Advance Contracts for the Sale of Wool in Medieval England: An Undeveloped and Inefficient Market?

Abstract: While it is commonly believed that derivative instruments are a recent invention, we document the existence of forward contracts for the sale of wool in medieval England around 700 years ago. The contracts were generally entered into by English monasteries, who frequently sold their wool for up to twenty years in advance to mostly foreign and particularly Italian merchants. Employing a unique source of data collected by hand from the historical records, we determine the interest rates implied in these transactions and we also examine the efficiency of the forward and spot markets. The calculated interest rates average around 20%, in accordance with available information concerning the interest rates used in other types of transactions at that time. Perhaps surprisingly, we also find little evidence of informational inefficiencies in these markets.

Published on 5th September 2011
Authors Adrian R Bell, Chris Brooks, Paul Dryburgh
Series Reference 2005-01

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