The dot-com bubble (also known as the dot-com boom, the tech bubble, the Internet bubble, the dot-com collapse, and the information technology bubble) was a historic economic bubble and period of excessive speculation that occurred roughly from 1997 to 2001, a period of extreme growth in the usage and adaptation of the Internet by businesses and consumers. During this period, many Internet-based companies, commonly referred to as dot-coms, were founded, many of which failed.
During 2000-2002, the bubble collapsed. Some companies, such as Pets.com and Webvan, failed completely and shut down. Others, such as Cisco, whose stock declined by 86%, and Qualcomm, lost a large portion of their market capitalization but survived, and some companies, such as eBay and Amazon.com, later recovered and surpassed their dot-com-bubble stock price peaks.
Increases in computer and internet usage
The commercial growth of the internet was sparked by the advent of the World Wide Web and then the release of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. In the late 1990s, the reduction of the "digital divide", advances in internet connectivity, increases in uses for the internet, and greater education on the use of the internet led to further increases in internet usage. Between 1990 and 1997, the percentage of households in the United States owning computers increased from 15% to 35%.Information and communications technology progressed from a luxury to a necessity. The shift to an economy based on computerization is known as the Information Age.
Stock market bubble
The NASDAQ Composite
index spiked in the late 1990s and then fell sharply as a result of the dot-com bubble.
As a result of the rapidly-increasing usage of the Internet, many investors were eager to invest, at any valuation, in any company that had one of the Internet-related prefixes or a ".com" suffix in its name, leading to a stock market bubble. During the bubble, the valuations of companies in the quaternary sector of the economy increased extremely rapidly. Venture capitalists, eager to profit on this investment demand, moved to raise and invest capital faster and with less caution than usual. A combination of rapidly increasing stock prices, market confidence that the companies would turn future profits, speculation in stocks by individuals, and widely available venture capital created an environment in which many investors were willing to overlook traditional metrics, such as the price-earnings ratio, in favor of basing confidence on technological advancements. The low interest rates of 1998-99 helped increase the availability of funding. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which lowered the top marginal capital gains tax in the United States, is also cited as a reason that people were willing to make more speculative investments.
An unprecedented amount of personal investing occurred during the boom, and the press reported the phenomenon of people quitting their jobs to engage in full-time day trading. The value of the Nasdaq Composite stock market index, which includes many technology companies, rose from 1,000 in 1995 to 5,000 in the year 2000. By the end of the 1990s, the NASDAQ Composite reached a price-earnings ratio of 200, dwarfing the peak price-earnings ratio of 80 for the Japanese Nikkei 225 during the Japanese asset price bubble of 1991. In 1999, shares of Qualcomm rose in value by 2,619% and 12 other large-cap stocks each rose over 1,000%. Even though the Nasdaq stock market index rose 85.6% and the S&P 500 stock market index rose 19.5% in 1999, more stocks fell in value than rose in value, as investors sold stocks in slower growing companies to invest in internet stocks.
At the height of the boom, it was possible for a promising dot-com company to become a public company via an initial public offering and raise a substantial amount of money even though it had never made a profit--or, in some cases, realized any material revenue whatsoever.
American news media, including respected business publications such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, took advantage of the public's desire to invest in the stock market; an article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that investors "re-think" the "quaint idea" of profits and CNBC reported on the stock market with the same level of suspense as many networks provided to the broadcasting of sports events.
Academics Preston Teeter and Jorgen Sandberg have criticized Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan for his role in the promotion and rise in tech stocks. Their research cites numerous examples of Greenspan putting a positive spin on historic stock valuations despite a wealth of evidence suggesting that stocks were overvalued.
Author Andrew Smith argued that the financial industry's handling of initial public offerings tended to benefit the banks and initial investors rather than the companies. This is because company staff were typically barred from selling their shares during a lock-up period of 12 to 18 months, although many were able to lock in profits by buying options or entering into forward sale agreements. However, the investment bankers and other initial investors were typically entitled to sell their shares on the first day of trading and lock in huge profits literally overnight. Smith argues that the high profitability of the IPOs to Wall Street was a significant factor in the course of events of the bubble. He wrote:
"But did the kids [the often young dotcom entrepreneurs] dupe the establishment by drawing them into fake companies, or did the establishment dupe the kids by introducing them to Mammon and charging a commission on it?"
However, executives and employees who received employee stock options became instant paper millionaires when their company made its initial public offering. Several company executives, such as Mark Cuban, made vast fortunes when their companies were bought out at an early stage in the dot-com stock market bubble; the most successful sold for cash or entered into hedging transactions on shares they received.
"Get big fast"
Most dot-com companies operated at a net loss to harness network effects to build market share or mind share as fast as possible, using the mottos "get big fast" and "get large or get lost". These companies offered their services or products for free or at a discount with the expectation that they could build enough brand awareness to charge profitable rates for their services in the future.
Technology companies sought to expand public awareness and their customer bases via massive advertising campaigns. Many dot-coms named themselves with onomatopoeic nonsense words that they hoped would be memorable and not easily confused with a competitor. Dot-com commercials during Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000 featured advertisements by 16 dot-com companies that each paid over $2 million for a 30-second spot. CBS-backed iWon.com gave away $10 million to a lucky contestant on an April 15, 2000 half-hour primetime special that was broadcast on CBS. By June of 2000, after the bubble burst, dot com companies were forced to rethink their advertising campaigns. In January 2001, just three dot-coms bought advertising spots during Super Bowl XXXV: E-Trade, Monster.com, and Yahoo! HotJobs.
Lavish spending by dot-coms
The "growth over profits" mentality and the aura of "new economy" invincibility led some companies to engage in lavish internal spending, such as elaborate business facilities and luxury vacations for employees. Upon the launch of a new product or website, a company would organize an expensive event called a dot com party.
Bubble in telecom
Telecommunications equipment providers, convinced that the future economy would require ubiquitous broadband access, went deeply into debt to improve their networks with high-speed equipment and fiber optic cables. In the struggle to become a technology hub, many cities and states used tax money to fund technology conference centers, advanced infrastructure, and created favorable business and tax law to encourage development of the dotcom industry in their locale. Virginia's Dulles Technology Corridor along I-495 is a prime example of this activity. Large quantities of high-speed fiber links were laid, and the State and local governments gave tax exemptions to technology firms. Office vacancy increased significantly after the bubble burst, although the area still remains a major technology hub.
On January 10, 2000, America Online, a favorite of dot-com investors and pioneer of dial-up Internet access, announced plans to merge with Time Warner, the world's largest media company, in the largest merger in history at that time. The announcement is generally regarded to be the peak of the dot-com bubble. The transaction was later described as "the worst in history". Within two years, boardroom disagreements drove out both of the CEOs who made the deal, and in October 2003, AOL Time Warner dropped "AOL" from its name.
On March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ Composite peaked at 5,132.52, but fell 78% in the following 30 months.
After venture capital was no longer available, the operational mentality of executives and investors completely changed. A money-losing company's lifespan was measured by its burn rate, the rate at which a non-profitable company lacking a viable business model spent its existing capital. Many dot-coms ran out of capital and were acquired or went through liquidation; the domain names were purchased by old-economy competitors, speculators or cybersquatters. Several companies and their executives were accused or convicted of fraud for misusing shareholders' money, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined top investment firms including Citigroup and Merrill Lynch millions of dollars for misleading investors. Various supporting industries, such as advertising and shipping, scaled back their operations as demand for their services fell.
Several companies that produced network equipment were irrevocably damaged by the debt taken on to fund their expansion and went bankrupt, causing what is known as the telecoms crash. However, some communications companies that supplied equipment and outsourced manufacturing, such as Cisco and Qualcomm, were able to survive. Similarly, in Europe, mobile phone companies overspent on 3G licences, which led them deep into debt and led to the telecoms crash. The investments in infrastructure were far out of proportion to both their current and projected cash flow.
WorldCom, led by Bernard Ebbers, was the subject of accounting scandals. WorldCom's stock price fell drastically when the accounting scandal was publicized, and, in July 2002, it filed the largest corporate bankruptcy ever at the time.
September 11th attacks and stock market downturn of 2002
The September 11 attacks accelerated the stock market drop; the NYSE suspended trading for four sessions. When trading resumed, some of it was transacted in temporary new locations.
The stock market downturn of 2002 caused the loss of $5 trillion in the market value of companies from March 2000 to October 2002.
Although their stock prices declined significantly, 48% of dot-com companies survived through 2004. Many companies, even those who were categorized as the "small players", were adequate enough to endure the stock market drop of 2000-2002. Retail investors who felt burned by the burst transitioned their investment portfolios to more cautious positions.
Job market and office equipment glut
Nevertheless, laid-off technology experts, such as computer programmers, found a glutted job market. University degree programs for computer-related careers saw a noticeable drop in new students. Anecdotes of unemployed programmers going back to school to become accountants or lawyers were common. Failed startups liquidated all of their equipment such as Herman Miller Aeron Chairs and computer equipment.
On the long-term legacy of the bubble, venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who funded dot-com companies, said about the dot-com bubble:
"A friend of mine has a great line. He says 'Nothing important has ever been built without irrational exuberance'. Meaning that you need some of this mania to cause investors to open up their pocketbooks and finance the building of the railroads or the automobile or aerospace industry or whatever. And in this case, much of the capital invested was lost, but also much of it was invested in a very high throughput backbone for the Internet, and lots of software that works, and databases and server structure. All that stuff has allowed what we have today, which has changed all our lives... that's what all this speculative mania built".
As growth in the information technology sector stabilized, several companies consolidated, gained market share, and came to dominate their respective fields. A few large dot-com companies, such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google, became industry-dominating mega-firms. The information technology industry came to more closely resemble other traditional sectors of the economy, albeit with still a faster growth rate and higher valuations than other sectors. There are now many information technology companies ranked at the top of the Fortune 500 list of the largest companies by revenues.
Companies significant to the bubble
- Boo.com - spent $188 million in just six months in an attempt to create a global online fashion store that went bankrupt in May 2000.
- Books-a-Million - A book retailer whose stock price soared from around $3 per share on on November 25, 1998 to $38.94 on November 27, 1998 and an intra-day high of $47.00 on November 30, 1998 after it announced an updated website. Two weeks later, the share price was back down to $10. By 2000, the share price had returned to $3.
- Broadband Sports - A network of sports-content Web sites that raised over $60 million before going bust in February 2001.
- Broadcast.com - A streaming media website that was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.9 billion in stock, making Mark Cuban a multi-billionaire. The site is now defunct.
- Commerce One - a business-to-business software provider that reached a valuation of $21 billion despite minimal revenue.
- Cyberian Outpost - Founded in 1994 and one of the first successful online retailers, it reached a peak market capitalization of $1 billion. Used controversial marketing campaigns including a Super Bowl ad in which fake gerbils were shot out of a cannon. It was acquired by Fry's Electronics in 2001 for $21 million, including the assumption of $13 million in debt.
- CyberRebate - Promised customers a 100% rebate after purchasing products priced at nearly ten times the retail cost. Went bankrupt in 2002 and stopped paying rebates. The bankruptcy was settled in 2005 and customers received about 8% of the outstanding rebates they were due.
- e.Digital Corporation (EDIG) - Changed its name from Norris Communications to e.Digital in January 1999 when stock was trading at $0.06 per share and stock price started rising dramatically - to $2.91 per share on December 31, 1999 and then to a high of $24.50 on January 24, 2000.
- eToys.com - Online toy retailer founded in 1997, its stock price hit a high price of $84.35 per share in October 1999. In February 2001, it filed for bankruptcy with $247 million in debt. It was bought by KB Toys, which also had to file for bankruptcy.
- Excite - A pioneering Internet portal that merged with high-speed Internet service @Home in 1999 to become Excite@Home, promising to be the "AOL of broadband" and partnering with cable operators to become the largest broadband internet service provider in the United States. After spending billions of dollars on acquisitions and trying unsuccessfully to sell the Excite portal during a sharp downturn in online advertising, the company filed for bankruptcy in September 2001 and shut down operations.
- Flooz.com - A service touted as "e-currency" , it folded in 2001 due to lack of consumer acceptance and a basic lack of necessity. Famous for having Whoopi Goldberg as its spokesperson.
- Freei - Filed for bankruptcy in October 2000, soon after canceling its initial public offering. At the time, it was the fifth-largest internet service provider in the United States, with 3.2 million users. Famous for its mascot Baby Bob, the company lost $19 million in 1999 on revenues of less than $1 million.
- Geeknet (formerly VA Linux) - A provider of built-to-order Intel systems based on Linux and other open source projects. It set the record for largest first-day price gain upon its initial public offering on December 9, 1999; after the price was set at $30/share, it ended the first day of trading at $239.25/share, a 698% gain. After its IPO, the share price consistently declined. The company is featured in the documentary Revolution OS. On the day of the IPO, several of its young executives were paper billionaires and a 26-year old web developer said she had a net worth on paper of over $10 million.
- GeoCities - Purchased by Yahoo! for $3.57 billion in January 1999. Yahoo! shut down the GeoCities on October 26, 2009
- theGlobe.com - Social networking service, that went live in April 1995 and made headlines by going public on November 1998 and posting the largest first day gain of any IPO in history up to that date. CEO Stephan Paternot became a visible symbol of the excesses of dot-com millionaires and is famous for saying "Got the girl. Got the money. Now I'm ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life".
- GovWorks.com - Doomed dot-com featured in the documentary film Startup.com.
- inktomi - Reached a valuation of $25 billion in March 2000, sold to Yahoo! in 2003 for $241 million.
- InfoSpace - In March 2000, its stock reached a price $1,305 per share, but by 2002 the price had crashed down to $2/share.
- Kozmo.com - Offered one-hour local delivery of several items with no delivery fees from March 1998 until it went bust in April 2001.
- Lastminute.com - Its IPO in the UK on March 14, 2000 coincided with the bursting of the bubble.
- The Learning Company - Bought by Mattel in 1999 for $3.5 billion, sold for $27.3 million in 2000.
- Lycos - Purchased by Terra Networks for $12.5 billion in 2000. It was sold in 2004 to Seoul, South Korea-based Daum Communications Corporation for $95.4 million.
- MicroStrategy - Shares lost more than half their value on March 20, 2000 following the announcement of re-stated financials for the previous two years. An article published by Bloomberg L.P then stated that "the company's misfortune is a wake-up call to all dot-com investors. The message: It's time, at last, to pay attention to the numbers".
- ModusLink Global Solutions (formerly CMGI Inc.) - a company that invested in many internet startups.
- NorthPoint Communications - agreed to a significant investment by Verizon and a merger of DSL businesses in September 2000; however, Verizon backed out 2 months later after NorthPoint was forced to restate its financial statements, including a 20% reduction in revenue, after its customers failed to pay as the bubble burst. NorthPoint then filed for bankruptcy. After lawsuits from both parties, Verizon and NorthPoint settled out of court.
- Pets.com - Former dot-com enterprise that sold pet supplies to retail customers before filing for bankruptcy in 2000.
- Pixelon - Internet streaming video company that hosted a $16 million dot com party in 1999 with celebrities including The Who and the Dixie Chicks. Failed less than a year later when it became apparent that its technologies were fraudulent or misrepresented.
- Pseudo.com - One of the first live streaming video websites. Pseudo produced its own content in a SoHo, NYC studio and streamed up to 7 hours of live programming a day from its website in a format divided into channels by topic.
- Ritmoteca.com - One of the first online music stores retailing music on a pay-per-download basis and an early predecessor to highly successful iTunes business model. Pioneered the digital distribution deal as one of the first companies to sign agreements with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Bertelsmann Music Group and Warner Music Group.
- Startups.com - "Ultimate dot-com startup" that went out of business in 2002.
- Think Tools AG - One of the most extreme symptoms of the bubble in Europe, this company reached a market valuation of CHF 2.5 billion in March 2000, despite no prospects of having a product.
- Tiscali - Important Italian telecommunications company whose share price rose from EUR46 upon its IPO in November 1999 to EUR1,197 in four months. The share price then fell to EUR40 in less than two months and eventually fell to EUR0.20.
- VerticalNet - A host of 43 business-to-business (B2B) procurement portals that was valued at $1.6 billion after its initial public offering, despite only having $3.6 million in quarterly revenue.
- Webvan - An online grocer that promised delivery within 30 minutes, it went bankrupt in 2001 after $396 million of venture capital funding and an IPO that raised $375 million and was folded into Amazon.com.
- WorldCom - A long-distance telephone and internet-services provider that became notorious for using fraudulent accounting practices to increase their stock price. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and former CEO Bernard Ebbers was convicted of fraud and conspiracy.
Individuals significantly affected by the dot-com bubble
Media featuring the dot-com bubble
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- ^ Davis, Marc (September 9, 2011). "How September 11 Affected The U.S. Stock Market". Investopedia.
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- ^ desJardins, Marie (October 22, 2015). "The real reason U.S. students lag behind in computer science". Fortune Magazine.
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- ^ Hamm, Steve (February 3, 2003). "Online Extra: From Hot to Scorched at Commerce One". Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
- ^ "10 big dot.com flops - eToys.com". CNN Money. March 10, 2010.
- ^ "Another One Bites the Dust - FreeInternet.com Files for Bankruptcy". Addlebrain.com. October 10, 2000.
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- ^ Helmore, Edward (May 9, 2001). "So Who's Crying Over Spilt Milk?". The Guardian.
- ^ Heath, David; Chan, Sharon Pian (March 6, 2005). "Dot-con job: How InfoSpace took its investors for a ride". Seattle Times.
- ^ Goldman, Abigail (December 6, 2002). "Mattel Settles Shareholders Lawsuit For $122 Million". Los Angeles Times.
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- ^ Yang, Catherine (April 3, 2000). "Commentary: Earth To Dot Com Accountants". Bloomberg L.P.
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- Cassidy, John (2009). Dot.con: How America Lost its Mind and Its Money in the Internet Era. Harper Collins.
- Daisey, Mike (2014). Twenty-one Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2580-5.
- Goldfarb, Brent D., Kirsch, David and Miller, David A., "Was There Too Little Entry During the Dot Com Era?" (April 24, 2006). Robert H. Smith School Research Paper No. RHS 06-029 Available at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=899100
- Kindleberger, Charles P. (2005). Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. Wiley.
- Kuo, David (2001). dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath. ISBN 0-316-60005-9.
- Roger Lowenstein (2004). Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing. Penguin Books. ISBN 1-59420-003-3.
- Wolff, Michael (1999). Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet. Orion.
- Abramson, Bruce (2005). Digital Phoenix; Why the Information Economy Collapsed and How it Will Rise Again. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-51196-4.