Far from experiencing a bubble, Silicon Valley has been in the throes of a "technology depression," Netscape co-founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said at the New York Times Dealbook conference on Wednesday.
While conventional wisdom holds that social-networking website Facebook's initial public offering pricked a bubble that was taking hold around privately held consumer Internet companies, Andreessen expressed skepticism.
"Some bubble," he said, arguing that bubbles are "mass frenzies" that involve public companies. "If it's a bubble, it was a bubble that was limited to four companies, that was limited to the private side."
Andreessen did not name the companies. Consumer internet stocks that have disappointed investors lately after their IPOs include Facebook, Groupon and Zynga.
To bolster his case, Andreessen said publicly held technology stocks were trading at the biggest discount to industrials since the 1970s.
For example, he said, Google's stock price reflected valuations of zero for many of the company's key businesses, such as video service YouTube and browser Chrome.
"The public right now hates technology, just hates technology," Andreessen said. "We're in a tech depression."
Part of the problem, he said, is a belief in some circles that old-line technology companies are "doomed." But Andreessen pointed to Apple as a company that many people had written off but which managed to pull off a stunning turnaround in the early 2000s.
Andreessen helped start browser company Netscape, which was acquired by AOL in 1999. Andreessen Horowitz, his venture capital firm, has invested in some of the country's hottest start-ups, including Facebook and online bulletin board Pinterest.
Asked if Microsoft Corp's best days were behind it, he said new products such as the Windows 8 operating system showed promise. "They're fighting like hell," he said. "They have tons of cash, they have really good management."
Andreessen, who is on the boards of Hewlett-Packard and Facebook, said little about those companies, citing his position as a director.
HP chief executive Meg Whitman is the best leader of the company since its founders, he said. HP has faced a succession of challenges, including the recent US$8.8 billion ($10.4 billion) writedown of software maker Autonomy, which it acquired earlier this year.
Andreessen also skipped a Facebook question. For him to comment on the Facebook IPO, he would have to drink the Johnny Walker scotch stashed in the conference's Green Room, he joked.
In response to a question from the audience, Andreessen said the New York Times should shut down the print edition of its namesake newspaper "as soon as possible".
While the newspaper's potential audience is growing quickly due to factors such as the global rise of the middle class, he said the company should focus entirely on its digital offering.
"It's not that you can't make money in print newspapers," he said. "It's not that there aren't people who love them." But successfully dealing with transformative technology requires going "on 100 per cent offence", he said.
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