Contrary to popular belief, sharemarket crashes tend to happen very slowly. In October 1929, Black Thursday wiped a relatively trifling 12% off the value of the Dow Jones Index (Black Tuesday a few days later took off another 11%). It would take another three years before the market finally bottomed out, 89% below its peak.
The Japanese crash took even longer, the Nikkei Index peaking in December 1989 before dropping 82% over the next 18 years.
Crashes tend to play out slowly because speculators suffer from a terrible dose of cognitive bias. It takes a while for reality to sink in.
We’re seeing something similar play out in the technology sector globally, with the United States leading the charge. So far, we’ve seen only some of the froth blown off — prices remain grotesquely overvalued based on any sort of historical comparisons.
The Shiller Index (which compares inflation adjusted long-term profitability) is still at near-record levels (above 1929 and 1987, and below only 2000). This is likely to change in the coming months, as sharemarket crashes are a bit like viruses — they take out the weakest first.
In the past two months, many pin-ups of the current boom have been heavily affected — the meme stocks and the unprofitable VC-backed disasters in particular — while the larger stocks have remained relatively stable.
The big daddy of the current bubble, Tesla (which, at least generates billions of dollars in revenue), is down 16% off its record levels, but is still up 27% for the year. Tesla’s fellow EV manufacturer, the near zero-revenue Rivian who we noted was briefly the world’s third most valuable car company, has slumped a far more juicy 54% in just two months. Lucid Motors, the third horseman, is down 23% since November.
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But it’s not just the overpriced EV stocks that have taken a hammering.
Failing cinema business (and very popular meme stock) AMC Entertainment is down 54% since November, and 67% off its mania-induced peak. Idiot day traders and speculators gushed that AMC may return to profitability next quarter — this may happen, but it certainly doesn’t justify a US$20 billion ($27 billion) valuation.
Fellow stonk Game Stock, which like AMC is an unprofitable punchline running a business model best suited to the early 1990s, is down 53% since November. However, it remains 2800% above pre-pandemic levels, so it still has a very long way to fall.
Square, the soon-to-be parent of Australia’s Afterpay, wasn’t immune to the fallout either — it has dropped 53% in less than six months but still has a way to go. The crypto-reliant fintech is still 60% above pre-pandemic levels.
But perhaps the most satisfying share price calamity has befallen the mendacious gang at “free” share trading app Robinhood. Don’t be fooled by the charitable medieval association — Robinhood’s business model is to gamify sharemarket gambling for those who can least afford leveraged speculation. (Robinhood, meanwhile, made billions for its venture capitalist backers and sociopathic founders.)
Peak Robinhood wasn’t so much when the company was briefly worth US$60 billion ($83 billion) after its August IPO. Rather it was when its intentional under-investment in customer service (it was virtually impossible to speak to someone on a customer support phone line) and inept technology led to the tragic death of 20-year-old college student Alex Kearns, who had mistakenly believed he had lost $730,000 trading options.
The happy ending, though, is playing out before our very eyes. Robinhood is down 79% from its highs, with co-founders Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt seeing their respective net worth collapse from US$4.3 billion ($6 billion) to US$1 billion ($1.4 billion).
So far, most of the damage has been confined to the dubious and overpriced reaches of the market (evidenced by Cathie Wood’s controversial Ark Fund underperforming the Nasdaq by 65% in the past year).
Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google are all trading close to record levels and well above pre-pandemic prices, despite the Federal Reserve indicating that it would be aggressively raising interest rates from historically low levels. So buckle up and grab the popcorn. We are in for an interesting six months.