State Bank and stock syndicates in Russia, 1899-1917.

Author — A. Bugrov *

Not much work is dedicated to the Exchange syndicates, created at the initiative of the State Bank. Although they attracted the attention of economists in the beginning of  XX century. [1], the detailed analysis of their activities was given by I. F. Gindin only in the 1980 [2]. We can’t be satisfied by the episodic coverage of this topic in recent years [3] which is based on the few published sources [4] meanwhile there exist some unpublished recently found materials from the Russian State Historical Archives. Based on new information it is possible to refine our knowledge on this interesting phenomenon of the Russian economic history of the early twentieth century.

The debate about the role of government in the economy regarding Russia is unlikely to be solved by the implementation of a foreign «external» model. The collection of historical, economic and other factors has caused the great importance of the state in our country, whose role in the development of Russia’s capitalist economy was insignificant in the II half of the XIX century — beginning of the XX century [5]. The solution of macroeconomic problems, finding the ways out of the economic crisisses, support of the stability of national currency required the state to use the best tools and techniques.

Events of the late XIX century have become the challenge of time, that demanded new solutions. The monetary reform was conducted under the direction of S. J. Witte the Minister of Finance in 1895-1897, it introduced the «gold ruble» as the primary means of payment. An important indicator of the stability of the ruble was the state of the Russian securities market. In addition, significant amounts of equity portfolios of commercial banks led to the fact that the state at the securities market influenced its liquidity to a great extent.

The first tests of the strength of ruble came almost immediately after the reform. The Mint Regulations were published in 1899 that summarized the statements of the reform, when the wave of Europe economic crises swept the country. The crises demanded energetic steps from the government and the State Bank in order to support the national currency and banking system liquidity. It is natural that the largest in the empire Stock Exchange located in St. Petersburg became the subject of the State Bank. In St.Petersburg the volume of transactions on purchase and sale of securities was far superior to those in Moscow, not to mention the province. This was primarily a stock exchange — despite the fact that the stock department there was isolated only in 1900.

Creation of interbank associations with participation and the main role of the State Bank — exchange syndicates was the tool to support the policy of Russian securities. The form of association — syndicates — has been prompted by a modern development of the industry, where the intensive processes of syndication could be seen. The exchange syndicates were like the industrial enterprises, but the goals were targeted on the stabilization not the commerce.

The effectiveness of the syndicates was clearly visible from the international experience. Thanks to syndication of French financial groups in 1887 people managed to make good money on buying Russian securities on the German stock market. Syndicates were like an everyday occurrence for the Paris Stock Exchange , they were used for both:  organization of the subscription for securities, and in support of their course.

This dominant «private» nature of the Paris stock exchange syndicates that influenced the organization of such associations in St. Petersburg, yet contrasted with the latter. I. F. Gindin who studied the St. Petersburg stock syndicates, considered as the  main result «the strong introduction of the idea of government intervention in the activities of the stock exchange as a necessary measure of state economic policy» [6].

This is true for both the intervention and for the issuing syndicates, operating, replacing each other, from 1899 to 1917 Despite various problems (intervention syndicates created to align the ailing securities exchange, emission — for the dissemination of government loans), their activities covered a considerable period of time. Syndicates have become a phenomenon in the stock market not only the life of St. Petersburg, but also in the other territories of Russia, that were strongly oriented toward quotations of the «northern capital».

October 20, 1899, during the ensuing economic crisis, on the initiative of the Minister of Finance S. J. Witte, an interventional syndicate was created in order to maintain exchange quotations of Russian securities on the Stock Exchange in St. Petersburg [7]. It included the largest St. Petersburg banks and bankers [8], who were active participants in the stock market, which pledged to support the policies of Russian securities from the decline — but only «such enterprises, the viability of which was no doubt» [9]. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Finance asked for the permission of Nicholas II to let the State Bank purchase the securities of joint stock companies for 25 million rubles., and to issue loans to Russian companies for their stocks, shares and bonds [10].

The syndicate worked periodically on the basis of renewable contracts. By mutual agreement the syndicate losses were charged to the joint-stock banks, and the profit was divided equally between them and the State Bank with for net benefit of the last 6% on the amount of advances. In case of the unprofitableness of a syndicate its members had to reimburse the State Bank the amount of damages, but without calculating the discount rate. However, a prominent Russian bankers didn’t have to doubt about the absence of commercial transactions with their forced participation under the pressure of the main bank of the empire.

The entire initial capital of $ 5.35 million rubles was «advanced » by the State Bank as joint-stock commercial banks declined the shares’ contributions, citing the lack of available funds at the time of crisis. However, the actual amount available to the syndicate, was significantly less than stated — the state limit of advance payments for these purposes — and it was determined as «the real need». In 1900 the capital was increased to 8.025 million rubles due to increased volumes of purchases of the securities [11].

With the renewal of the contract on June 6, 1900 the syndicate began to operate as a well-functioning machine. E. D. Pleske reported to S. J. Witte: «In summer the debt reached 3.6 million rubles, but then in August part of the securities was sold, and by September the figure of expenses decreased to 2.8 million rubles., and remained like that until October. Since that time, the costs increased significantly, the Board acted on the unanimous decisions of all the participants, who felt the impact timely, necessary, and safe «[12].

But even with the increase of capital the attempts to rectify the situation on the stock exchange were not successful. In 1900, it continued to evolve with the increasing negative trends. Reviewer  of «St. Petersburg Gazette» assessed the going on phenomena as deplorable, allowing himself to talk about temporary improvements only occasionally:

( April 3, 1900), «New crash of the well known bankers Nikitin caused very dejected mood on the speculative market today, that culminated with the further decrease in the values of the market, and in particular the decrease of the industrial values…»

(May 12, 1900), «The mood of the market is already weak, it got worse and ended with a general fall in prices with no hope of improvement.»

(May 26, 1900), «The lack of work in the speculative market, causes further decline in values.»

(June 1, 1900), «The dividend  market is in panic, there aren’t any reputable papers — everything goes on sale in the complete absence of demand. At the same time, the political horizon is darkened with clouds, leaving no hope for any improvement in the prevailing mood «[13].

Ministry of Finance undertook desperate attempts to normalize the situation. April 4, 1900 brought the «reassuring statements from the Ministry of Finance,» mentioned in the press that smoothed the negative trends for a while. June 12, 1900 the State Bank in support of the Russian securities offered favorable conditions for the grant of loans under their coverage — up to 70% of all assessments listed on the Stock Exchange and under the lower percentage.

However, the radical change was not observed, and by the end of 1900 the situation continued to be dull. The main reason of the situation was searched in the shortcomings of the syndicate. According to I. Isayev, the correspondent of E. D. Pleske – the  manager f the State Bank — «nothing worked out,» [14]. This led to the fact that the syndicate was led by a few bankers from St. Petersburg, who defined the list of «supported» securities relying on the meetings they had. With the help of the agents, they told the participants of the exchange trading the decisions of the Syndicate – and they quickly bought these securities and offered them on the subsequent sale to the syndicate at higher prices (see Table I.).

There is no doubt that this operation was prepared in advance. Behind were the St. Petersburg banks that suffered during the crisis and had significant loss and now were trying to improve their situation by speculation — first of all these were the St. Petersburg Discount and Loan Bank and the St. Petersburg commercial and industrial banks [15].

At the beginning of 1901 almost half of all syndicate funds was spent to purchase shares of commercial banks. Then came the shares of large metallurgical and engineering enterprises, as well as papers of oil partnerships. Thus, members of the syndicate kept themselves from financial difficulties.


The portfolio of syndicate securities and its costs February 15, 1901



Number of papers

Exchange price on February 15, 1901, rub.

The value of shares on the stock price, rub.

Price of the shares when bought be Syndicate, rub.

Syndicate’s loss, rub.

Shares of the Banks

Shares of Russian Bank for Foreign Trade






Shares of Russian-Chinese Bank





Shares of Russian trade and industrial commercial bank






Shares of the St. Petersburg International Bank






Shares of the St. Petersburg Discount and Loan Bank






Shares the St. Petersburg private commercial bank






Total (for shares of the banks)





Shares of metallurgical and engineering companies

Shares of Alexander Steel Plant






Shares of the Bryansk Steel Plant






Shares of the Donetsk-Yrievsk Steel Plant






Shares of the Nikolsko-Mariupol Steel Plant






Shares of the  “Sormovo” joint-stock company






Shares of Kolomna Carriage Works






Shares of the Mal’tsovsky Plant






Shares of the Putilov Plant






Shares of the  “Hartmann” joint-stock company






Shares of the  “Bue” joint-stock company






Shares of the St. Petersburg Metal Factory






Shares of Moscow Metal Factory






Total (for metallurgical and machine building firms)





Papers of the Oil Companies

Shares of the Baku Oil Society






Shares of the Caspian Partnership






Shares of «Mantashev & Co.»






Interests of the Nobel partnership






Shares of the Nobel partnership






Total (for the papers of the oil companies)










Source: RSHA. F. 587. Gn. 56. D. 324. L. 3.


During the period of severe securities market conditions it was suggested to resume the work of the syndicate, but on the more efficient basis. As always, it had to unite the efforts of the State Bank and other leading banks of the Empire to counter negative trends on the stock exchanges. The Merchant Bank of Moscow wanted to be among these banks, its St. Petersburg branch did not participate in the activities of the previous syndicate. However, the conditions that were stated by the bank — bound by a unanimous decision to support one or another of the securities, as well as the requirement to provide information on the status of the issuer — were not accepted by the Ministry of Finance and Merchant Bank was not included in the syndicate [16].

According to the participants of the first syndicate, the lack of capital was the main cause of its ineffective work. Raised by the banks, the question of increasing the capital on a quarter had been resolved favorably, and according the agreement of February 17, 1901, it was determined to 10,031,000 rubles — the record amount, that in 1903 was reduced to its original size in  5.35 million rubles. [17]

According to the draft proposed to the manager of the State Bank in February 1901, the syndicate was set for a year under the chairmanship of the E. D. Pleske. If necessary, its action could be extended for a year. The State Bank still singled out a certain amount of money to the syndicate, or more exactly, advanced it to the members of the company – to the joint-stock commercial banks, which were obliged to use the resource for the stipulated purpose. The participants, respectively, offered to support those papers that dominated in their portfolios — thus the  syndicate served the regulation of  the liquidity of these banks.

The decision to support certain of the securities was taken by simple majority. It was assumed that the E. D. Pleske would have the sole right of veto. The syndicate elected three officials «for the management of the affairs» – it was the executive committee, which carried out the decisions of the syndicate. It was suggested to keep firm prices on the supported securities.

According to I. F. Gindin’s calculations in  1899-1901 years,  the syndicate purchased on 11 million rubles., and sold — 4 million rubles. Thus, the remainder by the end of 1901 — that was, in fact, the loss — had reached 7 million rubles. Only due to the intensive sales on 6.3 million rubles in 1902-1903 it declined to 0.8 million rubles. [18]

The intervention syndicate, that started working in autumn 1899, was renewed June 6, 1900 and extended till the first of March, 1902, and then again extended for another year, until February 22, 1903. It worked until March 1, 1904. However, during the recent years, as noted by V. N. Kokovtsov, «the syndicate sold only the values that had been previously acquired and did not make any new purchases» [19].

However, the prevailing unfavorable situation on the stock exchange that was mainly associated with the speculation in the beginning of Russian-Japanese war, was forced to resume its work. In January 1904 courses of Russian dividend securities were dramatically reduced, and from January 28, the syndicate started their purchases. At the end of the old syndicate March 1, 1904, the participants signed a new agreement for an extension of its work. Once again the capital increased — by 50%, reaching the value of 8.025 million rubles.

This increase signified that syndicate’s sluggish actions in 1903 gave way to intense shopping. That continued over the 1904-1906 years. The syndicate spent more than 14 million rubles on this operation. Nearly 9 million rubles was spent in 1905. When in 1906 and early 1907 the situation on the stock exchange began to normalize the sums were covered by the sale of the shares.

With the economic crisis of 1908 purchases jumped to 4.8 million rubles. The resulting balance of nearly 2.5 million rubles could be covered with the  increased sales, conducted in the following year.

Formally, the syndicate finished its work April 26, 1911. According to the report from October 20, 1899, the net profit from operations was set at 659 thousand rubles. This amount is largely made up of dividends received from the shares. And although the State Bank actually received only 2% instead of 6% for amounts advanced by commercial banks, the results of syndicate’s work could be called successful. Thanks to its efforts, many Russian companies were saved from financial hardship and even bankruptcy, and banks kept liquidity.

Its expertise was used a year later, in 1912.  The situation on the stock exchange resembled the situation in 1900, with the only difference that it was generated by the political not economic crisis. In 1912, because of the economic growth and the beginning of the Balkan wars, a large number of securities was thrown on the European exchanges but they couldn’t be fully placed because of the shortage of money during the times of the war.  This process affected Russia, the consequence was the fall of the securities’ rate at the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange. The stockbrokers, who were selling short, immediately brisked up the process.

October 18, 1912 St. Petersburg’s largest banks and banking houses that were under the auspices of the State Bank formed a stock syndicate, designed to support the stock prices of Russian securities. The scheme of its management remained the same. Although the decisions were taken by the majority, the State Bank could reject the applications of the members of syndicate who asked to support one or other securities. Thus, the stock syndicate remained under the control and direction of the main bank of the empire.

Circulating capital, composed of various shares of credit institutions, had 30 million rubles. Within this amount, the buying up of devalued securities begun.

In contrast to the syndicate of 1899-1900, it was not working with the shares of the banks, considering the sad experience of the previous speculation. The list of the ‘saved’ papers was made up of the shares of oil, metallurgical, metalworking and gold mining companies, that were already familiar to us: the Association of Oil Production «Nobel Brothers», the Russian association «Oil,» Fellowship of the oil production «Lianozov GV& Sons, «the Company» A.I.Mantashev and K «( the production of kerosene), Taganrog and Nikopol-Mariupol metallurgical societies, of St. Petersburg Metal Plant companies, Bryansk Rail-Rolling Plant Society, the Russian gold-mining company.

The syndicate was nicknamed as «exchange red cross.» However, its activities were not shown in the press — even the newspaper «Exchange Gazette», the official mouthpiece of the big bourgeoisie, attributed the sudden bursts of stabilization in the stock market to some unknown forces. As wrote the newspaper columnist, October 28, 1912 at the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange «the offering of material was so fast that at the beginning of the meeting there was a complete lack of possibility to place something with the yesterday’s prices, and actually they started to give away with any named price, and then there was a little reaction when the mood was likely to recover «[20].

In November-December 1912, there was some weakening of the exchange activity under the conditions of military events in the Balkans, but the important fact was the end of the further decline of the securities’ rate. According to the same observer, November 29, 1912, «the mood changed dramatically for the better. Yesterday’s sellers started to defray, and their purchasing significantly strengthened the overall trend, that especially improved the mood at the rail way sector, oil and metallurgical values «[21].

The operations of the syndicate finished in April 1913. The securities were purchased for 11 million rubles, and the profit amounted to 371 thousand rubles, where 126 thousand rubles was given to the State Bank as it was written in the contract. In addition, the Bank retained six per cent of total profits in its favor.

Made as a temporary phenomenon, the syndicate managed to «get used» to the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange and became its «regular client.» Its work was prolonged again with the end of the contract. The operations were resumed in June 1913 and ended on September 13 the same year. They lasted the next year, until the closing 16 July 1914 on the eve of World War II.

Hypertrophied costs of the State Bank on exchange intervention met strong condemnation of contemporaries in 1914. State Duma deputy I. V. Titov believed that the large amounts of intervention in 1914 were not reasonable in contrast to the crisis in 1912: «The political and economic situation gives no assurance that the securities bought up by the syndicate can be implemented in the near future . First State Bank has given 12 million rubles, to the interventions, and then it has increased its loans to 30 million rubles. Finally recently there was 46 million rubles at the disposal of the syndicate. «[22] Titov feared that these sums would be spent on dubious values, that could not be sold on the exchange — such as, for example, shares of the Parviainen plant that were strongly unstable, but had already been purchased for the sum of about 6.5 million rubles.

However, in 1914 (liked it was in 1900) the shares of Russian commercial banks were in the first place by the sums of the purchased securities. These were: Russian Foreign Trade Bank, the Russian-Asian, St. Petersburg International and St. Petersburg private banks. Such attention of the main bank of the empire to the position of joint-stock commercial banks was caused by the fact that these banks were the main object of the State Bank lending, which singled out about 80% of all loans and loan transactions in the 1910s. .

With the outbreak of World War II the activities of the intervention syndicate came to naught, giving way to the emission syndicate. The emission character of the syndicate was seen in 1906 and 1909. The bonds of the first and the second issue of the Russian state loan were placed out with the help of the syndicate in 1905 [23] and the bonds of the third edition of the state loan of 200 million rubles in 1908. State Bank as a member of the syndicate «had a share in the business,» adding some securities to its portfolio.

In the First World War the role of emission syndicates at the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange reached its climax. When issuing bonds of 5% loan in 914 and 1915 the main bank of the empire and the savings banks received 40% of their sum — 200 million rubles according to the  loan of 1914 and 400 million rubles according to the loan of 1915. They were placed through the agency of the State Banks and savings banks, where a special subscription was opened. The State Bank had to do the general guidance of the implementation of military loans, had to instruct and supply all the agencies involved in the dissemination of the loan [24].

With the implementation of the military loan in 1916, State Bank uses agitation for the first time — not only using the traditional newspapers, but also hanging posters and ads, releasing a series of propaganda postcards with a common motif of valor of the Russian army.

The syndicate was established in March 1917 for the last time. It was under the auspices of the State Bank and had a goal to implement the military «Liberty Loan» of the Provisional Government [25].

«Liberty Loan» was originally supposed to be called «Victory Loan» (the name was taken from a military loan in France), but later, apparently under the influence of SRs, it received its current name. The purpose of the loan was to accumulate population’s temporarily surplus funds and to use them in order to cover the war expenses.

March 28 1917, Mikhail Tereshchenko, the Finance Minister signed an agreement with the syndicate [26]. It was assumed that the bond yield would make 5% per annum and capital would be repaid over 49 years «through drawings, made once a year in December,» [27]. The first drawing was scheduled for December 1922.

The syndicate comprised 30 leading joint-stock commercial banks, the State Bank was 50% responsible for its work. The union included the largest banks in the country (Russian for foreign trade, Petrograd international commercial, the Russian-Asian, the Volga-Kama commercial, the Azov-Don Commercial Bank, and the others). Though the share of responsibility of each member in the affairs of the associations was about 3.5%. The largest share of about 4% had the Moscow Merchant Bank.

By signing an agreement with the Minister of Finance, the syndicate undertook the obligation to open the general subscription on the loan at a price of 85% from their nominal values [28]. The banks were obliged to pass the resulting revenue from the sale to the Treasury. And the results of the subscription were reported to the Minister — not later than June 15, 1917

The banks guaranteed the loan up to 3 billion rubles, and if the result of the subscription was below that sum, the balance of unrealized securities was distributed among the banks, depending on the share of responsibility of each of them.

The loan bonds could be mortgaged at its face value in the State Bank. They also could be taken on account of advances for the government supplies, on account of advances for the loans, given by the Treasury, or for account of the excise taxes or customs duties — at prices that were fixed by the Minister of Finance. These attractive terms put new securities in a privileged position — similar to the testimony of the state rent. The Minister of Finance guaranteed the participants of the syndicate the possibility to get «special mobile credits» at the State Bank under the bonds of this loan of 75% of their nominal value by 5.75% per annum.

Subscription took place in almost all the banking institutions of the country, as well as the savings banks and treasuries. However, within 4 months after the opening of the syndicate operations, it became clear that the spread of the loan did not go as fast as expected. However, by September 23, 1917 despite the agitation of the Bolsheviks, who called to ignore the subscription, the bonds were distributed among 900 thousands subscribers on the sum of 4 billion rubles [29].

«Bread for sale – want to buy» Liberty Loan «- read the inscription on the card with a picture of pre-revolutionary peasant, carrying on sale sacks of grain. Due to the lack of currency, «Liberty Loan», as well as other military borrowings, was legalized in circulation as monetary unit at face value of the bonds. At the same time the coupons were cut off, and used separately as money substitutes — until 1922

Thus, the stock market syndicates were used in the early XX century, In general, successfully coping with their goals — supporting Russian securities, or placing the bonds of public loans. First tested in the Ministry of S. J. Witte, who was «the most consistent supporter of the usage of the State Bank resources for financing large banks and enterprises» [30], they became a permanent instrument of state intervention on the market.



* Bugrov Alexander (Central Bank of Russia).

[1] Titov I. V.  State Bank and the financial and economic problems. St. Petersburg., 1914.

[2] Gindin I. F. Crisis funding for heavy industry (late XIX — early XX c.) / / Historical Notes. V. 105. M., 1980. P. 105-149.

[3] Shabalin A. O. State regulation of stock exchanges in Russia (1900-1917 years.) / / Finance. 1994. Number 11. P. 58-61; On the policy of state credit during the period of the Provisional Government / / Bank Services. 1998. Number 4. P. 35-37.

[4] The publication of documents on the implementation of the «Liberty Loan» (1917) publication: Economic situation in Russia on the eve of the Great October Socialist Revolution. Documents and Materials: March-October 1917, Part 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.


[5] Gindin I. F. State Bank and the economic policy of the tsarist government (1861-1892 years.). M., 1960.; Banks and Economic Policy in Russia (XIX — early XX c.). Essays on the history and typology of Russian banks. M., 1997.

[6] Gindin I. F. Crisis management funding … P117.

[7]. Gindin I. F. Crisis management funding … P 113.

[8] St. Petersburg International Commercial Bank, Commercial Bank of Siberia, Russian Commercial and Industrial Commercial Bank, the Russian-Chinese Bank, St.Petersburg Discount and Loan Bank, Russian Bank for Foreign Trade, Volga-Kama Commercial Bank, St. Petersburg private commercial bank, etc.

[9] RSHA. F. 587. Gn. 56. D. 5. L. 41.

[10] Shepelev L. E. Joint-stock companies in Russia. L., 1973. P. 151.

[11] RSHA. F. 587. Gn. 56. D. 324. L. 9.

[12] RSHA. F. 587. Gn. 56. D. 324 A. 4.

[13] St. Petersburg Gazette. 1900. April 4, May 12, May 27, June 2.

[14] RSHA. F. 587. Gn. 56. D. 1661. L. 18-21, vol.

[15] However, the speculation of these banks could not cover the formed loss. In 1900 the St. Petersburg Discount and Loan Bank was forced to write off the account «Securities» on more than 0.5 million rubles, and in 1901 its losses for this item exceeded 1.7 million rubles. (Bovykin V. I., Petrov Y. A. Commercial Banks of the Russian Empire. M., 1994. P. 106.)

[16] Gindin I.F.  Banks and Economic Policy in Russia … P. 285.

[17] Russian and European finance market in 1904-1906. Moscow-Leningrad, 1926. P. 55.

[18] Gindin I.F.  Crisis management funding … P. 115-116.

[19] Russian and European finance market … P 56.

[20] Stock Exchange Gazette. 1912. November 29. P. 4.

[21]  Stock Exchange Gazette. 1912. November 29. P. 4.


[22] Titov I. V. State Bank… P. 35.

[23] For this purpose, was organized the syndicate «in order to settle the price of Russian state loan in 1905″ that worked under the leadership of Finance Minister V. N. Kokovtsov in early November 1906

[24] The State Bank’s Report 1915 Pg., 1916. P. XI.

[25] On the «Liberty Loan», consult: Economic situation in Russia … P. 395-399; Volobuev P. V. The economic policy of the Provisional Government. M., 1962. P. 339-352.; Tarancov V. I. The securities of the Russian State. M-Toliatti, 1992. P. 153-155.

[26] The document was published: The economic situation … P. 395-399.

[27] The document was published: The economic situation … P. 396.

[28] Bonds of the «Liberty Loan» were identified with the face value of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 25,000 rubles.

[29] The economic situation in Russia … P. 399, 422.

[30] Gindin I. F. Crisis management funding … P 106.



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