Measuring the performance of British business in Asia from the late 1800s to the present is difficult. Profits offer one measure, but collecting and comparing the profits and dividends (shares of profits distributed to stockholders) of thousands of enterprises present problems of data and interpretation. British overseas banks, for example, all maintained large hidden reserves to which transfers were made before published profits were declared. The actual dividends paid to stockholders were subject to factors such as taxation policy or exchange fluctuations or other factors. For example, the high dividends paid in India by many British managing companies in the early 1920s were more a response to stockholders' demands for short-term profit-taking of earnings the companies had retained from the First World War years—coupled with low rates of dividend taxation in India and a highly favorable currency exchange rate for the Indian rupee against British sterling—than the result of spectacularly successful enterprise during the period 1919 to 1921. Comparisons between different industries in different Asian countries present further difficulties.
Perhaps a more satisfactory measure of business performance is market share. In the late 1800s, British enterprise was dominant in many Asian countries; in Iran as late as the 1920s, the entire modern business sector was under British control. Although it declined at different rates in different countries, by the 1980s British business no longer played such a central role in the market of any Asian country.
The author of the passage mentions reserves in British overseas banks most likely in order to
point out that published profits are less useful in measuring business success than are dividends
suggest that many British businesses in Asia were less successful than their published profits indicated
indicate that data about the profits of various businesses provide more useful information about short-term than about long-term performance
illustrate the difficulties in drawing conclusions about business success or failure from published profits
explain the role played by British overseas banks in British business transactions in the twentieth century