Who says Wall Street firms are always bullish? According to Reuters, Merrill Lynch published a report today suggesting that housing market woes could drag the economy into a recession and that, if it does, investors can expect a drop in the S&P 500 of at least 30% from the peak. Even if there is no recession, and the market just does a head-fake, we should expect a drop of about 20%.
How will a public-market stumble affect Web 2.0 start-ups? The same way the market crash in the fall of 2000 did, albeit to a lesser extent:
- Money will get harder to raise. (Because VCs will be feeling pressure from their clients, and exit valuations will be lower).
- Financing and exit valuations will be lower. Because the stocks of acquirers and comparably public-market companies will be lower.
- Investors will get impatient for start-ups to develop businesses instead of "products" and "communities."
- The growth rate of online advertising will slow dramatically. In tough times, advertising is one of the first expense lines to get cut (by big businesses and small). What's more, some start-ups that are currently buying advertising will cut back or cease to exist.
In short, being a Web 2.0 entrepreneur or employee may soon get more difficult and less fun. Hit the bids while you can!
Oh, well. Merrill Lynch's economist David Rosenberg just blasted Bloomberg for mischaracterizing his report and said he is merely suggesting that we could have a "growth recession," meaning that the economy's growth rate could slow, and this only if the Fed doesn't cut interest rates. So that's still bullish. For what it's worth, I am calling for a real recession, in which the economy shrinks and the stock market tanks, regardless of what the Fed does.