Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

High Finance
by [?]

I know very little about the Stock Exchange. I know, of course, that stockbrokers wear very shiny top-hats, which they remove when they sing “God Save the King,” as they invariably do in a crisis. When they go out to lunch, the younger ones leave their top-hats behind them, and take the air with plastered polls; and after lunch is over, young and old alike have a round of dominoes before placing threepence under the coffee-cup and returning to business. If business is slack, they tell each other jokes, which get into the papers with some such introduction as, “A good story going the round of the Stock Exchange.” Probably it was going the round of the nurseries in 72, but the stockbrokers have been so busy making Consols go up and down that they have not been able to listen to it before. Anyway, the careful man always avoids a good story which is going the round of the Stock Exchange.

But apart from these minor activities of the City, the financial world has always been a mystery to me. To this day I do not understand why Consols go up and down. Perhaps they only go down now, but there was a time when they would be 78 1/4 in the morning, 78 1/2 after the Stock Exchange had returned from its coffee, and 78 when it went out to play dominoes again. When they thudded down to 78, this proved that the Government had lost the confidence of the country. But I never heard an explanation of it all which carried any conviction.

Once I asked a noted financial authority to tell me all about it in words of one syllable. He did his best. He said it was “simply a question of supply and demand.” In that case one would expect umbrellas to go up and down according to the weather–I mean, of course, the price of umbrellas. But apparently umbrellas aren’t so sensitive as stocks, which are the most sensitive things in the world. In the happy days before the war, when the President of Nicaragua sent a stiff note to the President of Uruguay, Consols immediately dropped a quarter of a point. The President of Uruguay answered, “Sorry, my mistake,” and Consols went back again. Evidently, several gentlemen, who would have bought Consols in the ordinary way on that Thursday, decided to buy Haricot Beans instead, as being, I suppose, more useful in the event of a war between Nicaragua and Uruguay. So Consols feeling the neglect, went down. But on the Friday, as soon as Uruguay had apologized, the gentlemen who had just sold the Haricot Beans hurried out to buy Consols, as being quite safe again now that there was no more chance of war. So Consols went cheerfully up again. You see?

But the financial problem is getting very much more difficult than this, The vagaries of Consols, or even of the reputed gold-mine in which I once had shares–(this is a sad story, but, fortunately, when they had dropped to six-and-sixpence, there was a demand for them by a man called Wilkinson, poor fellow, which arrested the fall just long enough for me to get out. They are now three a penny, so I hope Wilkinson found a demand, too)–well, then, even the vagaries of the West African market are a simple matter compared with the vagaries of the Exchange. The mystery of the mark, for instance, is so utterly beyond that, in trying to understand it, I do not even know where to begin. I see no mental foothold anywhere.

The mark, we are told, is now worth tuppence-ha’penny. Why? I mean, who said so? Who is it who arranges these things? Is it Rockefeller or one of the Geddeses or Samuel Gompers–a superman of some kind? Or is it a Committee of the Stock Exchange and Greenwich Observatory? And how does it decide? Does it put a mark up for auction and see what the demand is like? Or does it decide on moral grounds? Does it say contemptuously, “Oh, I should think about tuppence-ha’penny, and serve ’em dashed well right for losing the war”?