History of the stock market
Stock markets are some of the most important parts of today’s global economy. Countries around the world depend on stock markets for economic development.
However, stock markets are a relatively new phenomenon. They haven’t always played an important role in global economics. Today, I’m going to share the history of the stock market and explain why stock markets have become the driving economic force they are today.
In the 1100s, for example, France had a system where courretiers de change managed agricultural debts throughout the country on behalf of banks. This can be seen as the first major example of brokerage because the men effectively traded debts.
Later on, the merchants of Venice were credited with trading government securities as earl y as the 13th century. Soon after, bankers in the nearby Italian cities of Pisa, Verona, Genoa, and Florence also began trading government securities.
The world’s first stock markets (without stocks)
The world’s first stock markets are generally linked back to Belgium. Bruges, Flanders, Ghent, and Rotterdam in the Netherlands all hosted their own “stock” market systems in the 1400s and 1500s.
However, it’s generally accepted that Antwerp had the world’s first stock market system. Antwerp was the commercial center of Belgium and it was home to the influential Van der Beurze family. As a result, early stock markets were typically called Beurzen.
All of these early stock markets had one thing missing: stocks. Although the infrastructure and institutions resembled today’s stock markets, nobody was actually trading shares of a company. Instead, the markets dealt with the affairs of government, businesses, and individual debt. The system and organization was similar, although the actual properties being traded were different.
The world’s first publically traded company
The East India Company is widely recognized as the world’s first publically traded company. There was one simple reason why the East India Company became the first publically traded company: risk.
Put simply, sailing to the far corners of the planet was too risky for any single company. When the East Indies were first discovered to be a haven of riches and trade opportunities, explorers sailed there in droves. Unfortunately, few of these voyages ever made it home. Ships were lost, fortunes were squandered, and financiers realized they had to do something to mitigate all that risk.
As a result, a unique corporation was formed in 1600 called “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies”. This was the famous East India Company and it was the first company to use a limited liability formula.
Investors realized that putting all their “eggs into one basket” was not a smart way to approach investment in East Indies trading. Let’s say that a ship returning from the East Indies had a 33% chance of being seized by pirates. Instead of investing in one voyage and risking the loss of all invested money, investors could purchase shares in multiple companies. Even if one ship was lost out of 3 or 4 invested companies, the investor would still make a profit.
The formula proved to be very successful. Within a decade, similar charters had been granted to other businesses throughout England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.