Investors have never really been popular with businessmen.
In 1936 economist John Maynard Keynes described them as little better than entrants in a newspaper competition, trying to guess who the others' choice of the prettiest girl will be. He coined the phrase after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, an event blamed on a superheated investment climate.
Last week, Sir John Banham, former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, described them as hapless lemmings, the one rushing after the other.
We all know the internet changes everything. The problem for some large UK businesses is that unless you really look like you're hip to the New Economy religion, you're terminally unfashionable. Banham is one of those voicing the worry that the City's dot com mania is bad for business because it is wiping billions off the value of established blue chip companies not able to talk up their internet efforts.
Nor is he the only leading UK businessman to be annoyed. Niall FitzGerald, co-chairman of Unilever, made similar comments last week, when he lamented stock market pressures which have forced the group to announce massive restructuring plans for the next five years.
"Our business is based not on potential or promise, but on the continuing reality that each week, month and year, there are more people who need nutritious food, clean homes and personal health," he protested.
Other high-profile UK Old Economy leaders to make similar comments recently include the chairman of Cadbury Schweppes, Sir Dominic Cadbury, who compared the patchy performance of high-tech companies with his own company's 14th consecutive year in profit, and Matthew Barrett, chief executive of Barclays.
"This thing of running out and opening some kind of anorexic internet bank to impress the dot com market is kind of fun, but it isn't good strategy," the latter complained.
Bursting the bubble
There is already talk in London of 'A Tale Of Two Markets', for brick and click companies. So are all these businessmen the modern equivalent of a small boy making unflattering comments about his Emperor's appearance? If only it were that simple.
Make no mistake, ebusiness is going to happen, even to the staunchest blue-chip. Even as FitzGerald bemoaned the City's reluctance to applaud his company's efforts, he was announcing plans to save up to £1bn a year through a global eprocurement system.
Nor is Barclays letting the internet pass it by: it has 64,000 online customers, and can claim 25 per cent of the cyber share trading market in the UK.
The net is obviously going to be more beneficial to some businesses than others. A chain of hairdressers, for example, is hardly likely to want to conduct business online. But it may want to buy supplies that way, and be able to drum up custom on the web. And create new competitors, of course.
Worse for Old Economy firms: forget dot com, try m-commerce. As wireless application protocol technology takes off, the trend among banks is to offer mobile services - like it or not. "It's very much like the internet valuations at the moment, in that there is little effect on the bottom line. But it still makes the share price go flying," says Alexander Potter, banking analyst at Commerzbank.
To e or not to e? No longer the question.
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