The National Bank of Belgium (Banque Nationale de Belgique-BNB, founded in 1850), the sole bank of issue, originally was a joint-stock institution. The Belgian government took over 50% of its shares in 1948. Its directors are appointed by the government, but the bank retains a large degree of autonomy. In Belgium, most regulatory powers are vested in the Banking Commission, an autonomous administrative body that monitors compliance of all banks with national banking laws. In order to restrain inflation and maintain monetary stability, the BNB varied its official discount rate from 2.75% in 1953 to a peak of 8.75% in December 1974; by 1978, the rate was reduced to 6%, but it rose steadily to a high of 15% in 1981 before declining to 11.5% at the end of 1982 and 9.75% by December 1985. By 1993 the discount rate was 5.25%. At the time of its abolition on December 15, 1998, the discount rate was 2.75%.
By law, the name "bank" in Belgium may be used only by institutions engaged mainly in deposit bank activities and short-term operations. Commercial banks are not authorized to invest long-term capital in industrial or business enterprises. The largest commercial bank, the General Banking Society, came into being in 1965 through a merger of three large banks. The National Society for Industrial Credit provides medium-term loans to industrial firms and exporters. Other institutions supply credit to small business and to farmers. The leading savings institute is the General Savings and Retirement Fund, which operates mainly through post office branches. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $63.1 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds— was $241.7 billion.
The Bourse in Belgium is a very old institution. As early as the 13th century, merchants from the main commercial centers, particularly Genoa and Venice, used to gather in front of the house of the Van der Bourse family in Bruges, which was then the prosperous trading center of the low countries. The word "Bourse" is often considered to have originated in Bruges.
The Brussels Stock Exchange was founded in 1801 after Napoleon, then Consul of the Republic, issued a decree of the 13th Messidor in the 9th Year that "There shall be an exchange in Brussels, in the Department of the Dyle." The law of 30 December 1867, completely abolished the provisions then in force controlling the profession of broker, the organization of the exchanges and the operations transacted there. After the crisis of 1929 through 1933, a commission was created to assure investors of greater security. The Commercial Code of 1935 still controls the organization of the stock exchange in large measure. Since the law of 4 December 1990, the Société de la Bourse de valeirs mobiliéres de Bruxelles (SBVMB) is organized under the form of a cooperative society. There is also an exchange in Antwerp.
The exchanges deal in national, provincial, and municipal government bonds, government lottery bonds, and company shares. The issuance of shares and bonds to the public is subject to the control of the Banking Commission in Brussels. There are also a number of special industrial exchanges; the most prominent one is the Diamond Exchange in Antwerp.