Here is a quote from “The Thirties America and the Great Depression” c1967,by Fon W. Boardman, Jr. page 26
Perhaps most ominous of all was the increase in bank failures. In 1929, 659 American banks had failed: in 1930 the number rose to 1,352, and in 1931 to 2,294. Just before Christmas, 1930, the Bank of the United States in New York City collapsed. It had 400,000 depositors, many of them recent immigrants, and its failure, the worst in the country’s history, affected a third of all the people of the city. A bank panic in the Middle South closed 129 banks. As usual, people began to withdraw their money and it is estimated that by 1931 they had taken $1,000,000,000 from the care of the bankers and had hidden it away in everything from safe deposit boxes to old mattresses. And just at the time when the people were losing jobs and money, states and other governmental units imposed new taxes to make up for declining revenues from other sources. Thus the depression was chiefly responsible for the introduction of the sales tax, Kentucky being the first state to have one, in 1930. Other states and cities followed suit.FDR took office in 1933 and there were 4,000 bank failures and 1,500 saving and loan failures. Here is a graph I "borrowed" from Calculated Risk. (Double click for a larger view)
Our last banking fiasco in the late 1980's had over 531 banks going bust in 1989 alone. The question arises is there more to this mess than meets the eye? Common sense suggests that the current banking crisis should be a lot worse.
The following is from an article, that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, CCV (November 5, 1932), pp. 3-4 titled" What about the Banks." It was written by Frank A. Vanderlip, former president of the National City Bank of New York. Bear in mind that 1932 was three years into the Great Depression.
The present economic disturbance has been so severe that it as make even some changes in our language. No longer is it an apt metaphor to say that anything is “as safe as a bank.” The word “securities” has almost become obsolete. An investment that drops in price to a tenth or, perhaps, even to a twentieth of its former range is not a security; it is a jeopardy. The page of stock-and-bond quotations might well be headed Quotations of Risks and Hazards. To call them securities in the light of their fluctuations is ironical.
In 1720, a financial debacle added to the English language a phrase which has persisted in common world-wide use for two centuries. A hopelessly exploded financial venture is to this day called a South Sea Bubble.
The South Sea Company in its time was the rival of the Bank of England. It was the ambition of the Tories that it should supplant the Bank of England. When the bubble burst, the extreme decline in the price of the stock was from 1,000 to 135. The company withstood the shock, however and continued in business for eighty years.
Here is an example from out own times: United States Steel and General Motors stocks, the two leading industrials of the country, declined from the high quotations of 1929 to 8 per cent of that price. The decline in the stock of the South Sea Company was only to 13 ½ per cent of its highest quotation. Take another: The stock of what has long been one of the premier banks of the country declined from 585 to 23 ½. That is to say, it fell to 4 percent of its highest quotation. The decline in the market price of this great American banking institution was therefore more than three times as severe as was the fall in the stock of the South Sea Company.
That illustration is by no means a unique one. There were innumerable American bank stocks which made a more distressing record. Between October 1, 1929, and August 31 1932, 4,835 American banks failed. They had deposits aggregating $3,263,049,000. . . . .
The decline in the price of bank stocks was only a minor phase of our debacle. The quoted value of all stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange was, on September 1, 1929 $89,668,276,854. By July 1, 1932, the quoted value of all stocks had fallen to $15,633,479,577.
Stockholders had lost $74,000,000,000. This figure is so large, that not many minds can grasp it. It is $616 for every one of us in America. It is, roughly, three times what we spent in fighting the World War (WWI). . . . . . .
Not only did our investments shrivel in the last three years but we even frequently lost our pocketbooks. Cash in hand, left for safekeeping in a bank, often went the way of our investments, and worse. Almost $3,000,000,000 of our daily-used cash funds were sequestered in the doubtful assets of the 4,835 insolvent banks. Widespread communities were left with only the mattress as a safe depository, and with little to put into it. People became so frightened in regard to the safety of the banks that they locked up in safe-deposit vaults, or secreted elsewhere, more than $1,500,000,000.
I expected a lot more bank closures January 8th and there was only one. Do you get the feeling that everything is OK now and we can stop worrying?