The Dot-com Crash Never Happened!

LONDON -- Here's an anniversary that only a select few will be celebrating. It is now exactly a decade since technology stocks finally stopped falling in the wake of the dot-com crash, according to Trustnet.com.

The meltdown began in March 2000 and ended in August 2002, destroying up to $10 trillion of global wealth, a figure hard to get your head 'round.

It now looks small beer against the credit crunch, which destroyed an even more brain-frazzling $14 trillion in the U.S. in 2009 alone, but it was a very big deal at the time.

A year to remember
I doubt you're feeling sentimental about the dot-com boom -- although I'm sure you miss the money you lost -- so who exactly is celebrating this anniversary?

Tech fund managers. They are cock-a-hoop, because it makes their 10-year performance figures look more impressive for the first time in, well, a decade.

Just 12 months ago, the average technology and telecoms unit trust showed 10-year growth of a pitiful 1.88%, Trustnet notes. Today, the sector can proudly boast 10-year growth of 95%, according to the Investment Management Association.

What a difference a year makes. It's as if the crash never happened at all.

Cash from chaos
In the years following the crash, contrarian analysts would pull investors out of the rubble, dust them down and urge them to give tech a second chance.

That 95% rebound over the last decade would suggest they were right. You can make money by investing in bombed-out sectors, provided you are patient. And lucky enough to invest near the market bottom.

But tech is far from the top-performing IMA sector of the past 10 years. That prize goes to global emerging markets, which delivered a stonking 237% growth.

China/Greater China came next, with the average unit trust growing 237%. European smaller companies (149%), U.K. smaller companies (117%), and Asia-Pacific including Japan (113%) all outshone tech.

Most people will tell you that the last decade has been disastrous for shares. These figures tell a different story. They also demonstrate why time is your best friend. The tech recovery did eventually come, but you had to be very patient to reap the benefit.

The figures also show that you have to be very careful when examining past performance tables, because they can give highly distorted results, depending on the cutoff point.

Gone for good
Despite the recovery, you won't have earned back your technology losses. First, the figures are distorted by survivorship bias. Many tech start-ups and funds collapsed altogether, and took every penny of investors' money with them. These stocks and funds aren't represented in the figures.

Even if your fund survived, it won't help much. Say you had 10,000 pounds in a tech fund in March 2000 and the crash zapped up to 80% of its value, leaving you with 2,000 pounds (if you were lucky).

Then say that fund survived, and rebounded by the sector average of 95%. Your 2,000 pounds would now be worth 3,900, pounds leaving you 6,100 pounds out of pocket.

Plus the value of that money has been eroded by inflation.

Protect and survive
Even some stocks that survived and thrived are still way below their previously inflated valuations, notably Vodafone (LSE: VOD.L  ) , a stock that should still have a hold on your portfolio. This Fool favorite and dividend hero currently trades at 1.85 pounds, less than half the 4-pound peak it hit 12 years ago.

It could easily take another decade to claw its way back, if it ever does.

All this confirms Warren Buffett's adage that "the first rule of investing is don't lose money; the second rule is don't forget rule number one."

Once you lose money, it is very difficult to get it back.

The decade-long tech fight-back may offer some encouragement to investors who have lost out in the cyclical swings of investment sectors, as I have with commodities.

I'm still 30% down on JPMorgan Natural Resources, a unit trust I bought in July and August 2011. The only thing I can do is give it time. At some point, resources swing back into investment fashion.

We've been waiting five years for the banking stocks to stage a recovery, but it hasn't happened yet. One reason is that when the tech bubble burst, capitalism was allowed to do its job. Moral hazard was in full play. The losers weren't bailed out by the taxpayer, they were left to collapse and die.

They weren't kept alive on life support, like our zombie banks.

It took technology a decade to recover. I wonder how long the banking sector will take?

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Harvey Jones holds Vodafone and JPMorgan Natural Resources. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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