THE VARIOUS KINDS OF EXCHANGE
Before taking up the question of the activities of the foreign exchange department and the question of how bankers make money dealing in exchange, it may be well to fix in mind clearly what the various forms of foreign exchange are. Following is a description of the most important classes of bills bought and sold in the New York market:
1. Commercial Long Bills
Drafts drawn by shippers of merchandise upon buyers abroad, or upon the banking representatives of the buyers abroad, at thirty days' sight or more. The drafts may be accompanied by shipping documents or may be "clean." The former kind of bill making up the greater part of the whole amount of foreign exchange dealt in in the New York market, will be described first.
Suppose a cotton dealer in Memphis to have sold one hundred bales of cotton to a spinner in Liverpool, the arrangement being that the English buyer is to be drawn on at sixty days' sight. The first thing the Memphis merchant does is to ship the cotton on its way to Liverpool, receiving from the railroad company a receipt known as a "bill of lading." At the same time he arranges for the insurance of the cotton, receiving from the insurance company a little certificate stating that the insurance has been effected.
The next step is for the Memphis shipper to draw the draft on the Liverpool buyer—or upon some bank abroad designated by the buyer. This draft is drawn in pounds sterling for the equivalent of the dollar value of the cotton and made payable sixty days after the party abroad on whom it is drawn has seen it and written "accepted" across its face. This draft, the bill of lading received from the shipping company, and the insurance certificate received from the insurance company are then pinned together and constitute a complete "commercial long bill with documents attached."
Other less important documents go with such a bill. Sometimes invoices showing the weight and price of the cotton go along with it and sometimes there is also attached a "hypothecation slip" which formally turns over the right to the goods to the Memphis or New York banker who buys the draft and accompanying documents from the Memphis cotton shipper. Sometimes, too, insurance is effected by the buyer abroad, in which case there may be no insurance certificate. But in the main, one of these "documentary" commercial bills consists of the draft itself, the bill of lading, and an insurance certificate.
Having pinned the document and the draft together, the Memphis cotton shipper is in possession of an instrument which he can dispose of for dollars. This he does either by selling it to his bank in Memphis or by sending it to New York, in order that it may be sold there in the exchange market at the current rate of exchange. Say, the bill of exchange is drawn on London at sixty days' sight, for £1,000. The buying price for such a draft will be, perhaps, 4.84. The Memphis shipper gets his check for $4,840, and is out of the transaction. The bill has passed into a banker's hands, who will send it abroad—deposit it in some foreign bank where he keeps a balance.
As to the rate of 4.84 received by the shipper, it is to be noted that had the bill been drawn at less than sixty days' sight, he would have received more dollars for it, while if it had been drawn at more than sixty days' sight, he would have received less for it. The longer the banker who takes the draft off the shipper's hands has to wait until he can get his money back on it, the lower, naturally, the rate of exchange he is willing to pay. On the same day that demand drafts are selling at 4.87, sixty-day drafts may be selling at 4.84 and ninety-day drafts at 4.83.
Assume, in this particular case, that the draft has been taken off the shipper's hands by some foreign exchange banker in New York. By the very first steamer the latter will forward it to his banking correspondent abroad, with instructions to present it at once to the parties on whom it is drawn, in order that they may mark it "accepted—payable such-and-such-a-date." After that the bill is a double obligation of the drawer and the drawee, and may be discounted in the open market, for cash.
Just here it is necessary to digress and state that documentary commercial bills are of two kinds—"acceptance" bills and "payment" bills. In the case of the first-named, the documents are delivered to the party on whom the bill is drawn as soon as he "accepts" the bill, which puts him in a position to get possession of the merchandise at once. In the case of a "payment" bill, the credit of the man on whom it is drawn is not good enough to entitle him to such a privilege, and the only way he can get actual possession of the goods is to actually pay the draft under a rebate-of-interest arrangement. All bills drawn on banks are naturally "acceptance" bills; and being discountable and thus immediately convertible into cash abroad, command a better rate of exchange in the New York market than "payment" bills, which may be allowed to run all the way to maturity before a single pound sterling is paid on them.