The financial markets had become integrated globally prior to World War I. It was the globalization and openness of world financial markets that became the problem and are important to understand for we will face the same problem today. The capital was free to flow from one country to another before World War I. All the major countries of the world were on the Gold Standard at that point in time so exchange rates were not as volatile.
We can easily see that the currency market was very stable pre-1914 looking at the French Franc. Keep in mind that this was also a period of fiscal responsibility – pre-Socialism and Marx. Therefore, governments practiced balance budgets to retain confidence in their currencies. That enabled the gold standard to function. Furthermore, any differences in exchange rates were arbitraged. That is how the United States went into crisis in 1896 because the Democrats were inflating the system by overvaluing silver at 16:1 compared to 17:1 in Europe. That resulted in gold fleeing the United States and silver pouring in from international arbitrage.
There was also a viable arbitrage that took place trading the spreads between international bonds listed on the various world stock exchanges. Many countries would issue bonds in British pounds just as they do in dollars today to sell more to the investors in the financial capital of the world, which was London at that point in time.
A country such as China or Russia would issue a bond that was listed on the stock exchanges in London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam as well as St. Petersburg in Russia. Here is a Chinese bond issued in British pounds in 1913 paying 5%. The differences in exchange rates, which would still fluctuate marginally, would be arbitraged by buying and selling bonds in different markets.
Consequently, during World War I, there was a global marketplace. In effect, this integration of markets presented a problem when the war hit. Capital could flee from one country to the next and thus the method to deal with the capital flows was to close the stock markets. The United States also closed the market in sympathy with Europe.
We will be taking a closer look at the various global markets. What you can count on is clearly CAPITAL CONTROLS. It would be best for those in Asia and Europe to have some capital tucked away in the United States. Once bullets start shooting, it will most likely be too late to move money.
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