Bitcoin has witnessed a meteoric rise. With every blistering ascent to the next record breaking level of Bitcoin – having breached the incredible $20.000 mark - the hype becomes bigger, and even bigger, the predictions of doom.
None other than Jamie Dimon – CEO, Chairman and President of the venerable J.P. Morgan Investment bank cries foul, announcing to the world that Bitcoin is a fraud and will eventually blow up.
If the fundamentals of the underlying value are not there - that is, there’s no real intrinsic value - then how does the US dollar differ from Bitcoin?
Apart from the key monetary characteristics such as that Bitcoins are digital and “mined” and that US dollars cash notes are “minted”, the underlying intrinsic value is simply not there.
Ever since the US dollar is no longer backed by the gold standard and simply re-purposed as the world’s primary reserve currency in 1971, the mighty U.S. dollar is - de facto - fiat money.
This is mentioned on every single dollar bill and rightfully so because there’s is not much faith in the Fed - and it’s monetary policies - any longer.
Most Central banks and governments consider US treasury bills as a "safe haven“ in economic crises because the US government in “full faith and credit” backs them. The most focus on the latter is credit.
In order to keep not only the US Economy churning - but also indirectly the global economy - the US Federal Reserve Bank has embarked on an unprecedented scale of “quantitative easing” - that is printing money - and buying back bonds and securities at the tune of $50 billion each month.
The Fed’s loose monetary policy and bond buy-back program of treasuries and mortgage-backed securities has resulted in the quadrupling of the size of its balance sheet to a staggering $4.5 trillion.
All the while the US national debt has grown to an astronomical $20.6 trillion.
Indeed, in God we trust.
Unlike Bitcoin or US dollars, physical gold is actually "mined“, has real intrinsic value and is tangible.
Throughout the centuries, gold in the form of gold coins or bars were used in exchange for goods and services as well as kept in reserve.
Entire shiploads of gold were transported around the world to finance wars and establish outposts and colonies in the most remote parts of the world.
Still today, gold coins and bars are being recovered from sunken shipwrecks, the Spanish galleons that sailed the world to conquer foreign lands and territories throughout the world in the period of 1410-1639.
Bounty hunters are amazed at the well-preserved state of the loots discovered on the bottom of the sea after hundreds of years.
These days gold is still considered a safe haven in turbulent times but now mostly stored in high-security bank vaults around the world.
As gold is physical and can be relatively easily transported or carried around in gold coins or bars, it will remain a "store of value“ for centuries to come.
Bitcoin - the most popular of crypto currencies – was founded in 2009 by the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto, right after the global financial crisis of 2008.
The vision of Mr Nakamoto and the purpose of Bitcoin is the establishment of a digital currency that is "decentralised“, thus not influenced, controlled or manipulated by any government or Central Bank.
To achieve this, Bitcoin is based on the revolutionary, game changing and breakthrough technology of Blockchain, which is a public distributed ledger that is tamper-proof, time-stamped and transparent.
To date, relatively few people have managed to decipher the codes needed to extract bitcoins from the 21 million locked inside the mathematical problems set by its creator, the software engineer whose true identity is unknown but who goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto.
All transactions are safe, secure and irreversible and the costs involved are a fraction of the current hyper-inflated costs charged by banks and financial institutions around the globe.
On the negative side, Blockchain transactions are somewhat slower (compared to other means) due to the verification process and the current blockchain system that is difficult to scale. However, there are now many improvements and additions that will enable fast transaction processing and scaling.
Initially, Bitcoin was not taken seriously and dismissed as a “gimmick” with little or no chance of success. This however, proved very wrong and many other, in fact thousands of digital currencies have been established in the meantime including e-wallets and exchanges where these digital currencies can be traded and exchanged for other crypto currencies as well as for real "fiat“ money.
Fast-forward to today and derivatives exchanges such as CME and CBOE (as well as Nasdaq in 2018) are trading in Bitcoin futures contracts since mid-December 2017.
Japan is forward-thinking - one of the first to officially accept digital currencies as a legal form of payment – and has already recognised 15 digital currency exchanges with the intent of becoming the first country in the world to launch a national digital currency called "J-coin“, issued by a Japanese bank consortium that includes Mizuho Financial Group and Japan Post Bank.
On April 1st of this year, the Payment Services Act Payment (which is a part of the Banking Act) was amended to allow “virtual currencies” as a legal form of payment.
Another milestone was when the financial regulators of Japan, approved the operation of 11 crypto currency exchanges officially in September. At the same time 17 crypto currencies were approved to be traded on these exchanges, including the major ones such as Bitcoin, Ether, Ripple, Litecoin, and Monacoin.
Other countries such as China and South Korea have cracked down on Bitcoin and crypto currency exchanges, some countries are taking a slow "wait-and-see” approach and many are considering appropriate legislation and regulation.
A store of value is the function of an asset that can be saved, retrieved and exchanged at a later time, and be predictably useful when retrieved. More generally, a store of value is anything that retains purchasing power into the future.
A medium of exchange is an intermediary instrument used to facilitate the sale, purchase or trade of goods between parties. For an instrument to function as a medium of exchange, it must represent a standard of value accepted by all parties. In modern economies, the medium of exchange is currency.
Source : Investopedia
Bitcoin fulfils both criteria and therefore its global adoption has been phenomenal and lasting.
For this reason, thousands of other digital currencies have been created but if their global adoption and success will be the same as Bitcoin remains to be seen.
Bitcoin accelerating ascent to dizzying heights is simply the result of mania.
The current hype is so big that just everybody wants to buy, sell, trade, exchange or own Bitcoins, regardless of it’s intrinsic or underlying value and with barely any regard to the risks involved.
Big banks and brokerages as well as experienced traders and wealthy investors can afford to trade Bitcoin’s „manic“ volatility - sometimes fluctuating up and down by a thousand dollars or two in a single day – however ordinary investors should be careful and safeguard themselves of a possible collapse of the value of Bitcoin.
There have been - and will continue to be – wild speculations of an imminent Bitcoin crash anytime soon while others are predicting that the value of Bitcoin might even surpass the mighty $ 100.000 barrier.
John McAfee – McAfee founder and pioneer of cyber security – is adamantly predicting that the price of Bitcoin will reach $1 million by 2020. Even that most sceptics and experts consider this prediction as wildly crazy, deep down inside many are hoping that McAfee will be found to be right.
Tulipomania was a period during the Dutch Golden Age that witnessed the meteoric rise and spectacular collapse in February 1637of the first recorded speculative bubble. This event was popularized in 1841 by the book “Extraordinary popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, written by British journalist Charles Mackay.
Wild speculation and insatiable demand for the Tulip flower bulbs were so dramatic that prices were reaching unheard off levels, at certain times even comparable to buying a house in those days.
The hype and mania reached such a level that it was considered „poor“ not to own a couple of rare & expensive tulip bulbs and to be well versed in the characteristics of the different bulb types and origins. Strangely, it didn’t matter that these flower bulbs were perishable and had no intrinsic value, it was the "perceived“ value along with the prestige of owning that mattered at the time.
The Tulipomania term itself is now often used metaphorically by academics and economists to refer to any expanding economic bubble in which asset prices deviate from intrinsic values.
The idea that an object's value is not inherent of the good’s properties, nor the amount of labour necessary to produce the good, but instead worth more to different people based on how much they desire or need the object. The Subjective Theory of Value places value on how scarce and useful an item is rather than basing the value of the object on how many resources and man-hours went into creating it.
This theory was developed in the late 19th century by economists and thinkers of the time, including Carl Menger and Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk.
Source : Investopedia
When comparing Bitcoin and US dollars, the "perceived“ value transcedes the "real“ value, that is both currencies are accepted as value because of their universal standard, distribution and acceptance as a form of payment.
Gold on the other hand can also be accepted as a form of payment with the distinct difference that it is tangible as a physical “store of value“.
Market dynamics of supply and demand determine the “perceived“ value of currencies such Bitcoin and commodities such as gold. Bitcoin’s perceived value is an astronomical $ 15.213 (09/01/08), which is largely due to hype, mania and scarcity.
Mark Zuckerberg’s antagonists – the Winklevoss brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are said to be the first verified Bitcoin billionaires by owning an estimated 100.000 Bitcoins, currently valued at a staggering $1.2 billion.
The Winklevoss brothers always reiterated that they considered Bitcoin as a “store of value“ that is better than gold. The digital world now seems to agree.
Bitcoin has died a thousands deaths but it’s still around.
At present, Bitcoin’s current market cap of $ 255 billion (latest info provided by coinmarketcap.com on 09/01/18) is larger than the combined market cap of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Bitcoin is even larger than most fiat currencies and the market valuation increases seem unstoppable.
Wild speculation, hype and frantic trading has driven the Bitcoin price to incredible levels within a short time span and now with the listing of Bitcoin futures on the derivatives exchanges of CME and CBOE (and soon Nasdaq beginning of 2018), market analysts and investors alike are speculating that the price of Bitcoin will even go much higher.
So why is Bitcoin so attractive to investors, speculators, banks, brokerages, financial institutions and your average retail investor?
Bitcoin created a digital currency using blockchain, an irreversible, incorruptible and decentralised financial infrastructure that has revolutionised the way money or value exchanges hands without the interference of governments or Central banks.
Bitcoin has been limited by it’s creator – the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto - to 21 million and currently, almost 17 million have been „mined“.
In the not-so-distant future, Bitcoin mining will cease and then Bitcoin will be valued a multiple of the current market valuation due to extreme scarcity.
Should any government step in and try to regulate or restrict Bitcoin, there will be an unprecedented backlash of the Bitcoin community – and the global investor community at large – and then Bitcoin trading would simply move to other unregulated fringe markets such as the Republic of Kazakhstan being a primary contender.
More importantly, Bitcoin introduced to the whole world the revolutionary, game-changing and breakthrough technology of Blockchain, which is a public distributed ledger that is tamper-proof, time-stamped and transparent.
Blockchain is the digital infrastructure that has been created for Bitcoin and will surpass the Internet as the most important technical advance known to date in the Information age.
Looking back to the times of the American Gold rush in the early 19th century, there are a lot of similarities.
The boom & bust cycles and the accompanying investment in infrastructure resulted in expanding trade, huge migration and settlements in new regions.
After the Gold rush, when most of the gold seekers left, what remained was the infrastructure of roads, railroads and communities living in newly established towns and trading outposts.
And at the time when the world's money supply was based on gold, the newly mined gold provided economic stimulus far beyond the gold fields.
The same applies to Bitcoin and Blockchain. After the dust has settled – in case of a Bitcoin meltdown or crackdown – what will remain is a global technological infrastructure that will be used not only by the global financial community but also by almost every single industry involved in any form of commerce or trade.
Until then, the Bitcoin bubble will inflate, deflate but it will never pop.
Eleftherios Jerry Floros is a FinTech Expert at Rethink Your Digital Future and founder of Elysian Impact Investing, a money super-app and impact investment platform powered by artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and data science. He is also an investor, entrepreneur, thought-leader, speaker and author with a 37 year diversified background in FinTech, finance, engineering, maritime and shipping. His main areas of interest are FinTech, impact investing, sustainable finance, entrepreneurship and digital disruption which is profoundly impacting the global economy as well as our personal lives. Mr Floros undertook studies at the University of Oxford, Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania and the London Academy of Trading.