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Contagion and Bank Failures During the Great Depression: The June 1932 Chicago Banking Panic


  • Charles W. Calomiris
  • Joseph R. Mason


Studies of pre-Depression banking argue that banking panics resulted from depositor confusion about the incidence of shocks, and that interbank cooperation avoided unwarranted failures. This paper uses individual bank data to address the question of whether solvent Chicago banks failed during the panic asthe result of confusion by depositors. Chicago banks are divided" into three groups: panic failures, failures outside the panic window, and survivors. The characteristics of these three groups are compared to determine whether the banks that failed during the panic were similar ex ante" to those that survived the panic or whether they shared characteristics with other banks that failed. Each category of comparison -- the market-to-book value of equity, the estimated probability or failure or duration of survival the composition of debt, the rates of withdrawal of debt during 1931, and the interest rates paid on debt -- leads to the same conclusion: banks that failed during the panic were similar to others that failed and different from survivors. The special attributes of failing banks were distinguishable at least six months before the panic and were reflected in stock prices, failure probabilities, debt composition, and interest rates at least that far in advance. We conclude that failures during the panic reflected relative weakness in the face of common asset value shock rather than contagion. Other evidence points to cooperation among solvent Chicago banks a key factor in avoiding unwarranted bank failures during the panic.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles W. Calomiris & Joseph R. Mason, 1994. "Contagion and Bank Failures During the Great Depression: The June 1932 Chicago Banking Panic," NBER Working Papers 4934, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4934
    Note: DAE

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    1. Kiefer, Nicholas M, 1988. "Economic Duration Data and Hazard Functions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(2), pages 646-679, June.
    2. Bhattacharya Sudipto & Thakor Anjan V., 1993. "Contemporary Banking Theory," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 2-50, October.
    3. Charles W. Calomiris & Gary Gorton, 1991. "The Origins of Banking Panics: Models, Facts, and Bank Regulation," NBER Chapters,in: Financial Markets and Financial Crises, pages 109-174 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Charles W. Calomiris & Charles M. Kahn & Stefan Krasa, 1991. "Optimal contingent bank liquidation under moral hazard," Working Paper Series, Issues in Financial Regulation 91-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    5. Black, Fischer & Scholes, Myron S, 1973. "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 637-654, May-June.
    6. Gorton, Gary & Pennacchi, George, 1990. " Financial Intermediaries and Liquidity Creation," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 45(1), pages 49-71, March.
    7. Calomiris, Charles W & Kahn, Charles M, 1991. "The Role of Demandable Debt in Structuring Optimal Banking Arrangements," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(3), pages 497-513, June.
    8. Calomiris, Charles W. & Schweikart, Larry, 1991. "The Panic of 1857: Origins, Transmission, and Containment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(04), pages 807-834, December.
    9. Calomiris, Charles W., 1990. "Is Deposit Insurance Necessary? A Historical Perspective," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(02), pages 283-295, June.
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