By Anora M. Gaudiano, MarketWatch
Whether bitcoin is in a bubble may be up for debate. But there is one thing about the cryptocurrency craze that is reminiscent of the late 1990s tech boom.
Companies that put the word “blockchain” or other cryptocurrency terms in their name have seen their share prices soar, much like companies that added a dot-com to their name received an almost automatic boost about two decades ago, according to Raghavendra Rau, professor of finance at Cambridge Judge Business School in the U.K.
That is what happened to the stock of small, U.K.-listed On-Line PLC . On the last Friday in October, the stock surged 173% to 47 pence—all apparently in reaction to the firm announcing plans to change its name to On-Line Blockchain PLC at its next annual general meeting.
It isn’t surprising to see Wall Street getting jazzed up about blockchain or bitcoin over the past 12 months.
The price of bitcoin itself /zigman2/quotes/31322028/realtime BTCUSD -1.13% , the most prominent cryptocurrency that uses blockchain technology has risen nearly 650% year to date to a record high of $7,300. Meanwhile, the second-most prominent cryptocurrency Ether is up 3,800% to around $300 since the start of 2017.
Soaring prices of bitcoin and increased attention in cryptocurrencies from average folk, professional investors, and regulators alike, have compelled a number of companies like On-Line PLC—hoping to piggyback on the ascendance of the digital currencies and blockchain technology—to either change their names, reshape their business models or both, to underline their links to crypto assets. Those moves are drawing parallels to the late-1990s dot-com boom.
“There is nothing new under the sun. These manias spread every few years when new technologies appear with uncertain potentials,” Rau told MarketWatch.
“It happened for airlines during the 1920s, it happened during the dot-com boom, it happened during the China boom and it is happening again with blockchain. And this time too, it’s not different,” he said. Blockchain refers to the digital record-keeping technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Rau was one of the co-authors of a paper published in 2000, entitled “A Rose.com by Any Other Name,” in which a trio of finance professors found that companies that made internet-related dot-com name changes saw a “striking positive stock price reaction” to the announcements.
“Investors, especially unsophisticated investors, pay attention to salient news and react immediately without checking details. And in markets that are not extremely liquid, the effect persists because no one takes the other side of the trade to bring prices down again,” Rau said.
According to FactSet data, there are 38 companies that have “bitcoin” or “blockchain” in their names, most of them private.
The four crypto-related entities that are publicly traded all changed their names in 2017 or late 2016:
Carrus Capital Corp. became Global Blockchain Technologies Corp. ; Leeta Gold Corp. converted in to Hive Blockchain Technologies Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202324457/delayed CA:HIVE +13.66% ; BiOptix Inc. switched its name to Riot Blockchain Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209538617/composite RIOT +4.31% ; and JA Energy transformed in to UBI Blockchain internet Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201442947/delayed UBIA -70.30%
Share prices of three of the quartet have seen triple- or quadruple-digit gains since the start of the year.