The global stock markets are strongly up today on the latest news from the EU on the deal on Greek debt (and little bit less…). There is no reason to spend a lot of time describing the deal here, but I nonetheless feel it might be a good day to tell a bit about something else – the so-called Hoover Moratorium of 1931.
80 years ago it was not Greece, which was at the centre of attention, but rather Germany. Germany was struggling to pay back war debt and reparations for World War I and Germany was effectively on the brink of default and the Germany economy was in serious trouble – not much unlike today’s Greek situation.
On June 20 1931 US President Hoover issued a statement in which he suggested a moratorium on payments of World War I debts, postponing the initial payments, as well as interest. Hoover’s hope was the moratorium would ease the strains on especially the German economy and thereby in general help the global economy, which of course at that time was deep in depression.
Hoover’s idea was certainly not popular with many US citizens (like today’s German taxpayers who are not to happy to see their taxes being spending in “saving” Greece). However, the plan got most opposition from the French government, which insisted that the German government had to pay it’s debts on time as scheduled.
Despite the negative reception of Hoover’s proposal it went on to gain support from fifteen nations including France by July 6 1931.
An interesting side story on the Hoover Moratorium is why Hoover came up with the idea in the first place. Barry Eichengreen askes this question in his great book on the gold standard and the Great Depression, “Golden Fetters”: “It is unclear whether Hoover was motivated by the need for action to stabilize the international economy or by a desire to protect U.S. banks that had invested heavily in Germany”. Try replace “Hoover” with “Merkel/Sarkozy”, “U.S. banks” with “German/French banks” and “Germany” with “Greece”.
So how did the Hoover Moratorium play out? The initial market reaction July 1931 was very favourable. German stock jumped 25% on the Monday announce the initial announcement of the Hoover Moratorium. Here is how the New York Times described the global market reaction “the swiftest advance during any corresponding period in a generation” (quoted from Clark Johnson’s “Gold, France and the Great Depression”).
However, the party did not last and soon the international market turned down and the Depression continued. Many countries didn’t emerge from the Depression before the end of World War II. Lets hope we are more lucky this time around.