Scott Fulford and Felipe Schwartzman
We examine a period during the prevalence of the gold standard in the United States to provide evidence that speculation about a currency peg can have damaging effects on bank balance sheets. In particular, the defeat of the pro-silver candidate in the 1896 presidential election was associated with a large and permanent increase in bank leverage, with the initial impact most pronounced among states where banks held more specie in proportion to their assets and were, therefore, also more committed to paying out deposits in specie. Based on the cross-sectional pattern of changes in leverage observed in 1896, we construct a measure of the credibility of the gold standard spanning the entire sample period. Changes in this measure correlate with changes in aggregate bank leverage, suggesting that uncertainty about the monetary standard played an important role in the 1893 banking panic and its aftermath.