Friday, November 22, 2013

Bubbles Morph Over Cycles: Web 2.0 Becomes Social Media

In the last Internet Bubble, Mary Meeker was the consensus "Queen of the Bubble," according to CNN. The linked article really portrays the wholly delusional aspect of equity markets and valuations during the last bubble.

"As the Internet exploded, Meeker became bolder about relying on nonfinancial metrics such as "eyeballs" and "page views." Here she is, for instance, in a July 1998 report on Yahoo (entitled "Yahoo, Yippee, Cowabunga ..."): "Forty million unique sets of eyeballs and growing in time should be worth nicely more than Yahoo's current market value of $10 billion." Four months later, when she revisited the company, which had just reported its third quarter, she wrote that there were "five key financial highlights." First on her list--even before revenues or operating margins--was the fact that Yahoo's page views had risen 25%."

Here we are in this market cycle, where the Web 2.0 bubble has reappeared in a different flavor, the Social Media bubble.  

"Snapchat is not even 3 years old. It's run by a couple of twenty somethings with no prior business experience. And it has never made a cent.
Yet investors are fighting for the opportunity to throw hundreds of millions at the mobile messaging service that is all the rage with teens.
The tiny Venice Beach start-up just turned down a $3-billion all-cash offer from Facebook Inc. And then, according to the Silicon Valley rumor mill, it rejected an offer from Google Inc., this one for $4 billion.
That's a big pot of cash for a smartphone app that could vanish almost as quickly as the messages people send on it. .../
Among the better-known Silicon Valley companies with monster truck-sized valuations are mobile payments start-up Square Inc. at $3.25 billion, online storage start-up Dropbox Inc. at $4 billion, private transportation service Uber Technologies Inc. at $3.5 billion and home rental service Airbnb Inc. at $2.5 billion."
How are things different between these two tulip manias?  One major environmental factor is the long-running, artificially induced low rate environment, with the promise of such rates in place for near eternity. Investors are feeling more confident, which I suppose means that the entrepreneurs heading these start ups feel like they might as well grab the candy being handed out by Mr. Market, and the investment bankers who have had a few salad years are only too happy to oblige.

There is nothing new on Wall Street.  Wall Street loves recycling, especially of ideas.  

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