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Are We Facing A New Tech Bubble?

We’re talking about the debate over whether or not there’s a new bubble in the value put on high-flying Internet firms. Are we partying like it’s 1999?

Technology and stock market watchers worry that we may be in the midst of a new tech bubble. (AP)

Technology and stock market watchers worry that we may be in the midst of a new tech bubble. (AP)

All the woe aside, there is a hot spot in the U.S. economy.

It’s in high-flying Internet companies — again. Facebook. Zynga. LinkedIn. Groupon. Those and more are drawing billions in investor valuations.

Eighty billion, in the case of Facebook. They’re driving up Silicon Valley real estate, gobbling up venture capital, exciting IPO investors across the country.

That’s the excitement. And then there’s the fear.

That it’s dotcom bubble time again. That we’re partying like it’s 1999.

This hour On Point: weighing the real value to the U.S. economy of the Internet stars this time.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Gregory Zuckerman, financial columnist and reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Peter Thiel, venture capitalist with The Founders Fund and president of the hedge fund Clarium Capital. He is serving as a board member for Facebook. He’s also the co-founder and former CEO of PayPal.

Mark Suster, angel investor and investment partner at GRP Partners. He also writes for the blog “Both Sides of the Table.”

Steven Levy, senior writer for Wired Magazine. He’s the author of the new book “In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives.”

From Tom’s Reading List:

 

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  • Yar

    I fear we are facing a bubble far bigger than just tech.  As I watch congress and the president flirt with angering our banker (China and other foreign investors), I see a disparity in the value we put on different types of work.  
    Tom, you just got back from a visit to the family farm, does it strike you as strange when you contrast the return on investment in a farming community against your typical day in Boston?  I don’t think as a nation we realize that the vast majority of us do work that adds very little to our nation.  Sports, entertainment, financial  investment, doctors, lawyers, politics, computer programmers,  all of the people in that overcrowded commute, driving on the shoulder, rushing to get to an office where an endless series of ones and zeros are constantly rearranged.  So much of our economy is fiction, just like the money that we are arguing over to fund it.  It is so many tulips, with a value that makes no sense in the real world.

     You can tell what a nation worships by looking at its monuments: hospitals, banks, sports arenas, those are the structures that dot our skyline.  The energy to build it all comes from the farm, the mine, the manufacturing plant and the well.  Cheap energy, or should I say energy that is not fully accounted for, is the gas that inflated this bubble.   
    Tom, we need story tellers, we need to know what it was like back in the day, before the great crash.  Tell us again, just how did the economy work, way back at the turn of the century?  Tell us about the day the music died.  
    What happens on August 3rd, after the debt ceiling is raised and we offer our shiny new bonds up for sale and yet nobody will buy them?  When will our bubble pop? 
    In 1637 at the height of tulip mania, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.  What does a share of Facebook cost?

    • http://www.AugurSystems.com/ Chris

      I think you’re half on target.  However, there are some things you’re not crediting properly.  Doctors keep farmers and their livestock healthy.  Computer programmers create massive efficiencies in tracking your work.  (How else could farming survive with such tight margins?  It’s because there exists banking, accounting, billing, predictive, planning, etc. software that enables the industry to walk the tightrope yet still be profitable.)  How do your fancy high-tech farming tools get designed and built?  Software (developed by city folk) makes your life possible, just as much as your food production makes their fast-food lunches affordable.

      That said, I agree that too much of our wealth is circulated in the name of pure entertainment.  ($100 to see a baseball game?!)  

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    Bubbles are caused by greed coupled with the fact that we don’t learn from experience.

    Enough time seems to have past since 2000 so that many will think this situation is different but as Yar rightly says, this tech bubble is sitting inside a much bigger bubble of greed, lack of learning, and more greed.

    Facebook sure looks like the new AOL to me and while some made money riding AOL up and unloading it (me), others held on through the bubble burst and lost their investments. While social networking is a big deal and Facebook seems to be at the center of it, I think in ten years when we look back the landscape will look very different. Look where AOL is now… bottom feeding buying up crap internet properties like Huffington Post and Techcrunch.

    We live in an American Idol world where people want a shortcut to greatness and money. We are so ####ed.

  • wauch

    Of course we are because Wall Street types can’t keep it in their pants. These guys are going to get in first lever up and get 5-6 times what they paid for the lInkedIn, Zynga, etc and get out living the average working stiff carrying the bag AGAIN! We need to curb this type of obviously avoidable irrational exuberance, because it further privatizes profit and socializes risk.

    • Zing

      Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Wow!   Is ‘W’ still practicing that one?  Maybe in twenty years, he’ll get it right.

  • Anonymous

    Is this really the best topic WBUR can come up with for today? 
     
    How about:
    Operation Fast and Furious, the botched gunrunning sting set up by the Bureau of ATF
    Which Party’s Debt Fix proposal will create more jobs?
            Democrats tax increases, increased regulation?
            Republicans cuts to federal agencies?
     

  • Anonymous

    Please post your show topic suggestions:

    Like, Michelle Enjoys 1,556-Calorie Lunch…

    • Modavations

      You’d have a fat derriere too,if you were transported on a liter all day.Michelle had 400 hacks with her on the trip to Joburg and 40 personal attendents.I don’t think Cleopatra fared as well.

  • Anonymous

    Show topic suggestions:

    If the US government can require citizens to buy health care insurance, can the US government require every obese US citizen to buy a Weight Watchers Membership? Why or why not?
     

    • Jeffe68

       OK if you are not into the government requiring one to have health insurance then are you also against state governments requiring people to have state ID’s to vote?

    • ThresherK

      You’re outdoing your own standard of off-topic, meaningless, and factless-sourced piffle.

      And that’s a high bar to clear.

    • Modavations

      Make your monthly Blue Cross charge contingent on BMI.If you’re fat you pay a higher monthly rate.As your BMI falls you pay less.I’ll bet you America would be fit in 6 months.

      • Anonymous

        What if just your head is fat?

    • Cory

      Maybe we could just round up the lazy, fat, and stupid and house them in internment camps for re-education. 

  • Lee

    Facebook to be is a service that allows people to be perpetually teenagers.

     I wouldn’t stop there.

    I would say that most gadgets, things that exist in the real world, also appeal to our inner teenager.

    Remember when you were a teenager?

    Back in the days when we had collective social media, like TVs in the family room, land lines that were shared amongst the family, and the those rip-off chat lines 1-900/ $.01 for the first minute $9.99 for every minute thereafter.

    Remember when your folks walked into the room and said, “turn off the God D_ TV and do your homework!” or they’d pick up the other line and yell at you with your friend listening.

    There is a bubble, but it isn’t a tech bubble, it’s a social bubble.

    Someone please burst it. 

  • MacBytes

    If ‘Double Bubble’ were stuck in your stubble, would concerns tumble down your facebook page?
    Personally, I have been asked for my opinion a few times yet this morning on this subject. I do not believe in this “bubble.” I projected that social networking companies would be highly successful and called into question economically, due to said success eventually, years ago. I am a little surprised that sites like Linked In and Facebook weren’t as successful quicker. Now, will I be blogging about this? Of course!

  • Mark

    It is not just profits or the underlying value that is important in evaluating whether or not a bubblr is forming, it is also what you maight call the “risk” or the inverse, the “stability” of the underlying real value.  For example, we all know how fast advertising money can dissappear–just ask Rupert Murdoch

    • Lee

      What underlying real value?

      If you believe quicker communication is a value then it is not a bubble. But there is a danger to making commerce faster and easier, it leads to debt.

      commerce is taking place in the check out line, and so much of what we purchase is an impulse buy. Its Edward Bernays in hyperspeed.

  • Joe in Philly

    Tom. “are these the companies that will fuel the future?” Ridiculous! These companies employ so few peoples. Better to ask,”is this the future of employment?” That is, few people, making exorbitant salaries, while the rest are either chronically unemployment or underemployed. Perhaps they free up “wasted” capital by destroying conventional industries; for example, the printing industry, which employed tens of thousands of people is gasping for breath. These folks will end up in a low-paying Mcjob. The future sure looks great!

  • Jonathan L. Suwaratana

    Listening now on WTSU 89.9
    I’m a 22 yr old college student. I agree there could be a bubble. These companies are not real commodities being bought and sold. I will never pay for social networking. Already, I’m making the transition to Google+ and plan to leave facebook. I don’t know much about business, but to me these companies are made of air.

  • Lee

    It’s not innovative to keep people in a teenage state. There is a reason why investors are throwing money at teenage entrepeneurs.

    You should get the novelist Bret Easton Ellis on the program to talk about how teenagers can con their parents into giving them a lot of money for drugs.

  • Psiofny

    Runaway welfare State!!? WTF. Did the panelist really need to throw that DITCH into this discussion. MR Conservative give it a break. No wait…they’re all extreme fundamental idealogies and will remain EXTREME until they burn the house down.

    • ThresherK

      I don’t know which of them said this, but you must understand that (even now) there is a great disconnect from a bulk of tech types and the rest of us.

      That’s why so many techsters think they’re libertarians, think they’ve never got anything from the government, and think they don’t need it.

      Many of them fall easily into separating society into “people they do business with or to” and “everybody else”, and if one doesn’t show up on their demographic, woebetide one’s worth to them. If one is wrong–too old, too rural, too un-hip–one runs the risk of everything one worked one’s whole life for–pensions, SocSec, medicare (y’know, the underpinning of the middle class)–being dismissed as merely a “welfare state”, because all the people they know have been paying every one of their bills online since 1994.

      (And, yes, even though welfare mainly goes to white people, they’ve seamlessly adopted the dogwhistle meaning of it.)

  • Clayvscgi

    Apple makes products, Google, Linkedin, and Facebook don’t!

  • Yar

    Compare the value of assets in Caterpillar and Facebook.  One has plants, inventory, dealer networks, the other has some computer code and an idea.
    Not only should you look at the PE ratio, look at what your money is buying, what assets will be purchased with the investment?  It is really hard to put a value on human brains, they can walk away from a company.

  • Anonymous

    This is the silly season. You can’t maintain a billion dollar industry on quirky palm devices and online games. This is a total bubble!

  • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

    Steven Levy is great: “a barnacle on your social life.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/amber.aslin Amber Aslin

    As the owner of a successful niche marketing agency (high end sale horses) that relies heavily on a web presence, I call bubble. Even with charging a few hundred dollars to list on our web site, and a monthly fee to keep the listing, the income doesn’t match the work & investments required for the site to be successful. And this is just one person trying to get paid, can’t imagine trying to monetize enough for a team of 100+ techs wanting a comfortable salary…

  • Ellen Dibble

    The web comes up with curious conclusions about users.  I found a site that says two people live in my residence, both by the same name, my name.  And for characteristics, they say I’m into gambling.

  • Roger in VT

    I associate the social network industry with what cable TV was touted back in the 1980′s.  With local cable channels, it was to be the new age method of marketing.  And when did my state’s public radio company (VPR) last run an ad on my city’s cable access channel?  Um, never.  Granted, companies like Comcast are big, but are people including them with the blue chip stocks when investing?  Will people link Google or Facebook with Ford or IBM or Gulf-Western as driving forces?  (I’m already watching missed episodes on Hulu).  Social networking is overhyped.  It’s an industry based on leisure time.  I work two jobs and don’t have time to check my Facebook page ten times a day (and it was hacked twice by foreign members, so I give Zuckerburg an “F” for security issues and rarely check it anymore).  Apple?  Will they be building assembly plants in major cities like GM did in the 1960′s?  If not, they will make their biggest impact overseas… not what we need here in America.  We need jobs!  Not just a place to post our party pics or for Target to let us know when jeans go on sale.  We need to make stuff again!

  • Modavations

    Morning Class.Firstly,I always laugh listening to Socialists talk about “laissez faire” economics.Limousine liberals hate the businessman.

    • Jeffe68

      Being a liberal does mean one is a socialist. Try cracking a book if you are going to be in the education biz.

      • Modavations

        Socialism=Partial state ownership of the economy

        Communism=Full state ownership of the economy
        Crony Capitalism=GE  and Obama

    • Cory

      I’ve never been in a limo, and I hate businessmen too.

      I’d like to hear your defination of socialism.  Then, I’d like you to name one democracy in the history of the world that did not contain elements of socialism.

      • Modavations

        And this is why businesses are fleeing the US.The public schools teach the kids this antipathy to business

        • Thinknaboutit

          But I thought it was the tax rates, regulations, and the Unions… now it’s the education system? 

          If I had a nickel for every excuse the wealthiest in our nation have to not create jobs in America I could personally pay of the national debt and ensure a living wage for EVERY American.

          • Modavations

            The class warfare is “just another brick in the wall”

          • Anonymous

            That war was declared 30+  years ago.  And people like you have been fighting it for the wealthy ever since.  I do have to concede that you are winning the war, though.  Income and asset inequality between the two sides has never been greater.  You must be very proud.

          • Zing

            Actually by your own count you’d have twenty cents

  • Modavations

    Bubbles happen when everyone is flush.They result from “Pointy Head” Fed Chiefs,keeping the interest rate too low.Raise it to 2% Bernacke.The PE of a stock is optimally 13.Right now Nasdaq is around 25.The market is overvalued,but the “peeps”are not flush.When Nasdaq popped at the end of the Clinton years(my favorite Prez next to Ronnie R.)it was 4500ish and everyone was rolling in bucks.

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

    Remember the DOT.COM boom and went Ka-boom? I won’t dare invest anything in high tech or techs now as long the default is not solve. I won’t do anything daring I am more worried about my retire plan.

    They said find something that hasn’t been invented. that’s the future.

    • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

      Innovation is the future of America. Made In USA is the future of America.

      • Cory

        Make what?  Business chases the cheapest labor.  Although we are on the way, American labor still isn’t cheap by 3rd world standards. 

        • Modavations

          And the EPA,NLRB,XYZ,35% business rAtes,Union Thugs, chase businesses from America in droves.

          • Xyin888

            The super “talented” chase profits around the globe while blaming on regulations for their greed … And they changed laws to protect themselves … Don’t try to sell junk here please . 
             

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

    Innovations like Red Box is one good example of affordable technology.
    a dollar a day keeps blockbuster away.

    • Thinknaboutit

      And we all know that Red Box employs many more people than those video stores ever did right?

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

    You know what i am tired of hearing Socialist. One good example of Socialize medicine is Medicare and Medicaid. What if FDR is still alive will you call him Socialist too because he was for socialize medicine?

    As far as I know when I wake up this morning USA is still a capitalist democratic country. Where rich are getting richer and poorer are almost gone into submission. Middle class is almost a goner.

    • Modavations

      They’re broke.I heard some Lefty say they weren’t “Ponzi schemes” because our intentions were good.This is like your Welfare System and it’s abject destruction of the black family.The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions”.Presidential Term Limits were enacted precisely because FDR wanted to remain in power forever.

      • Cory

        Darwin was about science, not social policy.

  • Modavations

    All I hear from the left is raise the taxes on the rich.Let the Bush tax rates expire.How much will this yield, you ask?70 Billion a year!!!!!!!!Waste and out right fraud ,cost Medicare 120Billion per year.

    • Cory

      I’ll take the 70 billion, thanks.  I prefer money being “wasted” on patients and caregivers instead of being hoarded by those with more than enough already.

      We’ve never really tried socking it to the rich.  Can’t we just ry it this one time and see what happens?  If birds stop singing and rain ceases to fall, we can always change the rates back.

      • Modavations

        This malfeasance is duplicating in every agency,from local govt. to the Feds

        • Cory

          Easy to say, harder to prove other than by anecdote.  BTW, do you feel this way about our Troops?

          • Modavations

            Not the troops,but the Defense dept.for sure.

          • Anonymous

            Those claiming to “support the troops” and refusing to support raising the taxes needed to pay for them are like a parent who refuses to pay their child support but covers their vehicle with “proud parent of honor role student” bumper stickers.   True phonies.

  • lisa davis

    ARE APPS THE THING TO INVEST IN NOW?  THEY SEEM TO BE SO READILY ACCESSIBLE, RIGHT THERE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS AT ALL TIMES WITH A SINGLE TOUCH…AIRBNB IS AN APP—WHAT HAPPENS, THOUGH , WHEN SOMEONE RENTS A ROOM FROM A WOULD-BE SEX OFFENDER?  WOULD THIS SITUATION TAINT THE ENTIRE CONCEPT?   

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  • Cory

    Bubbles occur when we do not temper growth and greed with regulation.

    • Fabrizio

      Regulation is greed all the same, the greed of power by the talentless to control the talented…….

      • Modavations

        Lo flush toilets(to save water)that take 5 flushes to clean ,Squiggly Lt Bulbs(100 watt incandescent bulbs are banned as of next year)that produce feeble light and need a “hazmat team” to clean up and on and on

        • Cory

          Imagine the free market as a robust clydesdale horse, and regulation as the tack, harness, and plow that change it from dangerous to useful…

          • Fabrizio

            The principle you are arguing, when extrapolated means the MORE regulation then the MORE ‘useful’………take a look at every country in history, especially today, the countries with the MOST ‘regulation’ are the most dangerous to it’s citizens.  Regulate free speech to make it more ‘useful’ etc etc, regulate the number of children you can have for the ‘greater good’…..totalitarian dictators regulate the most…..so i would imagine those countries businesses are the most ‘useful’…….

            Also, invoking great figures in history to some how make a point? Umm, wow, maybe you should review some of the most popular logical fallacies before responding……

          • GMG

            Taking any position to an extreme makes it ridiculous. We know what works – some intelligent regulation that keeps our country from becoming like Somalia; not too much so it doesn’t become like the Soviet Union.  Honesty, I don’t really know why we have to keep arguing about it.  There are other things we would be better off worrying about, in my opinion.  

        • Leann2000

          That is not entirely true – if you listen to WBUR on a regular basis, they did a report two days ago with information regarding the light bulbs – you can still purchase them and you don’t even know that they have been modified to meet the environmental requirements. Duh!

      • Cory

        So your list of untalented would include:  Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Douglass MacArthur, Alvin York, Ronald Reagan, John Jay, George S Patton, etc etc etc?

        • Zing

          You mean rich white European males?

      • Anonymous

        Regulation is required to keep the greedy from poisoning our air, water, & soil and killing the Earth. Maybe if business spent as much of their time trying to circumvent laws as finding cleaner ways of producing goods, we might all be happier.

      • Xyin888

        By ‘talented’, did you mean those who are cheating, manipulating, stealing, driving the country’s economy to the ground while pocketing profits… ?

  • Cory

    I’ve been out of the market for a few years now, and I don’t imagine getting back in.  Can’t help feeling that guys like me in the market are there to cushion the loss for the big boys when things go bad.  Part of simplifying my life is having actual contol of my funds.

  • Cory

    This August will be 3 years I have been listening and posting to On Point.  For the entire duration, there has always been the presence of at least one crack-pot simpleton conservative.  We all know who the current one or two are, but does anyone remember “Real American”?  There certainly have been other names that I’ve forgotten.

    I sometimes wonder if all along it has been the same, unhinged person who occasionally undergoes a change of name to freshen things up.  So, the next time a new righty pops up with an oddly mispelled or pun-based name, I will be tempted to believe it is actually “Real American”.

    In the meantime, here’s to 3 more years!

    • Modavations

      Spoken like a true aparatchik

    • http://richardsnotes.org Richard

      You don’t have to feed trolls or argue with other commenters. That’s your choice and you obviously get something out of it so why complain?

      I’m glad there are lots of viewpoints in these comment threads. When it’s all the regulars who seem to share a kind of professional victimhood it gets old.

      Yes, here’s to many more years of OnPoint.

      • Modavations

        Much more reasonable!!!!Are you going to tell me you don’t enjoy hearing the other side.This is what makes one balanced and worldly and is why I listen to NPR.I don’t have to listen to Hannity and Rush,those are my guys.By the way the “troll”iis a bit immature.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Moda,  I cannot why anyone would choose a career drug addict, as one of his (0r her) guys.  If that is what you respect, and value, guess why I have disdain for ‘Conservatives’.

      • Xyin888

        Under the blanket of ‘lots of viewpoints’, there are occasionally some that are Intentionally misleading and manipulating … I hope NPR remains free of those garbage inundated in other stations … 

    • Zing

          pathetic

  • RikiKunio

    Zynga is not going to last unless they get bought by facebook.  They are too dependent on facebook for their platform and the “casual” sector of the gaming industry is too limited (see the disparity in the ratio between games per console sold on the Xbox 360/PS3 and the Wii).  Facebook could, however, purchase Zynga and make their own gaming platform.  In general, Zynga is overvalued because they do not have a long history of intellectual properties, nor do they have the hard assets of traditional gaming powerhouse companies like Activision or Electronic Arts.

    I am not ignoring the value of software over hardware or durable assets, but these types of valuations expose themselves to all sorts of speculation. Academics cannot accurately determine how to establish “social capital” value, so why should we assume that Wall Street can get it right?

  • Melissa simson

    I’m sorry but all I can think about in this article is this youtube video re tech bubbles ( So cliche i know but seriously worth 2 minutes) 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6IQ_FOCE6I 

  • Bubbles

    I am reading all these comments and people yelling at people and noone really listening to each other. I think that most intelligent people can agree that we do not want regulation in our personal lives (think Patriot Act, Gay Marriage, etc). I also think that most people can agree (as Alan Greenspan himself has said in recent years) the Market can’t regulate itself. Therefore, some regulation of business is necessary so that we do not have the market implode on itself again, history tells us this!

    As far as the budget is concerned. I agree with the person below that said we need to cut waste and fraud in the government first – BEFORE we cut program funding and/or raise taxes. Next we need to overhaul the tax code so that everyone pays the same percentage of their income, without all the loopholes and breaks and credits (there are people who make over half a millions dollars a year who pay less in income taxes than someone who makes 30,000 and that is wrong). Then we need to pay for the programs we have in place and create a realistic budget for their continuation. After that we can pay down the principle of our debt so that do not owe more than we take in. And lastly we need to stop policing the world since we can’t even police ourselves.

    I am a liberal – but I agree with certain conservative points of view. I think ultimately we all want the same thing, a prosperous country, our civil rights and the American dream. Why can’t we all have it?

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