Like the fabled fox that had to starve in order to escape the chicken coop after a binge, many of the publicly traded companies that published financial statements last week ended the hi-tech glut thinner than they were when it began.
Amazing but true: Most companies were hurt by the bubble years, despite the wonderful money-raising opportunities that the boom brought. In the last year they have lost more than they made throughout the good times.
Discount Investments Corporation, Clal Industries and Koor Industries (Nasdaq:KOR) lost an aggregate NIS 4 billion in 2001, just about what they'd made in the five preceding years. That's just one of many, many examples.
After all the tremendous losses posted for the third quarter, one has to wonder. Where did the money go? Where are those billions of dollars that companies had to write down, write off or burn up?
Laughing all the way home from the bank
Where's the money that the banks lost? With the exception of Israel Discount Bank, most of Israel's banks are still in the black, but their profits have imploded thanks to massive doubtful debt provisions.
We know where that money is, it's with the borrowers who took advantage of easy money looking for happy homes.
As the competition between the banks heated up, horse sense dried up. The banks heaped huge sums of credit at almost-zero interest on customers. If the deal went well, the borrower would make most of the money.
And if it failed? The bank swallowed the risk. The banks' losses are the profits of their big borrowers.
Fattening paper tigers with paper profits
Where's the money that all those holding companies and venture capital funds lost? Writing down investments on hi-tech and communications companies caused most of the losses.
Some of that money is still in the recipient companies' cash boxes. Some went to earlier shareholders who sold their interests to the holding companies or funds.
During the boom years on Wall Street, investment companies and VC funds waxed fat, but much of that profit was on paper. Their managers didn't stint themselves, withdrawing equally creamy salaries and bonuses based on these theoretical gains.
After the crash, the profits were gone ¿ but the managers still had their money.
To the greater good of Hollywood
Where's the money the cable television companies lost? The three cable providers, Matav Cable Systems Media (Nasdaq:MATV), Tevel and Golden Channels, have posted some of the biggest losses in Israel's business sector. Some say as much as a billion shekels over the last year, maybe more.
Where is that money? Sad to relate, but much of it is in Hollywood, thanks to profligate content procurement agreements the cable companies signed with the big studios in 1999, to buy movies and serials.
The rest of it stayed at home in Zion. When the satellite broadcaster YES commenced operations in mid-2000, the cable companies went to war ¿ lowering subscription prices by about a third, to the greater satisfaction of the multichannel-viewing public.
Share and share alike
Where's the money the hi-tech companies lost? That's the real question, given that they were the ones to lift the economy in 1999 and 2000, and are now the ones dragging it down.
They generated the tremendous profits of the boom years. But they also created, whether directly or indirectly, much of the horrible losses mentioned above.
So where's the money? In two places. One, the most publicized, is the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who managed to sell their shares to investors before the crash. That comes to two, three thousand people who made hundreds of millions, each, over some three years.
The other place is the bigger one ¿ employees. The tens of thousands of hi-tech employees who were pampered during the prosperous years with fantastic salaries and other perks. The lucky ones cashed in their stock options before the crash. But meanwhile, the surge in hi-tech salaries radiated throughout the marketplace, leading to wage raises far and wide.
If you're looking for a bright side to the economic drama playing out over the last three years, take comfort in this. Most of the tremendous losses described above didn't go to the managers and fat cats, but to the workers.
But don't take too much comfort from the thought. The topmost echelon was willing to let the trickle-down flow as long as money was easy to find on the financial markets, and profits soared. But with losses piling up, the tycoons will want their money back - and they know exactly where it is.