Before it was fully nationalized in 1945, the Banque de France was a listed company that distributed dividends to its shareholders and was listed on the Paris stock exchange. By comparing with other stocks and indexes, I show that, in spite of large earnings, Banque de France’s stock was a lackluster but popular investment. By examining the distribution of profits between the state and ordinary shareholders, I show that the state began to exert an influence over the Bank well before its nationalization, in the nineteenth century, amounting to a stealthy takeover. I then go on to analyze the Bank’s formal governance framework and the power of its regents (directors). Using a novel method to compute the shareholders’ statistical distribution, I conclude that small new shareholders who were less sophisticated bought predominantly shares from old larger shareholders. Eventually, most of the shareholders were “petit-bourgeois” passive rentiers who accepted the mediocre performance and kept reelecting the regents. I conclude by saying that the power of the 200 largest shareholders (“200 families”) was a political myth with little foundation in reality.
The author wishes to thank an anonymous referee for his comments and one of the editors, Christopher Hanes, for his very constructive suggestions.
The views expressed in this chapter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Banque de France.
Manas, A. (2019), "
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