#DigitalSkeptic: This Bull Market Is a Turkey
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Thanksgiving or no, the so-called technology bull market investors are gobbling up is nothing more than a crop of turkeys.
I know, I know, today is supposed to be the bright, shining moment where we bend our knees and praise the heavens for family, friends and good food. But I cant be the only one barely able to stomach the ranting and raving over the supposedly succulent 16,000-plus Dow Jones Industrial Average.
See, on turkey days such as these, investors need not struggle through the usual Digital Age valuation digestion challenges -- such as how the information economy has already torched trillions in public market valuation devouring the music, publishing, financial services and other information sectors.
Rather, Thanksgiving does information economy investors a favor. There's just one thing they need do to get a taste for how bony this bull market is: consider the economics behind that lovely Thanksgiving meal you and your family are sharing today.By any conceivable valuation metric, the unheralded, unhyped -- yes, unhip -- agriculture business simply eats the Information Economys lunch. And breakfast and dinner, for that matter.
Whats unexpected -- and critical -- about the agriculture business is how tech averse it turns out to be. As much as food tech giants such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical or Bayer like to paint the agro economy as a high-tech food marvel, it takes almost no sniffing to determine that the average American farm is, at best, a low-tech operation. I grew up on a farm, started two businesses serving the technology needs of farmers, Jesse Vollmar told me over the phone. This lower-Michigan native has founded a fascinating Ann Arbor startup called FarmLogs that is seeking to upgrade the technology quotient for the average farm. And Vollmar makes it clear that while new technologies such as global positioning systems and more sophisticated farming combines are indeed part of the average farmer, the filter down -- slowly. More often than not, farmers get a tech upgrade only once every several years when they invest in a big new piece of equipment from a Caterpillar or John Deere, he said. And even when farmers do invest in new technology, they rarely take full advantage of it. Farming has few centralized tech standards and no tradition of information technology continuing education. And the sector fights an overall skepticism to new systems. Real change comes at a snails pace to most farmers, Vollmar said. But in spite of not bothering to access the supposed backbones of todays tech bull market -- network access, social sharing and Web-based supply chain logistics -- the American farmer is enjoying a golden age. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, national net farm income (basically the backbone indicator of U.S. farm well-being) is on track to set a record of $121 billion this year, up 6% from last year and about $3 billion above 2011s previous record. Thats many percent more than tech giants such as Amazon or Google will sell. And if investors factor in the real wealth in farming -- the land, assets and the value of the reality of what farmers do -- agro simply knocks the stuffing out the Information Age bird. U.S. Farm Income. Schnepf estimates that asset values are up 49% since 2008 and debt-to-asset ratios are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. Farm asset values are expected to rise 7% in 2013, he wrote, to a record $3,101 billion for the fifth year in a row. Sorry, Web hipsters, you can slice, dice or food process Information Age companies all you like from over the past five years and theres no way Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Twitter or anybody else has harvested anything close to $3.1 trillion in value. The vaunted Information Economy is nothing more than over-toasted anorexic bird sitting on a platter, smoldering. The most valuable meal: food
Thanksgiving makes it clear what we all should be thankful for: that almost by accident, a group of humble farmers who did nothing more than ignore the supposed iron rules of the Information Age have sent Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey and the like to the woodshed. It all makes you wonder what our world could have been if these men had sowed their digital fields properly. The fact is: The 16,000 Dow is not a bumper crop. Its like Thanksgiving in 17th century Jamestown -- the last hot meal before a long, cold winter.
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