A recent news opinion article raised a lot of eyebrows by suggesting most people should probably just avoid Bitcoin because they can’t afford to jump into the fray – but are they right?
“All Aboard the Billionaires’ Bitcoin Bandwagon?”, as Bloomberg put it, cautioned market participants against leaping into the unknown and to be wary of so-called FOMO. More to the point, the author went on to say that, even as payments companies like PayPal and Square have largely brought Bitcoin trading to the masses, very few merchants directly touch the stuff.
Taking this a step further, merchants made up only about 1% of cryptocurrency activity in North America between mid-2019 and mid-2020, while exchanges accounted for almost 90%, according to Chainalysis. But none of this bothers the champions of “digital gold,” who push the narrative that Bitcoin serves as some kind of metaphorical mattress under which everyone should stuff rapidly depreciating dollars or euros.
The opinion piece then goes on to ask “but how safe is this safe haven?” A study by the Kansas City Fed comparing bonds, gold and Bitcoin between 1995 and Feb. 2020 found that Treasuries behaved “consistently” as a safe haven, gold did so “occasionally” and Bitcoin got a “never.”
The artificial scarcity that underpins Bitcoin — from its mining algorithm to the behavior of HODLers, who refuse to abandon their investment no matter how low it goes — helps push its price higher in the boom times; it does nothing to prevent a tumble when whales cash out, as seen earlier this year when Bitcoin hovered around $4,000 in the early days of the pandemic’s onset in Europe and the US. Those who follow in the footsteps of hedge fund giants like Guggenheim, Skybridge and Paul Tudor Jones will have to hope they’re in this for the long haul.
These so-called whales, flippers, and other market participants that bear water and land-based creatures like nicknames are just as common in traditional assets, though, especially equity markets. Be they flash boys “front-running” retail orders, activist investors getting the better of the existing shareholder structure as they seek to extract value, or even aggressive merger & acquisitions vultures. The underlying agenda may be different but the end goal is the same – to create value.
Value, for one, doesn’t mean value for everyone else, it’s usually a zero-sum game. Bitcoin’s whitepaper described the crypto asset as “A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, nowhere does it say that it is designed to act as a hedge against all things unforeseen, such as inflation and monetary policy ruin, or a global pandemic. It is all about the narrative, and a growing acceptance among the institutional community will lead to market narratives becoming even more of a driving force behind Bitcoins price action.
For some, it may be re-allocation out of gold, for others it may be an escape from a stagnant fixed income market. Some will seek to increase allocation to risk and potential asymmetric upside, others will look at its non-correlated appeal (at least for the time being).