订阅

多平台阅读

微信订阅

杂志

申请纸刊赠阅

订阅每日电邮

移动应用

商业 - 科技

美国互联网繁荣前途未卜

Kevin Kelleher 2011年06月23日

硅谷的支持者们信誓旦旦地说不存在科技泡沫,但这可能只是因为当局者迷。

    今年,科技泡沫问题受到热议,然而令人惊讶的是人们对此没有形成共识。一方面,热门网络公司的估值高得离谱;另一方面,科技巨头的估值却出奇的低。一方面,2011年定价过高的IPO数量远低于1999年;但另一方面,投机主要是在私人市场上进行。一方面,LinkedIn 和人人等新上市的公司股价已经开始走低,然而另一方面,无论如何衡量,其股价仍然很高。

    尽管近来进行IPO的公司数量低于历史高值,但保险地说,一个小规模的科技泡沫正在形成,目前它尚在可控范围内,但并不安定。问题在于这个泡沫会膨胀到多大。它会发展成1999年那样的网络公司狂潮吗?是否会出现这样的情况:需求基本全都集中在Groupon,、Zynga和Twitter等大名鼎鼎的公司身上?Facebook即将进行的首次公开募股是烈火烹油,还是将标志着一场小规模的灾难即将到达高潮?

    在这场争论中,经常被忽视的一点是,这些问题的答案以及这个新的科技泡沫的结局取决于科技行业之外的因素。即便在“大萧条”时期,很多网络创业企业仍得以茁壮成长;而今天,关于云计算、移动网络以及社交网站等主题的报道如此狭隘,常常让人感觉是在“自说自话”。这是另一种形式的科技泡沫,一个甚少被人谈及的科技泡沫:这些评论和讨论似乎都认为网络行业之外的世界无足轻重,似乎网络初创企业是在自己的小世界里运营。

    放在几年前,这种观点可能是正确的。因为在当时,融资一家互联网新创企业只需从风投手中拿到几百万美元,养活一小群天才工程师即可。不过现在不管用了,很多公司的规模大了很多,它们越来越倾向于在公开市场中筹措上亿美元的资金。此外,这种观点忽略了这两次互联网泡沫的最大区别——现在的世界经济形势比1999年时要严峻得多。

    上世纪90年代晚期,能够震动市场的危机类似于长期资本管理(Long-Term Capital Management)危机,后者是一家对冲基金,最后让美国联邦储备系统(Federal Reserve,简称美联储)耗资36亿美元救援。那时,人们最担心的是千年虫问题,这种“虚幻”的危机促使美联储拼命印钞以便让各个公司能够升级自己的软件。当然,事实并非如此,人们把这些轻易获得的资金都无拘无束地投入到高新科技股市中。

    今天,我们回想起90年代的经济危机时仍然心情苦闷,但它更像是高中时期的苦涩记忆,与考砸之后的成绩单和被人拒绝的舞会邀请有关。而现在我们所经历的成年期的苦难要痛苦得多。美联储又一次开动印钞机,进行了两轮量化宽松政策——实质上是将大量资金注入病态的美国经济。不过这一次不是去帮助企业修补差劲的软件,而是利用信贷方式去修补因房地产泡沫崩盘而几乎冻结的美国经济。然而有一件事没有改变:这些廉价的资金再次偏离方向,进入了不该进入的领域,而炙手可热的高新技术新创企业就是其中之一。这些资金一直在抬高这些公司的估值。

    现在,美联储必须决定是否继续进行量化宽松政策,向市场注入更多资金。答案最早于本周就可揭晓。上一轮即第二轮量化宽松政策对美国就业率的提升效果可谓差强人意,不过在过去一年,它使得投资美国股市又变得有利可图起来。现在大家仍在争论是否应该继续进行第三轮量化宽松政策。许多人都表示进行。不过一旦抛弃这一政策,之前流入互联网新创企业的充裕流动性就可能会迅速枯竭。换句话说,注入这次科技泡沫的空气就会大量减少。

    对于在股票交易平台Sharespost购买了Facebook股票,期望在IPO时大赚一票的人而言,第三轮量化宽松政策也许是好消息。但对其他人却并非如此。首先,随之到来的过剩流动性将会抬高商品价格。这意味着个人消费者们在汽油和食品上的支出将会增加,而反过来,他们花在iPhone 5及其应用程序等方面的个人可支配收入就会减少。更重要是,实行第三轮量化宽松政策意味着全球经济一定发生了非常严重的事情,比如说希腊债务出现违约,以至于美联储认为除了向市场注入更多资金外别无选择。

    目前看来希腊的违约机率越来越高,市场最近计算其发生机率为78%。来自SoMa区(South of Market区,位于旧金山,有大量科技企业聚集——译注)的首席财务官可能要问,这对中国茶叶的价格有何影响?或者更直接点:希腊国债价格和互联网新创企业的IPO有什么关系?

    我的答案如下:它们之间的关系肯定比上世纪90年代要大得多。时至今日,许多管理层仍对2008年的金融风暴心有余悸,笼罩在他们心头的不仅仅是希腊债务危机,而是这种危机可能会蔓延到其它债务缠身的欧洲国家;如果美国国会把事情搞砸了,情况糟糕到一定的程度,这种危机甚至还会蔓延到美国。在如此动荡的时期,资金流可能会迅速枯竭。在这个风险大于机遇的经济环境里,真的有人会对Facebook这种估值高达其收入50倍的公司感兴趣吗?

    在SoMa,很多办公室是由仓库改装而成,里面的人没有几个在讨论这类问题。相反,他们谈论的是金融泡沫:Groupon的IPO将有怎样的表现,Facebook何时将进行IPO,而Zynga又将筹措多少钱。似乎没有人太担心全球经济的潜在危机可能扑灭所有的IPO需求——无论是高新技术还是其它。他们都沉浸在一个“色彩斑斓”、“与世隔绝”的泡沫里,而互联网行业就是在这个泡沫里发展壮大。最终,事实可能证明这个泡沫才是最危险的。

    译者:项航

    For all the talk this year about a tech bubble, there is surprisingly little agreement. On the one hand, valuations of hot web companies are irrationally high; on the other big tech valuations are inexplicably low. On the one hand, the number of overpriced IPOs in 2011 is nowhere near that of 1999; but on the other, most of the speculation is happening on private markets. On the one hand, stocks of recent debuts like LinkedIn (LNKD) and RenRen (RENN) are down from their initial highs; but on the other they are still expensive by any sensible measure.

    Even with recent IPOs down from the high points of their oh-so-brief histories, It's safe to say there is a small-scale tech bubble in the making -- relatively contained, but unsettling nonetheless. The better question is how big it could get. Will it metastasize like the dot-com frenzy of 1999? Will there be little demand beyond marquee names like Groupon, Zynga or Twitter? Will an imminent Facebook IPO pour fuel onto the bonfire, or simply mark the culmination of what will prove a modest brushfire?

    What's often overlooked in this debate is that the answers to these questions -- and therefore the fate of the new tech bubble -- lies outside the tech industry. Many web startups thrived even through the dark days of the Great Recession, and today the coverage of topics like cloud computing, the mobile web and social networks is so insular it often feels self-absorbed. This is the other tech bubble, one that few people are talking about: All this commentary and discussion is happening as if the world outside the web industry didn't matter so much, as if web startups operated inside their safe little bubble of reality.

    That attitude might have worked better a few years ago, when financing a web startup meant raising a few million from VCs to support a small crew of highly talented engineers. It's not so true now that many companies are much bigger, increasingly turning to public markets to tap hundreds of millions of dollars. And it overlooks the biggest difference between the dot-com bubble and today's web bubble: In 2011, the financial world is a hell of a lot scarier than it was in 1999.

    In the late 90s, a market-rattling crisis meant something like Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund that cost the Federal Reserve $3.6 billion to bail out. This was an era when people seriously fretted about the Millennium Bug, a phantom crisis that prompted the Fed to make money cheaply available so companies could upgrade their corporate software. Instead, of course, people took all that free money and invested it all too freely in tech stocks.

    Today, we look back on those 90s-era crises almost wistfully -- in retrospect, they feel like painful high-school memories: a bad report card or a rejected prom invitation. The tribulations of our adult lives feel much graver now. The Fed has again been busy printing money through two rounds of quantitative easing -- in essence, injecting money into a morbid U.S. economy -- only this time it's not to help companies fix clunky software but to try and get lenders to fix an economy that nearly froze up after the housing bubble popped. But one thing hasn't changed: All that cheap money is sloshing its way into unintended investments -- including red-hot tech startups. And that money has been driving up their valuations.

    Now the Fed has to decide whether it's going to extend quantitative easing and inject even more cash into markets. The answer could come as early as this week. The last round, called QE2, had at best mixed results in creating new jobs in the U.S., but during the past year it made it fun and profitable to invest in U.S. stocks. There is another debate happening over whether QE2 should be followed by QE3. Many voices are arguing it shouldn't. But without QE3, a good deal of liquidity that has been flowing into web startups could dry up very quickly. In other words, much less air for the tech bubble.

    QE3 might come as welcome news to someone who bought into Facebook on Sharespost and wants a lucrative profit from its IPO. But it's bad news elsewhere. For one, all that excess liquidity is helping to drive up commodity prices. Which means consumers are spending more money on gas and food. Which in turn means less disposable income for an iPhone 5 and so many apps that make it useful. More immediately, QE3 would mean something so awful has happened in the global economy -- say, Greece defaulting on its debts -- that the Fed felt it had no choice but to inject more cash into the markets.

    It's looking more and more like Greece is going to default -- the markets have recently been calculating that there's a 78% chance of this happening. A CFO in SoMa might ask, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Or more to the point: What does the price of Greek bonds have to do with the IPO of a web startup?

    Here's my short answer: A lot more than it did in the 1990s. Today, money managers are still skittish from the crash of 2008. It's not just Greece weighing on their minds, but that the contagion could spread to other European nations with heavy debt -- even to the U.S., if Congress bungles things badly enough. In such a volatile world, capital flows can dry up as fast as the morning dew. And in an economy where risk looms larger than opportunity, will anyone really be interested in a company, like Facebook, valued at 50 times its revenue?

    Few people in SoMa's converted warehouses seem to be talking about any of this. They are talking instead about financial bubbles: How the Groupon IPO will fare, when Facebook will file, how much Zynga will try to raise. Nobody seems terribly concerned about potential crises in global markets that could wipe away demand for any IPO -- tech or otherwise. They are toiling inside the sunny, insular bubble that the web industry has grown up inside. And in the end, that may prove to be the more dangerous bubble of all.

我来点评

相关稿件

  最新文章

最新文章:

500强情报中心

财富专栏