AUSTRIAN BANKS AFTER 1945

Vienna, “Golden Quarter”

At the end of the Second World War and after the liberation by the Allied forces the main Austrian banks were nationalised. The assets of Austrian credit institutions including large claims on the Third Reich, loans to the German armed forces and to various official and semi-official institutions had become worthless. The losses incurred had eliminated the equity of many credit institutions. So in 1946 the Austrian government nationalised the three largest banks, the Creditanstalt-Bankverein, Österreichische Länderbank und Österreichisches Credit-Institut AG. The Reconstruction Act of 1955 enabled the banks to draw up balance sheets for the entire period up to the end of the 1954 business year. The banks had been able to offset the losses incurred on account of war and post-war events thanks to their own earning power. The Reconstruction Act was nevertheless most important for formal accounting purposes. It gave the banks the formal basis under trade and company law to make the provisions necessary for the fulfilment of their economic and socio-political tasks. The Act further stipulated that the banks should make annual reconstruction contributions to other areas of the Austrian credit system. In 1956/57 the two largest Austrian banks, Creditanstalt-Bankverein and Länderbank, were partly re-privatised by authorising the Minister of Finance to sell shares up to 40 per cent of their share capital.…

THE ROLE OF AUSTRIAN BANKS IN NAZI GERMANY’S EXPANSION TO CENTRAL, EASTERN & SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE

Palais Ephrussi, Viennese Jewish banking Family (exiled): Edmund de Waal, “The Hare With Amber Eyes” describes the destiny of this banking family

The German state-owned VIAG (Vereinigte Industrieunternehmungen) and the Deutsche Bank gained control of the majority of shares of the Creditanstalt-Bankverein CA from the time of the “Anschluß” of Austria to the Nazi German “Third Reich” in 1938 onwards, originally by taking over the shares of the Austrian state. From the very beginning the German majority shareholders viewed the bank as an important tool for German penetration into South-Eastern Europe, not only because of the geographical position of Vienna, but also because the Viennese banks, many of which had merged with the Credit-Anstalt in the interwar years, had been very active in this area before 1918 and still had much experience in the region. Contrary to the image the CA wanted to create after 1945, the leadership of the CA, and especially its most important director, Josef Joham, viewed the German takeover of Austria as an opportunity to recover the position the CA had held in South-Eastern Europe before and to turn Vienna into the financial hub of the Nazis’ activities in Central Europe and the Balkans. In fact, the CA often took the initiative in expanding its banking activities in the German satellites and occupied territories. It constantly made reference to its historical role in the region and viewed its acquisitions as restitution and/or compensation for its losses and exclusion by the successor states after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The German control of Austria and the CA provided a welcome opportunity to restore the position Viennese banks had enjoyed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The close co-operation between the CA and the Deutsche Bank, namely between the two directors Josef Joham and Hermann Josef Abs, had already started before the “Anschluß”. As Joham had supported the old regime in Austria, but anticipated the “Anschluß” of March 1938, he sought protection for himself and the bank through the alliance with Abt and the Deutsche Bank. Yet first the German VIAG took over the majority of shares from the Austrian state and Deutsche Bank got hold of only 25 per cent of the shares of the CA, but in 1942 the Deutsche Bank finally acquired the majority of shares in the CA.…

THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CREDIT-ANSTALT CRISIS FOR CEE

Österreichische Postsparkasse, architect: Otto Wagner, built 1904-1906

The Great Depression hit Hungary hard, stopping the slow recovery and leading to a dramatic decline. The crisis hit Hungary first through the collapse of the international agricultural market with a 60-70 per cent decline in agrarian prices. But the most severe blow was dealt by the break-down of the Credit-Anstalt and was followed by the international financial and banking crisis. Hungary was heavily indebted, but new credits stopped arriving and substantial portions of the short-term credits were withdrawn from Hungary. The Hungarian National Bank lost most of its gold and foreign exchange reserves and the banking system reached the edge of the abyss in 1931. Between 1931 and 1933 70 banks collapsed. By 1938 the number of banks had been reduced by more than 300 that had been operating in 1929. The effect of the shrinking banking sector was the decrease in its share of industry. Strict government measures were introduced after the financial collapse and the repayment crisis in 1931, the gold Standard was abolished and foreign exchange controls were introduced. After the trade agreement with Nazi Germany in February 1934 barter trade became dominant and a clearing system was introduced to replace hard currency payments in foreign trade. State interventions, economic nationalism, high protection and the policy of self-sufficiency became stronger. Hungary was isolated from the world market and became integrated into the German Nazi economic system.…

THE GREAT DEPRESSION: CREDIT-ANSTALT CRISIS 1931

Former Österreichische Creditanstalt building, architects Gotthilf and Neumann (built 1916-1921)

The Credit-Anstalt crisis played a crucial role in the dramatic economic developments of the 1930s in Europe as the collapse of the Credit-Anstalt affected the largest bank of Austria and at that time also the largest bank east of Germany. The collapse of the Credit-Anstalt in Vienna started the spread of the crisis in Europe and forced most countries off the Gold Standard within a few months. A feeling of financial distrust and insecurity spread from Vienna and led to runs on other banks in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Germany. The collapse in May 1931 set off a chain reaction that led from the run on German banks to withdrawals in London and the devaluation of the pound to large-scale withdrawals from New York and another series of bank failures in the United States. So in brief the news of the crisis of the Credit-Anstalt, the most important bank in Central Europe, shook the whole economic structure of Europe and sent shock waves through the rest of the world.…

INTERNATIONAL CAPITAL FLOW, BANKS AND INDUSTRIAL ENTERPRISES IN CEE IN THE INTERWAR YEARS

Former Länderbank (Vienna), founded 1880, architect Otto Wagner (built 1882-1884)

Central and South-Eastern Europe became one of the most important world markets for capital exports after the First World War. Foreign investors not only invested in the defeated countries, such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, but also in Poland and Czechoslovakia. From 1919 till 1923 international capital from Britain, France, the USA, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland acquired substantial shares in the main Viennese banks. The Länderbank and the Anglo-Austrian Bank were turned into totally foreign-owned banks, based in Paris and London. A similar development of Western European capital participation took place in all the joint-stock banks of the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the exception of the Zivnobanka in Prague. This bank increased its investment in South-Eastern Europe, often together with Western European financial groups. As the governments of the successor states were in urgent need of foreign investment, they promoted the internationalisation of the banking systems there. So the governments paved the way for the access of international capital to industrial enterprises via the participation in the equity of the big commercial banks. This followed the traditional investment pattern of the region and through the internationalisation of the banks the whole area moved closer to international markets.…

AUSTRIAN FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS IN CEE DURING THE INTERWAR YEARS

Österreichische Postsparkasse, Vienna, founded 1883 “k.k. Österreichisches Postsparkassenamt”, architect: Otto Wagner (built 1904-1912)

As a result of the First World War the persistent shortage of domestic and foreign capital for investment in the economies of Central and Eastern Europe, as mentioned above, worsened. At the same time, due to the devastation of the war the demand for capital rose dramatically. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 new stock exchanges were established in the successor states of the former empire. The scene had been dominated by the Vienna Stock Exchange and to a much lesser degree the Prague Stock Exchange, founded in 1871. In the 1920s new stock exchanges opened up in Belgrade, Bratislava, Brno, Ljubljana, Warsaw and Zagreb, which competed with Vienna. Their main business was in dealing in securities, bills and foreign currencies and not shares. The same was true for the Vienna Stock Exchange during the interwar years. Only in the years 1926/27 did the currency situation stabilise after the hyper-inflation in the successor states of the Habsburg Empire after the First World War and central banks had been established in all new states. The finances of Austria, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria were under international supervision and the new central banks had to be independent from the state, but they had to act as lenders of last resort together with the respective governments. Especially in Austria the “Franc Speculation” further destabilised the financial scene.…

INDUSTRIAL FINANCE

Former Austrian Lloyd building (on the right in front), shipping company founded 1833 in Trieste by seven insurance companies, among them “Assicurazioni Generali”, Austrian Generali insurance, founded  by Joseph Morpurgo 1831 in Trieste (on the left in the back). Piazza Unità d’Italia, Trieste (Italy)

The importance of the Austro-Hungarian banks in providing short-and long-term credit to industries has to be emphasised in contrast to the registrations of the stock exchange in the empire. In 1912 the share of foreign bonds in total registered securities was 48 per cent on the London Stock Exchange, 55 per cent in Paris, 5.6 per cent in Berlin and 0.7 per cent in Vienna. In Vienna the share of foreign bonds had not changed much since the 1890s. But after 1909 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not only a capital importer, but owing to the leading banking groups it could also cover the deficit partly by re-exporting foreign bonds.

 

In the case of a country of such agricultural importance as the Austro-Hungarian Empire the turnover of mortgage bonds is of greatest importance. Neither bank loans nor the foreign placement of mortgage bonds took a dominant role in providing especially the Hungarian agriculture with credit. By the turn of the century the supply of agriculture with long-term credits seemed to have settled.…

INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT

Palais Ephrussi, family of Austrian bankers (Vienna – the bank opposite the Palais was destroyed in the 2nd World war), architect Theophil Hansen

The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy generally had an export surplus of securities, which means it was a net importer of long-term capital, except during the period 1903-1908. While in 1868 the majority of loans was taken by Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris, in 1914 Berlin was the most important foreign creditor. Government securities and railway priority bonds constituted the largest categories. In terms of state debts, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a debtor towards Western and Central Europe and a creditor towards the Balkans together with Germany. Yet compared to Germany and France, the Austrian banks in Serbia and Romania were insignificant, only in Bulgaria were they of importance. After 1878, most of the debts of the Balkan states financed railway construction. While lending for the infrastructural development of backward countries, the empire constructed its own railway network with the help of foreign capital. After 1855, when the railways were sold to private enterprise and the system of guaranteed interest was introduced, foreign capital penetrated the empire’s economy. The mobilier banks provided the needed capital for the railway construction. In Hungary 85 per cent of the railway system was owned and run by the state by 1891, while in the Austrian half of the empire only 55 per cent was run by the state and it owned only 43 per cent in 1897. More than 70 per cent of the railway priority bonds were still in the possession of foreign investors at the beginning of the 20th century.…

INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL RELATIONS OF THE HABSBURG EMPIRE

Former Länderbank (Vienna), founded 1880, architect Otto Wagner (built 1882-1884)

It can be said that the Austro-Hungarian credit institutions were established along French and German lines either as direct imitations (Prussian mortgage banks, credit cooperatives) or as combinations of German, English or French patterns (savings banks). At the same time very special types were developed in the monarchy, such as the Landesbanken or the dualistic organisation of the bi-national Austro-Hungarian Bank. They illustrate the special financial climate in the empire. The adjustment to this special climate can also be seen in the participation of the ownership in the banks and the management of the banks. For example, in their application to the ministry the founders of Credit-Anstalt guaranteed the subscription of the capital in the following way: 40 per cent was taken by the Rothschild houses in Vienna, Frankfurt and Paris, 50 per cent by Austrian and Bohemian aristocrats and 10 per cent by a private Prague banker. According to the founders’ statement of intention, it could only undertake Austrian transactions and a representative of the state had a seat in the governing body. Representatives of the Hungarian aristocracy also had seats in the first committee of the management. In this way the Credit-Anstalt wished to be a financial institution representing the multinational character of the monarchy. In the final distribution of shares the Credit-Anstalt revealed its “national” character according to the monarchy’s state philosophy: neither the dynasty itself, nor the aristocracy nor the Viennese Jews were excluded.…

TYPES OF BANKS IN THE HABSBURG EMPIRE

Former Österreichische Creditanstalt building (today the Park Hyatt Vienna hotel), founded 1855 “k.k.privilegierte Österreichische Credit-Anstalt für Handel und Gewerbe”, architect Franz Fröhlich (built 1858-60)

 

The components of the banking system had already been established when the above mentioned Gründerzeit took place. Different components were formed in different periods and new types of institutions were created after the crash of 1873 because the system itself was very dynamic.

 

The oldest element was the bank of issue in Vienna (1816). The Austrian National Bank opened its first branch in Prague in 1847 and its second one in Pest in 1851. By 1875 it had 24 branches in addition to its headquarters in Vienna. On local markets these branch offices played an important role in the distribution of Treasury notes, government paper money that had been issued again since 1866, and in the supply of bank notes. In the beginning of the 19th century savings banks were established. The Erste Österreichische Sparcasse was established in 1819 with philanthropic aims and it served as an example in other parts of the empire. Due to the crises of 1857 and 1873 a great number of private bankers, who were considered the main financiers before, disappeared from the financial scene or their business was transformed. They either specialised in certain fields or joined larger banks established at that time. The Rothschild house in Vienna was the only one to keep its former position.…