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Hungary was heavily indebted, but new credits stopped arriving and substantial portions of the short-term credits were withdrawn from Hungary.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.…

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.…