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New Evidence on the First Financial Bubble

  • Rik G.P. Frehen
  • William N. Goetzmann
  • K. Geert Rouwenhorst

The first global financial bubble in stock prices occurred 1720 in Paris, London and the Netherlands. Explanations for these linked bubbles primarily focus on the irrationality of investor speculation and the corresponding stock price behavior of two large firms: the South Sea Company in Great Britain and the Mississippi Company in France. In this paper we examine a broad cross‐section of security price data to evaluate the causes of the bubbles. Using newly collected stock prices for British and Dutch firms in 1720, we find evidence against indiscriminate irrational exuberance and evidence in favor of speculation about two factors: the Atlantic trade and the incorporation of insurance companies. We study the role of innovation in the insurance market by examining market betas and volatilities of new insurance company shares, like (Pastor & Veronesi, Technological Revolutions and Stock Prices, 2009). We find strong evidence for a revolution in the insurance business in 1720. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that financial bubbles require a plausible story to justify investor optimism.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15332.

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Date of creation: Sep 2009
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Publication status: published as Frehen, Rik G.P. & Goetzmann, William N. & Geert Rouwenhorst, K., 2013. "New evidence on the first financial bubble," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(3), pages 585-607.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15332
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  1. Bart Hobijn & Boyan Jovanovic, 2000. "The Information Technology Revolution and the Stock Market: Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7684, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Lubos Pastor & Pietro Veronesi, 2005. "Technological Revolutions and Stock Prices," NBER Working Papers 11876, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Peter Temin & Joachim Voth, 2004. "Riding the South Sea bubble," Economics Working Papers 861, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  4. Schwert, G William, 1990. "Stock Volatility and the Crash of '87," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 3(1), pages 77-102.
  5. Markus K. Brunnermeier & Stefan Nagel, 2004. "Hedge Funds and the Technology Bubble," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 59(5), pages 2013-2040, October.
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  7. Dilip Abreu & Markus K. Brunnermeier, 2003. "Bubbles and Crashes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(1), pages 173-204, January.
  8. Harris, Ron, 1994. "The Bubble Act: Its Passage and Its Effects on Business Organization," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(03), pages 610-627, September.
  9. Lubos Pastor & Pietro Veronesi, 2004. "Was There a Nasdaq Bubble in the Late 1990s?," NBER Working Papers 10581, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. John M. Griffin & Jeffrey H. Harris & Tao Shu & Selim Topaloglu, 2011. "Who Drove and Burst the Tech Bubble?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 66(4), pages 1251-1290, 08.
  11. Gary S. Shea, 2007. "Financial market analysis can go mad (in the search for irrational behaviour during the South Sea Bubble) -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 60(4), pages 742-765, November.
  12. Kingston, Christopher, 2007. "Marine Insurance in Britain and America, 1720 1844: A Comparative Institutional Analysis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(02), pages 379-409, June.
  13. Christine Macleod, 1986. "The 1690s Patents Boom: Invention or Stock-Jobbing?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 39(4), pages 549-571, November.
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  15. Thorpe, David P. & Holland, Burt, 2000. "Some multiple comparison procedures for variances from non-normal populations," Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 171-199, December.
  16. Tom Nicholas, 2008. "Does Innovation Cause Stock Market Runups? Evidence from the Great Crash," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1370-96, September.
  17. Eli Ofek & Matthew Richardson, 2003. "DotCom Mania: The Rise and Fall of Internet Stock Prices," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 58(3), pages 1113-1138, 06.
  18. Carlos, Ann M. & Moyen, Nathalie & Hill, Jonathan, 2002. "Royal African Company Share Prices during the South Sea Bubble," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 61-87, January.
  19. Gary S. Shea, 2005. "Financial Market Analysis Can Go Mad (in the search for irrational behaviour during the South Sea Bubble)," CDMA Working Paper Series 200508, Centre for Dynamic Macroeconomic Analysis.
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