Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dutch East India Company

In 1602, the Dutch government was sponsoring the creation of a single "United East Indies Company" that was also granted a monopoly over the Asian trade. The charter of the new company empowered it to build forts, maintain armies, and conclude treaties with Asian rulers. It provided for a venture that would continue for 21 years, with a financial accounting only at the end of each decade.
The Dutch East India Company remained huge trading concern for almost 200 years, paying an 18% annual dividend. In its declining years in the late 18th century it was referred to as Vergaan Onder Corruptie (referring to the acronym VOC) which translates as "Perished By Corruption".

Five major problems, can explain the decline of Dutch East India Company:
There was a steady erosion of intra-Asiatic trade by changes in the Asiatic political and economic environment that the VOC could do little about. These factors gradually squeezed the company out of Persia, Surat, the Malabar Coast, and Bengal. The company had to confine its operations to the belt it physically controlled, from Ceylon through the Indonesian archipelago. The volume of this intra-Asiatic trade, and its profitability, therefore had to shrink.
The way the company was organized in Asia (centralized on its hub in Batavia) that initially had offered advantages in gathering market information, began to cause disadvantages in the 18th century, because of the inefficiency of first shipping everything to this central point. This disadvantage was most keenly felt in the tea trade, where competitors like the EIC and the Ostend Company shipped directly from China to Europe.
The "venality" of the VOC's personnel (in the sense of corruption and non-performance of duties), though a problem for all East-India Companies at the time, seems to have plagued the VOC on a larger scale than its competitors. To be sure, the company was not a "good employer". Salaries were low, and "private-account trading" was officially not allowed. Not surprisingly, it proliferated in the 18th century to the detriment of the company's performance. From about the 1790s onward, the phrase perished by corruption (also abbreviated VOC in Dutch) came to summarize the company's future.
A problem that the VOC shared with other companies was the high mortality and morbidity among its employees. This decimated the company's ranks and enervated many of the survivors.
A self-inflicted wound was the VOC's dividend policy. The dividends distributed by the company had exceeded the surplus it garnered in Europe in every decade but one (1710–1720) from 1690 to 1760. However, in the period up to 1730 the directors shipped resources to Asia to build up the trading capital there. Consolidated bookkeeping therefore probably would have shown that total profits exceeded dividends. In addition, between 1700 and 1740 the company retired 5.4 million guilders of long-term debt. The company therefore was still on a secure financial footing in these years. This changed after 1730. While profits plummeted the bewindhebbers only slightly decreased dividends from the earlier level. Distributed dividends were therefore in excess of earnings in every decade but one (1760–1770). To accomplish this, the Asian capital stock had to be drawn down by 4 million guilders between 1730 and 1780, and the liquid capital available in Europe was reduced by 20 million guilders in the same period. The directors were therefore constrained to replenish the company's liquidity by resorting to short-term financing from anticipatory loans, backed by expected revenues from home-bound fleets.

1 comment:

aparna john said...

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