06/18/2012 05:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tech Bubble Death Watch: AutoTrader Revives Post-Facebook IPO Market

Hallelujah, the nuclear winter left behind by the devastating Facebook IPO is finally over!

OK, it's not over, really. But there are green shoots, which is almost as good. OK, just one green shoot. But that is better than zero, which is what the market for Internet IPOs had seen in the weeks since the Facebook IPO detonated on May 18, leaving behind a smoldering, barren crater.

What is that thin reed bearing up the hope of the nation's capital markets? Why, it's AutoTrader Group Inc., which operates the auto-sales Web site and the Kelley Blue Book car-price service. On Friday it filed papers to raise $300 million in a public offering, Renaissance Capital reports. It's the first Internet IPO since the Facebook debacle. During that month, there have only been a handful of IPOs of any sort. In another sign the market may be breathing new life, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that business software company ServiceNow is going to start pitching shares to investors soon.

Fun fact: AutoTrader first filed to go public back in April 2000, right after the bursting of the previous technology bubble. It withdrew its IPO in November of 2000 because of "unfavorable market conditions," which is fancy talk for "the market is a smoldering, barren crater."

So here comes AutoTrader again, daring to come public in yet another smoldering, barren crater. Who's in charge of the IPO timing over there at AutoTrader, Cormac McCarthy?

In AutoTrader's defense, a few things are different this time. For one thing, today's IPO market is not nearly as bad as the one in 2000. That year marked the catastrophic end to an epic bubble that erased fortunes and ruined lives. The Facebook debacle, in contrast, marked only the mild deflation of a still-questionable tech bubble. It has erased some fortunes, but on a far smaller scale and has so far resulted in only a flurry of lawsuits rather than a recession. There's still room for today's tech bubble to inflate again.

What's more, AutoTrader is making money -- $62 million in the 12 months ending on March 31, according to Renaissance Capital, compared with a $47 million loss 12 years ago.

Still, it's brave of AutoTrader to tiptoe into the market right now. The FaceBook IPO sort of made everybody feel about Internet IPOs the way you feel about shrimp after getting sick on bad shellfish: You want to avoid it for a while. Meanwhile, Europe is toddling from one near-financial crisis to another, keeping global stock markets edgy -- not the greatest time to go public.

AutoTrader will be listed on the Nasdaq, a minor coup for that stock exchange, which everybody is blaming for the Facebook disaster, fairly or not. The important question now is whether AutoTrader will help Bob Greifeld's life get back to normal.

By the way, helping run the AutoTrader IPO is Morgan Stanley, which is also getting the investor stinkeye over its handling of the Facebook IPO.

This hardly seems like a tech bubble run amok. Until we see the IPO market for Internet stocks come fully back to life, we're keeping our Tech Bubble Death Watch meter pegged at 1. Your money is safe for now.