. 93,000,000 were not presented and will have to be paid during the succeeding year. This statement is not entirely accurate, however, because some coupons paid in 1860 in the provinces were brought into the account of the Bank at the beginning of 1861.
12.Collections for Treasury Account.—The doubtful debts having been deducted from the amounts carried to the credit of the Treasury, the latter is credited with all the collections since made by the Bank on debts of that kind. Up to January 1, 1861, those collections amounted to R. 21,167.
13.Profit and Loss Account of the Treasury.—According to the balancesheet of the Bank of January 1, 1861, the following items were carried to the credit of the profit and loss account of the Treasury:
The same account was debited as follows:
So that there was a surplus of R. 8,538,961 at the disposal of the Treasury. That amount cannot, however, be carried definitively to the credit of the Treasury for the following reasons: (1) A very considerable quantity of coupons of the five per cent. bills due in 1860 have not yet been presented by their holders; (2) several doubtful debts due the branches of the Bank have not been deducted from the amounts with which the Treasury was credited;* (3) certain expenses for account of the Treasury, to be charged against the reserve fund of the late Bank of Commerce, had not been settled at the close of 1860.
The directors proceed next to the commercial transactions of the Bank, taking them up in the following order:
1.Transfers of Cash Accounts.—When the State Bank began business its cash capital was represented by R. 3,629,947. The changes in the cash accounts during 1860 are presented as follows:
Furthermore, R. 368,355 was transferred from the account of the Bank to the account of trust deposits. On January 1, 1861, the cash on hand amounted to R. 10,104,891, or R. 6,475,143 more than on July 1, 1860, and R. 7,221,613 more than on January 1, 1860. The branches had cash on hand amounting to R. 9,265,666, or R. 2,484,225 more than on January 1, 1860. Thus the total business of the Bank and its branches represents R. 1,177,005,977.
2.Capital Appropriated to the Branches.—Of the fifteen millions of capital, R. 7,400,000 has been appropriated to the branches, in the following proportions: R. 4,000,000 for the branch at Moscow, R. 1,000,000 for the branch at Odessa, R. 550,000 each for the branches at Riga and Archangel, R. 500,000 for the branch at Kiev and a like amount for that at Catherinebourg, and R. 300,000 for the branch at Kharkov. In the year 1860, R. 500,000 was placed at the disposal of each of the temporary offices which the branches established during the fairs at Irbite, Rybinsk, Nijni-Novgorod, and Poltava.
3.Deposits in Trust.—The total of these deposits, in articles of gold and silver, in Treasury notes and cash (including those existing on January 1, 1860), amounted during the year to R. 801,541, of which R. 433,186 has been returned; so that, at the opening of the year 1861, there was a balance remaining of R. 368,355, which sum was subtracted from the cash account, in which manufactures of gold and silver appear for R. 56,355; the balance consists of Treasury notes. The acceptance in trust of interest-bearing securities not having begun until September 13, the Bank, up to January 1, 1861, had received but 8909 of such deposits, of a nominal value of R. 2,971,412. Of these, 331, valued at R. 76,950, were returned, leaving a balance of 8578 deposits, valued at R. 2,894,462, consisting mostly of public funds.
4.Deposits for Transfer.—Before the introduction of accounts current, which occurred shortly after the State Bank was established, the place now occupied by them was filled at the Bank of Commerce by deposits for transfer; these deposits were availed of both to transfer funds through the medium of the Bank and to secure the safe-keeping of Treasury notes under pretence of transfer. On July 1st the State Bank received from the Bank of Commerce R. 1,739,456 of those deposits, and before the opening of its accounts current this sum had been increased by R. 4,480,247. Repayments, transfers to the branches, the buying of transfer duties, and, finally, the transference of Treasury notes to accounts current have reduced that sum by R. 6,215,918. When accounts current were opened, the account of deposits for transfer was closed, and the balance carried to a new account under the name of:
5.Accounts of Sums Held in Trust.—This was debited with R. 3876. This sum, together with new deposits made since by individuals having no accounts current (withdrawals being deducted), leaves a balance on that score amounting on January 1, 1861, to R. 13,134.
6.Accounts Current of the State Bank.—These accounts, now introduced for the first time in Russia, furnishing, as they do, by the use of cheques, such great facilities for prompt payment and the safe-keeping of money, have increased with remarkable rapidity from the beginning. Not only individuals and corporations, but public departments also have taken advantage of the services of the Bank in this regard. On January 1, 1861, the number of accounts current was 133. Since the month of September, when the practice began, the Bank has received in accounts current R. 102,314,127, and has paid against cheques deposited with its branches and those turned into the Bank itself for transfer from one account to another, R. 72,000,936, so that on January 1, 1861, the Bank was debited in accounts current with R. 30,313,190, or R. 28,479,667 more than the deposits for transfer in the Bank of Commerce at the beginning of 1860.
7.Account of Transfers with the Branches.—During the second half of 1860, the branches were credited at the Bank with R. 44,031,160 arising from transfers (including their credit on July 1st), and debited on the same account with R. 26,678,505, leaving at the beginning of 1861 a balance to their credit of R. 17,352,655. The changes arising out of transfers between the Bank and its branches produced the following results during the first and second half respectively of the year 1860: During the second half-year, the transfers from the Bank to its branches, made by order of individuals, showed an increase, as compared with the first half-year, of R. 3,750,000, namely, R. 12,997,758, against R. 9,244,995; the transfers from the branches to St. Petersburg increased by R. 800,000, namely, R. 2,153,731, against R. 1,273,019; and, finally, the remittances in silver from the Bank to its branches to strengthen their cash accounts, decreased by nearly R. 9,500,000—that is, R. 11,277,250, against R. 20,734,750. These favorable results were attributed partly to the reduction of the rate of discount on transfers and partly to the increase in the cash resources of the branches arising from the interest deposits of individuals and from deposits by local treasuries of their unemployed funds for Treasury account. Another result of the reduction of the discount rate on transfers was an increase in the profits of the Bank from that source, notwithstanding the fact that no discount is charged on transfers made for the Treasury.
8.Transient Accounts.—For the regularity of its bookkeeping, the Bank opened an account in which are entered all sums received by mail until they are in regular course carried to the proper accounts, and also the sums ordered to be paid, but not yet actually delivered to the payee. For the second half-year that account showed R. 23,576,880 of receipts and R. 23,052,432 in disbursements.
9.Discount of Bills of Exchange.—According to its balance-sheet of January 1, 1860, the Bank of Commerce then had on hand R. 27,556,351 in bills of exchange, of which R. 13,459,371 were in the Bank itself and R. 14,096,980 in its branches. During the first half-year 8559 bills of exchange were discounted for R. 9,737,499.03; during the second half-year, 10,380 bills for R. 15,557,954.80, and coupons of 5 per cent. bills for R. 65,237.41. Total, R. 25,360,691.24. The eleven branches of the Bank discounted within the year 23,991 bills of exchange, aggregating R. 46,670,539. Thus the total was 42,930 bills, valued at R. 72,031,230; an increase of R. 24,402,950 over the transactions of 1859. Of the total of bills discounted (deduction being made of protested and duly honored bills, and of offsets for loans made by special order), the Bank and its branches had still in their portfolio on January 1, 1861, bills for R. 32,141,619, or R. 4,585,267 more than on January 1, 1860.
10.Protested Bills of Exchange.—The face value of the bills protested during the year (including bills for R. 2,400 on which extensions were granted by the branch at Catherinebourg) was R. 475,648; together with those brought forward from the preceding year, the sum total of due debts unpaid was R. 3,269,855, but this was reduced to R. 2,932,691 by the collections made during 1860. Of the protested bills of exchange belonging to the Bank of Commerce and its branches, accumulated since the year 1818, the sum of R. 2,899,362 was carried to the account of profits and balances put at the disposal of the Treasury, leaving on January 1, 1861, at the State Bank and its branches, R. 33,328 in protested bills of exchange; this amount was balanced by profits of the Bank at the closing of its profit and loss account of 1860.
11.Loans on Merchandise.—During the year, the Bank and its branches advanced on merchandise R. 5,583,154; the amount due at the end of the year was R. 3,020,358. Including amounts previously overdue, the holdings of the Bank on that class of loans, not paid at maturity, amounted, at the close of the year, to R. 1,211,760.
12.Loans on Deposits of Gold and of Receipts issued by the Managers of the Oural and the Altai Mines.—The total value of the loans made on these securities during 1860 was R. 6,311,387, and on January 1, 1861, there remained in the Bank and its branch at Catherinebourg, R. 4,334,642 of these pledges.
13.Loans on Deposits of Public Funds.—Of these loans there were issued during the year, R. 13,556,054, of which all but R. 23,371 was repaid at maturity. At the same date, the bank and its branches had out R. 6,747,889 of time loans made on this class of securities.
14.Loans on Railway Stocks and Bonds Guaranteed by the Government.—The total value of these loans was R. 10,512,452. On January 1, 1861, the Bank and its branches held notes aggregating R. 3,893,865 for time loans made on these collaterals; of those that fell due during the year R. 461,258 were not paid at maturity. That large proportion of unpaid engagements consisted principally of loans made upon the stocks of the Grand Railway Company, and especially upon those that were not fully paid up, for the reason that the Bank of Commerce had loaned on those securities 90c. on the rouble of their nominal value, with no special regard to their market price; and whenever an assessment was made on those shares they were abandoned to the Bank. The new regulations of the State Bank put an end to that difficulty.
15.Loans Contrary to the Regulations of the State Bank made before it came into existence.—The Bank of Commerce had made loans of this kind during the first half of 1860 and earlier, amounting to R. 3,000,000: R. 1,000,000 to the Bank of Finland, R. 1,650,000 to the Bank of the Nobility of Esthonia, and R. 350,000 to the Russo-American Company. Of these amounts, R. 1,950,000 had been repaid before July 1st, and R. 1,050,000 in bonds were delivered to the State Bank.
16.Loans made by order of the Sovereign.—The loans and offsets carried to that account in 1860 amounted to R. 1,229,780, of which R. 30,000 had been repaid, and R. 25,280 carried to the account of loans on merchandise security; balance at the end of the year, R. 1,174,500.
17.Account of Arrears and Deficits on Loans.—An amount of R. 25,586 remaining due on July 1, 1860, for loans on merchandise security has been deducted from the funds placed at the disposal of the Treasury. All doubtful debts and those made contrary to the regulations of the State Bank, and all the previous arrears, amounting together to R. 5,242,499, were either deducted from the balance-sheet of the Bank when its accounts were opened, or have been transferred by the branches to the Bank to be deducted in 1861.
18.Interest-bearing Securities Belonging to the Bank.—On January 1, 1860, the Bank of Commerce owned R. 7,843,639 in public funds, consisting almost entirely of perpetual six per cent. State bonds; the whole of this sum was delivered to the State Bank. At the time of the liquidation of the Loan Bank, the State Bank had also received R. 2,340,025 in bonds of this class. By order of the Minister of Finance, all these bonds were delivered to the Sinking Fund Commission against R. 5,100,000 deposited by the latter with the Loan Bank, and transferred to the State Bank, and R. 5,011,450 deducted from the account of the four per cent. Consolidated Loan. After these transactions, the Bank had only R. 72,214 in public funds. During the second half of 1860, there were left in possession of the Bank by borrowers R. 852,878 in stocks of the Grand Railway Company. This raises to R. 925,092 the value of the interest-bearing securities in its possession on January 1, 1861.
In addition to the transactions named above, the Bank had bought and sold interest-bearing public securities on commission. Thus it was intrusted (during the second half of 1860) with the sale of R. 14,000,000 of exchequer bills, out of the five series authorized to be issued; and it succeeded in disposing of nearly all of them, thanks to the great diversity of methods it adopted for the purpose. It made these bills so popular, in fact, that at the time of the last subscription opened by the Bank there was a demand for no less than R. 306,000,000. The Bank undertakes also, for a commission of 1/10 of one per cent., the sale and purchase of these five per cent. bills for the public.
In closing their report, the directors of the State Bank sum up as follows the profit and loss account of the Bank for the second half of 1860:
All the profits made by the Bank of Commerce up to July 1, 1860, including the interest on its funds deposited with the Loan Bank, were placed at the disposal of the Treasury. At the closing of the profit and loss account of the Bank its gross revenue for the second half of 1860 was found to be R. 1,333,715, including the net profits on the discount transactions of the temporary offices at Nijni-Novgorod, Rybinsk, and Poltava, amounting to R. 192,068. From that total was deducted R. 425,836, viz.: R. 92,794 for various expenses of the Bank and its temporary offices; R. 23,807 for protested bills of exchange and unpaid loans secured by public funds and stocks; and lastly R. 309,234 for that part of the interest on loans and discounts belonging to 1861. This leaves for the Bank itself a net profit of R. 907,878.
The net profits of the branches for the year 1860 amounted to R. 722,830, giving a total profit of R. 1,630,708, or a little over ten per cent. of the capital stock of the Bank. During the first half of 1860, the net profits of the Bank of Commerce had been R. 338,646, or R. 569,232 less than the profits of the second half-year.
BANKING VICISSITUDES FROM 1862 TO 1875.
Attempts at Currency Reform in 1862—A Loan of £15,000,000 to Strengthen the Reserve against “Bills of Credit”—The Polish Insurrection Intervenes—Failure of Resumption of Specie Payments; Causes of that Failure; Its Disastrous Effects—Prostration of Commerce and Credit—Creation of Joint-Stock Banks—Communal Banks—Banking on the Mutual Principle—Railroad Construction Financed for the Benefit of the Bank; Metallic Reserve thereby Increased.
IN 1862 the Bank was called upon to conduct the very serious undertaking of putting an end to the legal-tender power of bills of credit and re-establishing a metallic currency consisting of gold and silver. It should be noted at this point that the trebling of the circulation between 1854 and 1857 had not adversely affected the value of paper money. In April, 1857, the paper rouble was quoted at 403 centimes, even above the par value, which was 4 francs. But such a situation could not last. We have seen that on January 1, 1861, the Bank had in its possession a fund of R. 92,900,000, of which R. 8,500,000 was in State securities, against a note circulation of R. 713,000,000. The value of the rouble was bound to be affected by this state of affairs; and it is interesting to notice that the depreciation had been comparatively small, very small indeed, relative to what it has been at various times since (as, e. g., in 1866, 1879, and 1887), to which reference will be made later on. Evidently, the financial world had great confidence in the economic situation of Russia and in the sincerity of her desire for progress in every direction. And such a desire did exist; it was real and sincere, though somewhat naïve and inexperienced, as is shown by the history of the reform undertaken in 1862. The first conception of this reform undoubtedly originated in the fertile imagination of Eugene Ivanovitch Lamanski. As proof of this, the author may cite a pamphlet which appeared anonymously in 1860, and of which only fifty copies were then issued, and those without authority of the censors—that is to say, in manuscript. “The Causes of the Depreciation of Our Circulating Medium and the Means of Remedying It”—such is the title of this tract, the authorship of which there can be now no reason to conceal. After summing up the various steps taken between 1857 and 1859 to retire a large part of the floating debt, M. Lamanski treats of the reform of the Bank, as he understands it, and of the resumption of specie payments. He thus sets forth and sums up his conclusions upon the subject:
“1. Let his Majesty graciously declare that his government renounces forever the privilege of issuing circulating notes to meet the needs of the Treasury. Extraordinary demands can be met by means of loans in regular form and by the issue of exchequer bills with no legal-tender quality and for short terms.
“2. The bills of credit now in circulation should be replaced by bank notes not bearing interest, and exchangeable for specie on demand.
“3. The right to issue such notes for the whole of Russia, except Poland and Finland, should be granted to the State Bank for twenty-eight years, or until 1890. The Bank should be empowered to issue notes to the full extent of all the circulation retired, whether in the form of bills of credit, outstanding bank notes, or four per cent. specie bills; and in exchange for gold or silver bars or specie, it should be allowed to issue notes to an unlimited extent.
“4. In order that the Bank may have the means of redeeming its bills, let the State turn over to it all the metallic funds now held in its vaults. The other R. 600,000,000 needful to this end should be guaranteed in the following manner: (a) One-third (R. 200,000,000) should be supplied to the Bank in the form of R. 10,000,000 of five per cent. State rentes, in denominations of R. 5 of rente (representing a capital of R. 100) and upwards. That sum should be immediately placed at the disposition of the Bank; the Bank should receive: (b) an irrevocable credit against the State of R. 200,000,000, which should bear no interest, but be repaid at the rate of one per cent. per year for a hundred years, and the yearly sum of R. 2,000,000 should be annually employed in the redemption of bills of credit; the remaining third should be guaranteed (c) by all the public lands, forests, factories, and railroads belonging to the State; the latter should continue to collect the revenue from these sources; but, in case of need, the Bank should be allowed to sell any of the pledged property with the consent of the proper minister, who should in turn be empowered to repurchase the property so sold at the price for which it was pledged. Armed with these guaranties, let the Bank begin immediately the redemption of bills of credit in specie, gold, or silver, and that in the following manner:
“As a starting-point should be taken, not the legal value of the demi-impériale (R. 5.15), but the actual exchange value as measured in paper money. During the whole of 1802, the Bank should exchange the demi-impériale for R. 5.70 in paper; during the first six months of 1803, for R. 5.50, and for R. 5.35 during the last six months; let the exchange value be R. 5.25 for the whole of 1864, and from the beginning of 1865 let the demi-impériale be paid out at its legal value of R. 5.15. During this transition period, which may be abridged if necessary, the Bank should have the right to buy the precious metals at the prices named above.
“5. The Bank should be authorized to sell the R. 200,000,000 of five per cent. rentes to be turned over to it, but only after notifying the Finance Minister of its intention.
“6. The Bank should be separated from the Finance Department, and should be amenable only to the Commission of Credit Institutions, which should be increased by new members named by the Government, the nobility, and commerce. At any time after 1865, the Bank should be allowed to establish a share capital of R. 20,000,000 and have stockholders to that extent. As fast as the capital is paid in, an equal amount of the property pledged by the State should be released. The profits would thus be shared by the State and the stockholders, and that part belonging to the Government would be used to redeem its guaranty given to the Bank. The latter should be compelled to increase the number of its branches to forty within the next fifteen years.
“7. The acceptance of deposits payable on demand should cease immediately; deposits for a definite term should continue to be accepted until 1865, but only from individuals and charitable institutions, not from the State. From July 1, 1862, interest at the rate of one per cent. only should be paid upon outstanding bank bills, and from the beginning of 1863 all interest upon them should cease. To this rule there should be no exception, save in cases where the owner of the bills has parted with them temporarily and is not in a position to present them for redemption. Time deposits should be used for the purchase of mortgage bonds, but only by order and on the responsibility of the Finance Department.
“8. If it should become necessary to increase the circulating medium, the Bank should have a right, six months after the beginning of redemption in specie, to issue R. 20,000,000 of new bills against deposits of short-time bills of exchange.
“9. Inasmuch as the Bank is no longer to accept deposits, savings-banks should be opened in all places where there may be need of them.
“10. Bourses for dealing in public securities should be established in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, and Riga.”
We come now to the conditions under which the return to specie payments was to be accomplished. In pursuance of a ukase of April 14 (26), 1862, a loan of £15,000,000 sterling was placed with the London house of Rothschild, the intention being that the proceeds should be used exclusively to build up the fund reserved for the redemption of bills of credit. On the 25th of the same month, a second ukase ordered that the proceeds of the loan should be devoted to the strengthening of the metallic reserve and to the gradual resumption of specie payments. It was provided in the first of those ukases that “the printing and issuing of the bills of credit shall be done by the State Bank and under its authority, and under no circumstances shall they be issued except in exchange for gold or silver.” The outstanding bills were to be redeemed at a gradually increasing valuation, and a notice issued by the Bank, on April 29th, contained the information that, on and after the first of May, the exchange value of the demi-impériale, gold (intrinsic value, R. 5.15), should be R. 5.70, and that of the silver rouble, 110½ copecks; and that, after August 1st, the values should be, respectively, R. 5.60 and 108½ copecks. Thereafter, the valuation was to be as follows:
When the redemption began, the Bank had in its coffers R. 79,000,000, and the circulation aggregated R. 722,000,000, of which the Bank held R. 15,000,000. At first, the demand for redemption was small, amounting to only R. 10,037,000 between May 1 and December 31, 1862. This latter date was just on the eve of the Polish insurrection. In April, 1863, the chief European powers intervened by diplomatic notes, and it was well known that Napoleon III. was eager to interfere by force of arms, provided England and Austria should offer him other than mere paper support. Then the metallic resources of the Bank melted like snow. From January to the end of July R. 45,000,000 of gold were withdrawn; and between the 1st and 3d of August the demands amounted to R. 4,405,000. A loan was impossible. The Bank, therefore, resolved to stop paying gold and to continue the redemption only with silver. At the same time, however, it was selling to the public drafts on foreign countries at the same rate at which it had undertaken to redeem its bills. In this way, the proceeds of the Rothschild loan were soon exhausted, though still at the Bank’s disposal abroad. On November 1 (13), 1863, the rouble was almost at par (397c.); but it was upon this date that the Bank was forced to suspend the redemption of its paper. It continued the sale of foreign drafts for a few days longer, but this did not prevent the rouble from losing eight per cent. of its value by November 19th; and when on this date the sale of drafts ceased in turn there was a further fall of four per cent., and the rouble was quoted at 350 centimes.
The experiment had failed; and its most obvious result may be summed up thus: On December 1, 1863, the note circulation amounted to R. 642,800,000, of which the Bank held R. 8,000,000 in addition to R. 68,000,000 of specie. Since May 1, 1862, therefore, the note circulation had decreased by R. 79,300,000 and the specie holdings of the Bank by R. 11,000,000. If we take account of the Rothschild loan of R. 96,000,000, the experiment had cost R. 107,000,000 of metal; and as only R. 45,400,000 of the redeemed bills had been destroyed (on June 11, 1863), the net result of the undertaking was an actual loss of R. 62,000,000, not counting the numerous and severe indirect losses attending the failure.
Did this failure arise solely from the Polish insurrection, the public fear of renewed hostilities, and the impossibility of replenishing the metallic reserve by the method outlined in the imperial ukase and M. Lamanski’s pamphlet? Such was the official explanation; but the impartial student cannot accept it. One needed simply to be on the ground in order to witness the extreme eagerness with which paper money was presented to the Bank for redemption. The true explanation is that the circulation had been increased almost threefold within less than ten years, and that this increase was not demanded by any commercial or industrial need, but simply by the necessities of the Treasury. Then, again, the Russian Government had made the mistake of issuing in the form of a floating debt what was simply a substitute for note circulation, a proceeding that had been of considerable service to it at times, but which had now become a great burden. Thus, there had been issued in denominations of R. 100 nearly R. 100,000,000 of so-called “metallic bills” drawing interest at four per cent. Exchequer bills had also been issued, of R. 50 each, bearing interest at 4.32 per cent.—that is to say, 18 copecks per month—and redeemable in eight years. These, in view of their small denominations, were simply bills of credit, except that they bore interest. In ordinary times, the capitalist kept them in his safe and the merchant took them readily because the Treasury would accept them in payment of certain taxes. But the moment specie grew scarce these bills circulated just like bank notes, and the only concession made to the taker was that he had the benefit of the one or two months’ interest due upon them. Thus the public had ample opportunity to exhaust the metallic reserve of the Bank. Not to have thought of this before issuing the ukase of April, 1862, was one of the most serious mistakes made by the authorities, but it was by no means the only one. Thus the attempt to resume specie payments was a failure in 1863, and no other effort has been made since. It will be our duty hereafter to examine the causes which have made all further efforts in this direction impossible up to the present moment. But first we shall make some further examination of the past, for the history of the Bank of Russia cannot be written except in connection with the financial transactions of the Empire, so close is the connection between them.
It is not merely the ukase of April 14, 1862, decreeing a return to specie payments, that makes that year memorable in the annals of the Russian Bank. The same year signalizes another very important reform. M. de Reutern had been only a few days at the head of the Finance Department when he published the first budget of the Empire. Up to that time nothing of the kind had been known in Russia, and the figures the Author was able to quote in the earlier part of this work, bearing upon the expenses of the years 1823 to 1827, were taken from the memoirs of Count Cancrine. Without casting any reflection upon the memory of M. Reutern (obit 1890), we may say that his first budget did not furnish a full account of the situation; it did not even include all of the national receipts and expenditures. In fact, it was several years before the budget became what it ought to be. A central auditing office for the accounts of the Empire had, it is true, long been in existence, but in a condition calling loudly for reform. This reform was accomplished by Tartarinow* (obit 1871); and since his time the annual publications of that institution are of real value and very helpful to all students of Russian finance. The same may be said of the reports of the Finance Ministers, accompanying the provisory budget at the first of January of each year. But at the time of which we speak there was no publication of this kind, and no information was to be had regarding the state of Russian finance except from the annual report of the Commission of Credit Institutions, and there is no reason now to conceal the fact that that information was very meager in its details. It is hardly more instructive to-day; but then it has been a long time since anybody has thought of paying any attention to the tiresome document crammed with figures with which that Commission annually honors the official files. The very precise and accurate reports of which we have just spoken render it altogether superfluous now. But, at the time of which we write, it was the only document giving any information concerning the management of Russian finances, and it could have been made of great value.
The Author has a very distinct recollection of the eagerness with which he pored over the first report of that Commission which fell under his eyes, now thirty-three years ago. It was the “Address of the Finance Minister to the Commission of Credit Institutions, presenting the report of those institutions for the fiscal year 1861.” I studied it with the greater ardor because it was part of my duty at that time to write the Russian chapter for the “Annuaire des Finances Publiques,” published at Paris by M. J. E. Horn. The more we sought to sound the depths of that document the more signal was our failure. All we could be certain of was that the chapters did not agree with one another and that the report was not true to its title, because it did not show even the whole of the public debt. Russia had a press censorship even at that time; but as the administration seemed desirous of illuminating those places that were in need of light, we made known our difficulties in an article sent to the “Journal de St. Petersburg,” of which we were financial correspondent. The Commission condescended to reply in a note which we have preserved, and a translation of which we here present. There can certainly be no indiscretion in publishing it at this late day; and no one will accuse me of egotism, for clearly it caused the Commission no pangs to snub an intermeddler who had dared to call in question the value of an official report read by a minister. But the reader may possibly conclude that as early as 1862 the Commission of Credit Institutions had outlived its usefulness, if, indeed, it ever had any. Here is the official document:
“Observations.—The statement does not pretend to set forth the general financial situation, as M. Horn appears to think, but it is a mere introduction to the very voluminous reports of the credit institutions—reports which are annually printed as soon as the committee appointed by the Council for the purpose has verified their correctness.
“1. The sum of R. 716,000,000 makes up the total of the deposits particularly described at the end of the report. As to the sum of R. 712,000,000, it consists of the following items:
“The sums named under Nos. 1-5 are to be found under corresponding headings in the report. As to the particulars of the sums under Nos. 6-9, which belong to the business of the State Bank, it was not supposed to be necessary to repeat them, the more especially as all the figures relating to them may be found in the monthly statements of the Bank, and in view of the further fact that the report of all these transactions, which was presented to the Commission of Credit Institutions in May, 1862, is to be published very soon.
“2. In order to estimate the comparison made by the author at its proper value, it should be noted, first of all, that the address delivered by the head of the Finance Department in submitting to the Commission of Credit Institutions the reports of those institutions should not be a mere bookkeeper’s statement, and that it does not set forth any figures or facts except those of the first importance relating to the business of the fiscal year. It is for this reason that the foreign publications named by the author cannot serve as a model for the address in question, and are to be compared only with the reports of the Sinking Fund Commission and other credit institutions.
“3. It is not proper to place in the same category the loans which go to make up the State debt and the liabilities of credit institutions arising out of interest-bearing deposits. State loans, properly so called, differ widely from deposits with the Bank, both as to their origin and as to the manner of repayment. Being contracted to meet Government needs, the loans are repaid in annual installments which are a charge upon the State budget; whereas the liabilities merely guaranteed by the Treasury are covered by enforceable obligations, and the guaranty is altogether nominal, because the income of the credit institutions is sufficient, and more than sufficient, to pay their debts, principal and interest, and no part of them is charged against the budget. It should be evident, therefore, that the fusion of these two accounts, so totally different, while it might be of some statistical interest, could produce no result of any practical value.
“4. The total of the bills of credit in circulation is not omitted from the report. It appears therein stated at R. 713,000,000. It should be observed that in citing the bills in circulation as a State debt our author ought to have taken account of the reserve fund, amounting on January 1, 1862, to about R. 98,000,000.
“5. That part of the circulation which consists of exchequer bills has no proper place in the document in question, because the aim of the report is simply to set forth the transactions of the credit institutions, and not those of the Treasury. Moreover, the introduction to the report (sections 1 and 2) does state the amount of exchequer bills recently issued, in order to bring to the attention of the Commission of Credit Institutions the fact of their issue.
“6. The amount of so-called metallic 4 per cent. bank bills issued in 1861 is R. 36,000,000, as appears from a résumé of the report of the State Bank recently issued. Besides, the issue of these bills to the extent named had already been announced in a report of the Finance Minister made in October, 1861.
“7. The public must not expect to find complete and detailed information as to the financial situation of the whole Empire in a document which is simply a succinct abridgment of the reports of the credit institutions alone; and the whole financial situation is not to be thoroughly grasped except by a conscientious study of the full reports of those institutions and of the State budget as well.”
As we have said, the reports of the Commission and the Commission itself have now merely an archæological value. The State Bank is the only institution that interests us at this time, and it has learned to put its reports in a form which is not only intelligible but has almost the precision of a mercantile balance-sheet. This it has succeeded in doing in spite of the complicated network, interweaving its own operations with those of the State and detracting greatly from the simplicity of its accounts. But, in 1862, the Commission might have made its reports of great value if it had not, as its note shows, considered it beneath its dignity to satisfy the curiosity of the public and its desire to know the truth about Russian finance.
It is true that, at the time we are now considering, publicity as to the Bank’s transactions had not been attended with flattering success; and the failure that crowned the work of 1862 almost seemed to justify the secretive policy of the Public Debt Commission. Rarely has there been a more disastrous failure or keener disappointment than was involved in the closing of the Bank’s wickets on November 3, 1863. It was followed not only by a steady depreciation of the rouble, but by a permanent Treasury deficit, so that several loans became necessary between 1863 and 1866. In 1864, a loan was floated in Holland of 70,000,000 florins, or £6,000,000 sterling; and in 1864 and 1866 domestic loans of R. 100,000,000 each, on lottery and premium bonds. Meanwhile, exchequer bills were increased by R. 99,000,000, issued in thirty-three series of R. 3,000,000 each. The credit of the Empire did not improve, and the reader can get some idea of the opinion foreignes had of the situation by glancing over these few lines from an article which appeared in the “Berliner Reform” of September 24, 1865: “Anyone who examines the situation in this country (Russia) must be forcibly struck with its financial and economic condition. That condition is immeasurably sad, not to say hopeless. Paper money is depreciated by one-fifth, despite its legal-tender value; gold and silver have disappeared; there is practically no credit; discount rates are high; there is an annual deficit; trade is nearly at a standstill, and capital is exhausted almost to the last penny; prices are immoderately high; the nobility is ruined, the capital city and trade centers are in visible decay.”
Meanwhile, the State Bank had ceased to be the sole credit institution of the vast Empire. In 1865, a group of capitalists had obtained permission to establish at St. Petersburg the joint-stock “Bank of Commerce” (such is its title still), with a capital of R. 5,000,000 in shares of R. 250 each. The people were so unaccustomed to rashness of this kind that the State was compelled to encourage the enterprise by taking shares for R. 1,000,000, agreeing not to sell them for ten years. But very soon the public became more courageous, and in a few years St. Petersburg and other cities had a large number of these share banks. In fact, that class of banks became so numerous that, in 1873, the State considered it to be its duty to check the movement; it refused to charter any more banks for the capital, the result being simply that, in order to get around this obstacle, banks were set up in the little towns nearby, such as Viborg and Cronstadt, with branches in St. Petersburg.
But, two other palliatives had been found for the State Bank’s inability to satisfy the needs of credit. One of these had been, if not exactly created, at least actively promoted by the State. M. de Reutern had hardly been installed in his office before he had a law enacted for the establishment of communal banks. Any commune furnishing a capital of R. 10,000 could found a bank, with ample powers in all directions, except as to the issue of notes. The great partiality that Russia has always had for the Mir (municipal autonomy), and the hostility in certain quarters to enterprises in which shareholders pocket all the profits, made this ukase very popular. It was useless to point out the fact that a commune or city is, of all corporate bodies, the one least fitted for banking affairs, that its responsibility is illusory, and fraud inevitable; in spite of conservative protest and warning, these banks sprang up on all sides. A fair sample of them was that at Skopine. To the bank in that little city of the province of Riasan, deposits flowed in from all parts of the Empire, the inducement being a promise of interest at the rate of six or seven per cent. The Mayor (Golova), M. Rykow, had become an extremely popular man. He devoted a liberal share of the bank’s profits to public improvements and works of charity. His annual reports and his appeals to the public were perfect gems of puffery. Rykow knew how to realize upon his merits, and his breast was soon covered with decorations. When at last the Government awoke to the danger and amended the law so that a communal bank could not accept deposits exceeding ten times its capital and reserve fund, the bank of Skopine went right ahead with its business and its public appeals, declaring ingeniously that a law could have no retroactive effect and that the new restriction affected only such banks as should be thereafter established. One day, however, about 1875, the bubble burst; Skopine could not pay its deposits, then amounting to about R. 7,000,000. There were disgraceful revelations as to the way in which the money had been spent, and Rykow was condemned to Siberian exile. Government agents were appointed to investigate the business of communal banks, and since then their transactions have been merely local. Further on will be found their balance-sheet for 1893.
Another new form of institution was to some extent a result of the great conflagration which, in the spring of 1862, had destroyed the greater part of the Tchoukine-Dvor of St. Petersburg, which may be called the little bazaar, as distinguished from the Gostinoi-Dvor, or great bazaar. The merchants affected by that disaster had need of credit, and the State Bank, the only banking institution then in existence, could not supply it, because its regulations required three signatures on all paper. In this juncture of affairs, M. Lamanski, then vice-president of the Bank, conceived the idea of founding, upon the model of the Société Général of Belguim, an association in which mutuality should be the controlling principle. It took him more than a year to find two men willing to subscribe an amount which should represent the maximum of their credit at the proposed bank, and to pay in ten per cent. of it. Evidently this was to be an association of very small importance; it was, in fact, so unassuming that its offices were established in one room of the State Bank, where M. Lamanski managed its affairs with the purest disinterestedness. Yet, five years later, that association controlled the fluctuations of the St. Petersburg Bourse, and indirectly, those of all Russia. Instead of confining itself to the discounting of its clients’ paper, it had begun to loan upon public funds, and as it was always able to rediscount its paper at the State Bank, thanks to the common management of the two institutions, this financial conspiracy had promptly led to an excess of speculation, resulting in 1869 in a serious crisis upon the Bourse, of which the independent bank, the only one then in existence, had to bear its part. Both institutions escaped from the crisis in safety, but there was a serious run upon both of them as a result of it—one upon the Bank in 1872, which imperiled its existence and which for nearly twenty years, or until 1890, kept its stock among the lowest of those quoted on the Bourse; and another upon the Mutual Association in 1875, which compelled it to levy an assessment upon its members, then numbering more than seven thousand. Many of the members retired from membership; nevertheless, the association survived the disaster it had brought upon itself, and returned the assessment to its members; but it never recovered the commanding position it had previously held. We shall see later on that the association is still in existence and that it has had a number of imitators in the provinces. But the enthusiasm for that form of association was exhausted after a short trial.
The attempt of the State Bank to resume specie payments having failed once (in 1863), no further effort in that direction had been made; but it must not be inferred that the Bank had altogether abandoned the idea of final resumption. Beginning with 1867, railroad charters, with or without a State guaranty of interest on the bonds, were granted with considerable frequency. At that time, a guaranty of interest was regarded as a purely formal matter, tending to further the enterprise, but not likely to become a burden on the public treasury, and the State was not niggardly in such patronage. Generally its guaranty covered only the bonds, which formed two-thirds of the nominal capital, and which were made payable in specie that they might meet with a readier sale abroad. As to the capital represented by stock, it usually served some other purpose than construction of the road or the purchase of materials. The fewer the calls upon the stock for aid in building the line, the more urgent the necessity for selling the bonds at whatever price they would bring, and a foreign market was found for them, especially in Germany. Finally, the Finance Minister took alarm at this state of things. Five per cent. bonds guaranteed by the State were as good as Russian rentes, and the sale of the latter was greatly impaired by the competition arising from the sale by the railroad companies of guaranteed bonds. For this reason it was determined that the State itself should issue the bonds and pay the proceeds to the companies; and, as the major part of the sums borrowed was to be used in Russia for construction and materials, the Government paid the companies in paper money at prevailing rates and used the specie for its own purposes. Part of it was used in making foreign purchases and in payment of interest on the public debt abroad, and part of it went to swell the metallic hoards in the vaults of the fortress of Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. This is the explanation of the seven consolidated railroad loans, each of £15,000,000 sterling, made between 1868 and 1875; and it was by this means that the metallic reserve, which we found to be only R. 69,000,000 at the close of 1863, had reached R. 229,400,000 in 1875, of which R. 28,300,000 were in silver, the gold having amounted to R. 126,900,000 at the close of 1869, to R. 128,500,000 at the close of 1870, and to R. 175,600,000 at the close of 1872. The value of the paper rouble (the rate of exchange), which in 1866 had gone as low as 270 centimes, had advanced again to 370, notwithstanding the fact that the circulation during the whole of 1875 had been R. 797,300,000, or nearly three and a half times the metallic reserve. Confidence had returned. The budget no longer showed a deficit, and M. de Reutern, at the end of twelve years of power, was on the point of bringing exchange once more to par and resuming specie payments. The State Bank was already selling silver and gold at current rates. During the years 1873-5, when the first effects of silver depreciation following Germany’s adoption of the gold standard were felt, the Bank was even compelled to defend itself against attempts that were made to deliver silver to it at the value hitherto officially maintained.
THE EASTERN WAR PERIOD.
Further Increase of the Circulation—Reduction of the Circulation Attempted but Fails—Refunding Operations—So-called Temporary Issues—New Regulations of the Bank—Increase of State Bank Capital from R. 15,000,000 to R. 50,000,000—A Monometallic Symptom—Metallic Resources of the Bank—Report of the Council of State—Agreement with the Bank of France—Charges upon Deposits.
AT the period reached at the close of the last chapter, there appeared to have been a recovery in all respects from the disaster of 1863, when the revolution in Bosnia, the Servian war, and, finally, the Russian campaigns of 1877-8 in the East, once more brought to naught the whole splendid prospect. When the war was at an end the metallic reserve of the Bank (July 1, 1878) was only R. 130,300,000 gold and R. 17,500,000 silver. The circulation had been reduced to R. 726,900,000; but, in addition to this, there was an issue of R. 429,600,000 appearing under the misleading title of “bills issued on account of the branch banks.” In fact, the Treasury had used up that sum during the war, and, in addition to this, three large loans, known as “Oriental loans,” had been made, aggregating about R. 700,000,000. Professor Wagner had at this time very charitably urged Russia to part with the gold lying unused in the vaults—gold, as he said, being the proper money for States with an established credit. This advice of the learned German was not followed, but it was ten years before Russia’s metallic treasure had again reached the figure of 1875.
No new taxes had been levied to meet the expenses of the last Eastern war. There was a desire not to make the war unpopular, and it had been expected that the campaign would be short and decisive. All attempts of M. de Reutern to persuade the Imperial Council to sanction a levy of additional taxes had been fruitless. The only concession he had been able to get was a ukase issued in November, 1876, directing the payment of customs duties in gold. When that step was taken it amounted to an increase of only 12 to 15 per cent. in the paper cost of imports, but later, owing to fluctuations in the exchange rate, the increase rose to 40 or 60 per cent. It is true, however, that between 1877 and 1887 the specie thus secured was of great assistance to the State.
There was less opposition to an increase of taxation when the war was over. That unpopular duty devolved upon General Greig, who had succeeded M. de Reutern on the very day the treaty of Berlin was signed, July 1st (13th). As to the State Bank, it could obtain no help, nor could it do anything alone toward reducing the circulation to its volume on the eve of the war. It was not until January 1, 1881, that an imperial decree, issued at the instance of M. Abasa, who had succeeded M. Greig in August, 1880, prescribed a series of measures having that end in view. The R. 417,000,000 of bills of credit issued for the purposes of the war were to be retired within eight years, R. 17,000,000 immediately and the remainder at the rate of R. 50,000,000 per year, and the State was to supply the Bank with the funds necessary for this purpose. This arrangement was only partially carried out. Though there have been no other wars, and the only military operations called for have been those, relatively inexpensive, required in Central Asia between 1880 and 1886, still the international situation in Europe has necessitated heavy expenses, which M. de Bunge, who succeeded M. Abasa in 1881, found it difficult to meet. When he quitted the post at the close of 1886, the value of the rouble was 60⅔ copecks in gold. The provisions of the ukase of January 1, 1881, were modified by a second ukase of December 9, 1894. The latter states that of the R. 417,000,000 of paper money to be retired, R. 87,000,000 had been destroyed; R. 63,750,000 had been transferred from the account of temporary issues to that guaranteed by the fund available for redemption, which, meanwhile, had been increased by R. 40,000,000 of gold taken from the funds of the Bank proper—that is, from the proceeds of its commercial transactions; that R. 92,750,000 had been retained under the heading of provisional issues, and were offset by the amounts due the Bank from its customers, and that the remaining R. 173,500,000 had been covered by rentes delivered to the Bank, upon which it had not yet realized. The important fact is that only R. 87,000,000 had been destroyed. By this ukase, then, it was ordered that the R. 266,250,000 (R. 92,750,000 + R. 173,500,000) should remain permanently part of the circulation; we have just seen that R. 63,750,000 had previously been disposed of in the same way.
Here we must take a momentary glance at the past for the purpose of noting that in spite of the delicate position of international relations, in spite of the fact that the Bank of Germany and the Seehandlung of Berlin were forbidden to loan on Russian securities or purchase them, in spite of the increase of military expenses and other public charges in all countries, a remarkable phenomenon had appeared in the markets of all European capitals; the price of silver had fallen everywhere, and this had produced a favorable effect upon the credit of the various governments. Refunding operations became fashionable, and M. de Bunge himself, about a year before quitting his place, had been on the point of concluding an extensive arrangement with certain German houses which would have resulted in reducing to four per cent. the interest upon a large part of the Russian public debt, and that, too, barely two years after it had been somewhat difficult to find a foreign market for a loan of R. 50,000,000 at six per cent. We may note in passing that that loan, so uncomplimentary to the credit of a great empire, was the last transaction managed by Baron Stieglitz, who retired from the management of the Bank in 1866. The refunding operation undertaken by M. de Bunge did not succeed, but no one can regret its failure who knows the burdensome, not to say humiliating conditions under which it was to have been made. His successor, M. Wyschnegradski, was a man of a totally different character. Though formerly a professor, like Bunge, he had for some years been in control of important enterprises, and had thus acquired, what had been entirely lacking in his predecessor, the art of managing men and conducting business affairs, boldness of decision and rapidity of execution. He had, in addition, the good fortune to be at the head of affairs during four years of very abundant crops and of an export of cereals such as had never been known before. He entered immediately upon the task of refunding the debt, and he was able to interest the French market in the undertaking, though it had up to that time avoided Russian securities almost entirely. He began with the pledge certificates of the Mutual Credit Foncier, which the State had finally guaranteed, and the interest on which had been reduced from 5 to 4½ per cent. at the same time that the premium of R. 20 secured upon their repayment had been withdrawn. Inasmuch as the Rothschilds had taken part in the issue of these securities, they were called upon to assist in this first conversion, and since then they have had a share in other refunding operations which M. Wyschnegradski carried on upon a large scale, and which his successor, M. de Witte, afterward took up and is still carrying forward. It is not merely loans issued directly by the State that form the subject of the refunding operations; besides the securities of the Mutual Credit Foncier, of which we have just spoken, railroad bonds also were included. During the past ten years, and especially between 1888 and 1894, the State has bought a large number of important railways, and has very materially reduced the burdens imposed upon it by the payment of subsidies and the guaranty of interest.
The subject of these refunding operations will be more fully treated in a subsequent chapter. What especially interests us just now with reference to them is their influence upon the condition of the Russian Bank. We have just seen what disposition was finally made of the circulation called into existence by the Eastern war of 1877-8. Notwithstanding the fact that only R. 87,000,000 of the R. 417,000,000 so issued had been paid, there came a time in 1889 when, as a result of the very great increase of exportation coincident with the fair of Nijni-Novgorod, the circulation was for the moment insufficient. M. Wyschnegradski had no hesitancy in authorizing the Bank to make a supplementary issue of R. 25,000,000; but he stipulated that the Treasury should deposit with the Bank a like sum in gold as a guaranty. A second issue of R. 25,000,000 was afterward approved upon the same terms; and it should be stated that these issues were in fact only temporary and were retired at the end of a few months. As a practical matter, the specie deposit carried from the Treasury to the Bank was of no avail. The holders of the “provisional” bills had not, any more than holders of ordinary bills, a right to demand their redemption in gold. The most important result of that temporary measure was that circumstances soon induced M. Wyschnegradski to repeat and extend it; when the famine of 1891 required exceptional sacrifices of the Treasury, the so-called temporary issue was several times doubled and even trebled, so that at times it reached R. 150,000,000; but the credit of Russia was not seriously impaired thereby. Thanks to the prompt recovery from the economic crisis of 1891, and to the boldness with which M. de Witte, the successor of M. Wyschnegradski, has continued the refunding operations; thanks also to the constant decrease of interest rates in the money markets of the world, the Russian rente stands to-day at a figure which, six years ago, the most optimistic hardly dared to hope for.
Inasmuch as the present system plainly consists in intrusting to the State the largest possible share in the economic affairs of the people, the regulations of the Bank were revised on June 24, 1894, and made even more emphatic in the direction indicated. We shall merely cite such of these modifications as are peculiarly characteristic of the new methods. In the first place, in addition to commerce and manufactures, the agricultural classes also are to share the favor of the Bank. Chapter II of the law treating of commercial operations provides in Art. 77 that the Bank shall accept for discount “not only paper resting upon a commercial basis (a completed transaction, paper already in existence), but also paper drawn in view of commercial or industrial transactions yet to be entered into.” As an offset, however, to this privilege, it is stipulated in Art. 85 that “the Bank may at any time demand of its clients a detailed balance-sheet, a complete account of their affairs, and such extracts from their books and other information as may be needful to give it a full insight into all their transactions.” Art. 89, treating of manufacturing and agricultural loans, provides that the Bank “shall give credit and make loans upon such bills drawn to order as may be secured: (a) by a real-estate mortgage; (b) by a chattel mortgage upon agricultural or manufacturing tools and machinery; (c) by a guarantor; (d) by any other security which the Finance Minister may hold to be sufficient.” Art. 93 prescribes that when the loan is secured by new machinery the Bank shall pay the amount of the loan, not to the borrower, but to the seller of the machinery, and shall see that the purchase is delivered. Art. 97—Loans to any single enterprise shall not exceed R. 500,000, and those to a small tradesman shall not exceed R. 600. Art. 100 provides that loans and credits (upon one-name paper) intended to provide any undertaking with money for current needs, shall not exceed seventy-five per cent. of the sum necessary for the financing of the business. Art. 119 stipulates that when the value of any class of merchandise shall have decreased as the result of exceptional circumstances, the managers of the Bank may grant an extension to the debtor and may refrain from demanding even partial payment or additional security. Art. 124 states that in making advances upon paper bearing only one signature and secured by a pledge of personal property, the Bank, if it has full confidence in the borrower, may allow these concessions: (a) it may accept as collateral articles of merchandise not named in the official list set forth in Art. 109; (b) the pledge may remain in the hands of the borrower; (c) the amount of the loan may be as great as seventy-five per cent. of the estimated value of the guaranty. Art. 135 permits call loans to be made, either on collateral securities or on such paper as would be accepted for discount. The conditions of these loans are that the borrower shall repay them at any moment on demand, or else at a fixed time. Art. 138 provides that, at any time when its resources are sufficient, the Bank may extend its credit to provinces, districts, and communes, upon conditions to be approved by the Ministers of Finance and of the Interior. In accordance with Articles 165-8, the Bank may sell bills drawn to order, may buy and sell foreign bills of exchange, gold and silver, securities issued by the State or guaranteed by it, and securities not so guaranteed if they form part of the collateral of one who has defaulted in his obligations to the State; this latter transaction the Bank enters into only upon express instructions from the Minister of Finance. Articles 178 and 179 set forth the services which the Bank is required to render to the public treasury. There is no change in this respect from the original regulations, which have already been set before the reader; we shall not, therefore, repeat the provisions of those sections. Suffice it to say that in addition to all the duties pertaining to the circulation, to the issue of loans, and to the care of the funds of the State, the Bank is required to furnish such sums as the national pawn-offices may need; to assist in caring for the ransom of the serfs—that is to say, in administering the annuities owing by these peasants; and to liquidate the affairs of the former credit institutions of the State, in so far as this duty rests upon it under existing laws. When we have called attention to the fact that “the capital” of the Bank has been increased from R. 15,000,000 to R. 50,000,000 we shall have set forth the whole series of reforms to which that institution has been subjected. At this point, we may introduce the last balance-sheet issued by the Bank, that of August 16 (28), 1895:
Balance-Sheet of the Bank of Russia and of Its Nine Agencies and Ninety-eight Branches, August 16, 1895.
Besides deposits for safe-keeping:—
The Governor of the State Bank: ED. PLESKE.
It appears from this balance-sheet that, at the time it was issued, the circulation amounted to R. 1,121,300,000 (R. 75,000,000 being “temporary”) and the metallic reserve to R. 450,000,000 of gold, R. 75,000,000 of this also being a temporary reserve. If we subtract this R. 75,000,000 from both sides of the account we have left R. 1,046,300,000 of paper money secured by R. 375,000,000 of gold. Moreover, the Bank included under “cash,” on August 1 (13), R. 63,200,000 of gold and silver. Fifteen days later, that important sum no longer appears among the “cash,” but we find it a little further on under the heading “Gold belonging to the Bank,” which amounts to nearly R. 63,000,000. We cannot explain that change in the entry; but a comparison of the two totals will show that silver made up only about R. 250,000 in the first column, while it does not appear at all in the second. This shows that Russia has turned her face resolutely against bimetallism and that she accords to silver no higher position than that of a subsidiary coinage; a fact, moreover, which has been officially declared.
In view of the summary of the Bank’s new regulations which has just been placed before the reader, it would be useless to insist further upon the extent to which the affairs of the Bank and those of the State are intermingled, an intermingling more definite and pronounced than that existing under the regulations of 1860. It is more difficult than ever to understand why a capital stock should be thought necessary, or what place the capital of R. 50,000,000 provided by the new regulations can have in the economy of the Bank. But it is precisely because these intimate relations do exist that the value of the circulation cannot be predicated upon the relation it bears to the cash of the Bank. The State is responsible to-day, as it was thirty-five years ago, as it was also a century ago, for all the agreements of the Bank; and because this is so it becomes important to know that the metallic resources of the Treasury (including those of the Bank) amounted at the close of 1892 to R. 493,900,000; at the close of 1893 to R. 598,000,000, and at the close of 1894 to R. 598,600,000, in gold. On June 30 (July 12), 1895, the “Bulletin Russe de Statistique Financière” published a table showing that, on that date, the total metallic reserve amounted to R. 580,800,000, of which R. 4,666,000 were in silver and subsidiary coin, and the remainder in gold. Upon the strength of such a reserve, equal to more than half of the circulation, the Russian Government has deemed it safe not to insist upon a rigid enforcement of the legal-tender law, and it has given its sanction to the transaction of domestic business upon a gold basis. When it was first proposed, this measure aroused strong opposition. Though discussed at frequent intervals for some years, it was always vigorously resented as an attack upon the credit of the State, or rather upon the fiction that this credit was undisputed within the Empire and that foreigners alone evinced any doubts of Russia’s solvency by refusing to accept the paper rouble at its nominal value. M. de Witte (Finance Minister since 1893) was courageous enough to dissent from that Jesuitical position; but even he was desirous of stopping half-way and of granting the right to deal upon a gold basis only to certain classes of society; his view was like that held in some other countries, where certain classes are denied the privilege of dealing upon the Bourse or making time contracts, lest advantage be taken of their ignorance. It is very interesting to follow the Council of the State as it discusses the question, settles it in a very enlightened manner, refutes the apprehensions of the Finance Minister, and finally determines that its own deliberations upon the matter are of sufficient importance to be given to the public, an occurrence which is very rare in Russia. As this report teaches a valuable lesson and also furnishes one of those rare instances in which we are able to take the measure of the Council, it has seemed to us advisable to publish the document just as it appeared:
“By the terms of the laws now in force (Art. 1540 of the Civil Code and Art. 71 of the statute concerning bills of exchange) all accounts, agreements, and transactions of every kind, both those among individuals and those between individuals and the State, must be settled in silver coin, with the understanding, however, that in settling domestic transactions credit-roubles cannot be refused if they are offered instead of silver or gold roubles. These laws, together with several reasons of an economic nature, have resulted, since the Treasury has ceased to cash bills of credit on demand, in the gradual disappearance of coin from circulation. Serious difficulties have followed upon the exclusive use of paper currency thus brought about. To obviate these, the Ministry of Finance has presented to the Council of the Empire a project the object of which is:
“1. To authorize the use of Russian gold coin in all payments when both parties to the contract agree, and to allow all persons, with the exception of the peasantry and the lower order of tradespeople (non-privileged inhabitants of the country and the towns), to contract engagements specifically in gold roubles, with the understanding always that debtors shall be allowed to make payment in paper money at the valuation existing on the day of payment; which, if there is any dispute, shall be taken to be that of the St. Petersburg Bourse; but the State Bank must pay its gold deposits in gold.
“2. To empower the Minister of Finance to authorize certain taxes, namely, excise duties (indirect taxes), license fees and transfer duties, to be paid in gold, at the current rate, in localities where he may deem it expedient, and to fix the valuation at which gold shall be received and paid out by the Government treasuries; provided, however, that public notice shall be given of the valuation thus established, and that it shall also be telegraphed to the respective treasuries and shall become immediately effective.
“During the discussion of that proposition at a session of the various departments of the Council of the Empire, Privy Councillor De Witte showed that the palpable defects of our present inconvertible paper currency have inspired in all those successively intrusted with the direction of Russian finances a desire to change that system and gradually to adopt a metallic currency. With that end in view, several steps have been taken during the last two reigns (such as the collection of customs duties in gold, the proposed restriction in 1881 of the issue of credit bills, etc.) tending to prepare the ground for the re-establishment of a metallic currency. The proposition now brought forward belongs in the same category. It does not in any manner affect the fundamental basis of our monetary system; nor does it furnish any ground upon which to predicate the adoption of a gold standard, or commit the State to any particular method of redeeming the bills now outstanding. Its object is far less pretentious, being simply to facilitate the circulation of gold, which, so to speak, has now no right-of-way among us, and almost all of which, despite our own large production, finds its way abroad. Thus it promises an effective remedy for one of the principal vices of note circulation, its lack of elasticity. It is well known that, in countries having a metallic circulation, the supply of money always answers almost exactly to the demand; if money is scarce, its value increases, and this causes the metal of other countries to flow in; if, on the contrary, there is an over-supply, the consequent depreciation drives the metal to foreign markets, where it has more value. Very different is the situation in countries in which paper is the only currency. When the demand increases in such countries, there are no importations of specie to bring the circulating medium to the required volume, because specie forms no part of their circulation. This explains why the periodical need of increased circulation in Russia, for the purpose of moving the crops, cannot be met by means of gold brought from abroad, and why trade and industry have no other resource in such cases than the State Bank, that reservoir into which are poured all the bills not demanded by current needs. In view of the Bank’s inability to defend its stock of bills by raising the rate of discount, these extraordinary demands place it in a difficult position even in normal years, exhausting its notes and interrupting its ordinary course of business. When a demand arises which is at all exceptional, the Financial Department of the Government is compelled to have recourse to new issues of bills of credit, secured by gold deposits, notwithstanding the disadvantages of such a measure. Although these issues are called ‘temporary,’ their withdrawal presents such serious difficulties that of the R. 200,000,000 so issued in 1891, 1892, and 1893, only R. 125,000,000 have been canceled and R. 75,000,000 are still outstanding. The legalizing of contracts expressed in gold roubles aims, first of all, to put a stop to that abnormal situation, which retards the economic improvement of the country. There is reason to hope that, when our domestic markets demand unusual quantities of a circulating medium, the fact that gold coin can be used as an instrument of exchange will attract foreign gold and will thus absolve the Government from the necessity of making new issues of bills. But even if this result should not follow in the beginning, the demand for increased circulation might be met either by putting out the gold belonging to the Bank or the Treasury—a thing which is not now possible because gold coin is not recognized as a legal form of circulating medium—or by issuing special deposit receipts expressed in gold roubles, which the Bank would be required to redeem in gold at sight. Thus the power to use gold in business transactions would give to our circulation the elasticity it lacks. Besides, that measure, by removing difficulties which are now inevitable, could hardly fail to attract foreign capital to us. Finally, it will bring our financial system into better repute abroad, where the efforts made by the Government to improve its circulating medium will be appreciated at their full value, and this result alone makes the project worthy of serious consideration.
“As for the fears aroused by the proposal to legalize gold contracts, they may be dismissed as altogether unfounded. In view of the fact that all questions relating to the circulating medium are highly technical and involved, so that many persons of education know little about them and the masses still less, this suggestion of possible distrust is likely to be a subject of dread and to give rise to unfounded comments. Such lack of confidence as there may be in the Government’s position upon this question will arise from a familiarity with the existing state of things and from a vague fear of the unknown consequences that may wait upon a change. These are the only grounds for the public apprehensions arising out of such hints as the press has given of the Government’s intention to authorize the circulation of gold. Nevertheless, the very fact that the proposal has aroused such fears among those who will determine to a very large extent the public attitude toward the law, renders it necessary that great care be used in fixing upon the exact terms of the enactment. Everything must be kept out of it which is not absolutely necessary to the end proposed, or which is likely to be misinterpreted. For this reason it would be well to omit the provision authorizing payments to be made by mutual consent in Russian gold coin at the current rate of valuation. There is no legal objection to such payments now, and a law authorizing what is not forbidden might very easily give rise to misunderstandings and to a false interpretation of the end in view. Again, authority to stipulate for payment in Russian gold should be limited to written contracts, which alone are of any real importance in view of our present object; then, after such contracts have become common, verbal agreements calling for payments in gold will follow without any special authorization, in all cases in which there may be any call for them. In the next place, only those taxes should be allowed to be paid in gold which fall upon persons who, from the nature of their business, will readily become accustomed to this form of payment; for this reason the measure should, in the first instance, be made applicable only to the payment of excise duties. Finally, that part of the plan which proposes to authorize the various public treasuries to pay in gold must be abandoned altogether, that there may be no ground for a supposition that the Government is taking advantage of the privilege to pay its debts at a rate of exchange fixed by itself and unfair to its creditors. These amendments being made, there is reason to expect that the proposed measure will not be received with disfavor by the public, and that its beneficent effects will become manifest in the near future to the full extent now hoped for.
“The departments regard the question from a double point of view. In the first place, they see in the proposed measure a possible prelude to further legislation looking to the reorganization of our monetary system, and they can appreciate it as an integral part of such reorganization. But the proposition is of such a character that it may equally be regarded as an isolated measure, having its own aim, and not in any way foreshadowing future action. From this second point of view the discussion of the measure must turn upon the results it may be expected to produce in and of itself; we must seek to learn whether it will answer the end proposed, what are its strong and its weak points, and under what conditions it will attain the highest measure of success.
“It appears from the explanations offered by Privy Councillor De Witte that the proposed measure must not be taken as in any way indicative of the final direction of our financial policy regarding the circulation. The departments find that position well taken, for it thus becomes possible to consider the proposed measure without being engrossed with various questions which are closely connected with it and which might give rise to discussion, such, for example, as whether the Government is to be bound to exchange its bills of credit for silver, or for gold, etc. The departments are of opinion that the proposal to legalize contracts expressed in gold roubles, considered by itself, is worthy of adoption. It is likely that the measure, under favorable conditions, will bring gold gradually into circulation. As it will thus become possible to make contracts expressed in foreign gold coin—contracts now authorized by law (Art. 97 of the chapter relating to notaries, General Code, Vol. XVI., Part I., edition of 1892)—it is certain that foreign gold will circulate among us when money is most in demand; and there is such a demand in our markets every autumn by reason of the heavy transactions peculiar to that season. The amount of business transacted upon this basis would, of course, never become very great, except in the absence of important fluctuations in the exchange value of the credit-rouble; for, if there were such fluctuations, Russian traders or producers would not be inclined to contract engagements in gold coin and thereby expose themselves to the risk of a fall in credit-roubles. But the steadiness which the credit-rouble has recently maintained leaves little room for fear on that score. Furthermore, our Financial Department holds a considerable stock of the yellow metal, amounting in round numbers to R. 670,000,000, a fact which makes the stability of the credit-rouble practically certain. Moreover, the improvement of our financial system cannot fail to contribute to the steadiness of our circulating medium.
“Admitting, upon the grounds here set forth, the possibility of adopting the measure proposed by Privy Councillor De Witte, the departments are constrained to share his views as to the necessity of using special care in drafting the law, so that there may be no room for misapprehension as to the Government’s aim and no misleading comments upon it, which may tend to depreciate the credit-rouble. It is needless to dwell at length upon the power of public opinion in all questions relating to credit, or upon the difficulty of restoring a confidence once lost. It is to the interest of the State and the community alike that the value of the credit-rouble be not lessened either in Russia or in Eastern countries. Therefore, the departments have fully approved the modifications proposed by the Minister of Finance tending to prevent the measure from producing an unfavorable impression on the public mind.
“Proceeding to an examination of the particulars of the proposed law as presented by the Minister of Finance, the departments have discussed the section which, provisionally at least, prohibits peasants and small tradesmen not members of a guild from contracting obligations payable in gold. The object of that proviso was to protect the unenlightened portion of the community against the wiles of people eager to take advantage of their ignorance of monetary questions. But aside from the fact that State guardianship, in matters arising under the civil law and in industrial and commercial transactions, is of very doubtful utility, it has seemed to the departments that to declare the present law inapplicable to the lower classes, forming more than eighty per cent. of the population of the Empire, would give rise to unpleasant comments on the employment of different kinds of money among different classes of society, and on the establishment of a special privilege for the benefit of the upper classes and to the detriment of the peasantry and lower order of trades-people.
“Pursuing their examination of the details of the law, the departments understand it to be a general rule that contracts expressed in gold must be paid in gold. Still, it is well to make specific mention of that obligation, providing at the same time that such contracts may be settled in credit bills at the exchange rate prevailing on the day of settlement, or, in case of disagreement, at the rate last received from the St. Petersburg Bourse in the city or place where payment is to be made. On the other hand, there is no need to prescribe that the State Bank shall return gold to depositors of gold, because that is already made obligatory by Art. 148 of the law governing the Bank. If this stipulation should be introduced into the new law, it might become the basis of a mistaken view that gold deposited with other credit institutions or intrusted to individuals could be repaid in bills of credit at the ruling rate. While the departments see no objection to allowing the Minister of Finance to accept gold coin in payment of excise duties, in all cases in which the tax-payer wishes to pay in gold, they are of opinion that he should not be authorized to fix the rates at which gold is to be accepted and telegraph them to the various collecting offices, except upon condition that the rates so determined shall be immediately posted in all public places in the towns or cities in question for the information of those interested, and that they shall become effective only after a lapse of six hours from the time of their receipt.
“Finally, the departments have asked themselves whether it might not be advisable to specify in the present law how the stamp duties are to be reckoned on deeds and documents expressed in gold roubles. In the absence of a specific provision on this point, misunderstandings might arise, before the question was settled, as to whether the duties should be estimated as on deeds of an equal amount in credit-roubles, or whether the difference in value between the gold and credit rouble should be taken into account.
“Upon this question, considering that the law (General Code, Vol. V., Art. 28 of the chapter on tax-duties, edition of 1893), in fixing taxes to be paid on bills of exchange drawn in marks of Finland, or in foreign money, estimates those moneys according to a schedule which gives the credit-rouble the value of the gold rouble, the departments think that the stamp duties to be paid on documents and deeds expressed in terms of the gold rouble should be based on the nominal amount; and in order to remove all doubt upon the question, it should be expressly so provided in the law. For the reasons here set forth, the assembled departments of Economy, Laws, and Civil and Religious Affairs have decided to add to the laws now in force upon the subject the following:
“1. Any written agreement authorized by law may be contracted in Russian gold coin.
“2. Agreements contracted in Russian gold coin may be settled either in gold roubles to the amount specified or in credit-roubles at the rate of valuation prevailing on the day of payment. In case of dispute as to such valuation, the last average rate of the Bourse of St. Petersburg received at the place of payment shall be law for the parties.
“3. The stamp duties payable on deeds and contracts expressed in gold roubles shall be the same as on contracts in credit-roubles of an equal nominal amount.
“4. It shall be the duty of the Minister of Finance (a) to authorize the public treasuries, in places where he may deem it expedient, to accept gold coin, at the option of the debtor, in settlement of excise duties, at the valuation fixed by him, it being understood, however, that it shall be his duty to inform the Senate of his decision in order that due publication may be made; and (b) to telegraph his decision to the treasuries concerned, whose duty it shall then become to post up in their offices the contents of the telegram and put the order in force on the day following its reception.”
As a result of that legislative measure, the State Bank published on July 14 (26) and July 26 (August 7) the two following notices, laying down its regulations for the acceptance of specie deposits, and the price at which the yellow metal was to be bought and sold by it:
By-laws Governing the Issue by the State Bank of Certificates of Metallic Deposits.
1. In accordance with the provisions of section 148 of the statutes, the State Bank will accept on deposit the articles and securities specified in paragraph 3 of these by-laws, and will deliver against them Certificates of Deposit expressed in gold roubles and payable by the Bank in Russian gold coin.
2. The Certificates of Deposit will be issued by all of the agencies and branches of the Bank. The Minister of Finance will designate for each of the establishments of the Bank the particular securities of those named in paragraph 3 in exchange for which that establishment shall be authorized to deliver Certificates of Deposit.
3. The Certificates of Deposit are to be delivered against these metallic securities: (a) Russian and foreign gold coin, on the terms indicated in the table annexed to these by-laws; (b) gold bars of high standard duly stamped by the mint or an assay office, the zolotnik of fine gold being valued at R.3.63767, gold; (c) such foreign bank notes payable in gold as may be selected by the Minister of Finance; (d) drafts which have been delivered by the Department of Mines in exchange for gold deposits, these to be accepted at their face value; (e) coupons of Russian bonds payable in specie and of loans guaranteed by the Government, as well as such of said bonds as have been drawn for redemption, with the usual discount of interest; (f) those drafts on foreign countries which the State Bank is authorized by its regulations to purchase.
4. All the securities named in paragraph 3, above, are to be accepted at their value in gold roubles.
5. The Certificates of Deposit will be made payable only to bearer, and will be of the following denominations: 1 demi-impériale, 1 impériale, 3 demi-impériales, 5, 10, 50 and 100 impériales, the impériale being estimated at 2 zolotniks* 69.36 dolei of fine gold, and the demi-impériale at 1 zolotnik 34.68 dolei. These certificates are payable in Russian gold coin, the limit of toleration not to exceed that provided by section 21 of the monetary statute.
6. If the value of the security deposited, calculated according to the rules laid down above, cannot be exactly expressed in figures corresponding to the denominations of the certificates as set forth in paragraph 5, the surplus is to be paid in credit-roubles at the rate fixed for the purchase of Russian gold coin.
7. Certificates of Deposit of the various denominations enumerated in paragraph 5 are to be issued in series of 10,000 each, every certificate bearing the letter of its series and a number showing its place therein.
8. The Certificates of Deposit are to be issued in a form approved by the Minister of Finance.
9. The State Bank will set aside a special guaranty fund consisting of Russian gold coin, equal in amount to the certificates issued and to be reserved exclusively for their redemption. Foreign gold coin at a valuation calculated according to the table annexed may form part of the aforesaid fund.
10. Certificates of Deposit will be accepted on a par with Russian gold coin in all payments to be made in gold either to the Imperial Treasury or to the State Bank. Individuals may accept or refuse the certificates when offered in settlement of amounts stipulated to be paid in gold roubles.
11. Certificates of Deposit will be redeemed by the agencies of the State Bank in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Riga, Odessa, Rostov-sur-Don, and by such others as may be specially authorized. Other agencies of the Bank will redeem the certificates whenever the cash on hand will allow them to do so.
12. All branches and agencies of the Bank are authorized to exchange Certificates of Deposit of one denomination for those of another.
13. Holders of the certificates may deposit them with any branch of the State Bank and demand that any other branch shall issue certificates to a like amount in exchange for them. No charge is to be made for these transfers, except the cost of the dispatch when they are made by telegraph.
The State Bank will accept gold coin in exchange for Certificates of Deposit on the following terms:
Remark.—Foreign coins of larger or smaller denominations than those named in the table are to be valued upon the same basis.
Rules Governing Accounts Current in Gold Roubles opened by the Bank against Deposits of Gold Coin.
1. The State Bank is prepared to open accounts current in gold roubles for individuals and private establishments against deposits of Russian gold coin. The branches of the State Bank which redeem Certificates of Deposit will also accept such certificates and carry the amount for which they are drawn in accounts current. Amounts deposited in gold coin to the credit of an account current must be repaid in gold coin.
2. A person or institution wishing to open with the Bank an account current in gold roubles must present on a prescribed form a fac-simile of his or its signature and of the signatures of the persons authorized to sign checks in the name of the depositor.
3. The State Bank and its branches and agencies may refuse to open an account current without assigning any reason for the refusal.
4. The deposits are to be entered as soon as received in a special bank-book delivered by the Bank to the depositor. Each deposit is to be attested by the signature of the officers of the Bank.
5. Each deposit in an account current must be accompanied by a special declaration.
6. The depositor may withdraw his deposit by means of checks signed by him or by his attorney in fact (§ 2); a check-book will be delivered to him by the Bank, together with the bank-book wherein his deposits are entered. Checks must be drawn in round figures, and they may be paid in demi-impériales of the new mintage.
7. The drawer of the check may write after the printed words “to bearer” the name of the person to whom he transfers the check.
8. Interest may be paid upon accounts current expressed in gold roubles, the rate being fixed by the Directors of the Bank with the approval of the Minister of Finance. No interest will be paid upon such of these accounts as are opened to the credit of those whose accounts in paper roubles do not bear interest.
9. If a drawer should lose a check the Bank will not be liable for a wrong payment unless it has prompt notice of the loss.
10. Accounts current in gold roubles may be closed at any time, in the discretion of the Bank, but the depositor shall have seven days’ notice of the intention. Whenever an account is closed the depositor must return to the Bank all unused checks in his possession.
Let us here take note of one further measure, destined, if not to increase the business of the Bank, at least to facilitate dealings abroad in Russian securities. We refer to the arrangement concluded between the Finance Minister of Russia and the Bank of France on April 11 and May 1, 1895, in virtue of which the Bank of France undertakes to accept at Paris or at its branches any negotiable evidences of the Russian debt deposited by holders who wish to have them registered. The Bank of France agrees to deliver registered bonds to such holders upon their payment of the stamp duties. It will also keep itself informed as to the drawings of bonds to be paid, and if any are drawn that are registered with the Bank it will inform the holder and make the collection for him. It pays the coupons as they fall due, and for these services it makes no charge against the bondholder, but looks to the Russian Government for all claims except those arising out of stamp duties. This arrangement went into operation on July 1, 1895.
A notice published on September 1 (13), 1895, by the Bank of Russia puts in force a new set of rules relative to the safe-keeping of funds and documents deposited with it by the public. It provides that thereafter the Bank and all its branches will charge upon deposits left for safe-keeping:
1. Upon the deposit merely for safe-keeping: (a) of securities and valuable documents, for one year, in advance, 5 copecks for each document and 1-50 of 1 per cent. (20 copecks on R. 1000) of its value; all fractions above 5 copecks shall be regarded as 5 copecks, and the minimum charge on a deposit shall be 20 copecks (§ 34); (b) on securities deposited for six months, 1-50 of 1 per cent. (20 copecks per R. 1000) of the value of the deposit, for each six months, payable in advance; on envelopes containing documents deposited for six months, R. 1 (§ 39); (c) on envelopes containing documents or wills, and deposited for an unlimited term, R. 5 once for all (§ 44).
2. On deposits both for safe-keeping and management (at any branch or agency rendering such services), 1-50 of 1 per cent. (20 copecks per R. 1000) of the value of the deposit, per year, in advance, and 10 copecks in addition for each deed or security, the minimum charge upon each deposit being fixed at 30 copecks.
3. Upon the deposit of other valuable articles (where such articles are accepted at all), for each half-year, in advance: On each chest or box not more than one archine (28 inches) in width and length and 1½ archines in height, with a maximum weight of 1 pood (36 pounds), R. 2; 2 poods, R. 4; 3 poods, R. 6; 4 poods, R. 8; 5 poods, R. 10, with an additional charge of 1-20 of 1 per cent. (50 copecks per R. 1000) upon the value of the deposit, the minimum charge being 50 copecks. Chests or boxes of larger dimensions or of greater weight will not be received except at double rates, and then only when it is convenient for the establishment in question to accept them (§ 41).
With reference to this publication, it should be stated that the custom is widely prevalent in Russia of depositing valuables not only with the banks, but also with the local treasuries. On January 1, 1895, those treasuries held thus on deposit R. 17,600,000 of securities payable in specie, and R. 228,600,000 payable in credit-roubles. The State Bank had R. 217,400,000 of the former and R. 1,941,700,000 of the latter. Taken all together, deposits of this kind aggregated R. 2,405,300,000 on January 1, 1895, against R. 1,967,900,000 on January 1, 1894, for the State Bank and the treasuries.
The reader is thoroughly informed now as to the duties and the methods of the Bank of Russia. It had been the Author’s intention to dismiss the subject at this point, but we have just had our attention called to the following notice published on August 24 (September 5), 1895. It brings out so strongly the “philanthropic” aims of the institution and its solicitude for the agricultural classes that we feel called upon to transcribe it:
“Notice.—The St. Petersburg office of the State Bank hereby informs the public that its charges until further notice will be as follows: (1) For the discount of paper having three months or less to run, 5 per cent.; six months, 5½ per cent.; nine months, 6½ per cent.; twelve months, 7 per cent.; (2) upon special accounts current, guaranteed by bills, 6½ per cent.; (3) loans on collateral: 4 per cent. rentes, 5½ per cent.; lottery bonds of the Banque Foncière of the Nobility, 4 per cent., and other securities, 6½ per cent.; (4) on special accounts current secured by 4 per cent. rentes, 6 per cent.; on those secured by lottery bonds of the Banque Foncière of the Nobility, 4 per cent., and on those secured by other collateral, 7 per cent.; (5) loans on the security of cereals: on those made directly by the Bank to the borrower, 5½ per cent., and on those made through brokers, 4½ per cent.; to railroads on cereals deposited in their warehouses, 4½ per cent., and on shipments en route, 5 per cent.; loans on any other merchandise taken in pledge, 6 per cent.; (6) loans to farmers to furnish them either with funds necessary for current needs or to be used in the purchase of agricultural machinery, 5½ per cent., and (7) loans to manufacturers, 6 to 7 per cent.”
Joint-stock Banks; Their Classification and Transactions—Legal Regulation of Private Banks—Banking Decree of June, 1894.
PRIVATE joint-stock or non-Government banks, as we have previously said, did not come into existence until 1865. The shares are legally fixed at R. 250 each, except in the case of the Bank of Kama-Volga, which has shares of R. 1000 as well as those of R. 250. The following, according to the “Bulletin de Statistique Financière,” is a schedule of all the stock companies as they existed on January 1, 1894:
The same official publication prints another collective table concerning all non-Governmental credit institutions engaged in short-term transactions. This table is so comprehensive that a summary of it must suffice. All of the joint-stock banks together had in January, 1894, a capital of R. 116,957,000, a general reserve of R. 32,000,000 (27½ per cent.), and a reserve for special purposes of R. 4,200,000. The Municipal banks had a capital of R. 28,400,000, a general reserve of R. 5,500,000, and a reserve for special purposes of R. 945,000. The Mutual Credit associations had a capital of R. 21,400,000, a general reserve of R. 4,400,000, and a special reserve of R. 1,666,000. Thus these various institutions had a total capital of R. 166,750,000, a general reserve of R. 42,000,000, and a special reserve of R. 6,800,000. Perpetual deposits, which, outside of the State Bank, are not found except in Communal banks, aggregated R. 13,100,000. Time deposits aggregated R. 203,100,000; of sight draft accounts there were R. 47,250,000, and in accounts current, R. 237,400,000. Deposits with the branches (for such banks as have branches) were R. 74,000,000; interest due to depositors, R. 6,600,000; profits, R. 10,300,000, of which R. 6,000,000 belonged to Share banks, R. 2,900,000 to Communal banks, and R. 1,400,000 to Mutual associations. On the credit side of their accounts were: Cash (including sums subject to cheque), R. 67,700,000; loans on securities and the precious metals, R. 83,200,000; discounts, R. 337,200,000; loans on pledge, R. 120,400,000; call loans (special accounts current), R. 191,300,000; loans on realty, R. 24,500,000 (of which R. 2,600,000 was on country property); loans to municipalities, R. 2,100,000; debts in default, nearly R. 7,000,000, of which more than R. 4,000,000 were held by the Municipal banks. The balance-sheet of all these associations shows a total of R. 1,092,169,000, the proportions being: R. 801,000,000 for the Share banks; R. 180,600,000 for the Municipal banks, and R. 160,600,000 for the Mutual Credit associations.
With reference specially to the stock banks, the information is more recent, coming down to January 1, 1895. Those of St. Petersburg, ten in number, had then a share capital of R. 83,237,000 (including the branch of the Crédit Lyonnais, with a capital of R. 16,000,000), a general reserve of R. 13,000,000, and a special reserve of R. 2,600,000. Their deposits subject to sight draft and accounts current aggregated R. 131,000,000, and their time deposits were R. 26,400,000. They had borrowed upon securities and in the form of rediscounts, R. 21,300,000. They had earned in the form of interest and commissions R. 14,250,000, and their total transactions represented R. 464,166,000. Among their assets were R. 14,100,000 in cash; R. 19,800,000 in accounts current (of which R. 17,500,000 were in the State Bank); R. 15,100,000 in Russian funds; R. 8,200,000 in other bonds; R. 2,900,000 in foreign drafts; R. 500,000 in single-name paper; R. 14,600,000 in loans on bonds; R. 5,500,000 in loans on merchandise; R. 128,100,000 in special accounts current, guaranteed; and R. 86,600,000 in paper bearing two signatures.
Moscow has only four stock banks, with a total capital of R. 19,000,000 and reserve funds of R. 8,000,000. Their total transactions aggregated R. 133,100,000. The city of Riga has three private banks; Warsaw and Kiev have two each, and there are eighteen in the other chief centers of the Empire. The total transactions of all the private banks in Russia, at the close of 1894, represented R. 887,788,000. Among their assets were included R. 100,600,000 in the hands of their correspondents, and of this amount R. 41,700,000 were over-drafts. Their expenses for the year were R. 8,000,000; the property belonging to the banks was valued at R. 7,700,000 (of which R. 6,900,000 was in real estate); the total of paper held for collection was R. 15,200,000; merchandise for sale, R. 305,000; cash on hand, R. 27,100,000; accounts current, R. 24,300,000; stocks and bonds, R. 61,000,000; drafts, R. 209,600,000; loans on collateral, R. 66,900,000; special accounts current, guaranteed, R. 198,100,000. On the debit side of the account we find R. 140,500,000 of share capital; R. 38,900,000 of reserve; deposits subject to cheque, R. 194,100,000; sight draft accounts, R. 14,000,000; time deposits, R. 112,300,000. The discounts and collateral loans by banks aggregated R. 44,700,000, and the interest and commissions collected were R. 27,700,000.
It is scarcely needful to cite at length the regulations of the class of banks just considered. Suffice it to say that these regulations, like those of all stock associations, must be approved by the Government. Latterly, this control has been extended to include even private banking firms and exchange offices. A decree adopted by the Imperial Council on June 3 (15), 1894, and promulgated on July 5 (17) of the same year, puts in force a series of restrictions, of which the principal are these: Anyone wishing to open a banking house or exchange office must make a formal declaration to that effect, specifying the particular kinds of transactions in which he or they wish to engage. This declaration is forwarded to the Minister of Finance, who may demand further information and explanations. The Minister may order examinations to be made of the books and business affairs of the establishment. After such an examination of a banking house, he may forbid it to sell lottery bonds on time, to borrow on collateral deposited with it a greater sum than it has loaned thereon, to accept deposits of any kind, or to open accounts current. Any banker guilty of having engaged in a transaction forbidden by the Minister is liable, for the first offence, to a fine of R. 100 to R. 1000; for a second offence, to a fine of R. 1000 to R. 3000, and, upon conviction of a third offence, he is to be fined R. 300 to R. 3000 and imprisoned for a term of from two to eight months, his establishment is to be closed and the offender is to be forbidden ever to open another bank.
This moralizing of speculation has been inspired by the best intentions. It has been elsewhere shown what results it had produced one year after the promulgation of the decree. (See chapter on the Bourse.)
MUTUAL CREDIT ASSOCIATIONS.
The origin of the first Mutual Credit association and its rapid development have already been described. Thirty years later (on January 1, 1895) their number was ninety-three, of which two were in St. Petersburg (one in the city and the other in the district) and one in Moscow. These three associations together had 10,494 members, of whom 6127 were in St. Petersburg. The capital cities of the provinces had forty-five Mutual associations, and the capital cities of the districts had the same number. The whole number of members was 56,629, of whom 2200 were in Moscow, 30,318 in the capitals of provinces, and 15,837 in the capitals of districts. Thus the total number of these associations, which were expected to produce such important results, does not exceed that of the branches of the State Bank, and it is rather interesting to note that only one of these associations, that of the capital of the district of Gomel, was established in 1894; all the others are at least ten years of age, and the greater part of them fifteen or twenty years, or more. The enthusiasm which followed upon the establishment of the original association in St. Petersburg has very greatly abated, if, indeed, it has not entirely died out. For this result there are two reasons. Faith in the creative force and earning power of mutuality has been impaired by several serious mistakes; and, secondly, the great amount of aid extended by the State has paralyzed the efforts hitherto made in the direction of self-help. The capital of the associations is R. 21,700,000; their reserve, R. 5,100,000, and their funds reserved for various special purposes, R. 1,700,000. Of this total of R. 28,500,000, St. Petersburg has R. 4,700,000; Moscow, R. 4,000,000; the capitals of provinces, R. 14,400,000, and the district capitals, R. 5,400,000. On January 1, 1895, all of these associations together had in ordinary accounts current, R. 41,800,000; in conditional accounts current, R. 8,000,000; in conditional deposits, R. 1,750,000, and in deposits repayable at a fixed time or on demand, R. 58,000,000. The debts of the associations aggregated R. 14,600,000; their profits, R. 6,100,000, and their total transactions, R. 169,100,000. They held deposits for safe-keeping amounting to R. 12,800,000. Included in their assets were R. 2,600,000 of available cash, R. 56,200,000 of paper bearing two signatures, R. 23,900,000 of bills drawn to order and guaranteed by deposits, R. 20,500,000 of loans on collateral, R. 31,100,000 in special accounts current (on call), and R. 5,900,000 of bonds and stocks. Their debts in default aggregated R. 1,600,000, their real property was valued at R. 2,500,000, their losses amounted to R. 57,600. As mentioned above, their paid-up capital was R. 28,500,000; the capital subscribed but not paid in was R. 187,775,100.
LAND CREDIT INSTITUTIONS.
Until the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the land credit business of Russia was conducted under the auspices of the State Bank. The process then was quite simple, and no land registry system was required. The terms of credit were based on the number of serfs, or “male souls.” Of course, this unit of reckoning disappeared when emancipation was decreed, and the whole business came to an end. In order to secure outstanding debts, the amount which land-owners owed the Bank was deducted from the so-called “liberation fund,” and this altered debt was laid upon the emancipated serfs, who were to wipe it out in forty-nine years, with interest at five per cent., by an amortization rate of one per cent. yearly. Some of these charges are still current.
Then, for many years, the most varied plans were tried for supplying land-owners with credit. Direct help from the State was not considered; nor even State guaranty of interest. But there were tendencies along these lines. The Kingdom of Poland and the Baltic Provinces had long since made shift for themselves; for in those countries there were joint-stock land credit companies, whose mortgage bonds also found a ready sale abroad. It is true that the countries in question had a land registry system; and, be it added, they were in the habit of helping themselves. Such advantages were quite lacking in the Empire at large. To have drawn up land registry books would have consumed too much time; but there were at least efforts at self-help. Let us first mention the Joint-Stock Land Credit Company which was organized at St. Petersburg in 1866-7, under the directorship of the energetic Marshal, Count Bobrinsky (later, Minister of Public Works). The company was to issue five per cent. mortgage bonds, payable in coin, so as to be acceptable abroad. Loans, interest, and amortization dues were to be paid in coin, and amortization should be complete when the rates had amounted to 125 (it should be explained that in those days exchange was 20 to 25 per cent. below par). These feats were difficult; and the State stepped in, or rather it was adroitly drawn in, to help.
When Count Muravieff was appointed Governor-General of the so-called Western Provinces, in 1863, with headquarters at Vilna, one of the watchwords of the time was the “Russification,” or “Muscovization,” of that western region; and R. 5,000,000 was assigned for this object. But either the Russians were not pleased to settle in that Polish environment, or else the scheme dragged by reason of bureaucratic indolence; for, when Muravieff left his post at the end of 1866, the R. 5,000,000 were still intact. Under the triumphant banner of Count Peter Schuvaloff, then at the zenith of his power, the aristocratic party had again got breath, to the discomfiture of Muravieff and Milutin; so that Count Bobrinsky succeeded in anchoring the loose R. 5,000,000 as a State advance, free of interest, in behalf of his credit colony. It was argued that if the prostrate Russian proprietors were assisted to their feet again, they could transplant themselves to the western and southwestern provinces (Volhynia and Podolia), thereby obviating the necessity of replacing Polish nobility by promiscuous, unlineaged ragamuffins. Thanks to this contribution, the company was now presentable in the European money market; and Rothschild, with alacrity, engaged to place the mortgage bonds to the amount of R. 50,000,000, or even higher. Meanwhile, the provinces also bestirred themselves, and local companies were formed, which issued bonds at five, six, and seven per cent. One of the earliest and most substantial of these companies, that of Kherson, flourishes still. Besides the companies, joint-stock mortgage banks were organized; but all, with an exception to be treated below, were based on paper capital, so that their market generally remained local and restricted. Most of these banks are still in existence, having hitherto withstood the wrenching violence of political agitations; but they have in nearly all cases reduced interest on their bonds to five per cent., which reduction was facilitated by the favorable situation of State credit.
Central Land Credit Bank.—We now come to the exception referred to above. This was the Central Land Credit Bank, initiated in 1873 by capitalists of St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Vienna, with a capital stock of R. 5,000,000. This concern contained germs of decay in its very incipiency, for it originated just at the time of the financial crash in Vienna; nor did the founders enjoy the satisfaction of raising the shares even temporarily above par. This bank’s object was to buy up most of the six per cent. mortgage bonds issued by the local banks and replace them by five per cent. bonds payable in coin, which might be marketed abroad and make good the abatement of one per cent. The process continued until the war in the East, and for so long as the rate of exchange stood between eighty-five and ninety. Losses began in 1877, though at first they could be covered out of the reserve fund, as yet scarcely five years old. The loss for 1877 was R. 797,000; then it reached as much as R. 1,292,000 for single years, and showed a total of R. 10,997,000 from 1877 to 1893. This had reduced the capital stock of R. 15,000,000 to barely R. 4,000,000; though down to 1887 it was partly revived by State advances amounting to R. 4,100,000, which relief then ceased. Thanks to the State reinforcement, the capital stock was still as great as R. 7,400,000 at the beginning of 1894. The State has now transformed the R. 44,700,000 of outstanding mortgage bonds into three per cent. rentes; the bank is dissolved, and the shareholders receive the R. 7,400,000, or about equal to fifty per cent. of their stock.
The Pomestchik, or Proprietors of Large Estates.—No class had been more prompt to welcome the Eastern war, in 1877, than the great landed proprietors. In 1875, the paper rouble had risen to 90 per cent., the Imperial Bank had a considerable coin reserve, and Finance Minister Reutern entertained serious hopes of a speedy solution of the financial problem. But the export trade was imperiled; Odessa could no longer pay high prices for crops, when twenty francs brought only six roubles instead of eight. So a little war, with obligatory increase of paper currency exempt from extra tax, was the Pomestchik, or manorial, ideal; and it was shortly realized. The note circulation of the Bank of Russia rose from 715 to 1140 million roubles, and the rate of exchange fell all the more persistently because at the same time the Bank’s coin reserve had been materially reduced, and at the end of the war was only R. 120,000,000, or somewhat over ten per cent. of the circulation. Could the wholesale producer of grain wish anything better, especially as for full ten years after the war the rate of exchange kept sinking and sinking, and at last twenty francs brought not only eight, but even nine and ten roubles?
However, the sunny situation became gloomy with clouds. American harvests began to influence the grain market of Europe more and more perceptibly, and prices fell. Then, too, the Russian proprietor now had to pay 7½, 8, and even 9 paper roubles in interest and amortization rates on 100-rouble mortgage bonds, instead of 6 or 6½ roubles, as was the case before the war. (The bonds had been issued on a hard money basis.) This went against the grain in more ways than one; and the “poor” Pomestchik, or lords proprietors, pathetically exclaimed that the Eastern war, which they now said they had never approved, and the Nihilistic outrages, which they abominated, were ruining them and society. In other words, the State must assume their burden; as it gradually did. One step in this direction was the institution of the Bauernbank, or “Peasants’ Bank,” in 1882.
Peasants’ Bank.—There were wide complaints that the peasantry, in certain districts, had received too little land at the time of the emancipation in 1861; and in particular governments this was quite true. The general lot of the peasant class was therefore far from enviable; especially as the mir, or agricultural communes, by their periodical redistributions of land, prevented any properly individual ownership, with its promise of better farming. Moreover, the former serfs had come to hold the opinion that each new Czar ought to favor the peasantry by undertaking a fresh distribution of land; and this idea became so fixed in their minds that Alexander III., on the occasion of his coronation in May, 1883, invited six thousand peasant commune chiefs to Moscow, provided for their hospitable entertainment, and assured them, in a stately address, that their ideas, or the current rumors, in regard to his intentions were altogether erroneous. However, the Peasants’ Bank should liberally supply the rural population’s urgent needs of capital, and incidentally facilitate the sales of the large proprietors. The Peasants’ Bank, a strictly State institution, paid eighty per cent. of the price whenever there was a conveyance of land from the large proprietors to the peasants, and the latter paid, or failed to pay, the remaining twenty per cent. in cash. Of this, more anon. The acquisition of land might be either personal or collective and communal. Without entering into too many critical details, let it suffice to say that the defects of the plan, both at the start and now, some twelve years later, may be referred to the fundamental mistake of artificially raising the price of land at a time when American competition and other causes were bringing prices down. The peasants readily consented to pay what was asked without analyzing the market situation. At the most, they had to pay only one-fifth, and even this the seller would willingly throw off, as he generally had a pretty good bargain in the eighty per cent. paid by the State. The interest and amortization of the debt to the State should be discharged in 24½ or 34½ years. The results have been as follows:
By the end of 1893, 11,440 advances had been apportioned between 943,477 persons. In a word, the debts were mostly collective, and the mir, or communal system, still prevailed. The conveyances embraced 2,047,000 Russian dessiatines,* and the proceeds amounted to R. 89,600,000, of which the bank paid R. 70,333,000, and the remaining R. 19,250,000 were paid out of the buyers’ “own resources.” About R. 9,750,000 are bonded for 24½ years and R. 60,500,000 for 34½ years. The status of these debtors may be learned from the following official communication, which was published in connection with the “Act of Grace” on occasion of the Czar’s accession to the throne on November 26 (14), 1894:
“Since its institution, the Peasants’ Bank has loaned money at 5½ per cent. (without amortization or other charges), and has also issued bonds at this rate. Although since the end of last year the bank has converted its debt into 4½ per cent. bonds, and issued no more bonds at 5½ per cent., the annual payments of the bondholders could not be correspondingly canceled, since many of the latter were not in a position to meet their obligations. Their arrears increased, and they finally made over their land to the bank in default of payment. The bank is therefore subject to heavy losses, the extent of which may not be estimated even approximately, since the lands have not yet been sold. It was purposed to cover a part of the loss by fixing a higher rate of interest; but inasmuch as the imperial manifesto has decreed a reduction of interest by one per cent., the losses will fall upon the State.” At the close of 1894, the debt amounted to R. 63,016,796.
Other Mortgage-credit Associations.—We must return to the large estates and their banks. The Central Credit Bank, which was founded in 1873, soon succumbed, as we have seen, to adverse conditions of exchange, and its liquidation was to be completed by the end of 1895. Its older and greater companion, the Land Credit Company, had no shareholders. This, too, was paternally adopted by the State, which in 1885 assumed the guaranty of interest on the mortgage bonds, but at the same time reduced the rate from 5 to 4½ per cent. The amortization bonus (120 to 100) disappeared, as the new bonds were redeemed at par.
Titled Nobility Bank.—The Company was itself transmuted, in 1886, into a purely State “Aristocracy Bank,” and its plebeian patrons had to find other accommodations within five years, meanwhile paying one per cent. higher interest than the aristocracy. By January 1, 1889, after three years of activity, the bank had arrears to the amount of R. 4,900,000 on loans amounting to R. 170,000,000—that is, the arrears amounted to 46 per cent. of the annual charges. Advances in sums above R. 100,000 reached a total of 25 per cent.; in sums between R. 10,000 and R. 100,000, 66 per cent., and 9 per cent. for sums under R. 10,000. Manifestly, the State had done too little for its distinguished clients; but its omissions were made good by the ukase of October 30 (18), 1889, providing for the issue of a lottery loan of R. 80,000,000. As the lots of the two earlier issues (1864 and 1866) were quoted at 240, these new lots at 5 per cent. (though the rate was actually no more than 4¾ per cent., on account of a 5 per cent. tax on coupons) were offered at 215, payable within six months. The resultant enthusiasm was fairly unbounded; instead of 800,000 lots, over 26,000,000 were demanded, but the price soon fell, and payments were far from punctual.
The State Aristocracy, or Titled Nobility Bank was none the worse for these diversions. Most of the proceeds (R. 172,000,000) were turned over to the bank; and as it paid only three per cent. interest thereon, the interest on its own advances was forthwith reduced from 5 to 4½ per cent., with reactionary effect on all loans contracted within the preceding four years. After this, the bank paid R. 100 per bond, and not R. 98, as it had formerly done. The period of amortization was also lengthened from 48⅔ to 51¾ years for borrowers whose annual rate was ½ per cent.; from 367/10 to 38⅓ years where the rate was 1 per cent. At the same time, it was ruled that on and after May 1, 1890, the regulations of the bank should be strictly enforced. Events, however, ruled otherwise, for there came the famine of 1891; and the inaugural manifesto of 1894 granted the same grace to the noble debtors as to the peasants, both being equally brought low by debt and equally helpless to meet their obligations. A six months’ respite, or prorogation of debts, was allowed in case of estates forfeited to the Nobility Bank, as it was impracticable to sell them. An aristocracy bank may not sell estates to commoners, and there is nothing for it to do but exercise aristocratic patience toward its debtors. We summarize the condition of the bank’s affairs for 1893:
At the close of 1894, the claims of the Nobility Bank amounted to R. 468,000,000, of which about R. 117,000,000 had come over from the original institution and included loans to commoners. The Nobility Bank had by no means driven out private credit concerns, nor even seriously checked their activity. We shall proceed to illustrate this by official data, first remarking that the Nobility Bank simply facilitated the acquisition of debts, and (if we may make so bold), it disaccustomed people from the art of paying. The official data are as follows:
On January 1, 1895, the circulation of mortgage bonds was R. 1,530,000,000, including R. 87,600,000 payable in coin, and 7,200,000 German marks. Of the total circulation, R. 282,000,000 belonged to the Nobility Bank; R. 62,900,000 to the Peasants’ Bank, with interest reduced from 5½ to 4½ per cent.; and the remaining bonds, amounting to R. 1,185,100,000, were issued by private banks.
The latest returns of Other Land Companies show, in their latest published statements, the following amounts of mortgaged bonds outstanding:
The Bank of Kherson, a mutual liability company, R. 103,800,000; the ten joint-stock banks of Kharkov, Poltava, Tula, Moscow, Bessarabia, Samara, Kiev, Vilna, Yaroslavl, and Don have, unitedly, R. 506,100,000; five municipal credit companies, R. 374,700,000, distributed as follows: St. Petersburg, R. 179,900,000; Moscow, R. 125,500,000; Odessa, R. 56,200,000; Kiev, R. 10,100,000, and Cronstadt, R. 3,000,000; total, R. 374,700,000. Credit Company of the Kingdom of Poland, R. 117,500,000; Warsaw Credit Company, R. 41,600,000; four other Polish cities, R. 11,400,000; Esthonian Nobility Credit Company, R. 2,000,000 and 7,250,000 marks; Livonian Land Credit Company, R. 30,700,000; Courland Land Credit Company, R. 17,000,000 and R. 1,700,000 payable in coin; five Baltic cities, R. 29,000,000; City of Tiflis, R. 9,100,000, and two Nobility Banks of the Caucasus, R. 17,800,000. Leaving out of account the municipal banks, Peasants’ Bank, and the Polish institutions, we find that the total mortgage obligations on January 1, 1895, amounted to R. 1,164,500,000, against R. 654,400,000 on January 1, 1887; an increase of some R. 510,000,000, or nearly eighty per cent. in eight years. For the Nobility Bank alone there was an increase from R. 208,800,000 to R. 468,000,000, or nearly 124 per cent. In this instance, moreover, the value of the mortgaged property rose from 3070/100 to 3125/100 roubles per dessiatine; the total average increase being from 251/100 to 2612/100 roubles per dessiatine. In other words, the banks loaned more than before, although the decline in prices of crops would seem to have encouraged a contraction in the loan business. But it was necessary to compete effectually with the Nobility Bank; and thus the State subsidy stimulated running into debt. In May, 1894, the third, or socalled “third,” demand addressed to backward State debtors involved no less than nine per cent. of the aggregate estates mortgaged by the Nobility Bank. We have seen that a respite was granted in November, 1894.
The Land Credit banks cleared an annual average net profit of fifteen per cent. for the period 1888-92. The following are specimens of the dividends:
Kharkov, 13.8 per cent.; Poltava, 17.1 per cent.; Tula, 9.6 per cent.; Moscow, 16 per cent.; Bessarabia, 14.1 per cent.; Samara, 16.6 per cent.; Kiev, 19.4 per cent.; Vilna, 15.9 per cent.; Yaroslavl, 6.7 per cent., and Don, 14.8 per cent. The capital stock of these ten banks was R. 33,250,000 in 1888, R. 36,600,000 in 1892, and R. 41,600,000 at the close of 1894. Their net profits in 1894 were R. 7,580,687, or 18.2 per cent.
We have had occasion to speak of the Czar’s inaugural ukase, with its large concessions to debtors. The abatement of ½ per cent. annual interest to the nobles and peasants implies an inevitable expansion of the State budget; and this begins to assert itself in the case of the Nobility Bank whenever the loans increase by R. 42,000,000. The Nobility Bank was to assist in lightening the burdens of its customers, which office it discharged by paying on their account R. 212,000,000 to other banks, and loaning them 112 millions in cash. Meanwhile, had the debts on landed property decreased at private banks? They had increased by R. 217,000,000.
Before the emancipation of the serfs, the estates of aristocratic landowners, with a serf population of 5,000,000 “male souls,” were mortgaged to the amount of R. 328,000,000 to the State Bank. This amount was then converted, at the emancipation, into a bonded debt redeemable in forty-nine years by the liberated peasantry. The only land credit concerns regularly operative in Russia were those of Poland and the Baltic Provinces; and as late as 1869, the total mortgage debt was not above R. 117,000,000. In 1874, it was R. 335,000,000; R. 511,000,000 in 1879; R. 617,000,000 in 1884; R. 930,000,000 in 1889; and, as we have seen, some R. 1,530,000,000 in 1894. The liberation debt of the peasants is not included in the foregoing figures. On January 1, 1893, it amounted to R. 716,000,000, and after an abatement of R. 183,250,000, granted by the State on sundry occasions, it still amounts to more than R. 532,000,000. Under the item of emancipation, the State has paid the noble proprietors R. 572,000,000 in mortgage bonds, R. 6,000,000 in cash, and R. 316,000,000 in the way of canceled debts; a round total of R. 900,000,000. The arrears of the peasant communes for emancipation dues are locally as high at 300 per cent. of the annual charges; so it is no hard matter to understand the State’s frequent practice of canceling back accounts. The end is perhaps not yet.
According to a publication of Mr. Golubov, Secretary of the Committee of Land Mortgage Banks, the mortgage indebtedness for the period 1889-94, was as follows:
The average loan for each dessiatine of land was 24 roubles and 90 copecks in 1889; 26 roubles and 13 copecks for 1894.
We come now to the Savings-Banks. A new law concerning them went into force on June 1 (13), 1895. Its main provisions are as follows: The State shall assume the responsibility for all sums deposited, and “these are not to be used toward defraying the general expenses of the State” (Art. 2). Deposits cannot be attached except by judicial order. The funds of savings-banks are to be turned over to the State Bank, which shall pay on them a rate of interest less by at least ½ of 1 per cent. than that paid upon sight draft accounts, but never less than ½ of 1 per cent. per annum. The funds are to be invested in State securities or in securities guaranteed by the State. The surplus is to be turned into a reserve fund until the latter amounts to ten per cent. of the deposits held on December 31st of the year last past. Such profits as may yet remain are to be carried to the credit of the Treasury as a budgetary receipt (Art. 9). On the other hand, if the profits are not sufficient to pay the interest due to depositors the State will make up the difference (Art. 10). The limit of interest-bearing specie deposits is R. 1000 for an individual and R. 3000 for a corporation. If this limit is passed, interest ceases on the whole of the specie deposit in that account. Notice is thereupon sent to the depositor, and if, at the end of a month, he has not reduced his deposit within the legal limit, the surplus will be invested in State securities for his account (Art. 35). The rate of interest paid to depositors is to be fixed from time to time by imperial decree (Art. 43). When any account has not been increased or drawn upon for thirty years it becomes the property of the savings-bank (Art. 52).
It is yet to be seen what measure of success these reforms may have. On January 1, 1894, the number of savings-banks under the management of the State Bank was eighty-six, and their deposits aggregated R. 287,500,000, of which R. 260,400,000 was in ordinary savings-banks, and R. 27,100,000 in “postal banks.” The provinces of St. Petersburg and Moscow appear in this total for R. 40,800,000 (14 1-5 per cent.); the five provinces of the north, for R. 13,500,000 (4.68 per cent.); the six provinces of the east, for R. 28,900,000 (10.05 per cent.); the seven provinces of the manufacturing districts of the interior, for R. 46,300,000 (16.11 per cent.); the nine provinces of the Terre Noire, for R. 48,900,000 (17.01 per cent.); Little Russia (three provinces), for R. 15,100,000 (5.24 per cent.); the three Baltic provinces, for R. 9,500,000 (3.31 per cent.); the six provinces of the northwest, for R. 14,900,000 (5.17 per cent.); the three provinces of the southwest, for R. 13,700,000 (4.76 per cent.), and the six provinces of the south, for R. 23,700,000 (8.14 per cent.). This makes for European Russia, properly so called, R. 255,300,000, or 88.67 per cent. of the whole. Of the 11⅓ per cent. remaining there were R. 8,750,000 in the ten provinces of the Vistula; R. 13,100,000 in Caucasia and Transcaucasia, and R. 10,333,000 in Asiatic Russia.
On April 1, 1894, the various social classes were represented among the depositors thus: Agriculture and trades closely allied with it, 241,636 depositors, representing R. 51,100,000; trades-people of the cities, 101,593 depositors, with R. 14,700,000; the mill and factory classes, 83,039 depositors, with R. 11,250,000; domestic servants, 125,959 depositors, with R. 19,800,000; the commercial classes, 123,250 depositors, with R. 20,900,000; soldiers, 72,302 depositors, with R. 12,100,000; Government employees, 95,949 depositors, with R. 21,100,000; personal servants, 119,992 depositors, with R. 22,300,000; all other classes, 281,476 depositors, with R. 61,600,000; and corporations, 112,025, with R. 35,200,000. There were altogether, therefore, on April 1, 1894, 1,357,221 depositors, with an aggregate of R. 270,050,000, or an average of R. 198.97.
The monthly savings-bank report of June 1, 1895, puts the number of these banks at 3,388, the number of depositors at 1,746,309, and the total deposits at R. 350,125,000. Between January 1st and June 1st of that year the savings-banks increased by 198, the depositors by 91,417, and the deposits by R. 14,600,000.
SMALL CREDIT INSTITUTIONS.
We turn now to the examination of a new species of credit institution of very recent origin. The “Messager Officiel” of June 17 (29), 1895, publishes the text of an order of the Council of State, approved by the Emperor on June 1st (13th), authorizing the establishment of institutions for “small credits,” in whose behalf the State Bank will open special credits for the formation of their capital. From the regulations drawn up for the management of these institutions, it appears that they are to be of the following classes: (1) Credit associations; (2) credit and savings associations; (3) commercial or savings banks of rural communes, of bailiwicks, or of Cossack villages (Stanitsas). The Commission, whose duty it was to draw up rules for these institutions, had before it the task of erecting, in the midst of the rural population, a type of credit establishment which should meet the wants of small tradesmen without demanding of them advances from their own resources. To this end, and also to avoid the defects which the practical working of existing credit and savings societies for the past thirty years has shown to exist in them, the new law establishes credit institutions whose working capital shall be furnished by the State Bank under the guaranty of all who share their benefits. Nevertheless, these socieities may, if they wish, be established upon a capital furnished by provincial councils (Zemstvos), or by individuals. If the capital is supplied by the State Bank, the direct management of the institution is with the Bank or its branches, whose agents superintend the business of the enterprise, the management of its affairs, the stockholders’ meetings, etc.; they have a right also to discharge or to prosecute such employees as may be guilty of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office. This same privilege belongs to representatives of provincial councils or agents of individuals who may have furnished the funds necessary for the establishment of one of the new credit institutions. The profits of these institutions are not to be paid out in dividends but are to be used to furnish a capital which shall belong to the institutions themselves.
Its Small Beginnings and Rapid Development—Wholesome Influence of the Finance Minister—An Imperial Warning Against Speculative Excesses—Conservative Counsels from the “Journal de St. Petersbourg”—A Lesson from the Minister of Finance.
IN 1856, the dealings upon the St. Petersburg Bourse comprised only the following items: Exchange on London, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and Paris; under the heading of public funds, one six per cent. and two five per cent. loans; the securities of sixteen corporations, including: The Russo-American Company (dissolved in 1868 as a result of the sale of Alaska to the United States); three fire insurance companies; three maritime insurance companies; one mineral-water company; one cotton-spinning corporation; one Volga navigation company; one company accepting goods on storage and in pledge; and the St. Petersburg-Zarskoe-Selo Railroad Company, with a line 16⅔ miles in length. This was not an extensive showing. By April, 1862, however, there were upon the official list eleven public loans; the bonds of the Crédit Foncier of St. Petersburg; the 5½ per cent. bills of the State Bank and various 4½ per cent. railroad bonds; the stocks of five fire insurance companies; twelve shipping companies, four railroad companies, etc.; in all, thirty-seven different issues. To emphasize the unimportance of the Bourse of those days, we have but to recall the fact that, in 1860, the “Gazette de la Bourse” suspended publication during eighteen consecutive days; for throughout all of Holy Week and Easter Week, and up to the following Tuesday, the Bourse was closed. Ordinarily, it was open only on two days of the week, Tuesday and Friday, and then only from four to five o’clock; for the prices of merchandise and securities dependence was placed mainly on advices from Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, and especially from Berlin. It is so no longer. Since 1872, the Bourse has been open six days in the week, every day; that is to say, except Saturday. It must not be inferred from this that the Jewish element is predominant on the St. Petersburg Bourse; on the contrary, the Jews have always been less prominent there than in other money markets. Moreover, during the last few years, the Bourse has been open on Saturdays, as it is elsewhere. On December 30, 1878, the Bourse dealings represented four issues of five per cent. bank bills; sixteen classes of public securities, including guaranteed railroad bonds; fifty-nine series of mortgage bonds (issued by cities and provinces); the shares of twenty-five commercial and ten foncier banks; the shares of about twenty manufacturing and fifteen insurance companies; the stock of twenty-one and the bonds of five navigation companies; the shares of thirty-six railroads, and the bonds of twenty-four.
At the close of 1890, there were in all Russia:
The important transactions looking to the reduction of interest on Government loans, the purchase of railroads by the State and its refunding of their obligations, which went on from 1889 to 1894, gave to the St. Petersburg Bourse a wholly new bearing, and brought to it business of an importance previously unknown. It is a well-established fact that a country which has need of foreign capital is not in a position to hold a commanding place among either the money or security markets of the world. Nevertheless, there have been several instances in recent years in which countries thus situated have persuaded themselves that they were able to declare their independence of the real money markets of London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Frankfort. Between the close of 1893 and the close of 1894, this emancipation on Russia’s part was specially pronounced. Even the death of the Czar Alexander III. did not arrest it. One circumstance peculiar to Russia has greatly aided the emancipation. Ever since M. de Witte has been at the head of the Finance Department he has exerted himself to put an end to speculation in exchange, and on several occasions he has made special efforts in this direction. The speculators have finally taken him at his word and have devoted themselves with the greater ardor to stocks and securities paying a fixed rate of interest. As proof of this may be cited the prices of the shares of a few banking and other corporations as they were quoted on December 31, 1893, and December 31, 1894, respectively:
This upward tendency became so much more pronounced in January, 1895, that the Government, in its solicitude for the public welfare, felt constrained to warn its subjects of the dangerous path they were treading, declaring at the same time that it could afford them no assistance, but relied upon their own wisdom and foresight. The effect of that appeal was only temporary. Those who deal upon the Bourse are always confident that the storm will not reach them or that they will be under cover when it breaks; so the ministerial admonition was little heeded. On August 1, 1895, the majority of shares were much higher than they had been eight months earlier, as will appear from the following comparative quotations:
The months of July and August were signalized by a remarkable advance in prices; a very decided reaction followed during the second half of the latter month; and yet on August 31st (September 12th) the quotations were as follows: The private bank, 595 to 600; Discount Bank, 875 to 868; the International, 712 to 719; Bank of Foreign Commerce, 537 to 533; Volga-Kama, 1320 to 1300; Azof-Don, 720 to 728; Warsaw, 536 to 537; the foncier bank Bessarabia-Taurida, 680; Vilna, 655; Kharkov, 530 to 535; the Insurance Company of 1827, 1600; the Second Insurance Company, 370; Rossia, 440 to 450; the Rybinsk-Bologoë Railway, 179; the Southeastern, 190 to 191. Three days later, on September 2d (14th), at the date of the last quotation, we have seen as we bring this chapter to a close, the Discount Bank had gone down still more, to 840; the International, to 703 to 685; the Volga-Kama, to 1285, etc. Nevertheless, in its monthly bulletin of the Bourse, published on September 3d (15th), the “Journal de St. Petersbourg,” which has always been very conservative, stated that the downward tendency had been brought about partly by the scarcity of money, but more especially by undue speculation in the shares of new concerns having as yet no actual existence; and it added:
“After numerous fluctuations in both directions, the majority of speculative shares are still considerably above par. After the great advance they have enjoyed, a retrograde movement was inevitable. Nevertheless, the downward tendency of these shares, all things considered, is of slight importance; for, the great public, which, for the last two years, has been the dominant factor upon the Bourse, always favors a rising market, and it will probably not fail to return to the charge at the first favorable opportunity.”
Dealing upon the Bourse in Russia is greatly facilitated by certain practices to which the independent banks lend themselves. Elsewhere (in Austria, for example) it has been made a reproach to these institutions that they carry accounts for dealers and allow speculators for a rise to deposit in their hands those shares whose prices they wish to put up or sustain. In Russia that practice is disguised under the name of “call loans.” This is a transaction to which reference has been made in our chapter on banks. Calls loans, as the term is understood in Russia, are loans in the form of accounts current guaranteed by securities or other valuables (including even real estate and mere personal security), which loans may be called in at any moment after six hours’ notice, or a notice of three or four or five days, as the case may be. The minimum interest on call loans is generally above that paid by the State. Thus, during the latter half of 1888 it varied between 6 and 8 per cent.; in 1889, between 4½ and 8; in 1890, between 4½ and 7; in 1891, between 4 and 8; the same in 1892, and in 1893, between 4 and 7 per cent., whereas during those same years the interest paid by the State Bank on accounts current subject to cheque was only once as high as 3.6 per cent. (from September 3, 1888, to March 30, 1889), and for the remainder of the time it was between 1½ and 3 per cent. The “Bulletin Russe de Statistique,” which we have previously mentioned, in speaking of this subject calls attention to the fact that in Russia money loaned for a short term brings in a larger return than that invested in funded securities, which is precisely the opposite of the rule elsewhere. It adds that the banks find call loans to be very profitable, and that they often employ in this way nearly all the money they hold subject to cheque.
The downward tendency that had begun in August was even more pronounced in September. The Government felt called upon to set itself right upon the subject. In a country where the granting of credit is entirely a State function, and where everything centers in the State, it was altogether natural that speculation should demand of it aid and succor in the shape of new issues of paper money. The Minister of Finance had the courage to refuse such aid and to leave speculation to its own devices, holding that the well-being of the State or of the community was in nowise dependent upon a high quotation for banking shares and for the stocks of a few industrial concerns. He explained his position in an official note, inspired by sound principles, which shows that the guardianship assumed by an absolute government sometimes appears to it extremely onerous. As a declaration of sound canons of finance the document may merit reproduction here.
“SPECULATION AND THE SCARCITY OF MONEY.
“The further sudden decline in the security market toward the middle of last week was not unexpected. On several different occasions the ‘Journal du Ministère des Finances’ has pointed out the probable consequences of the stock exchange game which has grown to such dimensions in the last year and a half, and has called attention to the abnormal inflation of prices in a series of securities listed upon the Bourse. This is not the first time facts have confirmed its predictions. Unfortunately, neither warnings nor the sad experience of heavy losses is sufficient to deter speculative amateurs, lured by the irresistible bait of prompt and easy gain, from intrusting their means, often very limited, to the hands of skillful players.
“Everybody knows that there is no game at which all can win; it is always the rule that some win, while others inevitably lose. The stock exchange game is managed by those who know all the sinuosities, while the inexperienced public, allured by the hope of gain, furnishes the means necessary to keep the game going. Evidently in such a game the winners will be invariably those who direct it—men who thoroughly understand the game and know how to take advantage of the people’s ignorance of it—while the unsophisticated, trusting public always loses in the end and so finds itself punished for its unwise desire to gain wealth quickly, easily, and without labor. Yet, in spite of the absolute certainty of the truth of these statements, in spite of the constant teaching of experience and repeated warnings, there are always persons seeking to make their fortune at the game and intrusting their savings to agents for this purpose.
“Some there are who think that industrial progress bears a steady relation to speculative activity; that while some of the new enterprises which spring up during such activity come to grief afterward, others, more substantial, live and grow, and the net result is a national gain though some investors must inevitably lose. Admitting that this is true, and that we are now in the midst of an industrial revival such as is always accompanied by failures which it is not to the national interest to prevent, still we cannot refrain from declaring that the speculation now rampant upon our Bourse, against which we have continually warned the confiding, inexperienced public, and which, as a matter of conscience, we always shall oppose, has not the slightest connection with the upbuilding of any new enterprise. This speculation is concerned chiefly with a certain small class of securities, to which new additions are made from time to time. The prices of these securities fluctuate violently and often reach a height out of all proportion to the income produced by the shares. The fact is, that it is a pure game of chance, played, too, by some who have very small stakes invested through the agency of banks or other intermediaries, and that no account is taken of the real situation of the enterprises whose stocks are speculative favorites. All kinds of false reports are circulated to put up the price of these securities, and the establishments accept orders at a loss in order to give color to their claims of growth and activity; then, when the shares have found their market among the public, the owners of the enterprise, whether it has been long in existence or has newly sprung up, abandon it. For them its usefulness is over, and they go in search of a new enterprise of like kind. What is there about all this that savors of a renewal of industrial activity? Certainly it is desirable that small savings seek investment in industrial undertakings, but transactions of this kind keep them out of such investments by encouraging a passion for foolish gambling, for which amateurs always pay dearly in the end. The facts prove the truth of these assertions.
“This is the third time recently that securities, especially those in which speculation is most active, have suffered a sharp decline. The fall was especially severe on September 22d and October 4th. Some attribute this to the scarcity of money. Let us see what foundation there is for that claim. It is true that in the fall, when the greater part of our agricultural products come to market, the demand for money increases and the cash in the banks generally decreases for a while. But it should be noted: (1) That the crops of all kinds this year, according to preliminary forecasts, are less abundant than last year; and (2) that the ruling price of grain is generally supposed to be too low, in view of the probable demand, and sales have been very limited; farmers have sold only so much of their cereals as was necessary to provide them with money for their actual needs. Moreover, the exports this fall have not only been less than those of last fall, but less even than those of the summer.
“On the other hand, all needful steps looking to an increase of the circulation were taken in due time. One-rouble silver pieces previously held in reserve have been put in circulation, and the Bank has been authorized to issue the gold belonging to its reserve fund. Thus, every provision has been made to meet an increased demand for money. If in spite of these precautions money is found to be so scarce that some have been compelled to sell their securities in order to obtain it, this scarcity has not arisen out of any commercial demand for money, which, on the contrary, is less than it usually is at this time of year; the scarcity is due to the speculation which has had such an extraordinary development recently upon our public bourses and upon clandestine bourses as well, drawing into the game not only the citizens of the capitals, but also, and to even a greater extent, the inhabitants of the provinces.
“We have merely to place side by side various quotations of those securities on which speculation thrives in order to show the remarkable and absolutely senseless advance scored by many of them in a comparatively short space of time. Let us look at a few of those securities. The shares of the Mills of Briansk (quoted at R. 130 in January, 1894, these shares gradually rose to R. 550 in August, 1895, and then went down to R. 450 on October 5th); the shares of the Mills of Poutivl (R. 75 in January, 1894, R. 180 in September, 1895, R. 130 on October 4th); those of Sormovo (R. 175, R. 370, R. 310, on October 4th); the shares of the Société des Mines d’Or (R. 100, R. 420, R. 400, on October 4th). As to this last company, nobody knows as yet what kind of showing its first balance-sheet will make, nor is anything known with any degree of certainty concerning the extent of the company’s operations. This, then, is simply a case of betting on a rise, with no guide to go by.
“The shares of the Russian Bank of Foreign Commerce, quoted at R. 330 on January 3, 1894, went to R. 534 on August 1, 1895, only to fall sharply to R. 500 by October 4th. Shares of the Discount Bank advanced during the same time from R. 490 to R. 880, and fell back to R. 800 on October 4th. The shares of the International Bank of St. Petersburg and of the Volga-Kama Bank of Commerce have likewise been subject to considerable fluctuations; the former went from (R. 498 to R. 725, and then back to R. 680, while the latter went from R. 905 to R. 1375, and fell suddenly to R. 1290.
“Glancing over the balance-sheets of these banks, we notice that accounts current ‘on call’ and credits opened with correspondents of the banks, which are mainly secured by collaterals not guaranteed by the State, make up the main part of their business. In one of the large banks of St. Petersburg credits of this kind constitute sixty per cent. of the total business, while commercial transactions constitute barely ten per cent. If we add the fact that banking institutions engage largely in rehypothecation, we may form some idea of the extent to which speculation is carried on. In comparison with the enormous sums necessary to keep this speculation alive, the amount of money demanded for commercial needs is absolutely insignificant. Here, then, is the real cause of the scarcity of money. Last year, though the demand for money on the part of exporters was greater than now, it was not necessary to have recourse to a supplementary issue of bills of credit; but speculation at that time was far less active than it is at present.
“But people do not confine themselves to declaring that money is scarce (that scarcity, if it existed, would be due to speculation on the Bourse, as we have shown above); some advise a new issue of bills of credit in order to lessen the damage caused by speculation. This advice seems to us as ill-founded as the notion of the artless public that it is possible to deal upon the Bourse with no risk of loss.
“What is the meaning of the term ‘scarcity of money’? Money becomes scarce in the market whenever too large a part of our available resources have been invested in merchandise so that they are locked up until the merchandise can be sold. When such a state of affairs arises in a country with a proper form of circulation, the demand for money causes an influx from neighboring countries having a greater abundance. In this manner money is secured with more or less difficulty, and the temporary embarrassment is promptly ended. On the contrary, countries that have a fiduciary circulation not current elsewhere, and which are in this respect cut off from other countries, experience in such cases monetary disturbances which are hard to quell. A new issue of bills of credit, by satisfying the temporary demand for money, appears for a time to ameliorate the situation, but as soon as specie is once more plentiful new difficulties arise, producing on the one hand an increase in the price of goods, and on the other a decrease in the purchasing power of money.
“Besides, each new issue of bills of credit serves, first of all, as fuel for speculation, and speculation is an enemy to the common weal because it leads to stock-jobbing, to the enrichment of a few persons by means for which there is no justification, and to the ruin of most of the other participants. If we take into consideration the further fact that it is generally a very difficult matter to withdraw these temporary issues (witness the fact that for fear of unsettling the money market we have not yet consigned to the fire the R 75,000,000 of bills of credit issued under a gold guaranty), we shall have a clear understanding, both of the uselessness of these issues and of their harmful effects. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding all the issues hitherto made, we still feel the lack of money every time the demand for it becomes a little brisk.
“What, then, in its final analysis, is the advice given by that large class of persons who trace the cause of all our troubles to the lack of new issues of paper money and demand that such issues be made? They act as one who should advise a doctor to administer poison to a patient, as a sedative, during the crisis of his disease, with the result of complicating the malady, when a regular and hygienic course of treatment would have brought the patient back to his normal state and resulted in a complete cure. We are advised, in fact, to stir up further trouble in the money market and to furnish additional supplies to the speculation whose baleful effects have never been more acutely felt than now. Suppose that by supplying this additional means of speculation we should save certain overbold speculators from loss, is it not evident that others, less expert, would meet with reverses rendered all the greater by the very fact that the day of settlement was postponed? Is it advisable, for the sake of results so unsatisfactory, to disarrange our monetary circulation and all legitimate business by further complicating, through a new issue of paper money, a system which even now is highly unsatisfactory? The need of regulating our monetary system by the re-establishment of a metallic circulation is an urgent one. Our Finance Ministers and far-seeing statesmen have long been waiting impatiently for a moment propitious for the change.
“Our Finance Department has just entered upon a series of measures tending to establish among us at last a sound and healthful monetary circulation, the lack of which paralyzes every branch of our domestic economy. It is not to be supposed, then, that that department, after having felt impelled to find some way out of the anomalous situation which has continued so long, and after having actually decided upon the preliminary steps, will turn back again, even temporarily, to the very devices which caused the trouble and which have long been condemned both by experience and by a knowledge of the normal conditions of national life.
“Finally, the real needs of commerce do not demand recourse to a supplementary issue of paper money. By legalizing transactions in gold; by putting into circulation from the large reserves accumulated by the State Bank gold enough to supply the needs of commerce and industry; by issuing metallic receipts for our people, who are accustomed to handling only paper money; by placing in circulation, for convenience in small transactions, silver of standard weight and fineness taken from the Bank’s reserve—by all these various means there have been placed in circulation, not a fixed quantity of monetary signs as was the case when supplementary issues of paper money were made, but precisely that quantity for which there was a real need. Another important advantage of this system is that the withdrawal of this circulating medium will be effected without any difficulty and in the exact proportion in which the demand for money grows less, because specie always flows back into its strong-boxes when money becomes plentiful in the market.
“If we are not yet accustomed to the use of gold money because it has so long been out of circulation among us, that is a defect that time will cure. The value of the credit-rouble has been so stable during the last few years that even in transacting business with foreigners our merchants have ceased to protect themselves by a purchase of credit bills on time, as was formerly their custom, in order to avoid loss in the exchange. There is reason to hope that before long transactions will be concluded directly in Russian gold coin, at a fixed valuation and for long terms. It is certain that confidence in the fixity of the exchange rate, and in the possibility of exchanging at any moment at such fixed rate bills of credit against gold roubles, is not far in the future. And then our first aim will have been attained, that of giving greater elasticity to our monetary circulation.”
THE PRECIOUS METALS.
Paucity of Statistics—Production of Gold and Silver—Regulation of Coinage—Relative Values of Coins—Operations of the Mint.
STATISTICS running back over any considerable length of time are always to be received with caution, and this is particularly true of Russian statistics, because the official publications of the country date back only about thirty years; and of all Russian statistics, those relating to the production of the precious metals and to dealings in them are least worthy of implicit confidence, because there enter into them so many elements, all tending to obscure the truth. Suffice it to recall the fact that all dealings in gold dust are there prohibited, and that this prohibition gives rise to all manner of fraudulent and illegal traffic. Nevertheless, in 1861, M. Tarassenko-Otreschkow, an old officer of the Commissary Department of the army, who had taken part in the siege of Sebastopol, and had afterward devoted himself to the study of economic questions, entered upon that new vocation by the publication of a book entitled “Production of Gold and Silver in Russia,” and treating of the production, importation, and exportation of those metals. We should be sorry to speak disrespectfully of a worthy man deceased for twenty-five years, but in view of what we have said above, we cannot accept as of any great authenticity the information contained in a book whose author, while he was unquestionably a most conscientious man, was not in a position to estimate at its proper value the information he had collected.
So much being premised by way of reservation, we may say that, according to the statement of Narcissus Tarassenko-Otreschkow, silver mining in Russia dates from about 1704, and gold mining from 1745. Between these dates and January 1, 1825, the total production of the precious metals was R. 110,804,540, or F. 443,218,160. The minute exactness of these figures, referring to a period not distinguished for precision, furnishes in itself food for reflection, and we do not insist upon their accuracy. During the reign of the Emperor Nicolas I., from 1825 to 1855, the mines produced R. 360,103,480 (F. 1,440,413,920), and from January 1, 1855, to January 1, 1860, R. 120,000,000 (F. 480,000,000); making a total for the three periods of about R. 591,000,000 (F. 2,364,000,000). The author places the average annual production of gold at 1500 poods (a pood being equal to 16⅓ kilograms), of the value of about R. 20,000,000, and the average annual production of silver at 1000 poods, worth R. 951,000; making a total annual production of R. 21,000,000 (F. 84,000,000). During the thirty-five years, 1825-1860, there were mined only R. 480,000,000, or an average of only R. 13,000,000 per year. Finally, for the last three years of his epoch, M. Tarassenko-Otreschkow makes the following detailed statement:
This makes, he says, a value of about R. 23,000,000 per year. The coinage at the St. Petersburg mint in 1857 was R. 27,200,000; in 1858, R. 22,200,000, and in 1859, R. 23,700,000; making a total of R. 73,100,000. The importations for those three years were, respectively, R. 8,800,000, R. 6,600,000, and R. 2,800,000; a total of R. 18,200,000. The exportations were, respectively, R. 23,700,000, R. 30,800,000, and R. 28,600,000; a total of R. 83,100,000. The exports exceeded the imports, therefore, by R. 64,900,000. We may add that from 1825 to 1860 Russia received from abroad in payment of trade balances R. 100,000,000. At this point we may dismiss these citations, whose value is purely archæological. There can be no doubt that during the years immediately following the Crimean war and the Peace of Paris (1856), a number of events conspired to cause a large exportation of the precious metals from Russia. We need only recall what we have previously said about the abundance of paper money, and bear in mind these two facts: that immediately after the war heavy purchases of all kinds were made abroad, and that a large number of Russians, whom the war had kept at home, left the country after it was over, taking considerable sums of money with them.
We have also seen how, as part of the plan of establishing a metallic currency in 1862, R. 100,000,000 were brought into Russia by a foreign loan of £15,000,000, and with what rapidity it went out again at the end of eighteen months. We have described, further, how from 1868 to 1875, as a result of railway loans, for which the State became responsible, the precious metals, and especially gold, were heaped up in the vaults of the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg, and under what pressure arising out of the Eastern war of 1877-8 and the issue of R. 400,000,000 of new bills by the State Bank, this fund was depleted in its turn. Lastly, we have passed in review the series of fortunate events—notably the debt conversions and an excess of exportations over importations—as a result of which the metallic holdings of the Government have once more been restored, in 1895, to about R. 600,000,000. But we have no hesitancy in declaring that no reliable information is to be had as to the production of the precious metals in Russia prior to 1876. In 1894, however, there was issued by the Finance Department a table showing the production of gold from 1877 to 1893. From this it appears that, during those 17 years, the mines of Russia produced R. 477,793,862; that the largest production of any year (R. 33,000,000) was that of 1893, amounting in weight to 2343 poods 6 livres 14 zolotniks 47 dolei;* that the smallest production of any year was that of 1891, a little more than 1052 poods, valued at R. 14,374,720.
During the same period, the mints issued to individuals, in pieces of R. 10 (impériales), R. 5 (demi-impériales), and R. 3 (ducats), R. 54,000,000; to the Emperor’s private treasury, R. 2,167,655; to the fisc (Imperial Treasury), R. 17,636,855, and to the State Bank, R. 324,882,687. The Bank also received R. 124,845,914 in bars, and medals were struck for public institutions and individuals to the value of R. 1,712,867. Putting these sums together, we find that the R. 477,793,862 produced by the mines somehow becomes R. 525,000,000. But it is to be remembered that the production is estimated in fine gold, while the coinage was of a fineness of only 11/12 until 1886, and of 9/10 since that date. The mintage during those seventeen years was as follows, in millions and tenths of millions of roubles:
A brief official table has been issued for 1894 placing the production of that year at 36,312¾ kilograms of fine gold, of the value of F. 125,070,797 (R. 31,250,000); the export of bars at 60 3-5 kilos; the export of Russian gold coin at 53¼ kilos, and the export of foreign gold coin at 48,512½ kilos, the kilogram being estimated at F. 3444½. The imports are estimated to have been 899 3-5 kilos of bars; 43 4-5 kilos of Russian coin, and 140,373¼ kilos of foreign coin. Thus the imports aggregated 141,317 kilos, against 48,626 kilos of exports, a difference of 92,691 kilos, which, at F. 3444½ per kilo, amounts to F. 319,273,149. The imports of manufactures of gold, which should be deducted from this sum, aggregated F. 1,500,000. The gold used in the arts was 8027 1-5 kilos, of the value of F. 27,600,000; the gold coinage aggregated F. 12,000,420, consisting of 1007 impériales (R. 10) and 598,007 demi-impériales (R. 5), having, together, a gross weight of 3871 1-5 kilos and a net weight of 34841/10 kilos.
As for the production of silver, which has never been very great in Russia, an official table informs us that in 1894 it amounted to 8,578,641 kilos, of a value of R. 1,906,774½; that the exports were 155,717 1-5 kilos in bars, 31 3-5 kilos in Russian coin, and 5111/10 kilos in foreign coin, a total exportation of 156,259 kilos, besides manufactured articles of a value of F. 224,912. The importations were 500,491½ kilos in bars, 657 kilos in Russian coin, 8878 kilos in foreign coin, and manufactured articles to the value of F. 1,182,682. In the arts were used 137,338 kilograms of fine silver, valued at F. 30,500,000. There were coined 3000 one-rouble pieces 9/10 fine, and 3,000,000 smaller coins (10-copeck pieces) 5/10 fine. The silver production of Russia for the six years, 1887-92, is officially estimated at 5015½ poods, as follows: 939 poods in 1887, 924 in 1888, 846 in 1889, 889 in 1890, 838 in 1891, and 579½ in 1892.
Russia’s part in the international movements of the precious metals in recent years has naturally been very considerably affected by the great depreciation of silver on the one hand, and on the other by Russia’s extensive conversions of debts held abroad, necessitating large gold movements. The following official table shows the imports and exports of gold during the last twenty-four years:
For the whole of the twenty-four years the importations were R. 421,670,000, and the exportations, R. 539,541,000, a difference of R. 117,871,000. It is needless to say that that difference would have been much larger but for the fact that the last four years of the series alone show imports aggregating nearly R. 300,000,000, against R. 38,500,000 of exports.
Another official publication, which appeared in 1894, shows the movements of the precious metals, bullion, and specie during the seven previous years (1887-93), from which we quote merely the totals, with this word of explanation, that in returning bullion and specie under the same heading, 100 poods of coin has been reckoned as the equivalent of ninety poods in bars.
The following table gives the like facts concerning silver:
The coinage of silver has always been of two kinds: that of standard fineness (9/10), and that serving merely for small change, which, previous to January 1, 1867, was coined to represent seventy-five per cent. of its nominal value, but since that date, only fifty per cent. It is needless to say that, for many years, silver coins in Russia, as elsewhere, have not been worth the amounts inscribed upon them. The silver rouble is to-day a depreciated coin, like the pieces of 50, 25, or 10 copecks, with merely this difference, that the proportion of silver contained in it is forty per cent. greater than that contained in the smaller coins (90 per cent. as against 50). With this explanation, we may state that from January 1, 1860, to September 30, 1894, the St. Petersburg mint coined silver of standard fineness (9/10) to the value of R. 34,780,529¼; subsidiary silver coins to the value of R. 127,944,847.10; and copper to the value of R. 8,571,928.34. The recoinage is not included in these figures. For the same years (1860-94), it aggregated R. 24,500,000 in pieces 9/10 fine, and R. 20,500,000 in subsidiary coins. During the same period of thirty-five years the mintage of coins less than a rouble has consisted of 83.7 millions of 20-copeck pieces, 35 millions of 15-copeck pieces, 14.5 millions of 10-copeck pieces, and 2.2 millions of 5-copeck pieces, a total of 135.4 millions of subsidiary coins, of which 7,725,000 pieces were coined abroad and the remainder in Russia.
Russia is not, any more than other countries, proof against counterfeiters. It has even been said that the counterfeiting of Russian bills of credit has developed into a regular business in various foreign lands. There is nothing astonishing about this, for the more extensive any country is, the greater the ease with which a large number of counterfeit bank bills may be circulated in it before the authorities become aware of the fact. We accept, then, merely as a minimum the figures contained in an official table and purporting to show that the amount of counterfeit Bills of Credit put in circulation between 1879 and 1893 was only R. 1,312,189.
THOSE who have never had any experience of a circulation with an enforced legal-tender quality do not know, cannot even imagine, the uncertainties introduced into every business transaction by variations in the rate of exchange. In the first instance, only foreign commerce appears to be affected, and no harm seems to result except to importers who buy foreign goods on credit and do not know what amount of depreciated currency they must put aside against the day of settlement, to pay a debt contracted in francs, pounds, or marks. The domestic producer appears, for his part, to have no concern in the matter; he may even congratulate himself on the fact that the depreciation of the national currency, as measured in foreign money, affords him protection in addition to that furnished by the import duties, and enables him to sell his goods without fear of competition from abroad. But his joy and his profits are transitory. We have seen above, in our allusions to the Crédit Foncier, that Russian farmers were very well satisfied with the depreciation of the rouble caused by the Eastern war of 1877-8, making it possible for them to sell their grain at a higher price, or rather, to get a larger number of roubles for it. But we have seen also that the necessity which the depreciation of the rouble imposed upon these same farmers of paying seven or eight, or even nine roubles per year, as interest and contribution to the Sinking Fund upon every R. 100 of the specie debt they had contracted with the Société Foncier soon made them plead poverty; and this they did so loudly and so successfully that the Government soon took upon itself a part of these payments, and later assumed the whole burden by transforming the Société Foncier into a State mortgage bank, that Bank of the Nobility, of the unsatisfactory management of which we have had much to say above.
Our present purpose is simply to call attention to the very wide fluctuations through which the circulation, the fiduciary money, passes in a country that has once abandoned a specie basis, the only true foundation upon which to establish a circulation. The following table, which we borrow from an official publication, shows the great changes in value to which the rouble has been subjected, not only during the long period of twenty-five years, but often within the space of a single year.
Let us examine a few of the figures in this interesting table. Take the year 1876: war is not yet declared, but it is expected and dreaded; the value of the demi-impériale ranges from 620 copecks to 698, a variation of about sixteen per cent. We have seen above that during that same year gold exports attained their maximum—R101,800,000. But that value, 698 copecks, which marks the maximum depreciation for 1876, was not reached again for some years, except once at the beginning of 1877 (654 copecks), while the war was still in the future. Thereafter, up to and including 1889, the most favorable valuation was never below R. 7 for the demi-impériale; and in 1888 we reach a maximum of R. 10, or 168 copecks, paper, for R. 1 gold. The year 1888 was the year of Boulanger in France, of the death of the Emperor William I. in Berlin, and of the publication of the treaty of alliance between Austria and Germany. Now, observe the two figures standing, respectively, at the right and left of that maximum of R. 10. The average value was 841, and the lowest was 745. The explanation of this is that after the anxiety caused by the events we have named, William II., just after ascending the throne (June 18th), had paid a visit to St. Petersburg, and confidence had been restored by that fact. But what a margin such fluctuations furnish for speculation, for stock jobbers, and with what ruin they menace the honest merchant! It is in 1890 that we find the most favorable valuation of the rouble (611 copecks for the demi-impériale). The reason is that M. Wyschnegradski was then most busily engaged in his refunding operations, and a series of letters appeared in the “Berliner Boersenzeitung” declaring that the re-establishment of a metallic circulation was at hand. As a matter of fact, however, we know that the Minister had never given the subject a moment’s thought. Accordingly, the increased valuation of the rouble was not maintained. Even as we write (October 20, 1895), though the metallic reserve is twice as great as it was in 1890, and though the circulation of gold is officially authorized and encouraged, the paper rouble is, notwithstanding, lower than in 1890; the demi-impériale is quoted in St. Petersburg at 740 copecks in paper.
As to the silver rouble, which is still officially regarded as the legal tender of the Empire, it has been acted upon by two opposing forces—by the depreciation of paper money, tending to increase its value, and by its own depreciation, as silver, tending to lower its value. The table on page 421 shows the direction in which the silver rouble has moved during the past thirty-five years.
The last column of this table furnishes an interesting study for those who believe that the State has merely to put its impress upon a piece of metal in order to ensure it a fixed intrinsic value. During those years in which Russian credit was severely strained, the silver rouble was more valuable than the paper rouble, the difference being at times as great as forty per cent. But as the credit of the Government improved, silver depreciated as compared with paper money, and in 1893 the difference between them was only 1⅓ per cent. In other words, silver has not succeeded in Russia, any more than elsewhere, in holding out against the depreciation forced upon it by the universal law of demand and supply; it follows that bimetallism has not the slightest chance of revival in Russia. The Imperial Government has never had the least predilection for it, under any event, and we have already shown in our examination of the State Bank that its vaults contain the largest amount of gold and the smallest amount of silver of any on the continent of Europe. Moreover, in 1893, the Russian Government dissociated itself, to a certain extent, from the silver rouble, which had been its legal tender, by inserting in the “Messager Officiel” of August 12th
(24th) of that year the following comments upon an imperial decree of July 8th (20th):
“In view of a depreciation so rapid and so great, it became the duty of the Government to take such steps as would lessen, at least, if they could not neutralize, the disastrous consequences arising from the depreciation of a metal which, in legal contemplation, serves as the basis of our monetary system, though, as a matter of fact, the silver rouble of full weight and fineness (18 grams fine)* has entirely disappeared, and the credit-rouble (paper money) has become our real monetary standard.
“As a result of various steps on the part of the Government tending to the establishment of a fixed relation between gold and the credit-rouble a belief has arisen that the credit-rouble is no longer an equivalent of the silver rouble. The collection of customs duties in gold roubles, the acceptance of gold deposits as a guaranty for the issue of bills of credit, and the fact that the coinage of gold is much larger than that of silver have led the public to believe that the credit-rouble represents a specific value in gold. This conviction betrays itself in the lack of correspondence between the fluctuations of the credit-rouble and of silver; on the one hand, owing to certain political and economic disturbances, the credit-rouble has at times been of less value than 18 grams of fine silver; and on the other hand, the depreciation of the white metal has failed to affect the valuation placed upon the credit-rouble in London, Paris, Berlin, and other money markets. In 1891, before the promulgation of the Sherman Act, 18 grams of silver were worth less than a credit-rouble; in June, 1893, when the ounce of silver, which had recently been quoted at 37d., fell to 30d., and 6 per cent. Mexican bonds went down to 59, there was no change upon the Paris or Berlin Bourse in the value of the credit-rouble or of Russian funds expressed in credit-roubles. It is very fortunate that the silver rouble (of full weight and fineness) has practically gone out of circulation; otherwise the depreciation of the white metal would have been followed by serious losses in Russia. The Treasury will not be seriously damaged by the return to it of the twenty or twenty-five millions of coins outstanding which it will be obliged to accept at par (that is, as the equivalent of credit-roubles) notwithstanding that 18 grams of silver are now of less value than the paper rouble.
“The situation would be very different if there was free coinage of silver. Until we are able to adopt gold as our monetary standard, the silver rouble will continue to be our legal tender, and as such it must be received at par both by individuals and by the public treasuries, and inasmuch as the purchasing power of the rouble is greater than that of 18 grams of fine silver,† everybody would make haste to have as many roubles coined as possible, and our stock of silver roubles would soon become enormous. Not only would this result in a serious depreciation of our paper money, but the value of the credit-rouble would follow the rapid fluctuations of the white metal. It was to prevent this result that the further coinage of silver for private account has just been forbidden.”
THE DEBT AND FINANCES OF RUSSIA.
ON January 1, 1870, the “Annuaire des Finances Russes” estimated Russia’s public debt at R. 1,854,475,793.29. This sum comprised all the interest-bearing debt, foreign and domestic, including R. 216,000,000 of exchequer bills (seventy-two series of R. 3,000,000 each, in denominations of R. 50, bearing interest at 4.32 per cent. per annum), and including also of the fiduciary circulation of R. 721,788,189 the unsecured part, amounting to R. 567,972,166.30. In this total, the specie debt was estimated at the rate of 29⅝d. per rouble, the rate prevailing on December 31, 1869.
Twenty-five years later, on January 1, 1895, another official publication shows the same debt to have reached the total, in credit-roubles, of R. 5,776,828,440; that is, R. 1,882,872,438 payable in specie (estimated at the rate prevailing during the last few years, 160 copecks, paper, for R. 1 of specie, making R. 3,012,600,000 credit-roubles), and R. 2,764,627,539 payable in paper. Nominally, then, the debt has more than trebled during the quarter-century, having increased from R. 1,854,500,000 to R. 5,776,800,000. Have the expenses of the Government increased in the same proportion? In the budget of 1870, we find under the heading of “interest on the public debt,” in credit-roubles, R. 78,375,496. That we may not have to return to this subject, let us say at once that, in addition to this amount, there was R. 6,500,000 representing a charge upon guaranteed railroad debts. For 1895, we find the interest charge to be R. 74,094,913, upon the specie debt (or, in credit-roubles, R. 118,551,861), and R. 129,647,261 on the debt payable in paper money, a total of R. 248,199,122 in credit-roubles. If we take account of the fact that this sum includes interest due on the bonds of railroads purchased by the State, we find, in the first place, that while the debt has increased more than threefold, the annual interest charge, which for 1870 was R. 85,000,000 (including the R. 6,500,000 upon guaranteed debts), has not increased in the same proportion. This relative lightening of the burden has resulted evidently from a saving of interest by refunding operations. At this point, it is worth while to examine in some detail the various items composing the public debt. Thus we shall find that the formidable increase between 1870 and 1895 has not arisen entirely out of so-called unproductive outlays—that is, outlays made necessary by wars and by the maintenance of large armies in time of peace; though these, in Russia as elsewhere, make up, unfortunately, a heavy total in the annual expense account. It is often difficult to distinguish clearly between loans which are for a productive use and those which are not, because any given loan may have been made entirely or mainly for the construction of railroads, for example; then as the State bought in the roads it issued rentes against them, and these in the public debt statement are indistinguishable from loans made purely for administrative purposes. Nevertheless, from the large total of the public debt payable in specie (R. 1,882,900,000), we can separate the following items:
This gives us a sum of R. 326,000,000 devoted directly to railroads. But there remain also the large total of R. 560,300,000 of four per cent. consolidated bonds and a four per cent. gold loan of R. 455,500,000, a large part of which were used by the State in the purchase of railways. We are certainly justified in placing at least half of these two sums (or more than R. 500,000,000) in the railway account; and this, together with the R. 326,000,000 named above, leaves but little more than R. 1,000,000,000 under the heading of unproductive expenses, or of expenses which can in any sense be so called.
We come now to the debt payable in paper roubles. In the total of R. 2,764,600,000 named above under this heading, we find also the bonds of some railroads that have been purchased by the State, namely:
These figures make a modest total of R. 44,300,000; but to this must be added two domestic (or non-metallic) railway loans, one of R. 74,600,000 made in 1890, and one of R. 74,800,000 made in 1892, and also two issues of five per cent. railway bonds, that of the Oural line, R. 10,200,000, and that of the Riga-Dvinsk line, R. 1,800,000. These four sums together amount to R. 161,400,000, which, added to the R. 44,300,000 above, makes a total of R. 205,700,000 of loans for productive purposes. Adding also the R. 100,000,000 of five per cent. rentes issued for the railway account, we have R. 305,700,000 to be deducted from the total of the debt payable in paper money, which leaves 8/9 (R. 2,459,000,000) of that sum as the amount devoted directly to State purposes.
It was between 1888 and 1894, as we have already learned, that very important conversions of Russian 6, 5½, and 5 per cent. loans into four per cents. were made, as well as a large number of purchases of railways, the result being an increase of budgetary expenses on the one hand, and on the other a decrease in the amount of interest guaranteed. The net result of these operations the official tables sum up thus: Upon loans payable in specie the interest charge was R. 61,881,281 in 1887, and R. 74,094,913 in 1895, an increase of R. 12,213,632; the interest on loans payable in paper was R. 122,514,658 in 1887, and R. 129,647,261 in 1895, an increase of R. 7,132,603. Altogether, therefore, the refunding operations and the purchase of railway lines added to the annual interest charge more than the equivalent of R. 26,000,000 in paper. But this amounts virtually to a decrease if we take into consideration the disappearance of a large amount of interest guaranteed by the State.
In an article recently published (September, 1895), the official organ of the Finance Department presents an estimate of the amount of the public debt on January 1, 1896, and of the interest charges. The totals are practically the same as those we have quoted for January 1, 1895. The addition of the 3½ per cent. gold loan of R. 100,000,000 made in 1894, and other small sums, brings the specie debt to R. 2,038,284,210. The debt payable in paper money will be increased from various causes by about R. 55,500,000, and will amount to R. 2,820,069,317. The two debts together will make a total, reckoned in paper, of R. 6,081,200,000, the metallic rouble being taken as the equivalent of R. 1.60 paper. We are told that the interest upon the specie debt for 1895, which we have estimated above at R. 74,094,913, amounted in fact to R. 74,274,913, and that the sinking fund for that debt required R. 9,268,561, making a total of R. 83,543,474; for 1896 the interest charge will be R. 79,817,708, and the sinking-fund requirement, R. 10,183,001, a total of R. 90,000,709 in specie. As for the debt payable in paper, the interest charge named above is also slightly increased and becomes R. 130,267,281; its sinking fund will demand R. 13,270,312, a total of R. 143,537,593. While the interest charge upon the specie debt is greater for 1896 than for 1895, there will be a reduction in the charge upon the debt payable in paper; interest on this part of the debt will be only R. 123,040,125, and the sinking-fund requirements, R. 11,087,761, a total of R. 134,127,886. To sum up: the requirements of 1895 are R. 83,543,474, specie (the equivalent of R. 133,669,000 in paper), and R. 143,537,593 payable in paper, making altogether an equivalent of R. 277,200,000, paper. For 1896 the specie requirement is R. 96,000,000 (the equivalent of R. 144,000,000 paper), and the paper requirement R. 134,000,000, or R. 278,000,000 in all. Thus the charges for each year are practically the same.
It is claimed that more than half of these expenses entailed by the public debt are met by revenues imposing no burden on the tax-payers. We present the figures upon which this theory is based, without intending to make ourselves responsible for the soundness of the theory itself.
Out of the gross revenue of R. 179,800,000 produced by the State railways, there is set apart under this heading the
There is more than one item in this table whose title to the character it assumes might be contested. For example, the payment of redemption money by the serfs is certainly felt by those who pay it, and so of the fast freight charges. On the other hand, we may be permitted to ask whether absolute dependence can be placed on all these sources of income. It is altogether possible, for instance, that the Bank of the Nobility may meet with some disappointment in its collections, or that some of the former serfs may allow their payments to fall into arrear, especially as they are somewhat accustomed to delays of this kind, like their former masters of a higher social grade. But let us not insist upon these points. We have seen above that the total public debt is estimated at R. 2,038,000,000 payable in specie, and R. 2,820,000,000 payable in paper. Is that the whole of it? It appears to us that the paper money issued by the State ought to have a place in this category. Inasmuch as these issues aggregate about R. 1,100,000,000, while the metallic reserve in the Treasury is nearly R. 600,000,000, which, at the usual rate (R. 1.60), represents R. 960,000,000 in paper, there remains only about R. 150,000,000 paper to be included among the debts. Then, on the other hand, we must take account of the State’s assets. Upon this point we have no official information corresponding to the dates for which we have stated the debt. We have not as yet the report of the Comptroller-General for the year 1894; it will not appear until the end of 1895. In his report for 1893, published in 1894, the various arrearages and credits of the State are reported thus, in millions and tenths of millions of roubles:
This, the report says, amounts to R. 3,683,800,000, estimating gold roubles at the current rate. Compared with the balance-sheet of 1893, this shows a decrease of R. 268,100,000, resulting principally from the abolition of the debts charged against the Orenburg, Moscow-Kursk, Baltic, and Donets railway lines purchased by the State, and against the Baltic shipyards, likewise purchased by the State. We may add that in 1894 and 1895 the State bought a number of railway lines, so that the sums named above as railroad credits, R. 303,700,000 specie and R. 929,000,000 paper, have been considerably diminished; but, on the other hand, the property of the State has been increased to a proportional extent. Properly speaking, there is no occasion to make a critical examination of the market value of the R. 3,683,800,000 of credits held by the State as an offset against its debts. The credit of a State is not to be estimated upon the basis of such claims, on the greater part of which it cannot realize, and least of all at a time when the public treasury is in need of funds. These are the statistics of an amateur; the future of a nation is in nowise involved in them.
The credit of a State depends upon an established financial policy and conscientious fidelity in meeting its obligations. As to Russia, its conduct toward foreign creditors has always been above reproach. Certain stock exchange rumors having been recently circulated concerning a series of proposed refunding operations alleged to be contrary to the express agreement of the Government, an official note was published on October 13 (25), 1895, denying these imputations. As it presents a clear exposition of the Imperial Government’s views upon the subject, we place it before the reader:
“Certain newspapers, Russian and foreign, have raised the question of the Russian Government’s right to anticipate the payment of the 5 per cent. (specie) loan of 1822, the 4 per cent. bonds of the Nicolas Railroad, the issue of 1867-9, and the 4 per cent. Consolidated Russian Railway loan of 1880.
“For this reason it has seemed advisable to the Bond Department of the Government to call the attention of the public to the fact that the answer to this question may be found in the imperial ukase of November 8, 1888, which orders:
“ ‘That steps shall be taken, as soon as the state of the money market will allow, to refund the public loans and the debts guaranteed by the State into new obligations at a lower rate of interest; provided always, that these three points be kept in mind:
“ ‘(a) The owners of outstanding bonds shall have the option of accepting payment at par in specie, or of exchanging their bonds for those of the new issue.
“ ‘(b) The following descriptions of bonds are not to be refunded: those which by the conditions of their issue were to be repaid at more than their par value, and those in respect to which the Government has ever waived, either temporarily or permanently, its right to refund them.
“ ‘(c) Three months at least shall always be allowed, after official publication of the intent to refund, during which the bonds may be presented for repayment, and interest upon the bonds so called in is to cease only at the expiration of this time.’
“Accordingly, there can be no conversion of loans payable with a premium, that is to say, above 100 per cent.; nor of lottery bonds, nor of bonds the anticipatory payment of which the Government has waived, even at the date of their issue.
“From the application of this law to the four classes of loans named above, it follows that—
“(a) The 5 per cent. loan of 1822 cannot be refunded, because the evidences of that loan carry upon their face this provision: ‘§ 25. No one can be compelled to accept, without his own consent, the whole or any part of the money invested in the permanent debt’ (that is, in the debt having no definite date of payment, not payable at a time fixed in advance).
“(b) The three other loans, namely, the 4 per cent. bonds of the Nicolas Railroad, the issues of 1867-9, and the 4 per cent. Consolidated Russian Railway loan of 1880, sixth series, the Government can refund or pay before their due date, because there is no stipulation upon these bonds denying its right to do so, and no prize or premium is secured upon their repayment.
“It is to be noted that during the conversions made between 1888 and 1891 of the 5 per cent. and 4½ per cent. loans, though these loans were in nowise distinguishable, except as to the rate of interest, from the 4 per cent. bonds of 1867, 1869, and 1880, the law quoted above gave rise to no question or misunderstanding, either in general or in any specific case.
“Up to the present moment the 4 per cent. bonds of 1867, 1869, and 1880 have never been quoted at the Bourse above other Russian 4 per cent. bonds, though frequently they have been quoted below them. This fact proves that neither the public in general nor those persons specially interested in bonds have ever supposed that either of those three issues enjoyed any special privilege arising from the fact that its payment could not be anticipated.
“We are justified, then, in supposing that the question raised with regard to this matter did not arise out of doubts honestly entertained by any bona fide holder of bonds.”
A History of Savings-Banks
THE UNITED STATES.
JOHN P. TOWNSEND, LL.D.,
president of the bowery savings bank, of new york.
[* ] St. Petersburg, 1866.
[* ] Finance Minister Kniajevitch’s report of September, 1859.
[* ] This regulation has not been observed. At times the Bank has been in possession of public funds aggregating R. 200,000,000.
[* ] The total of these debts, since transferred to the Bank to be carried to the debit of the Treasury in 1861, is R. 2,266,663.
[* ] Tartarinow had as successors in office several men of great ability, such for example, as Greig and Abasa, who afterward became Ministers of Finance.
[* ] The dolia equals 0.68578 grains; the zolotnik is 96 dolei, or 65.83488 grains.
[* ] One dessiatine = 1.0925 hectares, or 2.6997 acres.
[* ] A dolia = 0,68578 grains; a zolotnik = 96 dolei, a livre = 96 zolotniks; a pood = 40 livres.
[* ] More exactly, 17 996 grams, or 0.62555 (approximately 5-8) of a standard ounce.
[† ] Including the cost of coinage, which is considerable, for silver it was 6 2-3 per cent.