So far we have only considered what happens to the money of those who save as long as it is left in the hands of their bankers, and we have seen that it is only likely to be employed internationally, if invested by bankers in bills of exchange which form a comparatively small part of their assets. It is true that bankers also invest money in securities, and that some of these are foreign, but here again the proportion invested abroad is so small that we may be reasonably sure that any money left by us in the hands of our bankers will be employed at home.
But in actual practice those who save do not pile up a large balance at their banks. They keep what is called a current account, consisting of amounts paid in in cash or in cheques on other banks or their own bank, and against this account they draw what is needed for their weekly and monthly payments; sometimes, also, they keep a certain amount on deposit account, that is an account on which they can only draw after giving a week's notice or more. On their deposit account they receive interest, on their current account they may in some parts of the country receive interest on the average balance kept. But the deposit account is most often kept by people who have to have a reserve of cash quickly available for business purposes. The ordinary private investor, when he has got a balance at his bank big enough to make him feel comfortable about being able to meet all probable outgoings, puts any money that he may have to spare into some security dealt in on the Stock Exchange, and so securities and the Stock Exchange have to be described and examined next. They are very much to the point, because it is through them that international finance has done most of its work.
Securities, then, are the stocks, shares and bonds which are given to those who put money into companies, or into loans issued by Governments, municipalities and other public bodies. Let us take the Governments and public bodies first, because the securities issued by them are in some ways simpler than those created by companies.
When a Government wants to borrow, it does so because it needs money. The purpose for which it needs it may be to build a railway or canal, or make a harbour, or carry out a land improvement or irrigation scheme, or otherwise work some enterprise by which the power of the country to grow and make things may be increased. Enterprises of this kind are usually called reproductive, and in many cases the actual return from them in cash more than suffices to meet the interest on the debt raised to carry them out, to say nothing of the direct benefit to the country in increasing its output of wealth. In England the Government has practically no debt that is represented by reproductive assets. Our Government has left the development of the country's resources to private enterprise, and the only assets from which it derives a revenue are the Post Office buildings, the Crown lands and some shares in the Suez Canal which were bought for a political purpose. Governments also borrow money because their revenue from taxes is less than the sums that they are spending. This happens most often and most markedly when they are carrying on war, or when nations are engaged in a competition in armaments, building navies or raising armies against one another so as to be ready for war if it happens. This kind of debt is called dead-weight debt, because there is no direct or indirect increase, in consequence of it, in the country's power to produce things that are wanted. This kind of borrowing is generally excused on the ground that provision for the national safety is a matter which concerns posterity quite as much as the present generation, and that it is, therefore, fair to leave posterity to pay part of the bill.
Municipalities likewise borrow both for reproductive purposes and for objects from which no direct revenue can be expected. They may invest money lent them in gas or electric works or water supply or tramways, and get an income from them which will more than pay the interest on the money borrowed. Or they may put it into public parks and recreation grounds or municipal buildings, or improvements in sanitation, thereby beautifying and cleansing the town. If they do these things in such a way as to make the town a pleasanter and healthier place to live in, they may indirectly increase their revenue; but if they do them extravagantly and badly, they run the risk of putting a burden on the ratepayers that will make people shy of living within their borders.
Whatever be the object for which the loan is issued, the procedure is the same by which the money is raised. The Government or municipality invites subscriptions through a bank or through some great financial house, which publishes what is called a prospectus by circular, and in the papers, giving the terms and details of the loan. People who have money to spare, or are able to borrow money from their bankers, and are attracted by the terms of the loan, sign an application form which is issued with the prospectus, and send a cheque for the sum, usually 5 per cent. of the amount that they apply for, which is payable on application. If the loan is over-subscribed, the applicants will only receive part of the sums for which they apply. If it is not fully subscribed, they will get all that they have asked for, and the balance left over will be taken up in most cases by a syndicate formed by the bank or firm that issued the loan, to "underwrite" it. Underwriting means guaranteeing the success of a loan, and those who do so receive a commission of anything from 1 to 3 per cent.; if the loan is popular and goes well the underwriters take their commission and are quit; if the loan is what the City genially describes as a "frost," the underwriters may find themselves saddled with the greater part of it, and will have the pleasure of nursing it until such time as the investing public will take it off their hands. Underwriting is thus a profitable business when times are good, and the public is feeding freely, but it can only be indulged in by folk with plenty of capital or credit, and so able to carry large blocks of stock if they find themselves left with them.