Dot.com 2.0 Bubble About To Burst?

As with most people I guess, the financial crisis is still foremost in my mind. I have already written about the responsibility public companies have for this, but I’m also working on another post about the other side of the equation (stock traders). In the mean time though, there’s a related issue that’s been on my mind since before the financial crisis even started, as it relates directly to what I do: the stock market’s evaluation of web 2.0 companies.

As I mentioned in my previous article, the original “dot.com bubble” took place because the stock market invested heavily in IT companies, as the internet had so much potential for growth—and all the stock market seems to care about these days is growth, not sustainable profitability. Never mind the fact that most of these companies were actually losing money! And the amazing thing is, exactly the same thing seems to be happening with web 2.0 companies now. Google is still trying to figure out how to make money out of YouTube, even though they paid $1.6 billion for it. News Corp bought MySpace for $580 million, and they haven’t figured out how to make money out of it either. And the market evaluations of Facebook have just been ridiculous. How can anyone not see that this isn’t potentially another dot.com bubble all over again? Plus of course, the stock market is in a far weaker position now than it was at the time of the first dot.com bubble, so if this bubble were to burst now, the results could be even more disastrous.

I’ve seen the quality of traffic sites like MySpace generate in my own web site statistics: they send in a huge number of hits, but far fewer page views per hit than any other site in our stats. It seems they expect a lot of flashy, fancy features (even if it means the site doesn’t actually work properly, as is very much the case with MySpace), and they expect it all to come for free of course. In other words, it costs a lot of money to give them what they want, but they don’t want to spend any. This is not the makings of a sound and profitable business, no matter how much traffic you might have.

And I just don’t get a lot of the stuff these people are so crazy about. Perhaps my (least) favourite example of this is the latest darling of web 2.0, Twitter. They try to advertise it as a way of giving people important updates on what’s happening with you, such as letting your boss know you’ll be late for work. But isn’t a phone call a vastly more effective way of doing this? After all, chances are that if you’re in a situation where you need to let someone know what’s going on with you, you very likely won’t have access to the internet anyway (plus the restriction Twitter puts on entries probably won’t allow you to give them sufficient information in any case). And even if you do have internet access, wouldn’t instant messaging be a far better way to reach whoever it is you want to contact anyway?

I think they advertise it in this way because they know that, in reality, it is actually totally frivolous. I think it’s just yet another example of the sort of “reality TV” style voyeurism that so many people seem to love to waste time on these days (perhaps the downfall of reality TV was at least partly due to the rise of web 2.0). I spend an awful lot of time and effort trying to write meaningful articles on worthwhile subjects for this blog, so it often saddens me that so many people would prefer to spend their time reading about the trivialities of somebody else’s everyday life. Twitter is, I think, in many ways the ultimate expression of this. Can anyone give me any genuinely meaningful use for Twitter?

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Some twit wrote twitter is my guess.

I don’t think it is web 2.0 yet, it is still Web beta.

Places like Amazon.com and Newegg.com will probably make money.

Social networking sites will make money when they learn how to serve cold budweiser beer on line.

The first dot com bubble burts when non-technical people invested in stuff they could not comprehend and for which there was nothing underneath except swamp gas. They saw view graphs and “invested” but it was not a very informed investment.

The cureent investments of which you speak are by very rich people and if they don’t make any money it does not matter to the small investors.

So yes, it is as you say, WebFlash dot com but it is still beta ver 0.99 and is not fully released yet.

  
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The current economic crisis draws its origins to the 1990s. At that time, the US Government decided that it made sense to force the United States to the forefront of technology. Thus, a series of tax legislation was passed which allowed companies to avoid taxes if they were high technology. This, coupled with the REIT laws passed in 1997 created two market bubbles: the internet bubble and the housing bubble. Alan Greenspan’s decision to not raise rates exacerbated the housing bubble by artificially pricing free money to create inflation en masse.

The TARP legislation will not fix the problem… it’s akin to putting a gauze bandage on a severed artery. More likely to cause infection than heal the wound. While many say that the Republicans destroyed the TARP legislation by including measures which require homeowners to relinquish 50-100% of equity growth after refinancing through the TARP, the reality is that the Republicans are simply trying to ensure that the government sees a return on its handout.

The media claims that the US government is trying to fleece the weak by placing a clause on the refinancing that surrenders 100% of increased equity if the home is sold in the first year, ratcheting down 10% per year for five years, with a 50% equity plateau for homes sold after five years.

The reality is that the government IS helping. The individuals in ratchet ARMs and 3/35, 5/50 mortgages are equally at fault with the evil mortgage brokers who drafted the loans. Yes, there are brokers who knew the loans were bad and offered them anyway, but the reality is that the majority of mortgage brokers really believed they were doing right by their clients. The regulations to become a mortgage broker are simply too lax to prevent this from occurring. Most mortgage brokers only know how to use three functions on their financial calculators. They don’t understand the time value of money, instead referring to the equity build up and cost savings to sell their products.

This isn’t their fault. It is how they were trained to sell. So, the real problem lies with the lenders themselves, who MUST have known the loans were faulty, else they wouldn’t have viewed them as profitable.

Now, to say the legislation is trapping these people once again, is poppycock. Let’s say for a moment, that someone bought a $300k home in 2005 for $550k on a 1% five-yr ratchet to 8%+LIBOR in year three. So, for three years, they paid ~$5500 per year on an ARM loan that was accruing at 7%. Effectively, they were paying $460 “rent” on their homes. Now, fast forward to 2008, suddenly, their mortgage payment balloons to $5500 per month. They obviously cannot afford this on their $4800 per month salary, so they scream “foul” claiming that they were tricked into this mortgage. The reality is that they couldn’t afford the traditional mortgage, either. They weren’t ready to buy a home, but greed told them that they could simply refi at 1% on a $650k property or sell for the equity profit in 2008. They believed that they could have money for nothing.

Now, the government is offering to bring their mortgage payment to $2600-$3300 on $300,000 of equity. In return, the government wants a portion of proceeds on any growth in equity above $300k. The media paints the government as evil for wanting a return on their investment. Here, the government is paying corporations a difference between the $580,000 face on the mortgage and the $300,000 refinanced valuation. More than likely, this “buyout” would come in the amount of 20-50% of the difference. That means that for every bad mortgage, the US Government must payout between $56k-$140k to the lenders so that the taxpayer can lower their mortgage. In most cases, those accepted to participate in the programme would be in a place where they cannot afford to make $5500 per mo payments, and the government is providing a means to cut that payment possibly in half while staving off foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings.

The reality is that the TARP, in the form proposed originally by Paulson, was a handout which would save the worst of America’s financial corporations, while bailing out the worst of America’s consumers. As it stands today, it’s at least marginally viable legislation which has an outside chance of providing a revenue stream for the federal reserve to offset the massive levels of inflation that we will deal with for the next decade.

From 1998-2001, we should have countered massive inflation with a rise in rates. Due to some finagling of the financial markets, this inflation was never felt by the American consumer. This coupled with Greenspan’s free money policy, created a debt-life society — the ramifications of which we see today. The reality is that the US government’s final solution may be to eventually cancel all outstanding consumer debt. So long as people need to pay for their mistakes (massive amounts of debt), it is unlikely that America will be able to grow at all. There needs to be a cleansing/repricing of risk in the US financial markets, and it will start with the US government amending legislation which allows corporations to write-off debt (write-downs) while maintaining the ability to collect on these debts (charge-off collection) on their books.

Corporate America will scream bloody murder, claiming that banks will have to tighten lending standards, but the reality is that the working class currently has no incentive to work. As each dollar in their pay goes toward paying off the debts of the last decade, there is negative savings.

It will be hard, but the correct solution is to erase the credit markets entirely. I, along with every other investor, will be upset… and potentially bankrupted by such a scheme, but it is the only solution that I can see which will restart America, short of raising taxes to 60%+.

  
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Wow – and I thought my suggestion that we consider abolishing the stock market was radical. ;-)

  
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I do think your suggestion to abolish the stock market is radical. Without the market, how would I make a living??? God forbid I have to actually do real work or return to school to become a barrister. Yuck!

Richard Branson is able to run Virgin Airways without regard to profits, as he made his billions in the recording industry. Recently, with the development of V2, Branson has admitted that he will never be able to turn a profit from his airline ventures. He left his first love (music) in an effort to challenge himself with an insurmountable task (sustaining a customer first airline) and paid dearly. Now he is returning to the music industry to once again create an entity whose sole purpose will be to subsidize the airline.

On a serious note, however, I do not find my suggestion (sans the final paragraph) to be overly radical. I’m simply asking for banks to be held to the same accountability standards as other business models in America. If you make a bad investment and write it off… you don’t get to collect on it again at a later date. That’s life.

  
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Hi Dane,

I suspect Richard Branson’s comments re Virgin airlines are simply a reflection of the fact that it’s difficult to make money with any airline these days!

One thing I neglected to mention in my article (although I touched on it in the case of MySpace): the notorious unreliability of these web 2.0 social networking sites. Twitter has become famous for it. MySpace drove me insane – it really reached a point where I felt I just couldn’t take any more!

Also, why did Twitter choose a 140 character limit on entries, instead of something more obvious like 150, or even 200? Is 140 characters the official attention span of most Twitter users? ;-)

  
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I think 140 is the standard limit of characters that will transmit on most mobile devices. Once you hit 140, it just cuts the rest off.

Initially I thought it was related to 128-bit packets, but then I recalled that T-Mobile also has that same 140 limit on their website for SMS transmissions.

  
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Well if 140 characters is the SMS limit, then it probably is equivalent to the attention span of many Twitter users. ;-)

On a more serious note though, I’m starting to think I’m a bit of a luddite. I love the convenience of mobile phones, but I hate SMS – I’ve never texted in my life. The mere thought of trying to type on that tiny little numerical keyboard gives me a bad headache! And I just don’t get social networking sites – I only went on MySpace for business reasons; I can’t imagine why anyone would voluntarily go through all that annoyance. And as I say in my article, I just can’t see any use for Twitter at all! I still use the classic Mac OS on my iBook, because it’s simple, clean, elegant and fast, and does everything I want – I don’t understand why people feel they always need to have the latest software. I feel new technology isn’t making our lives simpler any more – it’s making them more complicated!

  
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I’ve just come across a Joy of Tech comic that pretty much expresses the way I feel about this. :-D

  
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That is too cute! Gotta love the irony of him having an iPhone. And you’re not really a luddite… weren’t they anti-technology to the point of destruction, similar to the Frenchmen who would throw sabot into machines?

  
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Here’s an interesting Twitter-related site: How to use Twitter for Marketing and PR.

  
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