Internet investment advice from beyond the grave

'You advise one man to enrich himself by making another bankrupt: isn't that sick and immoral?'

BILL GATES, the infant prodigy of Microsoft and general info-guru, said the other day that it was crazy to invest in Internet firms, as they were desperately overvalued and it was all getting to be a kind of South Sea Bubble. Ever since then I have had a series of hysterically worried investors turning to me for comfort in case they have done the wrong thing and put their money in the wrong place, so it is high time that we devoted a column to all your letters, faxes, e-mail, phone calls and postcards on the subject.

I AM amazed that Bill Gates called this a South Sea Bubble situation.

Why ?

Because I had no idea that Bill Gates was well versed enough in history to have heard of the South Sea Bubble.

I don't think he is. I think what happened is that as Bill Gates continued on his quest to buy up the reproduction rights to every known picture in the history of the world, he may have come upon some illustrations of the 18th-century stock-market scandal known as the South Sea Bubble, in which worthless shares in the Pacific territories reached tremendous prices before collapsing. He may well have inquired what it was. Someone may have told him that the South Sea Bubble was the Wall Street Crash of the 1700s. This may well have stuck in his mind.

I see. Actually, by a bit of a coincidence, I do have some shares in the South Sea Trading Company which have been passed down through my family since the early 18th century and have never been sold, and I wonder whether they have any value now.

Have you brought them along to show us?

Yes, they're here. They're normally under glass in the library, but I got them out to show you...

Gosh, they're jolly nice, aren't they? I can't remember when I saw something as nice as this on the 'Antique Stocks and Shares Road Show'. You're jolly lucky to have this. You can see the wonderful detail of the printing, here and here, and the fantastic decorative border, and the different splendid colours...

So how much are they worth, about, then?

Absolutely nothing, I'm afraid. Sorry.

I wonder if you can help me. I am an investor who recently snapped up shares in a new Internet company called Netophile, for which I paid pounds 10 each. The company has not yet made anything or shown any profit. What return can I expect on my money?

Absolutely nothing, I'm afraid. You were a fool to buy.

I wonder if you can help me. A year ago I started a new Internet-based company called Netophile, which promised to download New Age sounds such as whales singing. Unfortunately, we haven't produced anything yet, nor shown any profit. I have recently been offered a vast sum of money for the company. Should I sell?

Yes. Sell now. You would be a fool not to sell.

Hold on, hold on. You think the buyer of such a firm is stupid to buy, but you advise the seller to sell to him? You advise one man to enrich himself by making another bankrupt: isn't that sick and immoral?

Yes, it is sick and immoral. It's called advanced capitalism. And the next!

I am in charge of a small lobby group which puts the case for the Net Book Agreement, which governs the price of books. We are a small part- time organisation, open Wednesdays and Fridays, and Saturdays too, if Mrs Whittaker can come in then. Well, recently we got an offer of pounds 3m as a takeover bid for the whole set-up, which is rather over the top if you ask me, even if you take into account the desirable address (quite near Hampstead), and I think what must have happened is that somebody thinks we are something to do with the Net and has got quite excited. What would you do?

Wait till Mrs Whittaker is out of the room and sell. Next!

Hello! It's Arthur Koestler here! You remember me? I was one of the world's greatest writers till I died! And before I died I left millions of pounds to Edinburgh University to found a chair of research into the paranormal and the after-life - you remember? Well, it's all true! The after-life really exists! I am up here, with all the gang, Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, and so on, and we have some great conversations! Of course, we also have Stalin and Hitler and all the great brutes of history as well, which is very interesting! And now I hear that I am numbered also among the great brutes of history just because I raped a few women. Is this true? Well, let me say this -

Pip pip pip pip pip...

I'm sorry, I've run out of coins. I'll try to ring again later...

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