Share Portfolios and Risk Management in the Early Years of Financial Capitalism: London 1690-1730
The dramatic expansion of public and private financial markets in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution has received extensive attention. Despite interest in the operation of the capital market, much less is known about how ordinary individual investors managed risk within this framework. Using a newly constructed data set of share ownership for each company listed in the financial press of the day, we reconstruct individual portfolio holdings for all investors in these companies. We examine individual portfolio holdings first for the decade after the Glorious Revolution and then for the years around the South Sea Bubble of 1720. We also examine holdings over time. Despite a fivefold increase in the number of unique individuals in the market between the 1690s and the 1720s, we find that in each period roughly eighty per cent of those active in the equity market owned shares in only one company, even though most shareholders had the capacity or wealth to diversity their share portfolios. We also find some continuity in the market with forty per cent of those who owned stock in 1690 holding stock two decades later. This level of stock market activity suggests that individuals were diversifying against idiosyncratic liquidity risk. Overall, however, there is limited evidence that individuals were using their financial portfolios to increase income or reduce risk or to protect themselves against diversifiable shocks. Clearly some part of this behaviour can be explained by low levels of financial literacy, for many, however, company specific voting rules with their attendant effects on firm governance drove market activity.
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