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Do Big-Money Acquisitions Mean We're In a Tech Bubble? 266

Nerval's Lobster writes "When a major IT company pays a reported $30 million—roughly 90 percent of it in cash—for an iOS app with no monetization strategy and a million downloads since launch, is that a sign that the tech industry as a whole is riding a massive, overinflated bubble? Yahoo isn't alone, by a long shot: over the past couple years, a few apps have been snatched up for enormous sums—think Facebook's $1 billion acquisition of Instagram in 2012, or Google buying Sparrow for a reported $25 million. Nor has the money train stopped there: in a pattern that recalls the late-90s market frothiness for anyone over the age of 28, a handful of tech companies have either launched much-hyped IPOs or witnessed their share price skyrocket into the stratosphere. But does all this IPO activity and app-acquiring actually mean 'bubble'?"
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Do Big-Money Acquisitions Mean We're In a Tech Bubble?

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  • yay for bubbles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:28PM (#43282781)

    get it while the gettins' good, save the money - don't blow it, then get out

    rinse and repeat, pt barnum was right

    • Re:yay for bubbles (Score:5, Informative)

      by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:51PM (#43283027)

      get it while the gettins' good, save the money - don't blow it, then get out

      rinse and repeat, pt barnum was right

      Offtopic: P.T. Barnum never did say, "There's a sucker born every minute.", his competitor did. Here's a link to what really went down then... []

    • Re:yay for bubbles (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @04:23PM (#43284881) Homepage

      Indeed. Looking at the college loan well as the new real estate / mortgage bubble...I am without words. We just went through this not even a decade ago, so...why are we doing this again?

      As for the 'tech' bubble...these are purely fluff acquisitions...good money paid for crap...that makes the original DOTCOM bubble look rock solid in comparison. I don't have the figures in front of me, but I've read some of this stuff recently...we're looking at paying premiums for companies in excess of their earnings for the next 50 years...many of them aren't even paying a dividend, so the only money that can be made is by selling it off to someone else who thinks it will go higher...or possibly someone who needs to claim a fictitious loss through some mystic means. Like Instagram, a number of these companies don't even seem to have anything resembling new technology.

      From what I've seen, the heart wood of the tech sector has given out, and it appears to be shrinking. We're seeing a compacting of the tech sector, not new energy.

      An easier way to chart things is to ask the tech sector "have your wages risen greatly, on average, in the past three years, allowing for inflation?" Find out which sector is seeing a rise in wages, either regional or global, and you'll know which one is currently enjoying a boom. Last I checked, which was a while ago, the Australian mining companies were doing pretty well here.

      • Re:yay for bubbles (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @04:44PM (#43285151)

        The 90s dotcom bubble was run by nerds, with tons of big ideas for what the Internet should be, but little business sense, and even less long-term work ethic. They were given boat-loads of cash, with little to no strategy for long-term success. The really good ideas stuck around (see Google, Amazon, eBay) while most fell by the wayside.

        The current bubble seems more like an intentional inflation, trying to catch the same lightning-in-a-bottle. Except this time it's being run by more business minds, less nerds. People who were perhaps old enough in the late 80s to grasp Gordon Gecko's "Greed is good" mantra, but not old enough in the 90s to catch the dotcom wave. They want to recreate that magic and just pocket all the free money. Thus your observation that the "heartwood has given out." There are no eBays or Amazons this generation, just faux-photo filters and Pissed-off Poultry.

  • Yes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:31PM (#43282815)

    I live in the San Francisco bay area and the general vibe in this area is very reminiscent of how it was during the dot-com bubble of the late 90s. Lots of easy money is being thrown around, there's a housing shortage and rents are sky high, and my phone is ringing off the hook with requests for job interviews and I'm not even on job boards anymore.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:40PM (#43282919) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it is a bubble, but it's not simply a tech bubble, it's money bubble this time. It's all inflation, people are looking for place to park value.

    For all the Keynesians that deny one of the 3 major functions of money (storage of value), that's what you do when you print and print without regard to the actual purchasing power - you force people to look into alternative ways of storing purchasing power, and obviously with the interest rates being pushed down by this same action by the Fed and other central banks around the world, there is no yield.

    Savers, investors are in a search of yield and they can't find it. That's how bubbles form. While the Fed is trying hard to reflate the housing bubble it doesn't really control what the inflation goes into and when it comes rushing out, so it results in higher stock market prices, higher asset prices that go up in bidding wars, whatever people can think of, anything that is not the paper printed by the central banks.

    It will burst, what will be the second worst of the bad is unclear right now but the worst of the bad will be USD denominated debt, bonds, dollars themselves.

    • Where did you get the invention that Keynesian economics denies the storage of value? I'm not willing to argue to support a straw-man of my own position.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        I guess he's claiming that Keynesian policies are naturally inflationary. Given that no one in their right mind holds on to fiat currency as a store of value, I doubt this really has much effect.
      • It denies the storage of value aspect of money by not realising that money printing is inflation itself and inflation of money supply causes destruction of value of a single monetary unit.

        Keynesians deny this simple fact, which is why they are so confused by something that must seem to them to be a paradox: inflation and simultaneous rise of unemployment. It's not a paradox, it's only a paradox if you don't realise that inflation destroys value of money, thus kills investment opportunities and destroys prod

        • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:37PM (#43283549)

          There are no Keynesians. Keynesian's would run surpluses during good times.

          Those who call themselves 'Keynesians' are just money printers who found an economic philosophy to act as a fig leaf.

          • The last one was Clinton.

            The problem is that Americans have a tendency to elect the candidate who promises the most, not who runs the best economic policies. If you elect a spendy government as soon as the previous one has fixed the economy and started to run a little surplus you'll never get sustained Keynesianism.

          • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @03:32PM (#43284191) Homepage

            Keynesian's would run surpluses during good times.

            Yes, which is what Keynesian economics advocates. Also, these surpluses should be used to pay down debt that was accumulated during the last economic downturn or accumulated to make a rainy-day fund to shore up the economy during the next economic downturn or (and conservatives will be shocked by this) taxes be reduced so that there is no longer a surplus.

            However, parent also seems to confuse what is recommended by Keynesian economists (who broadly believe these recommendations) and the actions of the politicians, who often ignore actual economists (of any stripe), which seems to be some odd tactic to discredit Keynesians simply because (just like most normal people) politicians don't listen to them.

        • No, we really don't. That's crazy. If you can't accept that temporary inflation can be considered a good thing to address the long-term harm caused by downturns. Keynsian economics just acknowledges the social costs of individual poverty can be irreversible, whereas inflation can be countered by austerity in good times.

          The fact that you invented an opinion for those you disagree with shows that you don't really have much confidence in your own position.

      • He said Keynesians. People are notoriously stupid and latch onto systems they don't understand. Like all the people in any arbitrary religion that practice it wrong (occasionally forming sects, but most often joining religions of peace and being hateful assholes whereby you can take their own religious texts and point out where they have zero support for their behavior and much against...). Philosophy, politics, and the works go the same way--politics especially, where your candidate is the Anti-Christ f
  • Re: Well, duh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kurkosdr ( 2378710 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:44PM (#43282955)
    Well, there is a kind of "social" craze going on, along with a "apps" craze (local and cloud-based), based on the belief that every "social" service or every app that is somewhat popular and runs ads (or has micro transactions) is destined to make profit. Much like in the Web 1.0 craze, there was the belief that every site that sells stuff will make money. Once again, meaningless numbers are thrown around (like "X million members!" never mind how many of them are active and how many of them are real) and ridiculous profit and value estimates are made. And the bubble feeds itself... I just hope that after the bubble bursts, we are not going to see people holding "will code apps/social websites for food" akin to "will code HTML for food" we saw when Web1.0 craze burst.
  • by nedlohs ( 1335013 )

    All that money printing has to end up somewhere, some of it has made it to tech companies but it's hardly restricted to tech companies.

    • Not sure if it's about money printing, but a lot of companies seem to favour growth by acquisition rather than natural growth. Don't expand, just buy something. Companies like Facebook might overspend a lot if they are desperate to grow into one of their weak areas (i.e. Mobile), but even companies lacking cash seem to go for a scattershot approach: snap up a bunch of crap in hopes of finding a winner. In case the app purchased by Yahoo, there's no way that app is worth that kind of dough unless it comes
  • Almost by definition, it is impossible to see a bubble except in hindsight.

    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:46PM (#43283633) Homepage

      I saw the housing bubble. In 2006, specifically, when working as a programmer for a mortgage titling company. I just saw the numbers going into the database and realized that there's no possible way this could work in the long term - there were tons of refinanced loans for lower monthly payments that did nothing to pay back the principal, which more-or-less guaranteed that eventually the borrower couldn't pay.

      I could see it, and I wasn't trained to see it or supposed to be looking for it. But it was there plain as day.

      • So you shorted the mortgage companies, RIGHT?

        • No, I didn't, because I didn't know how high or long the bubble would go before it popped, and I was completely broke at the time. I did, however, keep the financials completely out of my portfolio.

          Also, buying put options is typically less risky than shorting.

      • It's not that hard to see bubbles.

        What's hard is timing them and making money off of them.

        The market can stay irrational longer then you can stay solvent.

        • Exactly. Betting against The Herd is hazardous, unless you are very sophisticated. That is not a game for the Little Guy to play. Take your money far, far away from the stampede.

          The Giant Red Flag was apparent circa 2005 (IIRC), when The Economist magazine noted that housing prices were so far out of skew when compared to rental prices in almost every major metropolitan city in the world that buying a home looked completely irrational as a financial decision.

      • by thomst ( 1640045 )

        dkleinsc claimed:

        I saw the housing bubble. In 2006, specifically, when working as a programmer for a mortgage titling company. I just saw the numbers going into the database and realized that there's no possible way this could work in the long term - there were tons of refinanced loans for lower monthly payments that did nothing to pay back the principal, which more-or-less guaranteed that eventually the borrower couldn't pay.

        I could see it, and I wasn't trained to see it or supposed to be looking for it. But it was there plain as day.

        I saw the bubble in 2004.

        My wife and I had just moved to Las Vegas - one of the housing bubble's domestic epicenters - and went looking for a house to buy. Nearly every property we saw had already been sold by the time the "for sale" sign went up on its lawn. Houses were selling for 20-40% over asking price within 45 minutes of appearing on the realty industry's MLS. Often, the same houses - having never been occupied by anyone other than a painting crew - would be back on the market three

    • That's like saying it's impossible to do calculus. A few people can do it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:55PM (#43283057)


    Insane financial valuation theories mean we're in a bubble. Big money acquisitions can happen for a number of reasons. A lot of them are side effects of the insane theories. This one isn't.

    They didn't pay $30 million for the App with no monetization potential, the second sentence of the first link is "Yahoo said it plans to close down the actual app and use the algorithmic summation technology". They paid $30 million for his algorithm and to hire the talented mind that conceived it. I don't know what's unique about his algorithm or it's results, but that's what the acquisition was about, not the app. Apparently it can do something Yahoo's wanted to do but was unable to accomplish. It may have been a bargain.

    The first sentence of the summary contains a claim invalidated by the second sentence of the link. Seriously? Not even the submitter or the editor could RTFA?

  • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

    Bubbles are funded by outside investors. In this case, the money for the big aquisitions comes from other tech companies, which means that they have a way of making that money somehow.

    • Bubbles are funded by outside investors. In this case, the money for the big aquisitions comes from other tech companies, which means that they have a way of making that money somehow.

      . . . which means that they think they have a way of making that money somehow.

      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        Those dollars have to come from somewhere. If tech companies can afford to throw that much money on risky bets, then they are doing very well.

    • This is Yahoo we're talking about.

      They don't have a way of making that money somehow. Also, they have no fucking clue what they are doing, and are throwing money at the problem without knowing what the problem is.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      The companies are taking these absurd risks (absurd in that it's unlikely they will see positive ROI's on most of these deals) because interest rates are so low, there's nowhere to put spare cash. I'm personally in the same boat. I need somewhere to put my spare assets (that earns something), so I'm moving towards riskier and riskier investments.
      • Dividend paying stocks.. Get a couple percent a year in dividends, and maybe even make money on the stock price rising.

        • by DogDude ( 805747 )
          A couple percent is barely enough to keep up with inflation. That's much too much risk for much too little return. I would expect FDIC insurance for a few percent, as would most people, I'd imagine.
  • Just wait for government regulations requiring to be secure enough for their promoted cyberwar. There costs of everything will go up.
  • They didn't really buy the app, they hired the guy. The $30m is effectively a hiring bonus. That's how a lot of the big tech firms attract talent. It's not a sign of a bubble, it's an indication of how difficult it is to find good people. People don't know what it is, but somehow there's a big difference between someone who can program iOS and someone who can make a successful app, and that difference is worth it to these companies.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:04PM (#43283167) Homepage

    I think what we're seeing is a bunch of tech companies who got rich in the .com era struggling to stay relevant.

    I assume Yahoo still has a search engine, but I've not been inclined to use it or look for it in a *long* time -- like since Google came into existence.

    Now with Facebook and all of these other companies which are relatively recent, the old guard is trying to make sure they keep market share and features people want.

    And, really, the tech industry has been going through fairly steady acquisitions for quite a while ... it's become normal operating procedure. Buy a company with a product you like so you can get their features and customers, and hopefully integrate the features into your platform.

    We may or may not be in a tech bubble, but tech companies have been buying smaller companies for years ... that's just how companies grow these days.

  • i haven't kept up this year, but until a few years ago Google was buying dozens of start ups every year. most with no profits or hope of profits

    most start ups end up being acquired because they have no hope to monetize their idea by themselves and need a partner. nothing new. drug industry is like this. small start up companies make the drugs and the brand names you hear about buy them up or the distribution rights. almost like TV and movies.

  • I'm not saying we aren't in another tech bubble -but I don't think Yahoo!'s buying Summly says anything about the industry in general.

    Fast Company probably has it right [] - that this was more about hiring talent/changing company culture than about the actual business value of the app.

    • Thank you, now I understand what Yahoo was doing here. One of the things that I realized about three or four years ago is that the tech community is unfairly down on Yahoo. Yahoo is not a glamorous company, but they have been making a profit and they have been doing it consistently enough that it is not just accounting gimmicks. The new CEO clearly has a strategy, and the bits of it I can see around the edges seems to make good sense. She appears to have realized that Yahoo is not going to be the "cool" pla
      • by jafiwam ( 310805 )
        The tech community is going to be down on Yahoo until they stop fucking up their email service. It's that simple. They have a decent portal going, but the email is continually hacked via JavaScript or has problems. When that is fixed, the nerds will stop cursing them every chance the get. "my email is broken again" "stop using Yahoo email like I told you last time you dumb fuck."
  • It doesn't really matter how many downloads an app has, how many page views a website gets, how many registered users a social media site receives, how many subscribers a YouTube channel has, how many Twitter followers a celebrity has, how many potential customers a marketer has in their mailing list database, or any other inflated, meaningless number that is being thrown at you.

    Conversion Rate matters. The ability to generate sales, matter. Web 1.0 imploded because websites were being purchased for fanta

    • Virtually NONE of the sites had a proven model for earning income. The entire thing could be chalked up to "get eyeballs, we'll figure out how to sell later."

      ...Advertising. Googles profits last quarter hit a record $2.89bn (£1.83bn)

  • Yahoo already has a way to make money off delivering content, one that yields $5B in revenue per year. Several other major companies use the same strategy.

    This product may not have a separate monetization strategy of its own, but if it provides a competitive advantage to Yahoo, then it may well provide value to them in excess of the $.03B they paid for it. That's not a bubble; that's paying for an innovation (and one they hope to have a patent on, giving it an even big advantage over its competitors).

    This w

  • by sebo2000 ( 2764273 ) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:46PM (#43283625)
    Father works for Morgan Stanly and Mother is some lawyer. People don’t you really see? It is new world bribery and payouts? Yahoo could write “similar” app for much less, but they do not really need it. Kid got 300k from some investors in the past, then raised another million from Li Ka Shing (look him up) Yahoo or whoever needs to pay, can not pay directly to Li Ka Shing any money to avoid audits and conflict of interest charges and lawsuits, so what they do? Pays the kid 30 millions for some stupid app, 29.5 goes to Li Ka Shing (main investor) the rest goes to the kid. Now those investors got paid off. Kid is in the media selling light of hope for all the losers dreaming about another face book, and all the messes and government have no clue what just happened. As they say if something looks stupid and ridicules probably it is.
  • This is one headline that I have to agree with, even if the article concludes the contrary. We are coming out of a period in which huge masses of the population were upgrading to smartphones and tablets. Many of those people have already purchased these items and the innovation in those areas seems to be slowing down. The current generation of these devices do just about everything anyone could need and there seems to be little room for improvement. There also doesn't seem to be much hype surrounding po
  • But a Federal Reserve bubble, money is cheap, so companies will spend it on somethings (but not as much as compared to a strong economy).
  • then no, it's not.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser