If the term new economy is used to characterise dot-com businesses, which participate in the knowledge economy, then old economy is used to characterise manufacturing industry, and other businesses which have significant physical assets, high capital expenditure, and depend more on manual skills for their success than intellectual ingenuity.

The idea of the massless business grew up in the late 1990s. Such businesses rented computer equipment, rented offices and hired people on short-term contracts to develop computer-related resources. As such, these businesses could be set up at a moment's notice, and with no significant capital. The cost of entry was therefore minimal.

These businesses were regarded as the vanguard of the new economy, and participants used the term old economy in a derogatory way to describe businesses which required large investments of time and money before they could become viable.

Today, in 2001, the balance has changed somewhat, and the old economy businesses are regaining favour with stock investors and analysts, based on good cash generation, good cashflow, and continuity of business activity.

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