Crypto – Currencies

     

 

 

Relative Scarcity and Bubble Dynamics

There is widespread awareness about the relative scarcity of BTC compared to the ever-expanding fiat money supply, but it seems to us that the dynamics underlying their relationship are largely ignored. The scarcity argument underpins a lot of speculative activity in BTC and other cryptocurrencies – hence ignoring the related dynamics is probably not a very good idea.

 

One of the features of bitcoin people find enticing  – by no means the only one to be sure – is the fact that its supply is strictly limited (well, sort of – see our comment on “forks” further below). We have highlighted the currently circulating and the eventual total supply above. Keep in mind that the “free float” of BTC is even smaller: there are a number of very large wallets which apparently never trade, and quite few BTC have been lost forever – we are pretty sure that the UK resident who famously threw away an old hard disk drive that held his BTC wallet is not the only person who has disposed of his bitcoin in such a decidedly painful and unprofessional manner.

 

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The Wingsuit Test of 1912

Late last year press reports informed us that by October, the number of active accounts at US cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase* had exceeded the number of accounts at Charles Schwab, one of the oldest US discount brokers, by 1.1 million. The report was dated November 27, by which time the number of accounts had just soared by another 1.6 million. We felt reminded of the final few weeks of China’s stock market bubble, which saw similarly stunning growth in retail brokerage accounts. We felt that these Johnnie-come-latelies would soon experience the financial equivalent of the infamous wingsuit test of 1912. Witness the sacrifice of a man ahead of his time:

 

Wingsuit pioneer Franz Reichelt fails to get past the proof of concept stage.

 

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Style Over Substance

There are many things that could be said about the GOP tax bill.  But one thing is certain.  It has been a great show.

Obviously, the time for real solutions to the debt problem that’s ailing the United States came and went many decades ago.  Instead of addressing the Country’s mounting insolvency, lawmakers chose expediency without exception.  They kicked the can from yesterday to today.

 

The empty chairs meeting – this is slightly reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood skit in which he addressed an empty chair that was supposed to represent Barack Obama. No-one can accuse the current tax reform plan of making a lot of sense, but the problem is that any comprehensive sensible reform package would never make it past the lobbies interested in maintaining the status quo. Given that elections are advance auctions of stolen goods (h/t HL Mencken), any perceived interference with the stealing will tend to be strongly resisted. [PT]

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

 

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A Useful Infographic

When we last wrote more extensively about Bitcoin (see Parabolic Coin – evidently, it has become a lot more “parabolic” since then), we said we would soon return to the subject of Bitcoin and monetary theory in these pages. This long planned article was delayed for a number of reasons, one of which was that we realized that Keith Weiner’s series on the topic would give us a good opportunity to address some of the objections to Bitcoin’s fitness as a medium of exchange voiced by critics (we have kept the final three parts of Keith’s discussion in abeyance as well, we intend to publish these concurrently).

 

BTC was easily the best investment asset of 2017 (we may have overlooked some other “alt coins”, but in terms of market cap only the 6 – 10 largest cryptocurrencies look like serious contenders in this market). We should probably write more often about it, then you would e.g. have learned that we thought BCH (the post-fork younger brother of BTC) was likely to play catch-up at some point. We actually believe this particular valuation gap is likely to narrow further, and the same may well happen with DASH, another cryptocurrency with quite similar features (both BCH and DASH are lacking some of the legacy technical drawbacks of BTC). As an aside, we always had a certain minimum target for the coming gold bubble in mind which we never mentioned in public, because we felt it sounded silly. Usually we just recommend that people use their imagination, in the hope that their imagination is big enough. By now it probably sounds a lot less silly –  we will revisit this topic once gold has overcome certain technical hurdles – click to enlarge.

 

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The Instability Problem

Bitcoin is often promoted as the antidote to the madness of fiat irredeemable currencies. It is also promoted as their replacement. Bitcoin is promoted not only as money, but the future money, and our monetary future.

In fact, it is not.

 

A tragedy… get the hankies out! :) [PT]

 

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Crypto-Statistics

In the last issue of Seasonal Insights I have discussed how the S&P 500 Index performs on individual days of the week. In this issue I will show an analysis of the average cumulative annual returns of bitcoin on individual days of the week.

 

Bitcoin, daily. While this is beside the point, we note the crypto-currency (and other “alt coins” as well) has minor performance issues lately. The white line indicates important lateral support, but this looks to us like it could be the beginning of a higher degree correction, mainly because it so far proceeds with greater verve than previous corrections over the past year. Besides, the recent rally in this trading sardine seems rather stretched, and the term stretched by itself actually sounds  a bit inadequate as a descriptor. It needs an adverb… insanely might do. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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Forking Incentives

A month ago, we wrote about the bitcoin fork. We described the fork:

 

Picture a bank, the old-fashioned kind. Call it Acme (sorry, we watched too much Coyote and Road Runner growing up). A group of disgruntled employees leave. They take a copy of the book of accounts. They set up a new bank across the street, Wile E Bank. To win customers, they say if you had an account at Acme Bank, you now have an account at Wile, with the same balance!

 

BCH, son of Bitcoin, born by forking – down quite a bit from its highs, but still up 130% in the past month, and sporting the third-largest market cap in crypto-currency land. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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How We Got Used to Fiat Money

Most false or irrational ideas about money are not new. For example, take the idea that government can just fix the price of one monetary asset against another. Some people think that we can have a gold standard by such a decree today. This idea goes back at least as far as the Coinage Act of 1792, when the government fixed 371.25 grains of silver to the same value as 24.75 grains of gold, or a ratio of 15 to 1. This caused problems because the market valued silver a bit lower than that.

 

The gold-silver ratio from 1800 to 1915. In the 1870s, numerous nations around the world dropped bimetallism in favor of a gold standard (France was a noteworthy exception). Thereafter it quickly became obvious that silver had been vastly overvalued at the official exchange ratio. It was essentially a subsidy for silver miners. Once a pure gold standard was adopted, mild consumer price deflation became the norm, as economic productivity grew faster than the supply of gold. Contrary to what virtually all central bankers nowadays assert, this had no negative effects on the economy whatsoever. On the contrary, the four decades following the adoption of the gold standard produced the biggest and most equitable real per capita growth the US has ever seen – such growth rates were never again recaptured. Of course, at the time government spending represented between 3% to 4% of total economic output, i.e., government was but a footnote in most people’s lives. The reason why governments subsequently sabotaged the gold standard was precisely that they wanted to grow without limit. [PT]

 

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Bitcoin and Credit Transactions

Last week, we said:

 

It is commonly accepted to say the dollar is “printed”, but we can see from this line of thinking it is really borrowed. There is a real borrower on the other side of the transaction, and that borrower has powerful motivations to keep paying to service the debt.

Bitcoin has no backing. Bitcoin is created out of thin air, the way people say of the dollar. The quantity of bitcoins created may be strictly limited by Satoshi’s design.

 

The mad-cap rally in bitcoin has continued – as we recently pointed out, the chart pattern is highly reminiscent of the pattern in gold in the 1970s. The current phase is mimicking the 1979 blow-off move. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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A Fork in the Cryptographic Road

So bitcoin forked. You did not know this. Well, if you’re saving in gold perhaps not. If you’re betting in the crypto-coin casino, you knew it, bet on it, and now we assume are happily diving into your greater quantity of dollars after the fork.

 

Bitcoin, daily – adding the current price of BCH (the new type of Bitcoin all holders of BTC can claim at a 1:1 ratio), the gain since the “fork” amounts to roughly $1,000 at the time we write this. So far the chart of BTC in USD terms since 2010 happens to be a spitting image of the chart of gold in USD terms from 1973-1979 (the pattern similarity is eerie). A brief explanation of the “hard fork”. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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Precious Metals Supply and Demand Report

That’s it. It’s the final straw. One of the alternative investing newsletters had a headline that screamed, “Bitcoin Is About to Soar, But You Must Act by August 1 to Get In”. It was missing only the call to action “call 1-800-BIT-COIN now! That number again is 800 B.I.T..C.O.I.N.”

 

Bitcoin, daily. In terms of the gains recorded between the lows of 2009 and the recent highs (from less eight hundredths of a US cent per bitcoin, or $1 = 1,309.2 BTC, the first officially recorded value of BTC, to $3,000 per bitcoin, or $1 = 0.000333333 BTC), the bubble in bitcoin by now exceeds every historical precedent by several orders of magnitude, including the infamous Tulipomania and Kuwait’s Souk-al-Manakh bubble. In percentage terms BTC has increased by about 392,760,000% in dollar terms (more than 392 million percent) since its launch eight years ago. Comparable price increases have otherwise only occurred in hyperinflation scenarios in which the underlying currency was repudiated as a viable medium of exchange. Our view regarding its prior non-monetary use value and hence its potential to become money differs slightly from that presented by Keith below. We will post more details on this soon, for now we only want to point out that we believe there is room for further debate on this point. [PT] – click to enlarge.

 

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An Unenthusiastic Market

On Thursday, July 6, in the late afternoon (as reckoned in Arizona), the price of silver crashed. The move was very brief, but very intense. The price hit a low under $14.40 before recovering to around $15.80 which is about 20 cents lower than where it started.

 

1 kilogram cast silver bars from an Austrian refinery. These are available in 250 g, 500 g and 1 kg sizes and look really neat. We use the 250 g ones as paperweights, so this is an investment with use value.  [PT]

 

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