Sunday, October 26, 2008

>1907 Bankers' Panic

The Panic of 1907, also known as the 1907 Bankers' Panic, was a financial crisis that occurred in the United States when the New York Stock Exchange fell close to 50 percent from its peak the previous year. Panic occurred during a time of economic recession, when there were numerous runs on banks and trust companies. The 1907 panic eventually spread throughout the nation when many state and local banks and businesses entered into bankruptcy. Primary causes of the run include a retraction of market liquidity by a number of New York City banks, loss of confidence among depositors, and the absence of a statutory lender of last resort.

The crisis occurred after the failure of an attempt in October 1907 to corner the market on stock of the United Copper Company. When this bid failed, banks that had lent money to the cornering scheme suffered runs which later spread to affiliated banks and trusts, leading a week later to the downfall of the Knickerbocker Trust Company—New York City's third-largest trust. The collapse of the Knickerbocker spread fear throughout the city's trusts as regional banks withdrew reserves from New York City banks. Panic extended across the nation as vast numbers of people withdrew deposits from their regional banks.

The panic would have deepened if not for the intervention of financier J. P. Morgan, who pledged large sums of his own money, and convinced other New York bankers to do the same, to shore up the banking system.When the chaos began to shake the confidence of New York's banks, the city's most famous banker was out of town. J.P. Morgan, president of the eponymous J.P. Morgan & Co., was attending a church convention in Richmond, Virginia. Morgan was not only the city's wealthiest and most well-connected banker, but he had experience with crisis—he helped rescue the U.S. Treasury during the Panic of 1893. As news of the crisis gathered, Morgan returned to Wall Street from his convention late on the night of Saturday, October 19. The following morning, the library of Morgan's brownstone at Madison Avenue and 36th St. had become a revolving door of New York City bank and trust company presidents arriving to share information about (and seek help surviving) the impending crisis

Morgan and his associates examined the books of the Knickerbocker Trust, but decided it was insolvent and did not intervene to stop the run. Its failure, however, triggered runs on even healthy trusts, prompting Morgan to take charge of the rescue operation. On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 22, the president of the Trust Company of America asked Morgan for assistance. That evening Morgan conferred with George F. Baker, the president of First National Bank, James Stillman of the National City Bank of New York (the ancestor of Citibank), and the United States Secretary of the Treasury, George B. Cortelyou. Cortelyou said that he was ready to deposit government money in the banks to help shore up their deposits. After an overnight audit of the Trust Company of America showed the institution to be sound, on Wednesday afternoon Morgan declared, “This is the place to stop the trouble, then."
As a run began on the Trust Company of America, Morgan worked with Stillman and Baker to liquidate the company's assets to allow the bank to pay depositors. The bank survived to the close of business, but Morgan knew that additional money would be needed to keep it solvent through the following day. That night he assembled the presidents of the other trust companies and held them in a meeting until midnight when they agreed to provide loans of $8.25 million to allow the Trust Company of America to stay open the next day. On Thursday morning Cortelyou deposited around $25 million into a number of New York banks. John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in America, deposited a further $10 million in Stillman's National City Bank. Rockefeller's massive deposit left the National City Bank with the deepest reserves of any bank in the city. To instill public confidence, Rockefeller phoned Melville Stone, the manager of the Associated Press, and told him that he would pledge half of his wealth to maintain America's credit.

At the time, the United States did not have a central bank to inject liquidity back into the market. By November the contagion had largely ended, yet a further crisis emerged when a large brokerage firm borrowed heavily using the stock of Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (TC&I) as collateral. Collapse of TC&I's stock price was averted by an emergency takeover approved by anti-monopolist president Theodore Roosevelt. The following year, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich established and chaired a commission to investigate the crisis and propose future solutions, leading to the creation of the Federal Reserve System.


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