South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company & Lessons for Today’s Portfolios

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Written By
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Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

Financial history is littered with tales of bubbles and bursts, exposing the human tendency to fall prey to irrational exuberance.

Two notable examples, the South Sea Bubble and the Mississippi Company, offer valuable lessons for traders, investors, and policymakers.

Below we look into the history, development, and eventual collapse of these notorious financial bubbles, as well as the repercussions they had on their respective societies at the time.

By looking at these cases, we can gain insights into the importance of managing risk, staying informed, and avoiding herd mentality when constructing and managing portfolios.


Key Takeaways – South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company Lessons

  • The South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company Bubble are notable examples of historical financial bubbles that serve as cautionary tales for traders, investors, and policymakers.
  • Lessons from these bubbles include the importance of avoiding concentrated exposures, knowing the characteristics of stock/financial promotions, and avoiding herd mentality when constructing and managing portfolios.
  • Key takeaways also include the need for diversification, due diligence, long-term investment strategies, regulatory oversight, and awareness of the signs of market bubbles and financial promotions to protect portfolios from these risks.


Background and History of the South Sea Company

The South Sea Company was a British joint-stock company founded in 1711, primarily to manage and reduce the national debt.

It was granted a monopoly on trade with the Spanish colonies in South America, which were seen as a lucrative source of wealth.

Despite the company’s underwhelming trade performance, its shares became a hot commodity, driven by optimism and speculation about the potential profits from the South American market.


Creation of the South Sea Bubble and Factors that Led to It

The South Sea Bubble was created when the company began a series of financial maneuvers to assume large portions of the British government’s debt.

To finance this, the company issued new shares, which led to an aggressive marketing campaign that inflated the value of the shares.

The artificially high share prices were also driven by speculation, insider trading, and a lack of financial regulation.

In short, it became a classic stock promotion.


Public Enthusiasm and Investment in the Bubble

As share prices soared, the public became increasingly enthusiastic about investing in the South Sea Company.

When something goes up, people assume it must be good (rather than more expensive).

The euphoria spread across all social classes, with everyone from aristocrats to commoners participating in the frenzy.

The lure of quick profits and the fear of missing out on this seemingly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fueled the irrational exuberance.


The Role of the British Government and the Bank of England in the Bubble

The British government and the Bank of England played significant roles in the creation and eventual collapse of the South Sea Bubble.

The government was complicit in promoting the company’s shares and benefited from the arrangement, as it helped reduce the national debt.

The Bank of England, meanwhile, provided loans to the South Sea Company, enabling it to continue its debt-buying scheme.


Collapse of the Bubble and Its Aftermath

In 1720, the bubble burst when it became clear that the company could not fulfill its promises of vast wealth from the South American trade.

Share prices plummeted, wiping out fortunes and leaving many investors destitute.

The crisis led to a fall in economic activity, a loss of public confidence in financial institutions, and the eventual tightening of financial regulations.


Lessons Learned from the South Sea Bubble for Investors Today

The South Sea Bubble offers several lessons for modern investors, such as the importance of not getting swept up in speculative frenzies and staying informed about the companies in which they invest.

Be wary of stock promotions. We wrote about the classic red flags to watch out for in this article.

Additionally, it highlights the need for proper financial regulation and government oversight to help deter such tactics.


The South Sea Bubble – 5 Minute History Lesson


The Mississippi Company’s Role in French Colonization of the Americas

The Mississippi Company, founded in 1717 by Scottish economist John Law, played an important role in the French colonization of the Americas.

The company was granted a monopoly on trade in the French Louisiana territory and was tasked with developing the region’s economy, infrastructure, and population.

For example, it had oversight on the founding and building of New Orleans.


The Creation and Promotion of the Mississippi Company by John Law

John Law created and promoted the Mississippi Company by merging several existing French trading companies and establishing the Company of the West.

Law’s vision was to use fiat money, rather than gold and silver, to finance the company’s ventures.

This was done for the same reason fiat monetary regimes are preferred today – money and credit creation is much easier when money isn’t tied to anything tangible.

This approach fueled public interest in the company and led to a rapid increase in its share prices.


The Mississippi Bubble and Factors that Contributed to It

The Mississippi Bubble was created by the rapid rise in the value of the company’s shares, driven by a combination of aggressive marketing, speculative investments, and the novelty of Law’s monetary theories.

The public’s enthusiasm for the company’s prospects in the New World, coupled with a lack of financial regulation, led to an unsustainable surge in share prices.


The Effects of the Bubble on the French Economy and Society

The Mississippi Bubble had a profound impact on the French economy and society.

As share prices rose, wealth was concentrated in the hands of those who owned shares in the company, exacerbating social and economic inequality.

The bubble also led to a widespread expansion of credit, which fueled inflation and strained the French monetary system.


The Collapse of the Mississippi Company and Its Aftermath

The Mississippi Bubble burst in 1720, as doubts about the company’s profitability and the sustainability of Law’s monetary theories grew.

Share prices collapsed, and many investors were left with worthless stock.

The French economy was thrown into turmoil, leading to a loss of confidence in fiat money and a return to gold and silver as the primary means of exchange.

The collapse also discredited John Law and his monetary theories, which had once been hailed as revolutionary.


John Law’s Mississippi Company in One Minute: From Economic Miracle to Bubble and Ultimately Scam


Lessons for Today’s Portfolios

The Importance of Avoiding Concentrated Exposures

One key lesson that investors can draw from these historical events is the importance of diversification.

Spreading investments across various asset classes, industries, and geographic regions can help mitigate the impact of any single investment failure or market downturn.

Diversification can also protect investors from the fallout of speculative bubbles.

Speculative bubbles can impact index funds as well, but the collapse of such bubbles won’t impact an index fund in the same way a concentrated exposure will.

The Need for Due Diligence and Understanding of the Underlying Assets of Investments

The South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company episodes highlight the importance of conducting thorough due diligence before investing.

Investors should understand the underlying assets, business models, and growth prospects of the companies or assets they invest in.

This knowledge can help investors make informed decisions and avoid being swept up in the frenzy of speculative bubbles driven by misinformation or lack of understanding.

The Dangers of Speculation and Chasing Short-Term Gains

Both events demonstrate the perils of speculative investing and the pursuit of short-term gains.

Investors/traders should be cautious of investments that promise quick, unrealistic returns, as they often carry significant risks.

Focusing on long-term investment strategies and avoiding the temptation to chase short-term profits can help ensure the stability and growth of a portfolio.

The Role of Government and Regulatory Bodies in Protecting Investors

The South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company cases underscore the need for government oversight and financial regulation to protect investors from fraud, market manipulation, and other unethical practices.

Regulatory bodies should monitor and enforce rules that promote transparency, fair competition, and accurate information disclosure to help maintain investor confidence and prevent the formation of speculative bubbles.

The Need for a Long-Term Investment Strategy and Patience

Investors should develop and adhere to a long-term strategy that aligns with their financial goals and risk tolerance.

Patience is essential, as market fluctuations and short-term setbacks are inevitable.

By staying committed to a well-thought-out strategy, investors can avoid making impulsive decisions driven by fear or greed, which often lead to suboptimal results.

The Importance of Being Aware of Market Bubbles and Their Potential Risks

Lastly, investors/traders should be vigilant and aware of the signs of market bubbles, such as rapid price increases, widespread speculative behavior, or a disconnect between asset prices and their underlying value.

Common signs are when the price is high relative to traditional metrics like earnings (P/E) or when there is an excessive amount of media attention and hype surrounding a particular asset or sector.

Being aware of these indicators can help investors make informed decisions and potentially avoid being caught up in a bubble.

Recognizing these warning signs can help investors mitigate the risks associated with bubbles, allowing them to make better-informed decisions and protect their portfolios from potential financial ruin.

Learn About What Fundamentally Makes a Good Portfolio

We have many example portfolios and approaches to help traders and investors understand the building blocks of a good portfolio.



The South Sea Bubble and the Mississippi Company serve as cautionary tales for investors and policymakers today.

Both episodes highlight the dangers of speculative investment, the need for proper financial regulation, and the importance of investor education.

By examining these historical events, we can better understand how to manage risk and avoid the pitfalls of irrational exuberance in today’s complex financial landscape.

By emphasizing diversification, due diligence when making trades/investments, longer-term strategies, and awareness of how market bubbles and the characteristics of financial promotions, traders/investors can better protect their portfolios from the risks associated with speculative bubbles and market crashes.


FAQs – South Sea Bubble & Mississippi Company Bubbles

Yes, the collapses of the South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company Bubble in 1720 were directly related.

Both financial bubbles were fueled by speculation and excessive optimism, resulting in overinflated stock prices.

The South Sea Company and the Mississippi Company were competing for investors’ attention and capital, leading to a speculative frenzy.

When the true value of the companies’ assets failed to match investors’ expectations, confidence rapidly declined, triggering a wave of panic selling and ultimately causing the collapses of both bubbles.

The intertwined nature of these events highlights the interconnectedness of the financial markets at that time.

Even though today’s technologies are different, human nature hasn’t changed.

Why are the South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company Bubble still talked about today?

The South Sea Bubble and Mississippi Company Bubble are still discussed today because they represent two of the most significant financial bubbles in history.

These events, which occurred in the early 18th century, involved widespread speculation and subsequent market crashes, causing immense financial losses for investors.

They serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the dangers of unchecked speculation and the importance of financial regulation.

Their impact on financial markets and the lessons learned from them continue to be studied and referenced in economic and historical discussions.