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Bubble Pushes Up the Daisies

If there were any doubts whatsoever that we were in the midst of a massive speculative bubble in assets of all flavors, I give you one so sui generis that you'd have expected it to have come from the pages of famed spoof mag The Onion.

Did you hear the one about the Dutch tulip mania? No, not the famous one back in the 17th century, when folks would trade a year's worth of wages for one Semper Octavian bulb, certain that someone else would pay more for it later.

I'm talking about the one that happened this year. Now, I know that the fates are not without their own senses of humor, but I can't imagine that those who set up the NovaCap Florales Futures Fund to speculate in new breeds of tulips were not aware of the history of tulip speculation in the Netherlands. Did they not know that they were setting themselves up to be the butt of a cruel joke?

Apparently not, and the irony was perhaps lost on the 120 investors who plowed more than $103 million combined into NovaCap, with the promise of possible returns approaching 30%. NovaCap, for its part, emphatically denies that its fund was speculative, stating that it reduced investors' risk by only investing in tulip varieties that neared completion of development. I'd say that this strategy worked like a charm, limiting investor losses to about 100% of invested capital.

There are plenty of potential bubbles taking place at the moment -- speculation is rampant. Overhyped Chinese companies may be at the top of the list. Investment banks note that several of the Chinese-related IPOs are oversubscribed many times including new travel company (Nasdaq: CTRP  ) , following such bereft of profits moonshots like Sina (Nasdaq: SINA  ) and Chinadotcom (Nasdaq: CHINA  ) .

These China-related stocks are in heavy demand for being, well, China-related stocks. On this topic, and plenty others, we're seeing those baseball metaphors that people use to justify paying any price for companies once again: "We're in the first inning..." China's a good opportunity, but I firmly believe that most of the people involved in bidding these companies to the stratosphere will lose, badly. After all, when everyone thinks the same thing, no one thinks much at all. Yes, China is growing. That doesn't mean it cannot overheat, and that doesn't mean that any old price for any old stock is going to make you money.

That lesson should have been learned three years ago, with the dot-com meltdown. Apparently not.

At a minimum, China doesn't really offer a direct historical comparison for even the terminally dense to understand. There are country-specific speculations galore from the past, but China's new. Dutch tulips? Come on, where's the punchline?

I fear that the punchline in the renewed demand for speculative companies will not strike people as being very funny at all. Equilibrium will be restored. It always is.

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