When Will the Tech Bubble Burst?
At the height of a market mania in 1967, the author George Goodman captured the mood perfectly, comparing it to a surreal party that ends only when “black horsemen” burst through the doors and cut down all the revelers who remain. “Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no one wants to leave while there is still time. So everybody keeps asking — what time is it? But none of the clocks have hands.”
Every decade since, the global markets have relived this party. In the late 1960s the mania was for the “nifty 50” American companies like Disney and McDonald’s, which had been the “go-go” stocks of that decade. In the late 1970s it was for natural resources, from gold to oil. In the late 1980s it was stocks in Japan, and in the late 1990s it was the dot-com boom. Last decade, investors flocked to mortgage-backed securities and big emerging markets from Brazil to Russia. In every case, many partygoers were still in the market when the crash came.
Today, tech mania is resurgent. Investors are again glancing at a clock with no hands — and dismissing the risk. The profitless start-ups that were wiped out in the dot-com crash have consolidated into an oligopoly composed of leading survivors such as Google and Apple. These are giants with real earnings, yet signs of an irrational euphoria are growing.
One is pitchmen bundling investments with very different outlooks into a single package. Last decade they bundled Brazil, Russia, India and China to sell as the BRICs. More recently they packaged Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google as FANG, then, as names and prospects shifted, subbed in Alphabet, Apple and Microsoft to make Faama. Others are hyping the hottest tech companies in China as BAT, for Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Whatever the mix, acronym mania is usually a sign of bubbly thinking.
Every decade experiences an unrealistic stock market mania, and it feels like we might be deep into one now.