Justin Fox recently wrote a provocative book, The Myth of the Rational Market (2009). I could not help but consider cleantech and nanotech investing as I read this book, including the IPO market for 2011 which we all hope will be an improvement over the past several years. In his book, Fox looks at the history of finance theory, tackling questions academics have dug into over the decades such as "How was a corporation to decide if an investment was worth pursuing?" Other subjects include index funds and how these finance theories relate to the real world of investing, including bubbles. The gist is that quite possibly the markets are not rational, and shrewd investors can indeed beat the market (e.g., looking for stocks listing at prices below their intrinsic values). In our experience, shrewd (above average) analysis of intellectual property issues can be one source of potentially beating the market.
The question of which investments are worth pursuing also reminds me of analogies such as which grant proposals are worth funding? Recently, for example, we sat through a day of meetings to review grant proposals in the nanotech arena, and the choices were difficult. Are there any academic theories to address selection of the best funding proposals? In view of government’s increasing role in funding innovation (e.g., ARPA-E), such theories should be explored.
On a practical note, lets hope the first quarter ends with some really good news for cleantech and nanotech with respect to IPOs and corporate valuations. Moreover, for each positive financial outcome in the private sector, someone should be checking if government played a role in the success. That might help bridge the gap between theory and successful investing.