A Perfect Example of Irrational Exuberance

On this day in economic and financial history...

One of the dot-com era's greatest symbols of ludicrous overenthusiasm took place on Nov. 13, 1999. That was the day that, one of the earliest "social-networking" companies, went public with the largest first-day gain of any IPO in history up to that point. Originally priced at $9 per share, the money-losing message-board system soared to a height of $97 per share before "sanity" set in and the stock ended its first trading day at a price of $67.50.

In the first three quarters of 1999, generated revenue of $2.7 million and posted a loss of $11.5 million. Its IPO, by comparison, raised $27.9 million, and the company reached a peak market cap of $841.8 million on Nov. 13, 1999. When you wonder why sites like Facebook (Nasdaq: FB  ) and LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD  ) can raise money at such ridiculous valuations, remember Social networking has a way of turning otherwise rational investors into a bunch of slavering baboons. Let's be social on the Internet! It's worth a gazillion times trailing-12-month sales! Don't ask why -- just shut up and take our money!

The fall of was almost as swift as its rise. CEO Stephan Paternot, trailed by a CNN camera crew during a night out shortly after the IPO, said he was ready "to live a disgusting, frivolous life." He had about four months of disgusting frivolity before the Nasdaq Composite (INDEX: ^IXIC  ) peaked, and within two years the almost $100 stock was reduced to penny status at a $0.10 per-share valuation. Paternot was forced out in 2000, but soldiers on after fending off lawsuit after lawsuit. It still trades on over-the-counter exchanges to this day with a market cap of less than $1 million.

The Nasdaq has yet to regain its bubble-era heights, but hope seems to spring eternal for "social" stocks -- particularly LinkedIn, which holds onto a doubled valuation from its IPO price and a P/E in the high triple digits today. Hey, at least it and Facebook are profitable, right? ...Right?

Volatility a go-go
In hindsight, it's easy to remember the massive market drops that take place during recessions, but these wealth-destroying times are also host to plenty of huge single-day rallies. Nov. 13, 2008 was such a day, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) swung 911 points between its intraday high and low before finishing with a 552-point gain -- its third-largest net rally in history.

As is often the case after a major one-day rally, Wall Street insiders offered cautious optimism that the bear market might be nearing an end. Matt King of Bell Investment Advisors told CNN Money that the bounce "was very positive. ... It seems like we have put a bottom in place." At the close, the Dow stood at 8,835. It didn't bottom out until the following March, another 26% lower than the level reached on Nov. 13, 2008.

On a day like today, with its historically false optimism, it's instructive to remember Benjamin Franklin's immortal words: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." He penned this line in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy on Nov. 13, 1789.

Mickey the sorcerer
Two great successes of Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) experimentation premiered on Nov. 13. The first was Fantasia, an avant-garde, classically orchestrated film made up of eight animated shorts. Released on Nov. 13, 1940, Fantasia was the first major motion picture to use stereophonic sound, and it also reintroduced the world to Disney mascot Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It has become one of Disney's most durable classics, although it took nearly three decades (and several re-releases) for Fantasia to make back its original budget. This resurgence in popularity coincided with the rise of psychedelic culture in the late 1960s. Groovy, man.

Disney's second (and more modern) experiment opened on Broadway on Nov. 13, 1997. The Lion King musical held its premiere that day, fresh off a smashing trial run in Minneapolis. It continues to play to this day, cementing the success of Disney on Broadway and becoming the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time early in 2012, when its total take passed $854 million. That's within spitting distance of the original film's global lifetime gross of $952 million. Given that sort of track record, it wouldn't be surprising if fresh Disney property Star Wars winds up on Broadway in the near future.

The Lion King musical, like its film forbear, went on to great success around the world, with productions in Canada, Australia, Korea, the Netherlands, South Africa, France, Taiwan, and other countries. Disney's ability to appeal to global audiences is a big reason why it's such a great and durable component of long-term portfolios. Finding companies with a global appeal is vital in today's interconnected world, and the Fool has put together an exclusive free report on three other companies achieving Disney-like global success. One (or all three) might be your next great investment, but only you can decide -- click here to learn more about these three American companies dominating the world, at no cost.

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