Tech Investors Bid Adieu to Lost Decade

For most investors, the 2000s will be known as the lost decade — and for technology investors, it was even worse.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), EMC (NYSE: EMC) and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) were the biggest stock market gainers in the roaring 1990s, with gains of around 80,000 percent each, and AOL wasn’t far behind.

A decade later, the picture couldn’t be more dramatically different. The top stocks of the 2000s have been names like Green Mountain Coffee (NASDAQ: GMCR), Hansen Natural (NASDAQ: HANS) and Terra Nitrogen (NYSE: TNH) — representing coffee, energy drinks and fertilizer — and other top names were in energy, slot machines, environmental services, healthcare and apparel, according to Time magazine. Not a single information technology or internet name made the list.

The only list you’ll find tech stocks on in this decade are lists of the worst performers, like a recent list of S&P 500 losers on CNBC, led by JDS Uniphase (NASDAQ: JDSU), down 99 percent for the decade, followed by government-controlled AIG (NYSE: AIG) and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA).

After leading the stock market in the 1990s, Dell and EMC lost about 70 percent each this decade and Cisco fell nearly 60 percent. AOL bought Time Warner, became Time Warner, and then recently became AOL again.

Overall, it was the first losing decade for stocks since the 1930s, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that it was the worst decade for stocks on record dating back to 1820.

The job market fared no better. The private sector lost about 1 million jobs during the decade, according to the WSJ, the first such loss on record going back to 1939. There was overall employment growth during the decade only because government hiring exceeded private sector job losses.

For the record, the S&P 500 opened the decade at 1469.25 and ended it at 1115.1, a loss of 24 percent. The Dow was at 11,497.1 when Y2K began, and closed today at 10,428.05, a loss of 9.3 percent, but add in roughly 2 percent a year for dividends and the index had a positive overall return in the decade. The Nasdaq fared the worst of the major indexes, falling from 4069.31 to 2269.15, a loss of 44 percent for the decade.

And if not for a 60 percent rally off the March lows, those numbers would have been much worse.

Perhaps the next decade will be kinder, but much will depend on the strength of the economic rebound and the ability of the economy to absorb the credit excesses that made “the aughts” a decade to forget.

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