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opinion

Wynn Quon is an investment analyst and financial author.

Earlier this month, the Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold Nothing for a mere €15,000 ($22,000) – making him an underachiever extraordinaire at a time when Nothing is sacred, and people are clamouring to pay millions for it.

“You do not see it but it exists; it is made of air and spirit,” Mr. Garau said of his “immaterial sculpture,” titled Io Sono. “It is a work that asks you to activate the power of imagination.” And yet, if he had been financially savvy, he would have issued an NFT, a non-fungible token, for the work. Back in March, a digital artist named Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, sold a digital collage as an NFT – not some physical artifact, but just a spritz of bits attesting to a kind of ownership-adjacent non-ownership. Anyone can still view Beeple’s original and can make exact copies at no cost. The buyer spent US$69-million.

The art world is now awash in NFTs, and despite the long-established economic reality around supply and demand – that too much of something brings the price for it closer to nothing – many intrepid art-preneurs have doubled down and earned big paydays. Perhaps the best example is “Burnt Banksy,” an art project that entailed buying works by the enigmatic street artist, lighting them on fire (thus reducing them to nothing), filming the act and selling an NFT of the footage. One of the burned Banksy originals depicted a Christie’s art auctioneer taking bids for a frame of the words “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.” It was a brilliant turn – Nothing raised to the power of nothing – but it sold for just US$380,000.

The financial markets, meanwhile, have developed very robust prices for Nothing. Take the movie theatre company AMC. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it closed down its theatres, showed no movies and sold no popcorn. And yet, despite doing Nothing, AMC’s stock rocketed from US$10 to US$60 in early June, thanks to wild-eyed traders looking to force short-sellers to exit their positions. Doing so, they believe, will trigger a massive surge in the stock price. Now, AMC’s market cap sits at a cheerful US$30-billion. Its management quickly launched a share offering, which came with a warning: “We caution you against investing in our Class A common stock, unless you are prepared to incur the risk of losing all … of your investment.”

You mean AMC could go to Nothing? Yes – and so that must mean it’s a strong buy.

Then there’s Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk. Mr. Musk is a visionary, there is no doubt on that score – but he is also the Emperor of Nothing. Tesla’s electric cars are sleek, innovative vehicles, but the company’s net profits in 2020 came from selling emissions credits to other car companies. He makes more money not making cars than he does making them. As a result of his non-cars, his car company is worth US$600-billion dollars – more than all the other big car makers combined. On a good day on the NASDAQ, that makes Mr. Musk the richest person in the world.

Mr. Musk, with great finesse, has further demonstrated that he has mastered the art of Nothing when he turned the ironic payment system Dogecoin from Nothing into a cryptocurrency worth US$60-billion with just a handful of tweets, including that classic market-igniter, “How much is that Doge in the window?” The cryptocurrency market is a veritable buffet of sweet Nothings. Would you like to bet on a DeFi exchange (decentralized-finance, of course) for swapping BEP20 tokens on the Binance Smart Chain? Then you should invest in PancakeSwap, which incidentally allows you to farm CAKE and SYRUP crypto-tokens. (If you get tired of them, you could flip them, with a straight face.)

Not happy with that? How about a stake in Unobtainium? What about UET, the Useless Etherium Token, which “transparently offers investors no value?” Grab these Nothing ventures, and secure your Nothing gains.

How can you master the art of Nothing? The new paradigm requires special insight. Consider Cindicator Capital, a quant hedge fund that advertised for a meme-stock trader in February. The salary was US$200,000 and included, mysteriously, “a subsidy for psychotherapy and medications.” The ad was unequivocal on educational requirements: “Important: NO higher education in economics or finance,” it said. The best qualification is no qualification. Makes perfect sense.

What about all the warnings about bubbles, those jeremiads recited by pickle-faced tightwads who cite lessons from Tulipmania, the South Sea Bubble and the dot-com disaster? Well, many of these sour-minded skeptics have squirrelled their money into zero-interest savings accounts – definitely not the kind of Nothing that pays off. You, on the other hand, can make bank. The naysayers have only themselves to blame for knowing nothing about Nothing.

So relax: There’s Nothing to worry about. The only danger lies in thinking that Nothing is Something – that it has to perform, and that it has to pay off. For wannabe Nothing mavens, you just need to delight in your null clothing, recognize it for what it is, and accept no substitutes. You must be happy when you buy Nothing, own Nothing and end up with Nothing. Because if there’s one thing to take away from the wild sums of money flying around, it’s this: Nothing matters.

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