Julian Knight: Another dotcom bubble about to burst? No, not yet

I'm old enough to have started working as a financial hack at the tail-end of the late Nineties dotcom boom, when bunkum phrases such as "first-mover advantage" and "new economic paradigm" were being banded around by wannabe internet millionaires and their friends in the City, trying to rush any old rubbish to market.

Much of it was built on the economics of the madhouse. I remember one UK fund manager, Neil Woodford at Perpetual, standing up against it; he shunned internet shares and promptly sank to near the bottom of the performance tables. At his nadir, I took an investor in to meet him for an article – a brave thing for Mr Woodford to do under the circumstances. He set out, calmly and clearly, why he thought that internet companies with a turnover smaller than a local pub were overvalued at several hundred million pounds. The investor bought a shedload of Mr Woodford's fund and that proved a smart move indeed.

Now the cosmic broker valuations of Zynga – which created the FarmVille game on Facebook – and Groupon – a group-buying discount website – have led some to question if we are seeing a return of the dotcom bubble. How can Facebook, for instance, really be worth $50bn, around the GDP of a medium-sized African country?

But despite this, I can't see a late-Nineties craziness developing – or if it is, we are surely still a little way from its peak. Sure, we may be experiencing a bull run in the markets, but it's based on some fairly sound fundamentals – earnings are good for companies, most sit on solid cash piles, and, as we explore on pages 86 and 87, where else can cash go to in order to possibly keep pace with inflation other than shares? As for the internet, even the derided Zynga produces $850m a year in revenues. And Groupon has 50 million members in America and has just launched here. I don't know what Mr Woodford thinks about this, but the economics of the internet and the stock market in general look a lot better than at the time of the late Nineties crash.

Clear thinking on regulation

I am confused. Not an unusual state for me. This particular confusion was sparked by the decision by the Treasury to rename the Consumer Protection and Markets Authority (CPMA) the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). What was it about CPMA that so offended? FCA certainly trips off the tongue a little bit more easily, but did the Treasury not think that it's virtually identical to, yes, the FSA? In fact, perhaps it's a bit of clever cost-saving – staff can just blob some Tipp-Ex on the old FSA stationery.

Whatever the new City watchdog is called, the Treasury's announcement makes clear that it is intended to give it focus and a bit of bite. For a start, the Treasury says the FCA will have a clear set of consumer-protection objectives to fulfil. This is different from the unsuccessful FSA which was charged with squaring the circle of safeguarding consumers while promoting the interest of banks and insurers. To help it achieve its clear goals, the FCA will have the power to ban the sale of certain financial products for a year while it considers whether they are dodgy.

If we had had the type of regulation that is now envisaged by the Treasury we could have avoided, or at least curtailed, the mis-selling of pensions, split-capital investment trusts and loan payment-protection insurance.

I have always feared that the new beefed-up bank of England would get all the Government's time and attention and that the FSA replacement would be left as a powerless rump. Fortunately, Treasury ministers are getting the message that we need a consumer body with real power; all we need now is the right personnel. One area the FCA may want to look at is the sale to older people and low-risk consumers of traded life policies – investigated on page 85 – this has all the hallmarks of yet another slow burner of a mis-selling scandal.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine