by July 14, 2001 0 comments



No show at Las Vegas Rarely has the face of a trade show changed so dramatically as the Networld+Interop (N+I) event in Las Vegas. Traditionally the premier event in the world of computer networking and communi- cations, it clearly reflected the severe level of contraction pains this industry is currently experiencing, after five years of seemingly unabated meteoric growth.

Many companies didn’t even bother to show up, despite having paid for their booth space a year ago when business was still booming. Large sections of the convention halls were draped off, whereas last year, the exhibits extended wall to wall.

Attendance was dismal compared to last May. For one, many of the laid-off 200,000 odd workers would have visited N+I, because this industry heavily feeds upon itself. Companies like Cisco, IBM, and HP used to send large numbers of staff, not just to work at their booths, but also to look for business opportunities. Upper-level management, for whom the event is a nice break gave it a pass this year. They were too busy making the best of a dismal market. And even if they wanted to, most companies just could not send a bunch of employees to enjoy themselves in Las Vegas, when they were laying off people. 

Still, the N+I was not a complete waste of resources. The 40,000 or so who did show up were highly qualified corporate buyers. One nice side effect was that many exhibitors eliminated the often elaborate and expensive presentations, focusing instead on cut-and-dried product descriptions. 

Whether N+I will suffer a similar decline as the Fall Comdex show, which peaked in 1996, remains to be seen. Most exhibitors were optimistic that once the industry returns to growth–likely considering the ever-growing need for broader network bandwidth, security, and speed–chances are N+I will also return to its old self.

A market full of losers

Stories of people who thought the stock market would rise forever and have lost fortunes number in tens of millions. They include the trigger-happy day traders and margin callers as well as the average Joe Sixpack who thought buying into dot.com companies with no sales but a great looking website was a sure way to financial freedom.

Michael Robertson is one such big-time loser. He is the chairman and chief executive of MP3.com. His 23 million shares were worth close to $100 million at one point. Robertson used many of those shares as loan-collateral for investing on the NASDAQ. But after the crash, his firm’s shares lost some 80 percent of their value and Robertson was left holding the bag on his margin-call investments. 

Margin calls are the riskiest of all investments, as well as potentially the most profitable. You bet a certain amount of money for every stock market point up or down. If the market goes up, you get rich. If it goes down, you go broke. And down it has gone from over 5,000 to less than 1,700 a few weeks ago. MP3.com has said it will ‘loan’ Robertson $4.6 million to cover the balance of his margin-call loan. Robertson has secured the loan by pledging at least 19.7 million of his company shares.

That means Robertson has probably already given up just about every other asset he owned to pay back the loan. 

Paul Swart runs the Silicon Valley News Service (SVNS)

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