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Recreating the South Sea Bubble: Lessons from an Experiment in Financial History

  • Giovanni Giusti
  • Charles Noussair
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Major bubble episodes are rare events. In this paper, we examine what factors might cause some asset price bubbles to become very large. We recreate, in a laboratory setting, some of the specific institutional features investors in the South Sea Company faced in 1720. Several factors have been proposed as potentially contributing to one of the greatest periods of asset overvaluation in history: an intricate debt?for?equity swap, deferred payment for these shares, and the possibility of default on the deferred payments. We consider which aspect might have had the most impact in creating the South Sea bubble. The results of the experiment suggest that the company’s attempt to exchange its shares for government debt was the single biggest contributor to the stock price explosion, because of the manner in which the swap affected fundamental value. Issuing new shares with only partial payments required, in conjunction with the debtequity swap, also had a significant effect on the size of the bubble. Limited contract enforcement, on the other hand, does not appear to have contributed significantly.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics - University of Zurich in its series ECON - Working Papers with number 146.

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Date of creation: Mar 2014
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Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:146
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  1. Peter Temin & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2003. "Riding the South Sea Bubble," Working Papers 91, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  2. Alsemgeest, Paul & Noussair, Charles & Olson, Mark, 1998. "Experimental Comparisons of Auctions under Single- and Multi-Unit Demand," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(1), pages 87-97, January.
  3. Greenwood, Robin & Nagel, Stefan, 2009. "Inexperienced investors and bubbles," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(2), pages 239-258, August.
  4. 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.
  5. Lynch, Anthony W & Mendenhall, Richard R, 1997. "New Evidence on Stock Price Effects Associated with Changes in the S&P 500 Index," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70(3), pages 351-83, July.
  6. Brice Corgnet & Roberto Hernán González & Praveen Kujal & David Porter, 2013. "The Effect of Earned vs. House Money on Price Bubble Formation in Experimental Asset Markets," Working Papers 13-04, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
  7. 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.
  8. Peter M. Garber, 2001. "Famous First Bubbles: The Fundamentals of Early Manias," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262571536, June.
  9. Aditya Kaul & Vikas Mehrotra & Randall Morck, 2000. "Demand Curves for Stocks "Do "Slope Down: New Evidence from an Index Weights Adjustment," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 55(2), pages 893-912, 04.
  10. Lintner, John, 1971. "The Effect of Short Selling and Margin Requirements in Perfect Capital Markets," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(05), pages 1173-1195, December.
  11. Mikkelson, Wayne H. & Partch, M. Megan, 1985. "Stock price effects and costs of secondary distributions," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 165-194, June.
  12. Ernan Haruvy & Charles N. Noussair, 2006. "The Effect of Short Selling on Bubbles and Crashes in Experimental Spot Asset Markets," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 61(3), pages 1119-1157, 06.
  13. De Long, J Bradford, et al, 1990. " Positive Feedback Investment Strategies and Destabilizing Rational Speculation," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 45(2), pages 379-95, June.
  14. Stefan Palan, 2013. "A Review Of Bubbles And Crashes In Experimental Asset Markets," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(3), pages 570-588, 07.
  15. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  16. repec:dgr:kubcen:2012092 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Richard S. Dale & Johnnie E. V. Johnson & Leilei Tang, 2005. "Financial markets can go mad: evidence of irrational behaviour during the South Sea Bubble -super-1 ," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 58(2), pages 233-271, 05.
  18. Shleifer, Andrei, 1986. " Do Demand Curves for Stocks Slope Down?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 41(3), pages 579-90, July.
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