Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Thursday, 10 March 2005

Dotcom shares still spook investors

By Jorn Madslien
BBC News business reporter


On 10 March 2000 the Nasdaq index of leading technology shares spiked, burst the dotcom bubble and sent entrepreneurial dreams crashing back to earth.

Budding investors caught up in the euphoric get-rich-quick mania quietly withdrew to lick their wounds.

Gleeful doomsayers wasted no time stepping into the limelight to pronounce the death of the internet economy.

Confidence trick?

The Nasdaq's peak did indeed mark the end of an era, where online entrepreneurs behaved like snooty rock stars in their meetings with venture capitalists.

It may ease off here and there, we may find the Nasdaq being a little overvalued at some point, but in general it's the way of the future. This is a legitimate structural shift in the economy and it will continue
Analyst comment, 10 March 2000

Gone were the special-invite parties where dotcom-dreamers wearing woolly jumpers were wooed by investors, most of whom had pocketed their ties to comply with the New Economy dress code.

But despite this global adaptation of The Emperor's New Clothes, five years on there is no lack of confidence in the internet itself.

Far from being dead as a commercial instrument, the web has quietly risen to become an essential business tool for suited executives and creative types alike.

Virtually all companies use the internet for their order management, their routine back-office number crunching and even to communicate with their customers.

E-commerce is no longer merely seen as a threat by High Street operators; it has become a force to be reckoned with and most chains have opened online shops of their own.

Online banking, insurance and telephony have become mainstream too, and even the music industry, where executives used to fear the internet like the plague, has managed to tame the beast.

The internet has even become a social leveller.

It has improved transparency in the world of commerce, where everything from bargain hunts to price comparisons to background searches on companies can be carried out quickly by pretty much anyone.

So what started out with the promise of widening the gap between rich and poor has instead sparked a more humble wariness of promises of sudden riches, along with a growing and seemingly insatiable thirst for information and knowledge.

Investment opportunity?

Confidence in the internet has slowly been rebuilt and the valuations of shares in technology firms are now based on more realistic earnings predictions.

Dotcom stock indexes
Nasdaq: Down about 60% since March 2000
Techmark: Down about 80% since March 2000
Neuer Markt: Fell more than 90% before closing in 2002

Savvy investors with deep pockets are dipping their toes in to check the water, but most mainstream investors remain nervous about diving back into the market.

About 60% of investors' value was wiped out when the iconic stock exchange's Nasdaq's heyday ended. Similar falls were seen at equivalent exchanges in Europe.

So although The Nasdaq Composite Index has risen sharply over the last couple of years, it would still need to gain a further 144% to recover to its March 2000 high.

Not even long-term investors are convinced that it is going to happen.

Victor or victim. Tell us your dotcom tales, and let us in on your secret predictions.

Your E-mail address
Town & Country

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

The comments below reflect the views received so far:

So who made all the money? Someone did.
Dave R, Cheshire

I have a good friend who gambled an inheritance of roughly £200k into nearly a million by day trading, so not everyone was a loser in this. She decided the market was bonkers around a week before the crash, and hasn't been tempted back in yet.
Alex, Swansea, UK

I will always look back on the dotcom boom with a smile, as I remember gullible, stupid, greedy investors thinking that they were going to totally clean up by investing millions in startups with no clear business plan beyond putting ".com" on the end of something.

My friends and I who found dotcom jobs enjoyed plenty of "free" computer equipment and long weekends of debauchery at their expense! Good times, shame we'll never see them again.
Doug, Birmingham, UK

I lost 90% of money after investing in late 1999.

However I have continued to invest as I still believe in the fundamentals of some of these companies, and through pound averaging and not cashing in my losses, I am now at 10% loss.

I know that when the market turns in next few years I will get pretty wealthy
Myles Oldham, Manchester, England

I worked for an internet service provider (ISP) before, during and after the dotcom boom (still working there).

If I had a pound for every upstart startup that came to me during that time claiming to be the "next big thing" then I'd be the one getting rich quick.
Jake Perks, Telford, UK

We were stupid. There's no two ways about it.

At least some of us who got in early can take consolation from the fact that, although we lost a hell of a lot, we only ended up back where we started.

There must be thousands of others who joined the bandwagon late and lost their shirts.
Alex, London

The whole concept of an instant online market was crazy. At the time of the boom, percentage penetration levels for PCs and Internet usage were in many countries in the low teens at best.

Where was this market going to come from if widespread knowledge and access did not exist? Was it to be a new market for goods and services or was it going to decimate traditional suppliers by shifting some selected types of business to the Internet.

I believed passionately the latter was going to happen, but over decades not months. I did not invest or encourage this type of investment despite being at the time the vice president of marketing for a global IT company.
Terry Hannington, Skillinge Sweden

I have lost about half my investment which is not as bad as some.

I thought I was buying in at the bottom in June 2001 at about 20p per unit, having previously fallen from its launch price of 50p per unit. It is now trading around 11p per unit (it has been as low as 8p per unit).

Even though nursing losses, I am tempted at 11p per unit to buy again.
Phil, Milton Keynes

I got caught up in the dotcom boom.

Tempted by the potential rewards and the technical challenge of building a new system from scratch, I left behind a safe job in mainstream IT to become database manager for a major dotcom group.

Things were good at first, customers came on board, millions of pounds in venture capital was raised, but the rate of consumption (burn rate) was too high and the company downsized.

Part of the company is still going, down to just nine employees, from a peak of over 1000 in the group in early 2000.
John Murray, Chester, UK

Having run an Internet development agency from 1997, and so through the thick of the dotcom era, we saw it all.

In many ways we were like the 'spade and bucket sellers' of the Gold Rush era and benefited, to an extent, from some of its excesses.

But looking back, we turned away several daft ideas that we knew just would not work. Trading on the internet is no different from trading in the high street, and it never will be. The basic business rules still, and will always, apply.

If you haven't got a product or service that people want, and if you don't make it available quickly, easily and at the right price, then the business will fail. It really is as simple as that.

We currently see demand to use the internet in lots of imaginative ways to improve communications and relationships. What is different now is that people are a lot more savvy and realistic about what this technology can deliver.

The internet is just another communications channel. It cannot be ignored but should not be treated as the Holy Grail.
Paul Duthoit, Chatham, Kent

Every one thought they were original. They were merely greedy. Very few people are original and fewer even seemed able to spot it. It was all a joke.

Today, however, the internet business seems to be about something real and dotcoms have to provide and answer for promises. Responsibility has reappeared. Let it set an example for other areas of business.
Carolina, Rome, Italy

I was one of the few who predicted that it would all end in tears.

The dotcom boom was very similar to the automobile boom in the 1920s. Cars certainly were a major invention of world changing proportions, but business is still business and there was not the market place for thousands of manufacturers.

So the internet, likewise, is an invention that will change our lives forever, but internet businesses still need to make money, not site hits.

The trouble was, they lost sight of fundamentals and caused a bubble, which burst when reality returned.

The same thing has happened to the housing market, people have lost sight of fundamentals quoting new modern economics to explain away a bubble.

Reality will return and thousands will get hurt. Boom and bust, is human nature, Gordon Brown. If you want to prevent bust, then unfortunately you have to try and prevent boom. Trouble is, human nature always finds a way through.
Christopher Cook, Crewkerne, Somerset

As a young IT graduate in the dotcom boom era, I ended up working for a staid but reliable investment bank whilst my friends joined dotcoms and waxed lyrically about their perks and lifestyles.

I went on a business trip to Silicon Valley in 2000 and the atmosphere was electric; IT wages, "stock options", benefits, and rents were going through the roof.

What was amazing was that as things slowed down in 2000/1, many of my friends were suddenly laid off and the enthusiasm evaporated overnight.

They couldn't find work for 2-3 years afterwards as the demand for internet-only skills tailed off and as companies discovered they could pay 20% of the US/UK cost offshore.

Through all this, my "unfashionable" skills remained in demand and I have progressed through a formal IT career.
Sam, Guildford, UK

In the city where I lived in 1999 there was a comedy club that ran on the first Tuesday of each month. I had been a regular for about six months.

However, when the boom-iconic group First Tuesday set up in a hotel not far from this club, it became a real toss-up as to which evening to attend for the most laughs.

In the end the VCs and ICT geeks won the day, because not only did they (admittedly unwittingly) give me hundreds of hilarious and repeatable anecdotes each month, but they fed me and gave me gallons of free fizz each month.

I even pitched a few ideas, just to get into the comedic spirit of it all. At one point one of my parodic offerings attracted a good deal of interest from both serious VCs and major corporations. Priceless times - where have they gone?
Lawrence, London, UK

I joined an e-commerce website in 2000 at the height of the internet boom. The business plan was at best woolly and yet the parent company ploughed millions of dollars of "investment" into it. Today it is virtually worthless.

The cause of the hype was greed backed up by hyped-up vague marketing. The buck must stop with the so-called business professionals and banks who funded this incompetence. I think that many of the current economic difficulties in the U.S. (which have a global impact) still have a lot to do with the dotcom crash. It's a hangover that simply hasn't gone away.
Colin, London, UK

My website started in 1998 and is still going strong. I "sell" Parish Records for free. Visits have increased by about 30% every year, there is no indication of your "spike" with a peak in March 2000.

If you supply what people want, you must be successful. Half a million customers can't be wrong.
John Palmer, Dorset, England

I lost a fair amount of money during 2000. I managed to get back into the black again last week following the recent rally and five years of hard graft. My prediction is that the same fate awaits the buy-to-let market.
Dan, Ipswich

I co-founded a web development company in the late nineties and lived through the boom and bust. We are still here and have grown for the past five years.

The dotcom bust was the best thing that ever happened to us. Whilst the dotcommers believed you didn't have to make a profit (someone would buy you out and make you a millionaire based on the inflated promise of future earnings), we concentrated on making a profit. But the venture capital funded dotcoms had so much money they could pay staff absurd salaries even though they were losing money.

All of a sudden the dotcoms were gone, we could hire people for sensible wages and concentrate on building websites that made our clients real money. Many companies have prospered since the crash, including ours.

The legacy of the boom was positive. It got many people online, injected millions of pounds into a fledgling industry and built an infrastructure, which has lead to cheap broadband connections for home users. Now we are seeing the real rewards of this.

Throughout history there have been booms where gullible people believed they had found a safe investment that gave massive returns. Even today I see the lessons aren't learned with adverts explaining how easy it is to become a "property millionaire with no starting investment" - it'll all end the same way, it always does. Its just 5 years later, and the lessons have been forgotten already.
Mart, London, UK

I have worked in the internet Industry for nearly 10 years as a network engineer. I have seen how the internet has grown in size and into our lives.

In the autumn 2000 I left my current position as a internet engineer to join a world wide carrier. Due to the bubble bursting I lost my job in February 2001 and found it very difficult to get a similar role.

I can remember going to Datacentres and seeing engineers by the tens building networks. In 2002 these centres were very quiet and almost deserted.

Today Things seemed to have picked up but not to the scale of 2000. Things seem very stable now.
Mo, London

The dotcoms I met at the time in America were pretty much rich kids who made nice presentations to gullible investors. Based on the fact they were young and connected, and that the investors had no idea what they were talking about, the money flowed in.

At least one of these companies was fully aware that it didn't actually have a workable product, but hey, they got prime real estate, a Mercedes and an amazing lifestyle for a few years.
Oliver, UK/DK

From 1998 to 2001 I was a freelance internet consultant. For me it was a great time. I earned twice as much as I had done at my previous 'real' job and did about half as much work.

It was clearly a crazy time that wasn't going to last, but looking back I think it did have an overall positive effect on the people I knew.

If nothing else it created an entrepreneurial spirit amongst people in the IT and related industries that I imagine will be beneficial to the economy for years to come.

I Now have a management position in a 'proper' company and I think the education I received during the dotcom years is worth far more than any MBA course would have been.
Grant, London, UK

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