Mar 19, 2024 - Business

2021 brought us meme stocks. In 2024, we have zirpless memes.

Illustration of four side eyeing Benjamin Franklins in quadrants with charts, graphs and symbols floating atop them

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Meme investments are back — and this time they're not being fueled by a Federal Reserve policy of holding interest rates at zero.

Why it matters: Getting rich quick for the lulz turns out to have been a lot of fun. Why let high interest rates, or the lack of federal stimulus checks, get in the way?

  • The Federal Reserve's zero interest rate policy, or zirp, ended in 2022 — but speculative fervor lives on, in what can be thought of as zirpless memes.

The big picture: Meme investments are, broadly, anything that doesn't have intrinsic value — that doesn't have some kind of predictable income stream attached.

  • Gold, the OG meme investment, is trading at an all-time high of over $2,100 per ounce.
  • Bitcoin, the digital version of gold, is also trading near its all-time high. Even dogecoin is spiking again, along with newer meme coins like bonk.
  • The AI frenzy has given companies like Super Micro Computer (which, admittedly, does have some earnings) the kind of share-price chart that would be familiar to players in GameStop three years ago.
  • Reddit, the spiritual home of all memes, is going public this week with an offering that's reportedly heavily oversubscribed — something that's often a precursor to extreme volatility. As befits a potential meme stock, Reddit has never made money.

Between the lines: The resurgence of meme investments can be seen most clearly in the amount of money spent on lulz, irony, and ephemera.

  • An NFT of a dog wearing a hat sold for $4 million; WIF, the associated meme coin, has a valuation of roughly $3 billion, and its users have raised $700,000 to place the photo on the Las Vegas Sphere.
  • Freddie Mercury's mustache comb sold for $189,000; Kurt Cobain's jeans fetched $412,750.

By the numbers: The $4 million spent on the NFT would generate an income of $215,000 a year if invested in risk-free Treasury bills.

  • That sum — the opportunity cost of dabbling in memes — is one big reason the asset class lost most of its buzz after interest rates started rising in 2022.
  • High interest rates alone can't entirely kill speculative fervor, however, as we're seeing in the stock market more broadly.

The bottom line: Why aim for returns of 5% when you can aim for 5,000% instead?

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