What a blast! Things haven't felt this good since March 2000.
As of writing, the Nasdaq was crossing the 1,900-point mark. The Wall Street tech index has jumped 33% since September 21.
Have you checked out Check Point Software Technologies (Nasdaq:CHKP) (CHKP) - Get Report? Its stock is up a stunning 27% since its low of two months ago. And that's nothing. How about Juniper Networks (Nasdaq:JNPR)? It rocketed 85% in two weeks, on satisfactory turnover. Whee!
Are we to take these figures as proof that dare-devils who scorn the herd and dive into the market at the ostensibly worst of times, are the ones who make it? That the attacks on New York and the Pentagon were actually an opportunity to get back into the tech market, with a vengeance?
No. Beware Nasdaq as 2001 exits. It is cheaper and more sober than Nasdaq of year-end 2000, and it sure isn't anything like Nasdaq as 1999 closed. Then it was a real gambling den. But it is still highly risky.
True, companies bereft of business models and valued at billions based on silly parameters like "page views" and "eyeballs" have mostly disappeared. Very few are left whose shares double overnight based on announced deals or "surprising" analyst updates.
IPOs are not followed by hundreds-of-percent leaps in stock prices. There are no allocations to pals and new, completely unknown, millionaires, let alone billionaires, do not pop up every week.
In other words, the speculative froth that smothered Nasdaq, that had transformed the exchange into a machine milking money from the masses for the few, is gone.
But the Cassandras among us can't help suspect that not all the hot air has escaped. Plenty of stocks still have plenty of room to fall, and we don't understand why the market feels so chirpy so soon.
Optimists offer plenty of explanations for the spurts. It begins with inevitable corrections after such sharp drops: Even dead cats bounce if thrown from a high enough point. But that doesn't mean the bouncing beasts are about to spring to their paws and caper about.
Some say the mountainous losses hi-tech companies reported in the last two quarters won't happen again, because they were mostly one-time write-offs of bloated goodwill and inventory.
They say that the huge losses led to massive layoffs, lower costs which ultimately boost the bottom line. In conclusion, they triumphantly point at the rate cuts that have reduced American interest to a 40-year low. That alone has induced many an investor to scrabble for opportunity on the stock market, which suddenly looks tempting indeed.
Yet you have to be a true dyed-in-the-wool optimist to think the worst is over. Hang-overs from a five-year binge don't end in a quarter or two, or in a year.
The technology world is still bulging with overcapacity, for one thing. Nasdaq prices are still sky-high. Yes, Check Point is down 70% from its peak, but it's still trading at a market cap of $9.5 billion. Maybe the Israeli network security company will be the next Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) or Oracle (Nasdaq:ORCL). But that probability is remote compared with the probability that it will fail to bridge the chasm between its market cap and its assets, and that, dear reader, is what it will have to do in order to justify its market value.
The market prices of Check Point, Oracle and Qualcomm (Nasdaq:QCOM) are still dazzlingly optimistic. Qualcomm, a great company that makes the digital technology used in most of the world's mobile phones, is priced at $45 billion but still sells only $2.5 billion a year.
The above are just a few examples chosen at random to show that too many investors still harbor unrealistic expectations of stocks in general, and technology stocks in particular.
Stocks should not and cannot generate returns of tens of percent a year. Certainly not hundreds of percent. We should have learned by now that technology is just as cyclical a business as cars or real estate. For each Microsoft, countless companies meander along or founder by the wayside. Technology is a growth machine, but it's also a brutal, volatile business.
It's in to say the time has come to buy tech stocks. That's what the dare-devils and mavens are doing, they say. We wonder. Nasdaq November 2001 is frothy, but that's just another word for "full of bubbles". Some of these bubbles aren't magnified minnows, they're renowned, established but over-valued major corporations.
Sure, splurge on Nasdaq, if you know when to get in and when to get out. But if you don't have an oracle in hand or Lady Luck in your lap, think twice before you declare that gambling season is open again.