History does not repeat itself but it does rhyme, as Mark Twain noticed. So as this current Internet boom builds momentum, and acquires some of the characteristics of the 1990s' boom-to-bubble years, at what stage are we in? What's the year?
Clearly, it's not 1999, when we were full bore into the bubble, so where are we? What year is it now?
It could be 1996.
Therese Poletti, "Tech Tales" columnist at MarketWatch, spoke with Lou Kerner, analyst at Wedbush Securities:
Kerner said it’s still a very long way from the peak of VC funding, when all venture capital funding (including biotech and all other sectors) hit $99 billion in 2000. Today, he said is “like 1996.”
In 2010, total venture funding for all sectors combined totalled just over $23 billion.
1996. I'd agree with that, that sounds about right, give or take a few months.
The start of the 1990s boom began with a sudden jump in Netscape's stock in August 1995. I remember being over at Sun Microsystems, where they were showing me some Java technology. They had put together a basic stock ticker as an example of what it could do, and the Netscape stock symbol was showing a big jump--we thought it was a bug.
Netscape was due to debut at $14 but the underwriters were able to double that to $28 on the eve of the IPO, and then traders drove it to $75 by the end of the first day. It continued to rise over the following weeks.
Analysts were stumped.
Here's Herb Greenberg, San Francisco Chronicle -November 1995:
There's been considerable head scratching by analysts over the past few months, at the massive jump in the valuation of Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, and Zynga. So there's a rhyming point here.
"Idiot mania" is how one analyst I know refers to the skyrocketing price of Mountain View-based Netscape Communications, which jumped an additional 9 1/4 yesterday to close at 98 1/4.
Put another way, its market value -- the price of its stock times the number of shares outstanding -- is around $4 billion. Four billion! That's more than the market value of such companies as Delta Airlines, Hilton Hotels and Nordstrom -- "companies with real assets that aren't trading on air," the same analyst says.
Back in the '90s, "idiot mania" spread gradually at first but by 1998 it was galloping across all sectors. My favorite was when K-Tel, the record company that sold cheap compilations, announced it would launch a web site.
It's shares jumped from $7 to $49.50 over a two week period. That was April 1998.
So if this is early 1996, we still have a couple of good years of growth ahead. We haven't yet seen the ridiculous valuations of the 1998 K-Tel type (although the jury is still out on Twitter).
I agree with Mr Kerner:
“As analysts, it’s our job to figure out where we are in that pendulum,” Kerner said, likening capitalism to the swing of a pendulum. “I think we are at the opportunity side of the pendulum.”