The frenzy in the stock market reflects both rational hope and irrational greed hope to own a piece of a future leader in a significant new industry; greed to ride a wave of easy gains in a market seemingly blind to the rules of valuation.
Valuation, however, will win out. As Benjamin Graham pointed out decades ago, the market is a voting machine in the short run, but a weighing machine over time. The problem is not that all Internet stocks are wildly overvalued, but that it's too early in their lifecycles to put a reasonable value on them. Warren Buffett suggested that each business school should have a final exam with one problem to solve: Value an Internet business. His conclusion: "Anyone who comes up with an answer, fails."
As time goes on, there will be some massacres in the Internet sector and some opportunities. Some of the players have extraordinary business models; the day will come when their prospects are clearer and their popularity is a distant memory. We look forward to that day.
For now, we are thrilled by the potential of the Internet and concerned about its impact on individuals. The explosion of "day trading" through on-line brokers, particularly on Internet stocks, doesn't promise to have a happy ending. There is an old story of a sardine trader who opened a can and found only sand inside. "Don't worry," he was assured. "That can is only for trading."
The stock market is a great place for investors; historically, it hasn't been so kind to traders, especially amateurs. At the end of the day, you still want to own shares of a great company's future, where time is on your side. No question, there is now an easier, cheaper and quicker way to trade stocks, but having a racetrack built close to your home doesn't make it a better bet.