What was the 'Dotcom Bubble'

The dotcom bubble was a rapid rise in U.S. equity valuations fueled by investments in Internet-based companies during the bull market in the late 1990s. During the dotcom bubble, the value of equity markets grew exponentially, with the technology-dominated NASDAQ index rising from under 1,000 to more than 5,000 between 1995 and 2000.

BREAKING DOWN 'Dotcom Bubble'

The dotcom bubble grew out of a combination of the presence of speculative or fad-based investing, the abundance of venture capital funding for startups and the failure of dotcoms to turn a profit. Investors poured money into Internet startups during the 1990s in the hope that those companies would one day become profitable, and many investors and venture capitalists abandoned a cautious approach for fear of not being able to cash in on the growing use of the Internet.

How the Dotcom Bubble Burst

The 1990s was a period of rapid technological advancement in many areas, but it was the commercialization of the Internet that led to the greatest expansion of capital growth the country had ever seen. Although high-tech standard bearers, such as Intel, Cisco and Oracle were driving the organic growth in the technology sector, it was the upstart dotcom companies that fueled the stock market surge that began in 1995.

The bubble that formed over the next five years was fed by cheap money, easy capital, market overconfidence and pure speculation. Venture capitalists anxious to find the next big score freely invested in any company with a “.com” after its name. Valuations were based on earnings and profits that would not occur for several years if the business model actually worked, and investors were all too willing to overlook traditional fundamentals. Companies that had yet to generate revenue, profits and, in some cases, a finished product, went to market with initial public offerings that saw their stock prices triple and quadruple in one day, creating a feeding frenzy for investors.

The NASDAQ index peaked on March 10, 2000, at 5048, nearly double over the prior year. Right at the market’s peak, several of the leading high-tech companies, such as Dell and Cisco placed huge sell orders on their stocks, sparking panic selling among investors. Within a few weeks, the stock market lost 10% of its value. As investment capital began to dry up, so did the lifeblood of cash-strapped dotcom companies. Dotcom companies that had reached market capitalization in the hundreds of millions of dollars became worthless within a matter of months. By the end of 2001, a majority of publicly traded dotcom companies folded, and trillions of dollars of investment capital evaporated.

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