On this day in economic and financial history...
Modern economic history is populated with a number of small events that add up to big consequences. However, few economic events of the past century have been as big as the Bretton Woods conference , which sought to remake the modern global economy in the wake of World War II. Although the Bretton Woods system fell apart in 1971, two organizations created during the conference, and formally established on Dec. 27, 1945, are still going strong: The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank .
Today, 193 countries take part in the World Bank, with all but 12 of those countries participating in at least four of the five organizations under the World Bank Group umbrella. The IMF counts 189 countries on its member roster . The two entities often take complementary roles in guiding and assisting the global economy.
The IMF took a leading role in propping up national economies around the world during the 2008 financial crisis, and it has since committed more than $325 billion in resources to various member nations. It also plays a watchdog role in the global financial system and will provide economic expertise as needed.
The World Bank focuses more on building stronger economies in developing nations through four of its five agencies . It presently manages a portfolio of assets worth about $75 billion , much of which will go toward development initiatives. The World Bank's total assets, which include loans outstanding and borrowings, were worth nearly $340 billion at the end of its 2012 fiscal year .
Dec. 27, 1881 was one of the most important days of Thomas Edison's hugely successful business career. That day, the U.S. Patent Office granted him 23 patents , many of which covered vital aspects of the technology behind his first commercially successful light bulbs. Other patents focused on electricity transmission or generation, and the total effect of these patents gave Edison -- and the General Electric (NYSE:GE) company he helped create, and to which he later sold the patents -- a large degree of control over the entire business of electrified housing, from beginning to end.
The power of these patents created such a dominant enterprise that GE became one of the original components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) just four years after Edison's 1892 patent transfer. It wasn't on for long, but the Dow brought GE back by 1907, and it's remained part of the index ever since.
Pfizer consolidates power
One December 27th in the late 1800s also marked a turning point for another Dow component. On Dec. 27, 1891, the death of Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) co-founder Charles Erhart briefly posed a problem of control for the growing chemical company's remaining large shareholders. Erhart's stake in the company had been willed to his son. However, Charles Pfizer, the remaining living co-founder, had arranged his partnership agreement with Erhart to enable buyback of his deceased partner's shares at half their true value. This option was quickly exercised, and control of Pfizer was brought fully into Pfizer family hands.
At the turn of the 20th century, Pfizer took on its modern name (it had previously been Charles Pfizer and Co.) when it incorporated in the state of New Jersey. Charles Pfizer died six years later. By this point, his family chemical-manufacturing business had grown into a corporation with $3 million in annual sales .
U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) was such an important part of the American manufacturing picture for so long that its presence is imprinted on economic study and pop culture alike. The company's operations are one of the few to be broken out individually on the Federal Reserve of St. Louis' databank , and its power was emphasized in The Godfather Part II with the phrase "we're bigger than U.S. Steel ."
However, the St. Louis Fed's data on U.S. Steel doesn't extend much beyond the Great Depression, and the The Godfather Part II was set in the 1950s. By Dec. 27, 1983, U.S. Steel's slide from national economic indicator to symbol of American manufacturing power on the wane was nearly complete. That day, U.S. Steel announced that it would shut down 20 of its American plants and cut at least 15,000 jobs , more than 10% of its workforce. The company's financial woes had led to an estimated $1.2 billion pre-tax writedown, which at the time one was one of the largest losses of its kind in American corporate history.
U.S. Steel continued to slide for years thereafter. It had been a member of the Dow since 1901 , but by 1991, it was gone from the index. By 2001, U.S. Steel was barely producing more steel than it had a century earlier, and its shares were actually worth less than its $1.4 billion market cap of 1901 . Its steel production in 2012 is only 60% what it was at its height in 1953, when even fictional Mafia bosses looked at its operations with awe. Once the world's largest steelmaker, U.S. Steel now produces only fifth as much steel as ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT). Although it's still America's largest steelmaker, U.S. Steel produces only about two million tons more per year than upstart Nucor (NYSE:NUE), which only really got going as a steelmaker in the 1970s .
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