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Advisory Board Meeting Q2


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Oliver Völkel

Stefan Wieler

Max Tertinegg

Topics

  • Market Overview
  • Lightning Network
  • Regulation
  • Custody and Institutions
  • Final thoughts
  • The Bitcoin Standard (video)

Mark Valek: 

Welcome to our second advisory board meeting of the Crypto Research Report. Thank you so much for joining us again this quarter. Max Tertinegg co-founder & CEO of Coinfinity, Oliver Völkel, Partner at Stadler Völkel Attorneys and Stefan Wieler, who is Vice President & Corporate Sales at Goldmoney. In the line with me are our two new analysts, Andres and Friederich, who are also eager to learn more about your views.

I would like to open this advisory board meeting with some general thoughts on the markets: We have been seeing quite a prolonged bear market now in Bitcoin and generally in cryptocurrencies. On the one hand, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise after quite a big exaggeration in the markets during the turn of the year. The media hype was accompanied by a lot of retail money flooding the market. In my view, things are slowly cooling down somewhat.  

Moving on to the technical charts of Bitcoin/USD, the benchmark cryptocurrency. What we are seeing is that the RSI on a monthly and weekly basis, is cooling down substantially with levels of 44 and 40 respectively. In my view, there is a good probability that the bear market has not bottomed out yet.  

Just to give us a brief overview on each of your views we will make the round, starting off perhaps with Max.

Max Tertinegg: 

I´m very much in favor of this bear market and hope that it will continue in the upcoming months. Historically, these were the times when people interested in the technology enter the stage, while people hoping to make a quick buck are leaving it.

From a long-term perspective that is a good phase to be in for an ecosystem. So, we see much development going on currently on the technological front like for example the Lightning network. 

Nevertheless, I am not able to pinpoint a date when the market finally turns, nor am I a big fan of chart analysis. But there will be a turn-around, that’s for sure.  

Mark Valek:

Interesting thoughts from your side, I also listened to Julian Hosp. He just recently brought out a note, where he reminded people that during the last bear market, Ether came up, which was a technology breakthrough and, in the end, helped the market to turn around. So perhaps we are looking for something in that respect.

I’d like to talk a little bit more about the Lightning Network a little bit later though. Just to give the voice to the other board members, let’s move to Oliver: Do you have any specific ideas regarding the markets? 

Oliver Völkel:

I´m part of the legal profession, so I don´t regularly make estimates about future developments. From my point of view, the only important aspect is the technology. Meaning, I don´t really care about price fluctuations, since for me the central point is the technology as a facilitator of e.g. payments. If people can make money off of holding cryptos, that´s fine with me, but I´m primarily concerned with the use case and actually I think, in this regard, I would concur with what Max said: If you look at how transaction fees have developed over the last few years and the fact that they were becoming more and more of a problem in late 2017, the current phase is definitely beneficial to the technology.

Mark Valek:

Thanks Oliver. Over to you Stefan.  

Stefan Wieler:

Yeah, I mean I think last time we talked, we were already in a bear market and since then we sold off more but not that much. It´s an exciting time, because there are really two things going on: On one side you have the whole infrastructure around cryptocurrencies that is progressing rapidly, you see a lot of new players getting in even though the price is declining. A lot of people that were trading in other fields like FX or Commodities are moving to the crypto space.

On the other side we have the price levels. I mean, it´s really hard to pin down where it will bottom out and declining prices do not seem to have much to do with people losing interest in the technology itself. If anything, maybe part of it is that the US dollar, which is the strongest competitor in the currency world has been getting stronger for the past couple of months quite dramatically.

So, if you look at the USD trade weighted chart, it has been in decline since the end of 2016, while interest in cryptocurrencies has gone up. Conversely, since the end of 2017 the dollar has gotten stronger, while cryptocurrencies were in decline. Thus, we see some real implications to the narrative of bitcoin as an alternative store of value.

That said, I´m in the same camp as everyone here in the call. I can´t say exactly where it is going from here, but I´m also happy we had a consolidation and in the meantime the technology frontier is progressing. What we need in the whole space is a broader adoption and that is obviously easier with lower prices.  

Mark Valek:

Perfect, thank you. Just another follow-up regarding the current topic market and price action. So perhaps back to Max and his idea of volumes: What is happening on the volume side? It is looking quite supportive in your business, but can you generally grasp how far volumes have come down or stabilized? 

Max Tertinegg:

Yes, as I mentioned before it´s all a matter of reference point. If you look at the heights in mid-December 2017, then we are operating at 30% of the volume right now. But if you compare it with the same month year to date then we are slightly above last years’ levels. There is always a supportive basic volume, which won´t go away. We might have another hype coming and volumes potentially becoming unsustainable again, but this base volume of users that have been into bitcoin for several years already is here to stay.  

That´s as far as my view goes. 

Mark Valek:

Ok, thanks. To follow up on the Lightning Network from your side, Max. A lot of things are developing here. It has been discussed frequently, what implications this could have for the whole ecosystem and in particular to Bitcoin.  

Max Tertinegg:

I´m convinced the Lightning Network will be adopted on a very broad basis. So, technically you can do Bitcoin transactions directly peer to peer without the need to put the transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain, which solves the scalability issue. In some regard it also solves the anonymity problem, because in a sense, Bitcoin transactions are not anonymous but as a matter of fact very transparent.

Also, it solves the problem Bitcoin has with not being a sustainable platform for microtransactions. If we look at the developments. The number of lightning nodes that were in operation back in Q1 were in the one hundreds, right now we have around three thousand nodes. The more nodes are active the better it is for every participant. Once we have a Lightning Network that is also consumable, meaning that the consumer facing side is also existent, then the whole aspect of Bitcoin as a payment network will become interesting again.

We are still only at the stage where work on the protocol is done, but there are only very few practical Bitcoin wallets that can talk to the Lightning Network. Especially during the last bull run in December, Bitcoin was only used as a speculative investment tool and maybe even as a store of value, which is fine, but the payment application was completely disregarded. I would suspect that we will have a practical Lightning Network around the beginning of next year and then we´ll have an enormous growth in applications on the payment network. This will make Bitcoin more valuable and in turn drive its price upwards.  

Mark Valek:

Do you think the Lightning Network could be the topic that turns the market?  

Max Tertinegg:

Sure, it could be, but currently we have a negative correlation between positive news and the market behavior because right now there is basically only good news on a technical level, a lot of problems were fixed, Bitcoin cash forked out, yet the prices are falling. 

So, of course the Lightning Network could be the spark igniting a new bull run, but given how many other things are going on, I can´t make such a strong statement here. 

Mark Valek:

Ok, great. Switching gears. On the regulation side. One of the topics for institutional investors, to which we also have been talking increasingly recently, is uncertainty regarding regulation. FINMA has categorized three types of tokens in February, being payment, asset & utility tokens. Oliver, what´s your view regarding this classification generally and specifically the potential conflict of interest inherent to these types of tokens, thinking of problems with ICOs of utility tokens, camouflaged security tokens, etc.? 

Oliver Völkel:

Yes, sure. I would first like to add something to the discussion on the Lightning Network because it’s an interesting topic from a regulatory perspective as well. The thing is, it´s difficult to keep track of all the developments. It´s not just the Bitcoin network, but other networks as well, but we have seen a couple of things: In the US we have seen that the SEC has classified almost all new tokens that are issued and from which you could expect a likely increase in value as security tokens. European Security law is quite different to the one in the US, but it´s something to definitely keep in mind.

With regards to the Lightning Network, the point I wanted to make is the following. As far as I understand it, in a Lightning Network you only have two parties that open a channel between one another. That raises legal questions as to how to classify these networks. You can no longer discern a particular transaction at a given point in time on the Blockchain as you are effectively only updating balances of parties. This will pose really difficult regulatory questions, since we are beginning to move towards what could become an actual payment network which is, from a regulatory perspective, quite different from what the Blockchain is today.

It´s not just the emergence of the Lightning Network, but also for example the rise of the proof of stake consensus mechanism, where you have people staking funds and master nodes which serve different purposes than regular miners. This makes it difficult from a regulatory perspective because you might fall into a regime where you don´t want to end up. Of course, developers are not really considering this, but it could become problematic. 

Regarding ICOs, what the swiss authority did was use their current model and adapt it to different sorts of instruments that are being issued. We could do the same in Austria, I´m not sure, however, we really need to call different tokens the same way: asset, payment & security tokens. There are already laws in place that are quite similar. If you want to issue a token that can be adopted by a broad range of people that would accept these tokens as a medium of exchange there is EU legislation on payment instruments for example and then you could fall under this regulation.

The same is true if you have utility tokens that are being used for accessing a network or software that you are developing. It makes sense to structure tokens a certain way. I´m not sure we can simply say: Okay, there is a token, we call it an asset token and if it fulfills five requirements then we know you are on the safe side when issuing this token. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, there are many laws that interplay with one another. Small differences in the design can have a big impact on the legal classification. In the end you have to look at every single token in detail to figure out what it actually does. 

Disguising a security token as a utility token for example is an issue we haven´t quite solved yet. The legal consequences around security tokens are severe when you are not complying with the legislation. 

Mark Valek:

Ok, very interesting. Thanks for that. Perhaps, while we are on the topic you want to give us an idea of the experience you´ve had regarding a recent case, which, if I’m informed correctly, was the first case of a regulated security token within the EU. Is this correct? Who did you advise?

Oliver Völkel:

The case goes as follows: Europe wanted legislation in place that controls capital market offerings, and if you are selling instruments with a ticket size of over 100.000 Euros, this makes it a little easier, because this means you don´t have to get a capital market prospectus approved by one of the member states regulators. I´m sure people have used some sort of blockchain technology before to issue securities and most likely they have simply used one of the exemption.

One of our clients is trying to have a capital market prospectus approved by the Austrian regulator for issuing a security token. The idea is to issue profit participation rights on the Blockchain. So, basically what this means is that you collect money or in this case Ethereum or other cryptocurrencies, use it for your business and the return that you make in your company is then distributed proportionally to the token holders. What they are doing is cutting out the banking system because they don´t need a payment agent or anybody who would distribute the funds back to the investors. This would all be done in the Ethereum blockchain and they would issue a token, which would represent the actual security they are offering. As far as I know, if we get an approval by the Austrian regulator, then this would be the first European capital markets prospectus that has been approved by a regulator for a capital market´s issuing of security tokens on the Blockchain.  

It was quite challenging because we had to draft completely new concepts for everything. In a prospectus, you have to describe to investors how the blockchain technology works, how profit distribution works, how the subscription process works. In its basic form, it is quite the same as if you were to issue paper bonds, for example. It’s an interesting field of law currently.

Stefan Wieler:

May I ask something here? How do you handle that with international investors if they exclude certain markets and then it says in the prospectus that they cannot invest?

Oliver Völkel:

For the European markets we can passport the prospectus to other jurisdictions, the only thing that you need to do is have a summary in your prospectus in a language that is accepted by the country you are passporting to and show the taxation issues that investors from these countries have to know. If you do that for every member state of the EU you can pass port your prospectus into every member state of the EU. This is not done in this case, by the way, it’s only 7 or 8 major markets where investors ought to be addressed.

With regards to other markets outside the EU, this client has also done an offer in the US, which was checked by US legal counsel. With respect to other markets outside of the EU or US, we would advise to not make an offer in these markets unless you have checked the local laws. 

Stefan Wieler:

So, you cannot accept a Swedish person that comes to you with a prospectus that is not translated into Swedish and the Swedish person finds out that you cannot take it. Or is this just for outside the EU markets?

Oliver Völkel:

No, it’s more complicated than that. At least for the EU, as a rule of thumb, you always must comply with the national regulation that you are trying to make business in. With respect to the EU, it’s not that you are not allowed to sell security tokens to a Swedish person, but rather that you are not allowed to make a public offering of securities in Sweden unless you are relying on one of the exemptions or if you have a capital market prospectus that has been approved. The devil is in the details. But generally speaking, this is the rule of thumb.

Stefan Wieler:

Once the ICO is through, you are no longer in control of who is selling to whom. I assume that the company is no longer liable for anything when an imposter sells to a Swedish person, for example? 

Oliver Völkel:

Yeah, this not only relates to European law. If you are preparing a secondary market transaction and you could regard this as a public offering, then the person who would sell in the secondary market would also be under the requirements of having a capital market prospectus published. The idea behind this is to avoid issuing securities to one person, who then puts it on an exchange and then the actual selling process is done over the exchange. This leads to a whole bunch of really difficult questions such as: What constitutes a public offering and what does not?

The other problem is that, for an exchange to list a security token it needs to be a security exchange, they need to have a license for that and I have heard that there are actually exchanges in process of obtaining these licenses, but if an exchange doesn’t have such a license then they would usually refuse to list your token. We have seen this in the past regarding other tokens that have been issued. Exchanges effectively requested a legal opinion that this token was not a security, because they would, of course, then have to get a license. It’s not easy to get such a license.  

The more closely you look at it, the more legal problems you see. But it’s a matter of time until these problems are sorted out. The first ones, who will get a license for a securities exchange on the crypto-market will dominate the future.

I always try to make people aware of these legal obstacles but at the same time tell them what possibilities there are at the moment, because if you start now, you are the one most likely to dominate the market in the future. It’s just as simple as that. 

Mark Valek:

Great so that seems very exciting. Thanks Oliver for these insights. Perhaps we should go to our next block of topics “Custody and institutions”. We were talking about the potential influx of institutional investors during our last call and the same topic is often named as a potentially source for the next bull market for cryptocurrencies. Obviously, custody is one thing which is important for cryptocurrencies and even more for institutions.

Stefan, you told us last time that the company you are associated with, Block Vault, is working on custodian solutions for institutional investors. What are the newest developments in custody or related to institutional investors in your view and specifically with Block Vault as far as you can tell us? 

Stefan Wieler:

To summarize what we do with Block Vault: It’s currently 100% owned by Goldmoney. We will offer a third party audited, fully insured product custody product for cryptocurrencies.  We already have had a soft launch and we already acquired a client that is using our service. The company is called Malbex Resources, it´s a Canadian company with the ticker COIN CN on Bloomberg and they are a cryptocurrency merchant bank. The company owns a portfolio of cryptocurrencies and they have chosen us as their exclusive custodian.

Similar to what we offer in the precious metals space, Block Vault will offer third party audit and third-party insurance. We should have a full launch in the next couple of weeks. We just had our investor call for the year end results where our CEO gave the timeline for that, which is 4 to 6 weeks, when we go live with this. There is a lot of pent up demand for this as I said during the last call.

The reason why we are launching this is because we have been asked by some of our clients in the precious metals business. Josh Crumb, our Chief Strategy Officer, is leading this part of the company. He has done a lot of marketing and demand is coming mainly from Wall Street and there’s a lot of interest for the product and we are quite excited about that.  

The way we are doing this right now is, there will be two different products. First, everybody that holds cryptocurrencies with Goldmoney will, once it’s live, be moved on to Block Vault. So, we give all our clients that stored cryptocurrencies with us third party audit and insurance.

Second, we will offer a custody solution for any third-party company. The way we use the vaults of Brinks to store precious metals of our customers, other entities can use Block Vault as the vaulting solution for cryptocurrencies for their underlying business. For example, a future exchange can use Block Vault to store customer margins. Such entities will likely require a storage solution that satisfies regulatory requirement, and Block Vault can offer that. 

We firmly believe that our offering will be an important building block to broaden adoption of cryptocurrencies. I can’t say whether this should be the trigger for the next boom, I guess no one knows what is going to be the trigger for the next boom but we should hear soon about that.  

Mark Valek:

You mentioned Hedge Funds using you as a custody. What about regulated funds, could you also act as an outsourced custody solution for custodian banks, for instance? 

Stefan Wieler:

Yes, we are open to everybody. The custody business is meant for institutional investors in any form. Pension funds could use our custodian solutions as well as insurance companies. If cryptocurrencies are ever adopted for global trade, we could be there and serve as the custodian for exchanges. Or for example, you are already on a platform and you hold your cryptocurrency there but then we could have an agreement with this platform to be their custody solution, to offer their clients auditing and insurance.

For now, if you just want to use this product, then open a Goldmoney account and you can use it. It’s very simple, the same way you used it so far, in the future everything is going to be within Block Vault.  

Mark Valek:

Very good, in terms of currencies I would be curious what kind of currencies are you able to store or take custody of? 

Stefan Wieler:

Well, generally we can do anything that is a token. When we launch, we are going to have Bitcoin and Ethereum, but we are working on bringing other currencies as long as we have demand for it.

Mark Valek:

Perfect.

Max Tertinegg: 

May I ask you a question here, out of interest? I think I already asked this last time but I’m not sure. You said this Vault solution will be full third-party insured, so I was just wondering how this would be possible from a technical perspective, because how can it be determined, who had access to a private key or if there isn’t a copy of the private key so in case of theft.  

Stefan Wieler:

Yes, we have a solution for this. Yours is a very good question and it took us a lot of time to figure it out, but that was the problem our customers came to us with. For example: A hedge fund came to us saying, “I want to invest [in cryptocurrencies], but I need the same kind of insurance as I have for precious metals”. First, to give you full disclosure, I don´t have a technical background, but simply speaking, the way this works is that we fill wallets with a fixed amount of, let’s say Bitcoin, and then store part of the private key in a physical form (on a bar) in one of our vaults. So, we store those physical bars the same way we store precious metals, so it can be handled by the vault operators the same way they handle a silver bar or a gold bar.

The important part is, we needed to have our auditor and our insurance company to be comfortable with the process.

Max Tertinegg: 

Are they comfortable with the process? 

Stefan Wieler:

We have been working with them very closely from the beginning and so far, it looks very good. The insurance company needs to have the thing audited otherwise they cannot insure it. What the insurance company relies on is that the auditor is doing a good job and the insurance company has to be happy with the process.

So, auditor must be able to go into the vault, the same way that they come and make regular and unannounced visits and the same way they do for precious metals and then they count the bars. The person doing the audit can see that the bars are there physically.

We had to put this all together and it seems that everybody is on board and the vault operators need to be on board as well because this is completely new for them, too. Nobody has ever seen something like this. We launched the beta and it works.

Max Tertinegg: 

I just registered for the beta launch. I really can’t emphasize this enough so if you found the solution to be profitable and if the insurance companies are happy with the process, then it is a breakthrough because this opens up the door. 

Stefan Wieler:

We haven’t launched yet but so far from our side it looks pretty good. From what we know there will be a lot of demand for this from day 1 because it’s something nobody has been able to offer so far and it’s really important for certain type of asset managers that can actually invest right now. 

Max Tertinegg: 

Can I add one last question to this? What actually is insured? Let’s say I put 100 Bitcoin into your vault, so the insurance goes for the 100 Bitcoin or for the euro equivalent at the time I put it in the vault or at the time of a potential theft?  

Stefan Wieler:

I give you the information I can give, some I might not be allowed to tell you. That’s a very good question. You have to understand: The insurance companies we are talking about are the same insurance companies that insure our precious metals. The way this works in the precious metals sector is that the company that owns the vault, they insure everything that is in the vault through an insurance company, they just pass on the costs.

For gold bars it’s easy, and, what is insured is the weight of metal, so it changes every day right? So, let’s say I have a ton of gold in there and it’s currently worth, I don’t know, 40 million US dollars and then the gold price doubles and then you need to have an insurance for 80 million dollars. The idea is that we have the exact same thing for cryptocurrencies.

Now you are using Block Vault through your Goldmoney account and you come to us and say, “I want to buy 100 Bitcoins through Goldmoney”. What we do is: there will be different types of bars, there will be, let’s say a 10-coin bar, a 50-coin bar and a 100-coin bar, so if you buy exactly 100 coins, then you can own the entire 100-coin bar. We can also break down bars, the same way we break down gold bars, and assign the title of each fraction to a different customer.

Basically, there will be a fixed amount of Bitcoin per wallet / bar and that will be insured as Bitcoin and not as dollars. The insurance companies have been doing this, for the valuables that are already insured in those vaults, and there’s surely much more complicated stuff in there than something that has a market price, because there’s all kinds of valuable stored in those vaults.

Max Tertinegg: 

Thanks a lot, very fascinating. 

Stefan Wieler:

I’ll keep you guys posted, once we go live, I can send out an email to everybody. The launch should be very soon. 

Mark Valek:

Lovely! Congratulations in advance and good luck for the official launch. Well, I think we covered quite a bit, I don’t want to make this too long, but I would still give everybody the opportunity to add some final thoughts, if you have some, I’m sure you have some, but if you have some relevant thoughts, please let us know now, anything related to crypto, did we leave out something crucial in your view Max?  

Max Tertinegg: 

No, I think I’m fine, but I want to add, what I told you in the beginning, so, I would recommend having a look at the Bitcoin Standard, the book from Saifedean Ammous, which is very interesting regarding Bitcoin being potentially a long term digital store value for the whole world. There is also a video because Saifedean Ammous was in Vienna at the Bitcoin Austria meetup and there is also a Youtube video, which I think is 50 minutes where he basically covers the essential points. Just have a look at this. That is my recommendation. 

(Video at the end of the transcript)

Mark Valek:

Thank you, great, we will post the video in the transcript. Oliver anything to add from your side perhaps? 

Oliver Völkel:

Just perhaps as a general remark, the cryptocurrency industry is still very young and faces a lot of challenges also in legal terms, I see this on a daily basis, I just would encourage people not to give up, I mean this is here to stay, and also perhaps if some of the regulators hear this or read the transcript, keep up the good work, I mean it is important that also the regulators get involved in this and figure out how this stuff works and from what I’ve seen in the past this has been done very well. I think if we work together, then in the next meet up we will have again substantial new developments to talk about. 

Mark Valek:

Perfect, thank you. Stefan any final thoughts from your side? 

Stefan Wieler:

No, I think sums it up quite nicely. I think the more I see interest in the space from people that don’t necessarily have a technical background, the stronger this becomes and the less likely this ever disappears. 

Mark Valek:

Perfect, then with this I want to thank you very much again for attending. I think we have some interesting thoughts, which we want to keep and spread. Thank you for that, have a great day and a great week.


Download transcript

Competing Currencies and Digital Money: How Hayekian Are Cryptocurrencies?

Competing Currencies and Digital Money: How Hayekian Are Cryptocurrencies?

The Government Monopoly on Money – For a Long Time Unquestioned

“I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that history is largely a history of inflation, and usually of inflations engineered by governments and for the gain of governments.”

Friedrich August von Hayek

It is a truism that monopolies are detrimental to economies. They are inefficient with respect to quality and cost, their price fixing generates welfare losses, and beyond this, they occasionally waste substantial resources merely on erecting barriers to entry for competitors.[1] In an efficient economic order, monopolies are therefore either prohibited or are at least subject to curbs.

Natural monopolies[2] and government monopolies represent special cases. The latter are based on the notion that the state is able to fulfill certain tasks either more efficiently or in a more “social” manner than private suppliers are. These tasks include security (the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force), state-run health insurance schemes, and the provision of transport infrastructure.

The monopoly on money is a very powerful tool at the state’s disposal,[3] and it’s a monopoly that has been abused for about as long as it has existed.[4] Already in antiquity the funding of wars was accomplished by systematically diluting the precious metal content of coins, which over time pushed the value of their precious metal content ever further below their nominal value.[5] Rulers across history have succumbed to the temptation of increasing their seigniorage income or of generating indirect tax revenues by means of inflation. Such behavior was eventually institutionalized in the form of the two-tiered banking system we know today — with money creation through the interplay between central banks (issuance of central bank money) and commercial banks (deposit money creation through lending of circulation credit) also known as fractional-reserve banking – which drapes a veil over the collection of seigniorage profits.[6] Latter-day efforts to stabilize the financial system and save the euro in response to the financial crisis are blending seamlessly into this history of abuse.

Thus, it is hardly surprising that criticism of the monetary and financial system has a long tradition as well. However, even intellectuals who placed individual liberty at the center of their deliberations hardly ever questioned and question the state monopoly on money as such – despite all the criticism leveled at the monetary system.[7]

Hayek’s Proposal of Introducing Competing Private Currencies

“Everything comes down to the question: Which forms of order promote liberty?”

Walter Eucken

When Richard Nixon suspended the US dollar’s convertibility to gold in 1971, it became obvious that the attempt to establish a monetary system based on a gold-exchange standard had failed due to over issuance of uncovered money substitutes. Upon this event Friedrich August von Hayek felt compelled to reexamine the question of what constituted an expedient monetary order.[8] In Hayek’s opinion, not only the abolition of the tie between the US dollar and gold but also the proliferation of Keynesian economic thinking at the time worsened the prospect of a stable, noninflationary money ever emerging under a government-run currency monopoly.[9] In 1975 Hayek eventually gave a lecture entitled “Choice of Currency”[10], in which he articulated for the first time the provocative demand that the state monopoly on money should be repealed. The publication of the monographs Free Choice in Currency and The Denationalization of Money followed a year later, in which he expanded in greater detail on his ideas on competition between private money issuers.

Hayek’s core thesis was that the entrenched abuse of the state monopoly on money for the purposes of enriching selected private groups, making good on fiscal deficits, or financing wars illustrates that concentrating the power of money issuance in the hands of the state (or any other centralized entity) does not work. Hence government has to be deprived of its monopoly on money creation, which should be replaced by a market-based monetary order that constitutes a system of power-sharing among competing entities.

What shape would an order reflecting these power-sharing principles take, and how could it emerge? Hayek argues that such an order would take shape if the following liberties were granted:

  • Private money producers would be free to issue money and enter into currency competition.
  • Citizens would be free to choose which currencies they want to use.

Banks would, for instance, issue their own currencies – in any amount they wished. While Hayek regarded money backed by gold or commodities as ideal, he explicitly allowed for the possibility of banks engaging in excessive creation of uncovered deposit money. However, he believed that this practice would fail to survive in a competitive market. In an unhampered market, banks would find that the incentive to boost their asset base over and above the amount of savings deposited with them would be curtailed. The preference of money users for an easy to use money with stable purchasing power would force banks to fulfill these expectations in the best possible way. Money suppliers issuing uncovered money substitutes would eventually face an exit of customers and disappear from the market.

Competition would – analogous to competition in nonmonetary goods and services – exert discipline. The structure of incentives would be optimal, as general welfare would increase as a result of numerous competing actors pursuing their own interests.[11] Hayek famously concluded:

“Money is the one thing competition would not make cheap, because its attractiveness rests on it preserving its ‘dearness’.”[12]

What role would a central bank play in such a competitive order? It would become obsolete. This prospect is welcomed by Hayek, as government-run monetary policy is precisely what he regards as the major source of economic instability. According to Hayek, historical economic crises were time and again attributable to the distorting effects of monetary policy implemented by governments, rather than to so-called market failures:

“The past instability of the market economy is the consequence of the exclusion of the most important regulator of the market mechanism, money, from itself being regulated by the market process.”[13]

However, the central bank would not necessarily have to stop operating right away. It could continue to issue (government) currency. However, it would be in competition with commercial banks and other private money producers and would therefore have a strong incentive to supply citizens with a stable currency.

Cryptocurrencies – Free Currency Competition in Practice?

“Cryptocurrencies are a use case of competing private currencies as envisaged by Friedrich August von Hayek.”[14]

Norbert F. Tofall

Initially the debate over the idea of competing private currencies was purely theoretical, as the government monopoly on money had been so deeply rooted for such a long time that the public at large never thought of seriously questioning it. When Hayek published his proposal, the voluntary abolition of the money monopoly would have been required to adopt it, which was tantamount to governments relinquishing a great deal of their power – a highly unrealistic prospect.[15]

Since then, conditions have fundamentally changed, though, as a result of the pervasive spread of the Internet. After the near-collapse of the monetary and financial system in the 2008 financial crisis and the erosion of confidence in government currencies and central banks in its wake, the first private digital currency in the form of Bitcoin made its entrance in the realm of Web 2.0. Since then more than 1,500 cryptocurrencies (in their entirety better described as crypto assets) with a market capitalization totaling roughly USD400bn have entered the market. As cryptocurrencies are largely outside of government control – at least until now –, a kind of laboratory for private currency competition could be established. In fact, the ECB suspects (rightly) that Hayek’s theoretical work was the spiritus rector of today’s cryptocurrencies.[16]

Decentralization: The Cryptocurrency Killer App

What makes cryptocurrencies so interesting is that they are so contrary to the mental image many people have of money.[17] The most famous cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, functions as a payment system based on monetary units that consist of themselves and are not redeemable for gold or any other commodity. Bitcoin is accepted as currency, though in line with the definition of Ludwig von Mises it has to be considered as pure fiat money [18], that is not run by the state and is not tied to a commodity. Many monetary theorists were convinced that such a currency could not possibly emerge in a free market. Hayek himself believed that currencies tied to commodities would prevail in a system of free competition. What is the reason, then, for the growing acceptance of cryptocurrencies?

The secret of their success that is at the core of an accepted currency is a result of their decentralized nature. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Monero, and Litecoin are not issued by a single private institution; they are based on a source code protocol and maintained through a decentralized network of widely dispersed market participants. Unlike a currency issued by a private money producer, whose paper money represents a promise to pay, Bitcoin is a fiat money that is no one’s liability. In this respect, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin is similar to gold.

An interesting aspect of the currency competition launched by the emergence of cryptocurrencies is also that it differs from Hayek’s proposal in one decisive respect. The situation as envisaged by Hayek would always carry the latent risk that a – centralized – money-issuing entity could fail.

In the case of a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, no such central entity exists. The smooth operation of a cryptocurrency is safeguarded by geographically dispersed interest groups such as developers, miners, traders, users, and others working within the ecosystem. Trust and risk are distributed across a network of numerous parties pursuing their own interests.[19] Those purchasing a cryptocurrency ultimately place their trust in mathematical and encryption protocols that maintain a system of incentives, which in turn provides all participating entities or groups with a motive to ensure the currency’s integrity. Hence the slogan “In Code We Trust”[20]. To this day this system of incentives has worked splendidly, and not one of the numerous attempts to destroy it has been successful.

The Quest for Stability

A problem plaguing many cryptocurrencies – and, as a proxy for them, Bitcoin – is their excessive price volatility. Bitcoin’s inelastic supply, coupled with a demand shock triggered by the rapid diffusion of “crypto-ideology” and the associated speculative hype,[21] has temporarily led to an enormous increase in the purchasing power. Leaving aside the recent correction, the history of Bitcoin is a history of hyper-deflation[22] – and in a time of strong deflation it makes more sense to hoard a currency than to use it as a means of payment. As a result Bitcoin and other new cryptocurrencies are barely fulfilling the function of media of exchange at the moment.[23]

The same feature that underpins the currency’s store of value function hampers its use as a unit of account. As the supply of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is as a rule limited, with no central entity able to balance excess demand by boosting supply, cryptocurrencies are occasionally highly volatile.[24] Contrary to Mises’ belief that an inelastic supply would go hand in hand with comparatively small fluctuations in demand and price, cryptocurrencies have not proved suitable for fulfilling unit of account functions such as drawing up corporate balance sheets – at least so far.[25]

In line with Hayek, one could counter that a cryptocurrency that is undergoing a process of monetization has to be regarded as an object of speculation in the early stages of the process, which will inevitably involve volatility. It seems logical that speculative demand and reservation demand will be strong at an early stage. However, the importance of speculative demand should diminish over time, as ownership of the cryptocurrency in question broadens. If they are successful, emerging cryptocurrencies should eventually manage the transition from speculative assets to currencies that function reliably as media of exchange.[26]

A number of cryptocurrency enthusiasts who don’t want to simply wait and see whether this will happen are working on creating cryptocurrencies with stable values, so-called “stablecoins”.[27] These currencies have a flexible supply, which is adjusted to fluctuations in demand with the aim of achieving purchasing power stability. But – and here is the problem – how is it possible to guarantee “price stability” without being forced to restrict or abandon the decentralized and therefore intervention-resistant structure of a cryptocurrency? Simply decreeing an “inflation target” from on high is precisely what central banks are doing and is contradictory to the spirit of cryptocurrencies.[28]

The solution to this problem may be DAO, which stands for “decentralized autonomous organization”. Members of such a DAO organize independently. With respect to managing a stable-coin, members of a DAO would be tasked with ensuring the stability of its purchasing power. Stability would be promoted through a structure of incentives embedded in the coin’s programming code. The recently launched Maker DAO project[29] appears to hold promise in this regard. Maker’s stablecoin, called Dai, is still very young, but has already become popular with many users.[30]

Conclusion

“Humanity’s progress always involved a small minority deviating from the ideas and customs of the majority, until its example finally persuaded others to adopt its innovations as well.”

Ludwig von Mises

In our opinion Hayek has bequeathed us a vital body of preliminary theoretical work for a future, more crisis-resistant monetary order. In order to create full freedom of choice for money producers and users, the money monopoly of the state has to be repealed and replaced by an environment in which private currencies can be developed and can compete in a decentralized discovery procedure. As money users would punish producers of unsound (i.e., inflationary) money by abandoning it, both government and private currency suppliers would be motivated to keep their seigniorage income low and to issue sound money.

As governments would no longer be able to mitigate their debt burdens through inflation, such a monetary order would be highly effective in enforcing fiscal discipline. The chronic debt-crisis of our times, namely the overindebtedness of governments, could never emerge in such a system – thus currency competition would be the most powerful debt brake imaginable.[31]

For a long time, such competing currencies were unthinkable, as governments have not been inclined to voluntarily abandon their monopoly on money. With cryptocurrencies, which could emerge only due to the spread of the internet and which cannot be effectively suppressed or prohibited due to their decentralized structure, currency competition in the spirit of Hayek has become possible even in the absence of self-limitation by governments.

[1] A special case is temporary monopolies, which generate so-called “pioneer profits”. Companies can, for instance, obtain patents for innovations, which protect them for a limited time from imitations of their products made by competitors. The idea is that the state temporarily restricts competition for a time via the patent system in order to promote competition over the long term, since many companies won’t regard the required R&D spending as economically viable if there is no prospect of making temporary monopoly profits. See “Theory of Economic Development”, Joseph Schumpeter, 1911.

[2] Natural monopolies are the result of a cost structure (in most cases involving high fixed and low marginal costs) in which competitors are held to raise the total cost of supplying a good. Examples for this are railways, which have high fixed costs in the form of rail networks, and power and water utilities, which require electrical grids or piping systems for distribution.

[3] We are going to refer to the “state (or government) monopoly on money” in this section, even though it is nowadays usually not the central bank itself that produces new money. (Exceptions are QE, repos, and coupon passes, which affect the money supply directly and indirectly over a wide range of time frames.) Most money production results from inflationary lending by fractionally reserved private commercial banks (with central bank support), i.e., it is so to speak the result of a private-public partnership. Regardless, the government ultimately decides what may be used as legal tender.

[4] See “Monetary Regimes and Inflation. History, Economic and Political Relationships”, Peter Bernholz, Cheltenham, 2003.

[5] See “The Monetary Aspect of the Fall of Rome”In Gold We Trust report 2016, pp. 98-103, or “The Frogs”, Aristophanes, pp. 719-737.

[6] See The Zero Interest Rate Trap: Sustainable Wealth Accumulation in a Non-Sustainable Monetary System, Ronald-Peter Stöferle and Mark J. Valek, 2018 (to be published shortly).

[7] Hayek noted that the economic literature offered no answer to the question of why a government monopoly for the provision of money was deemed indispensable, nor was there any academic discussion examining the abolition of this monopoly (The Denationalization of Money, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1976, pp. 26 ff). He attributed the notion that governments had a quasi-natural prerogative to be the exclusive suppliers of money to the historical fact that they had usurped the right to mint coins a very long time ago and then simply retained it as if this were a perfectly natural state of affairs (The Denationalization of Money, Friedrich A. von Hayek, p. 28).

[8] What makes this very interesting is the fact that Hayek previously espoused quite contrary views: “[A] really rational monetary policy could be carried out only by an international monetary authority […] [S]o long as an effective international monetary authority remains an Utopian dream, any mechanical principle (such as the gold standard) … is far preferable to numerous independent and independently regulated national currencies” (Monetary Nationalism and International Stability, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1937, pp.93ff). Later Hayek wrote that a free currency market was “not only politically impracticable today but would probably be undesirable if it were possible” (The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1960, pp.324ff). Nevertheless, what unites the different positions Hayek has taken over time is his desire to create a noninflationary monetary order. Moreover, the evolution of his position illustrates his growing skepticism with respect to the state.

[9] See “Toward a Free Market Monetary System”, Friedrich A. von Hayek, p.2.

[10] See “Choice of Currency: A Way to Stop Inflation“, Friedrich A. von Hayek, The Institute of Economic Affairs, 1976.

[11] See The Denationalization of Money, An Analysis of the Theory and Practice of Concurrent Currencies, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1977, p. 57.

[12] See The Denationalization of Money, An Analysis of the Theory and Practice of Concurrent Currencies, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1977, p. 94.

[13] See The Denationalization of Money, An Analysis of the Theory and Practice of Concurrent Currencies, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1977, p. 102.

[14] See “Währungsverfassungsfragen sind Freiheitsfragen: Mit Kryptowährungen zu einer marktwirtschaftlichen Geldordnung?,“ Norbert F. Tofall, Flossbach von Storch Research Institute, 2018, p. 4 (Currency questions are questions of liberty: Toward a market-based monetary order with cryptocurrencies?).

[15] See “A praxeological analysis reveals that currency competition is simply not in the state’s interest.” Thorsten Polleit: “Hayek’s ‘Denationalization of Money’ – a Praxeological Reassessment”, Journal of Prices and Markets, p. 79.

[16] See “ECB: ‘Roots Of Bitcoin Can Be Found In The Austrian School Of Economics,“ Jon Matonis, Forbes, 2012.

[17] The success of cryptocurrencies does not only irritate a number of laypersons. For instance, the well-versed monetary theoretician (and Austrian School representative) Guido Hülsmann stated in 2007 that a money “that is defined entirely in terms of bits and bytes is unlikely ever to be produced spontaneously on a free market.” (“The Ethics of Money Production”, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008, p. 33).

[18] See The Theory of Money and Credit, Ludwig von Mises, Yale University Press, 1953.

[19] See “Trustless is a Misnomer”, Nick Tomaino, Medium, July 21, 2016.

[20] See “The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust”, Tim Wu, The New York Times, December 18, 2017. (Coincidentally a play on words on the title of this report, which was first published well before Bitcoin was born.)

[21] Thus, many people believe that cryptocurrencies, which are still at the beginning of more widespread adoption, will continue to gain in value in coming years and are buying them as speculative buy-and-hold investments.

[22] See “Bubble or Hyperdeflation“, Incrementum AG, Crypto Research Report.

[23] Several people in the crypto community argue that Bitcoin is not at all predestined to become a widely adopted medium of exchange for day-to-day use. Rather, they say, Bitcoin represents a decentralized and therefore intervention-resistant store of value. The original source code of Bitcoin, which can be altered only if the extremely disparate Bitcoin community arrives at a consensus, provides the best possible conditions for the currency’s store-of-value function: The total amount of Bitcoin that can be mined is restricted to 21 million units (some of which have already been lost forever – e.g. a famous hard disk drive containing 70,000 BTC is known to be peacefully collecting rust in a UK landfill). It takes around 10 minutes for a new bitcoin to be created. Since the emergence of Bitcoin in 2008, the quantity of newly created bitcoins has been declining by half every four years. According to estimates, by 2140 all bitcoins that will ever exist will have been mined. This continually strengthening deflationary tendency strongly underpins the store-of-value function of BTC.

[24] Cryptocurrencies are affected to a greater extent by this volatility than, for example, gold, as gold is subject to countercyclical buffers through jewellery and fabrication demand (declining demand when prices rise and vice versa) as well as through fluctuations in the gold supply (growth in mine supply and rising sales from existing stocks when prices increase and vice versa).

[25] See Human Action: A Treatise in Economics, Ludwig von Mises, Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998, pp. 225ff.

[26] As discussed in this section, relatively supply-inelastic gold is not immune against periodic high speculative demand, either: If in the course of an emerging currency competition currencies backed by gold were to turn out to be preferred by most users, surging demand for gold would rapidly boost its price – and presumably also its volatility – which would at least temporarily suspend suitability of the precious metal as a means of payment and unit of account. (See The Denationalization of Money, An Analysis of the Theory and Practice of Concurrent Currencies, Friedrich A. von Hayek, 1977, pp. 102/127.).

[27] See the chapter Crypto: Friend or Foe?

[28] See “The Search for a Stable Cryptocurrency”, Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum Blog, November 11, 2014.

[29]: See “Maker for Dummies: A Plain English Explanation of the Dai Stablecoin“, Gregory DiPrisco, Medium, November 20, 2017.

[30]: See “Stablecoins: A Holy Grail in Digital Currency“, Nick Tomaino, The Control, April 3, 2017.

[31]: See “Währungsverfassungsfragen sind Freiheitsfragen: Mit Kryptowährungen zu einer marktwirtschaftlichen Geldordnung?“, Norbert F. Tofall, Flossbach von Storch Research Institute, 2018, p. 5 (“Currency questions are questions of liberty: Toward a market-based monetary order with cryptocurrencies?”).

Quarterly Review Q2 2018: Wall Street Is Getting Ready

Wall Street Is Getting Ready

“The total market cap of cryptocurrencies was around USD 400bn, around a quarter of that of gold as store of wealth (gold bars, coins and physical gold ETFs all together amount to USD 1.5tn). And monthly trading volumes of the three largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization (Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple) have increased sharply in recent months, from around USD 5bn in early 2017 to USD 550bn in December. This represents around half of the monthly trading volume of gold futures of USD 1.1tn, as of January 18 aggregate volumes were higher, reaching around USD 680bn.”

J.P. Morgan Perspectives 2018

The Bitcoin price is plummeting and looking for a floor. Meanwhile big players on Wall Street are working on their grand entrance. At the forefront of this: Goldman Sachs.

What to do if you are stationed in the middle of nowhere surrounded by super computers? Exactly, you mine cryptocurrencies. This happened in a Russian government research center in Sarov, a secluded city 400km east of Moscow, the seat of the Russian nuclear program. The first Soviet atomic bomb was built here in 1949. And now researchers have been caught using the strongest computers the Russian state has to offer to mine cryptocurrencies.

This came to light through a press statement by the authorities in February of this year. Apparently, this is becoming a common occurrence in companies with good IT infrastructure. However, maybe the researchers just took a statement from Vladimir Putin during his visit to Sarov in 2014 a bit more literal than expected. At said meeting with young scientists, President Vladimir Putin praised the Russians’ spirit of resourcefulness, saying, “When life sets us certain challenges, we are forced to tackle them one way or another and we do.” As a side note, the Russian authorities neither informed us which coins had been mined nor did they shed any light on what had happened to them in the meantime. [1] It is however not only Russian civil servants or the population of inflation-riddled countries such as Venezuela, who have discovered cryptocurrencies and are using them for their own gain. Recently military investigators uncovered a drug ring at the US-Navy academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Ten officers in training had been supplying their comrades with cocaine, LSD and ketamine. They had apparently bought the drugs on the Dark Net and paid for them with Bitcoin. The management of the academy ordered a spontaneous drug test for all 4500 recruits, the results of which were never made public. [2]

The Bitcoin Price is Plummeting

In our first report in 2018, we predicted a spell of crypto winter. Our technical analysis of the crash in January 2018 goes to show that a hard plummet right down to USD 2,500 is very possible. Other (especially pessimistic) analysis corresponds with this evaluation. Many are looking at the charts of the crash after 2013 for some sense of direction in which Bitcoin could go now. Especially bleak outlooks have been published since analysts saw a “Death Cross” in the charts in mid-March.[3] Others, such as the crypto hedge fund “Pantera Capital Management” assume that we have already reached the rock bottom price of Bitcoin at USD 6,500, and we will therefore soon witness an upwards trend again.[4] While we are finishing this report, prices are dropping again, then shooting up because of good news, then dropping again. Where do we go next? That is the age-old question – in hindsight we are always smarter. The markets are unpredictable and the crypto market is especially volatile.

A study by the Warwick Business School showed that trades on the crypto market are made on a purely emotional basis instead of being based on fundamental analysis.[5] The survey covered trade data from April 2016 up to September 2017, and the results do make sense.

 The crypto market is still dominated by small investors who don’t have the knowledge or data for a technical or fundamental analysis. On top of this, Bitcoin and Co. are still so relatively new that there is a real lack of accepted official data for an unbiased assessment. It is however noticeable that over the past few months more and more central bankers have had a closer look at Bitcoin – and in the process, have confirmed Bitcoin’s role as a currency[6] as well as the fact that Bitcoin does indeed have value. One central bank economist sees the fundamental price (based on mining costs) at USD 1,800.[7]

The debate is however still ongoing. The author of the Warwick survey, Daniele Bianchi, has a similar view. “It’s not like with normal currencies, in which the productivity of a country influences the price. Instead, they have similarities to investments in shares of a high-tech company.” This phenomenon can be seen time and time again and economists are now discovering the new field of crypto economics. The puppet masters behind the various tokens try and create different incentive systems to pull in more investors. These tokens therefore almost turn into shares of the company or project at hand. At least they are traded like shares. An important factor in the price drop over the past few months has been the so-called Tokyo Whale. This is the nickname for the bankruptcy trustee of the now extinct exchange Mt. Gox. The hack and subsequent collapse of which lead to the bear market of 2014 and onwards.[8] It is the Tokyo Whale’s job to sell the rest of Mt Gox’ Bitcoins as profitably as possible. In total, he will unleash 200,000 Bitcoins to the market.[9] This will obviously not happen in one go, but according to media reports the trustee Nobuaki Kobayashi has trickled Bitcoins into the market worth USD 400 million since September 2017.

By the beginning of February, he must have sold roughly 40,000 Bitcoins. What followed was a temporary recovery until Kobayashi moved 16,000 Bitcoins onto an exchange ready for the presumable subsequent sale. The community follows his wallets closely, as the game only ends when all 200,000 Bitcoins from Mt. Gox have been turned into “real” money.[10]

Which Altcoins Will Survive?

All these elements together make for an extremely volatile market. The least volatile cryptocurrency, measured by standard deviation of returns, in this market is Bitcoin. However, altcoins such as Ethereum and Ripple are also becoming increasingly popular on the market. Market sentiment in June 2018 first showed signs of desperation, maybe even despair – in social media as well as in various forums. We are sure we will only start a new bull market once the weak hands have been swept out of the market. Investors which only joined the game during the ICO Boom of 2017 should be aware that although Bitcoin has survived such a “crypto winter” before, the majority of Altcoins however have not been put through the same test of time.

The analysts from Goldman Sachs categorically warn against holding on to Altcoins in a bear market. In a report dating back to February of this year, Goldman analyst Steve Strongin, suggests that a large percentage of existing Altcoins could completely disappear and could be replaced by a small number of robust cryptocurrencies which lead the way to a new upward turn. “The high correlation between the different cryptocurrencies worries me”, Strongin said. “Because of the lack of intrinsic value, the currencies that don’t survive will most likely trade to zero.”[11]

Like others before him, Strongin draws parallels between the Blockchain market and the Dot Com Bubble. Only a few of the hottest stocks from the late 1990s have survived. Those that did however, became huge. “Will the cryptocurrencies of today turn into the Amazons or Googles of tomorrow or will they end like the many now non-existent search engines? Just because we are in a speculative bubble doesn’t mean the price for the few surviving ones can’t rise again. At the same time this means that many won’t ever reach their all-time highs ever again.”

It is true that such gloomy prophecies regarding Bitcoin have turned out to be wrong time and time again.[12] But then again, we have been in good company when we have warned against the ICO Mania. This is why we must say the Goldman analyst could be right. A handful of projects could survive in the long-term, but many are facing the end before we leave this valley of death. The Godfather of cryptocurrencies Bitcoin has proven its stability before. While small investors are at home licking their wounds from the market downturn, the big boys are finally here to step into the ring. This is probably the most important trend of 2018, and we call it the “Goldman-Effect”. The second trend comes as a direct result of the first: the regulators are finding themselves under more and more pressure because institutional investors need legal security before they can enter the market.

The Goldman-Effect

The boss of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, earned lots of criticism in 2009, when he was quoted saying his bank was doing “God’s work” in an interview with London Times. He added that his bank had a social role: “We help companies grow. Growing companies create standards and jobs. We have a social responsibility.”[13]

Early Bitcoin adopters and purists may note like to hear this, but Goldman is doing a lot for the legitimization and growth of the crypto sector. The investment bank, which has always thought of itself better than the competition, wants to be the first to get in on the new opportunity. The analyst from Goldman took a closer look at Bitcoin back in the summer of 2017. And now this. At the beginning of May, in a carefully choreographed article in the New York Times, it was made public news that “Goldman Sachs will be entering the trading floor of Bitcoin”.[14]

The new trading desk will initially be part of the department for foreign currency. It will be led by the 38-year-old Justin Schmidt. In 2017, he had only left the hedge fund Seven Eight Capital to trade Bitcoin and other crypto assets by himself. The reasoning behind the decision, which are described in the New York Times article, paint a very interesting picture of the growing popularity of Bitcoin on Wall Street. “It resonates with us when a client says, ‘I want to hold Bitcoin or Bitcoin futures because I think it is an alternate store of value”, says Rana Yared, a senior of Schmidt’s at Goldman. “Bitcoin is not a scam”, she goes on “But it is also not a currency. Clients want to hold cryptocurrency as a sort of precious natural resource, similar to gold.”

It was possible for Goldman to get in on the action through the implementation of futures and other derivates. However, the Goldman bankers aren’t the only ones buying up Bitcoin-Futures. The daily trading volume of the CME Futures in Chicago have risen by 250% since the initiation in December 2017.[15] There is still room to grow. According to Reuters one fifth of the big banks want to enter the Bitcoin trade by the end of 2018.[16] As of now, it is still prohibited for institutional investors to buy Bitcoin outside of regulated fund vehicles, trackers, futures, and trusts. They are however getting prepared for when the day comes that this will be possible, and they are putting real thought into how one can directly buy Bitcoin and store them securely for clients.

Et tu, J.P. Morgan?

One of them could be J.P. Morgan. This is highly interesting as J.P. Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon is a known Bitcoin skeptic. He has after all called Bitcoin a scam.[17] He went as far as to say he would fire any employee who touches the stuff. The comments didn’t age well. In May, just a mere few months after Dimon’s last outburst, the U-turn was made official: J.P. Morgan is working on its own crypto strategy.[18]

They created a new position for exactly this purpose and found the 29-year-old Oliver Harris to fill it. Up until then he was responsible for J.P. Morgans Fintech-Program. J.P. Morgan seems to be still be a few steps behind the competition as direct trading with cryptocurrencies or even derivatives are as of yet, not on the horizon.[19]

Daniel Pinto, co-president of J.P. Morgan, separately told CNBC on Wednesday that the Wall Street giant was now “looking into that space”. “Cryptocurrencies are real, but not in the current form,” he said.[20] We are left wanting further explanations by Dimon’s potential successor. But when Dimon revised his statement regarding Bitcoin and even noted that there was a viable future for the Blockchain technology, one could have known the bank was about to announce their official move towards the sector.

Dimon is not the only one to change his mind when it comes to Bitcoin. The currency speculator George Soros had claimed just six months ago at the economics forum in Davos that Bitcoin was only interesting for a dictator wanting to keep some money safe on the side. A very lopsided view of things given that the technology actually allows the small man on the street to keep money away from a dictators as it is happening in Venezuela. Soros has changed his mind anyway. In April he gave the green light to his fund, which has USD 26 billion in assets under management to invest in Bitcoin.[21]

Rock and Coins

And yet another big name from the finance world has arrived: Venrock, the Venture Capital arm of the Rockefeller family (Ven stands for Venture, Rock for Rockefeller). Two of the most successful early investments of the company include Intel and Apple. Now they are heading into the crypto sector. In stark contrast to George Soros, Partner of Venrock David Packman doesn’t hold back his enthusiasm regarding the new industry. More specifically, Venrock has a partnership agreement with CoinFund, a company based in Brooklyn.[22]

CoinFund supports Start-ups which base their business model on the Blockchain technology. Both companies have invested in YouNow, an app for live video streaming which had planned an ICO last year. Yet another client of CoinFund is the Canadian Chat-app Kik, which already completed its ICO.[23] David Packman from Venrock commented on his company’s entrance onto the crypto scene, that they are in it for the long haul: “There are many cryptocurrency traders. There are many cryptocurrency hedge funds. This is different. For us it looks more like Venture Capital.”[24]

Venrock is not alone in its mission to infiltrate the market. Despite the consistent popularity of ICOs more and more, Venture Capital firms are looking for a way into the game. In just the first three months of this year Blockchain companies have been able to pull in a combined investment of USD 400 million.[25] It is doubtful though that many of these are actual long-term investments like Venrock’s are meant to be. It seems to be the norm that investors buy in the Pre-Sale-Phase of an ICO since the value of their equity already rises through the ICO itself.[26]

The ICO-Bubble Continues

As a comparison: Blockchain companies have had an influx of over USD 3 Billion via ICOs just this year. It comes at little surprise that many of the investors, no matter if they bought in the Pre-Sale-Phase or during the actual ICO, get rid of their shares quite quickly. Roughly half of all ICO funded projects have already failed.[27] Many of these companies only exist on paper – the so called White Paper.

This investment boom is compared time and time again with the Dot Com Bubble. Many big players within the scene, like Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, have called out for caution in regard to an ICO Bubble. In our past reports, we have not only given the subject much room but have also warned against a too flippant approach when investing via ICOs. Especially, since regulation bodies are also highly alarmed. The question if a coin which is financed via ICO is in fact a security, and should be regulated as such, puts this process very much in the legal grey zone. The US authorities have already convened on this subject, more specifically looking at the sector’s giants Ethereum and Ripple.

A story which broke in the Wall Street Journal claiming there had been a meeting of regulatory authorities back in April caused for confusion and panic on the market.[28] It is unclear to this day if said meeting actually ever happened. What we however did find out in the course of the coverage of this story is that Ethereum and similar products have gained a huge fan base in the Tech-sector. Defenders of the crypto world are organizing themselves in Silicon Valley – once again driven mainly by Venture-Capital-investors. This new lobby wants to persuade the regulatory bodies to at least not classify already existing and successful projects such as Ethereum as mere securities. Initially founded via ICO, Ethereum’s structure is now completely decentralized, they argue. And their voice seems to be heard. In a speech on June 15, the SECs point man on crypto, William Hinman, stated, that Bitcoin and Ethereum are in fact not to be treated as securities. However, he did not comment on Ripple.[29]

A Scam is a Scam – Even on the Blockchain

The US regulatory board SEC has also started to act based on the existing rules.[30] A scam is a scam – even on the Blockchain. The founders of the cryptocurrency Centra were arrested in April. The charge: Their ICO had criminal intent and they relieved their investors of USD 32 million. Centra was supposed to be a crypto credit card and work together with Visa and Mastercard – at least that was what was advertised.

According to SEC, the company Centra never had a business agreement with either of the credit card providers. One of the two apparent imposters was caught just before leaving the country. “We allege that Centra sold investors on the promise of new digital technologies by using a sophisticated marketing campaign to spin a web of lies about their supposed partnerships with legitimate businesses”, Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement Monday. “As the complaint alleges, these and other claims were simply false.”[31]

Centra was not the first case to be looked into by the SEC. The AriseBank case, who’s ICO was also stopped, involved more than USD 500 million. The Centra case is so juicy marketing wise because the famous boxer Floyd Mayweather had publicly endorsed the ICO.

To educate investors, the SEC went as far as to create its own fake ICO as a honeytrap. They even wrote a White Paper full of the specific Blockchain language for the fake project “Howeycoins”.[32] “Howeycoins” set out to disrupt the global tourist industry. The website looked like many others of which ICO investors have seen plenty, it even included the famous count down timer to indicate when the bonus phase of the ICO was to kick off.

Whoever clicked on “invest” ended up on the website of the US regulatory authority. This site also included a list of “red flags” to look out for and avoid. For example, ICOs with celebrity endorsements should rather be avoided instead of gravitated towards. This whole ploy was largely more successful than any official warning the SEC had issued up until then and shows that even regulators have a sense of humour.

Authorities are also looking into potential price manipulation. The US Department of Justice has opened a new investigation in regard to illegal practices.[33] This includes spoofing or strategically placed buy and sell orders used to manipulate the market, which are deleted before being activated. Also, the act of “wash trading”, the manipulation of prices through a participant who completes his own orders. The Billionaires Mike Novogratz and Cameron Winklevoss have both whole heartedly supported the supervisory authorities’ attempts in the field of cryptocurrencies. “Weeding out the bad actors is a good thing, not a bad thing for the health of the market,” Novogratz, said in a telephone interview. “Plenty of exchanges have these inflated volume numbers to create some sense of excitement around coins,” he said, citing his own experience trying to trade.[34]

One thing is for sure: the big players want in on the action. But only in areas where the rules are clear and above board can they actually also play. This has led to a behind-the-scenes race of the big names. It is not about investing now, it is about being the best prepared player when the time has come, the dust has settled and the rules are clear. This creates more pressure on the authorities to come up with rules which give investors and consumers legal security, but also don’t jeopardize this new sector.

For this report, we have especially highlighted the role of the US authorities as they have been extremely proactive here. It should be noted that almost all countries are currently asking the same question: How can we regulate without strangling the Bitcoin sector? This means there is not only a race to regulate between states, but also between national governments and the international organizations. At the moment one can say the governments are leading the way.

In some EU countries, such as Austria and Germany, there will be obligatory rules regarding ICOs soon. An overall EU law is currently not on the agenda.[35] Although, the fifth know-your-customer and anti-money laundering directive is expected to include specific provisions for cryptocurrencies. As predicted in the last report, the attempts of the G20 have also been without results so far. However, even the managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has said that something is needed. Regulating the sector is unavoidable, she said, but a balanced approach would be commendable.[36]

You Can Buy an Exchange

Other participants are also preparing for the days with more transparent rules in the land of Bitcoin. The Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the mother company of the New York stock exchange, publicly announced to be working on a Bitcoin trading tool at the same time the New York Times article about Goldman Sachs broke. The technology exchange Nasdaq also seems to be well underway in this direction. Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman is quoted saying just in April of this year “There is no doubt that Nasdaq will consider becoming an exchange for digital cryptocurrencies.” That same day, Nasdaq announced a cooperation with the American Bitcoin exchange Gemini. According to some sources, the second largest exchange of the US could start trading Bitcoin as early as October 2018.[37]

These plans correspond perfectly with Goldmans and others plans. The big institutional players obviously need big, regulated exchanges in order to start trading. Goldman can’t just open a Binance account.

However, there is another way. You can simply buy an exchange. The investment bank itself didn’t do so, but the start-up Circle which is supported financially by Goldman did. At the end of February, Circle acquired the popular crypto exchange Poloniex.[38] The “NYT” journalist Nathaniel Popper got his hands on internal presentations which explain the motivation behind this takeover: Circle wants to keep Poloniex as an independent exchange, however they are looking to work very closely with the SEC. The goal: Circle wants to make Poloniex the first regulated crypto exchange in the USA.[39]

The slides read as follows: “By becoming the first regulated Crypto Exchange will enable Circle to list and provide a platform for all forms of emerging crypto tokens, including tokens that would be deemed securities. We believe the market for security-like tokens will continue to expand, creating demand for this market infrastructure. Circle (and evidently Goldman) are obviously preparing for a world in which regulated securities can be traded on the Blockchain as a token. The plan goes on: Circle wants to introduce a cryptocurrency which is bound to the Dollar. A Crypto-Dollar by a company which is covered by Goldman Sachs would be a complete and utter game changer. The issue of regulation is completely open in this aspect as well.

We assume that the race for the Bitcoin infrastructure has only just begun. That every step is a step into a legal grey zone still discourages many institutional players. Some, such as the huge investment manager Vanguard, are steering clear of the sector all together. In May, CEO Tim Buckley went as far as saying: “You will never see a Bitcoin fund from us. We stay away from assets which don’t have a sound basic economic value and don’t generate income or cash flow.”[40]

Conflict of Generations

Similar to Warren Buffett, who misses no opportunity to hate on Bitcoin, companies such as Vanguard have no interest in making Bitcoin sound too interesting as an investment. They want their clients to continue to put their money in traditional investment opportunities. There is more behind this all than the mere discussion and discourse about the Blockchain technology. It is a generation conflict. Millennials, people aged between 18 and 39, are deeply influenced by the last financial crisis. This coincides with the fact that this is the generation which grew up with internet access. A whole row of studies show that Millennials are the most likely to be interested in crypto assets.[41]

The combination of technological trust and wariness towards the financial system is a dangerous one for providers of legacy investment products. It is to be expected that established players such as Buffet and Vanguard will be become more and more outspoken against Bitcoin. Others such as Goldman have already decided to go a more proactive route and be first in line when it comes to institutions embracing the new sector. And others like J.P. Morgan have proven that they can and must change their thinking.

Without a doubt, the economic success of the partially dubious crypto exchanges must have drawn the attention of the big players to the sector itself. The top 10 exchanges generate roughly USD 3 million in fees per day. Just the top two, Binance and OKEx, have a daily trading volume of approximately USD 1.7 billion. “The exchanges and transaction processors are the biggest winners in the space because they’re allowing people to transact and participate in this burgeoning sector,” said Gil Luria, an equity analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co, who reviewed the methodology for the revenue estimates. “There’s a big business there and it would not surprise me if they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and possibly even billions a year.”[42]

Of course, at the moment it is still unclear if the crypto exchanges of today will even be around tomorrow. The current market leader Binance is just over a year old. If established players such as Nasdaq really set their sights on these markets, they will subsequently also be able to pull in a lot of investors. This is however in the distant future. There are still a few battles to be fought – also in the generational conflict of the exchanges.

One player deserves special attention: Coinbase. Subject of many chats within crypto forums is the speculation of which coin will next be released on the Coinbase platform. The “standard” app for Bitcoin newbies has more than 20 million clients – more than the traditional US investment management firm Charles Schwab. The US company is currently expanding in many directions simultaneously. The Coinbase app is available in 32 different countries and has additionally initiated a crypto fund. The fund is currently only available for US investors and only if they decide to invest at least half a million USD. The name of the new venture speaks volumes of where this ride will take us: Coinbase Asset Management.[43]

Coinbase has its own exchange, Gdax, which will soon be relaunched as “Coinbase Pro”. Additionally, Coinbase recently purchased Paradex. This “decentralized” exchange not only takes care of the storage of tokens of their customers, but also allows users to directly trade with each other. Speculators say the purchase of Paradex is paving the way for Ethereum based ERC20 tokens to be launched on the Coinbase exchange. Currently the app only offers four cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash.[44] Ethereum Classic could also be added soon.

Last but not least, Coinbase has also entered the Venture Capital sector and has initiated their own incubator fund for start-ups in the crypto sector. “It could be possible that we start investing in companies that look a lot like competition for Coinbase. We have a long-term perspective and believe that different approaches are healthy and viable”, Coinbase stated on their blog.

Bitcoin Has Become Mainstream

Predictions are always tricky. But the abundance of activity within the Bitcoin sector since the crash of January 2018 goes to show that cryptocurrencies are far from dead. It is however still most probable that only a few of the Boom phase projects will survive in the long run. The overall dominance of Bitcoin is not in danger at the moment.

The infrastructure side of things promises to be very active in the coming months. We will stay tuned. New players such as Binance are attacking companies like Coinbase. In addition, there is a continuously growing list of newcomers: from Goldman all the way to start-ups like Revolut or exchanges such as Nasdaq. Within the crypto market itself, there are of course also many promising projects. While the market is still recovering from the ICO Bubble, new coins which aren’t based on the classic Blockchain are gaining traction. One example is the Iota project which is already pretty popular in Europe, and is investigated in length in next chapter of this report.

Bitcoin and the crypto sector have become mainstream. We won’t find out what this all really means until we have finally come out the other side of this valley of doom. As with most things in life, in hindsight we will be wiser as to where the real bottom of the Bitcoin price in 2018 was and if we have already seen it or not.

[1] See “Russia Busts Crypto Miners at Secret Nuclear Weapons Lab,” Stepan Kravchenko, Bloomberg, February 9, 2018.

[2] See “Naval Academy Rocked by Drug Scandal; Ring Bought Cocaine With Bitcoin,” Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, February.

[3] See “Bitcoin’s ‘Death Cross’ Looms as Strategist Eyes $2,800 Level,” Todd White and Eddie van der Walt, Bloomberg, March 16, 2018.

[4] See “Crypto Hedge Fund Says Bitcoin Has Bottomed Out,” Camila Russo, Bloomberg, April 12, 2018.

[5] See “The Fundamentals Driving Crypto Trading? There Aren’t Any,” Julie Segal, Institutional Investor, May 24, 2018.

[6] See “A Short Introduction to the World of Cryptocurrencies,” Aleksander Berentsen and Fabian Schär, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 2018, 100(1), pp. 1-16.

[7] See “Making Sense of Bitcoin Price Levels,” Joost van der Burgt, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, April 2018.

[8] See “Inside The Bizarre Upside-Down Bankruptcy of Mt. Gox,” Adrianne Jeffries, The Verge, March 22, 2018.

[9] See “Mt. Gox Trustee Sold Half a Billion Dollars Worth of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash,” Trustnodes, March 7, 2018.

[10] See “Bitcoin’s Tokyo Whale Sold $400 Million and He’s Not Done Yet,” Go Onomitsu, Bloomberg, March 7, 2018.

[11] See “Get Ready to See Most Cryptocurrencies Hit Zero, Goldman Says,” Kana Nishizawa, Bloomberg, February 7, 2018.

[12] See “Bitcoin Obituaries,” 99Bitcoins, 2018.

[13] See “Blankfein Says He’s Just Doing ‘God’s Work’,” Dealbook, The New York Times, November 9, 2009.

[14] See “Goldman Sachs to Open a Bitcoin Trading Operation,” Nathanial Popper, The New York Times, May 2, 2018.

[15] See “The CME recorded an all time record volume of its 5-lot BTC futures yesterday,” Jon Najarian, Investitute, April 26, 2018.

[16] See “One in five financial institutions consider cryptocurrency trading, says survey,” Reuters, April 24, 2018.

[17] See “Jamie Dimon Slams Bitcoin as a ‘Fraud’,” Hugh Son, Hannah Levitt and Brian Louis, Bloomberg, September 12, 2017.

[18] See “JPMorgan launches crypto strategy months after Dimon ‘fraud’ warning,” Paul Clarke, Financial News London, May 17, 2018.

[19] See “JPMorgan has asked 29-year-old highflier to draw up a cryptocurrency strategy,” Oscar Williams-Grut, Business Insider Deutschland, May 17, 2018.

[20] See “JPMorgan’s Wall Street chief talk China, bitcoin, Amazon, and is preparing for an inevitable big downturn in stocks,” Hugh Son, CNBC, May 16, 2018.

[21] See “George Soros Prepares to Trade Cryptocurrencies,” Alastair Marsh, Saijel Kishan and Katherine Burton, Bloomberg, April 6, 2018.

[22] See “It Started With the Rockefellers: Now it’s Takin on Crypto,” Robert Hackett, Fortune, April 6, 2018.

[23] See “VC Firm With Rockefeller Roots Turns to Crypto Startup,” Olga Kharif, Bloomberg, April 25, 2018.

[24] See “Rockefeller’s VC Arm Venrock Partners With Coinfund, Exec Highlights Focus On Long Term,” Molly J. Zuckerman, CoinTelegraph, April 8, 2018.

[25] See “Blochain-Startups haben dieses Jahr bereits mehr Investment bekommen als 2017,” Jakob Steinschaden, Fortune, April 6, 2018.

[26] See “Venture Capital Surges Into Crypto Startups,” Olga Kharif and Camila Russo, Bloomberg, March 26, 2018.

[27] See “46% of Last Year’s ICOs Have Failed Already,” Kai Sedgwick, Bitcoin.com, February 23, 2018.

[28] See “World’s Second Most Valuable Cryptocurrency Under Regulatory Scrutiny,” Dave Michaels and Paul Vigna, The Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2018.

[29] See “Bitcoin and ether are not securities, but some initial coin offerings may be, SEC official says. “ Bob Pisani, CNBC, June 18, 2018.

[30] See “The SEC Is Finally Cracking Down On ICOS,” Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, March 1, 2018.

[31] See “Founders of cryptocurrency backed by Floyd Mayweather charged with fraud by SEC,” Arjun Kharpal, CNBC, April 3, 2018.

[32] See “ICO Howeycoins,” Investor.gov, 2018.

[33] See “U.S. Launches Criminal Probe into Bitcoin Price Manipulation,” Matt Robinson and Tom Schoenberg, Bloomberg, May 24, 2018.

[34] See “Probe into Bitcoin Price Manipulation Probably ‘A Good Thing’, Novogratz Says,” Camila Russo, Bloomberg, May 24, 2018.

[35] See “ICOs: EU-Kommission plant in naher Zukunft keine einheitliche Regulierung,” Bastian Kellhofer, Trending Topics, March 9, 2018.

[36] See “An Even-handed Approach to Crypto-Assets,” Christine Lagarde, IMF Blog, April 16, 2018.

[37] See “Nasdaq May Launch Bitcoin Trading in October 2018,” Marko Vidrih, Medium, April 27, 2018.

[38] See “Circle Acquire Poloniex,” Sean Neville and Jeremy Allaire, Circle, February 26, 2018.

[39] See tweet by Nathanial Popper on Twitter, February 26, 2018.

[40] See “Vanguard chief: You will never see a bitcoin fund from us,” Thomas Franck, CNBC, January 22, 2018.

[41] See “A bitcoin bubble made in millennial heaven,” Financial Times, 2018.

[42] See “Crypto Exchanges Are Raking in Billions of Dollars,” Camila Russo, Bloomberg, March 5, 2018.

[43] See “The SPY of Crypto? Coinbase Launches Cryptocurrency Index Fund,” Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge, March 6, 2018.

[44] See “Coinbase acquires cryptocurrency trading platform Paradex,” Anna Irrera, CNBC, May 23, 2018.

Bubble or Hyperdeflation?

Bubble or Hyperdeflation

Since December, Bitcoin’s price dropped 69 % from a high of $19,224 to a low of $5,920 in early February.[1] The last time Bitcoin’s price plummeted this much was after the 2013 rally when it reached $1,000 per coin for the first time. During a 411-day correction, Bitcoin’s price dropped 87% from $1,163 on November 30, 2013 to $152 on January 14, 2015. The general narrative in the media is that the current downward spiral is the bursting of the bubble; however, the fundamentals of the technology have not changed since December. This article explains what a bubble is, why some senior market analysts believe that Bitcoin is a bubble, and why they may be right if Bitcoin does not become widely adopted as a store of value or medium of exchange.

What is a Financial Bubble?

Prior to the 20th century, bubbles were few and far between. The Dutch tulip mania in the 1630s, the British South Sea Bubble of the 1710s, and the French Mississippi Company of the 1710s are the most commonly cited examples of early bubbles. In recent times, the term “bubble” has been applied to collapses of several financial asset classes, including the 1930s stock market crash, the 1980s Japanese real estate market deflation, the 1990s Asian financial market collapse, the Internet stock bubble, and the 2000s housing crisis, amongst others. The commonly used definition of a bubble is “a surge in asset prices unwarranted by the fundamentals of the asset” and an “eventually burst, causing prices to precipitously decline before stabilizing at more reasonable levels”.[2] For a familiar reference point, large tech-company stocks shrank up to 86 %, while other companies went out of business entirely during the “Internet bubble”.[3]

Two Explanations for Bubbles

1. The greater fool theory follows from Keynes’ beauty contest interpretation of stock markets.

Overly optimistic investors by overvalued assets hoping to sell them to even more overly optimistic investors in order to generate profit. The party comes to an end, when the greatest fool is left with no one to sell the overvalued asset to. The greatest fool takes the greatest loss as the financialcvalue of the asset contracts.

2. The herd mentality follows from the investment wisdom that the best predictor of tomorrow’s price is today’s price.

If cryptocurrencies are following an uptrend, and have for several years, why should the trend reverse tomorrow? However, as all financial market participants eventually learn, what goes up must go down. When enough investors begin to believe that the fundamentals of the asset do not justify the price, the bubble deflates and investors who bought in at the top, burden the loss.

A burgeoning body of academic literature has developed around the topic of causes, impacts, and indicators of bubbles. Sociologists and behavioral economists have proposed several explanations for bubbles, including the greater fool theory and herd mentality. Economic theory holds that bubbles are a recurrent and damaging feature of our financial system[4]; however, a quantitative test for determining if an asset’s price is a bubble does not exist. According to economist Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a bubble has four phases beginning with an increase in the value of an asset. Smart investors who understand the value of the technology begin building positions.

In the second phase, institutional money enters the market, and the smart money investors reinforce their positions. In the third phase, the media gets involved, and everyone starts to say that the latest guests to the party are “unsophisticated”. At this point, the smart investors and institutional investors cash out and realize their gains. The final phase is marked by a collapse in the asset’s price because investors lose confidence in the fundamentals of the asset.[5] Rodrigue’s theory is similar to the Dow theory which is the basis of technical analysis. Even though this description is strongly simplified, it may serve as a guideline for the evolution of a typical financial bubble.

18

Phases of the Typical Bubble

Institutional money has not moved into cryptocurrencies yet. Therefore, one could argue the
cryptocurrency market is either still in the smart investor phase or the cryptocurrency market
skipped the institutional investor phase and is the second bull trap. Source: Dr. Jean-Paul
Rodrigue.

The Top 5 Reasons Analysts Call Bitcoin a Bubble

Increasingly used as synonym for tulips and the tulip mania of the 1630s, Bitcoin’s long-term sustainability is garnering serious doubts. The CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, called Bitcoin a fraud when Bitcoin reached $4,000 in September of last year.[6] Recently, Paul Krugman claimed that Bitcoin is a larger bubble than the 2008 housing crisis.[7] The 100,000 percent increase in Bitcoin’s value over the past five years is considered to be unwarranted exuberance because of five main reasons.

1.) Chart Looks Like a Bubble

In 2017, Bitcoin’s price rose from approximately $1,000 to $20,000. However, Bitcoin’s performance over the past three months looks like a deflating bubble. Economists Eng-Tuck Cheah and John Fry analyzed empirical data on Bitcoin’s price fluctuations and found that a bubble could explain 48.7% of Bitcoin’s price movement.[8] Similar results were found by MacDonell (2014) and Garcia et al. (2014). The following chart shows the most recent price collapse that has revitalized the bubble argument on social media.

19

Bitcoin’s Recent Run-up and Correction

2.) Bitcoin Has No Use Cases

Bitcoin’s original purpose was to be a medium of exchange unbacked by government. However, critics claim that a new monetary system cannot be created out of thin air by a few cryptographers in Palo Alto. This argument consists of two main parts: first, Bitcoin does not have any use case outside of being a medium of exchange; second, Bitcoin is not a tangible commodity.

The proponents of the first argument claim that fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar and the euro have value because the government backs them and because you can pay your taxes in them. Similarly, gold has value because it can be used in industrial applications. Following this logic, Bitcoin has no value because it cannot be used to pay taxes in most jurisdictions and it has no physical applications. The second argument follows from Austrian Economics and Ludwig von Mises’ regression theorem. The regression theorem states that the purchasing power of fiat today can be traced back to purchasing power of fiat yesterday which can eventually be traced back to when fiat was convertible for gold and other commodities.[9]

The theory holds that the purchasing power of money can be regressed to a time when money was not used as money but as a commodity. Gold’s original purchasing power was established on the free market through the forces of supply and demand because gold could be directly used as jewelry. Since Bitcoin is digital, some analysts argue that Bitcoin’s purchasing power is backed by nothing. Instead, speculation is the main reason the price keeps going up. According to this logic, the price will plummet when speculators stop speculating because Bitcoin is not legal tender, and it has no industrial demand to support its price on
the market.

3.) Bitcoin Has the Highest Volatility of Any Asset Class

Bitcoin’s original purpose was to be an electronic cash system. Critics claim that Bitcoin is too volatile to be a store of value or a unit of account, and therefore, Bitcoin is a bubble. Volatility is generally measured by calculating the standard deviation of the asset’s return. The Bitcoin Volatility Index tracks Bitcoin’s price fluctuations. As shown in the next chart, Bitcoin’s rolling 30-day volatility has been over 6 % during the past month. At the same time gold and the S&P 500’s rolling 30-day volatility was 1 %. More volatility means more risk. According to this statistic, Bitcoin is a significantly riskier asset than gold or the S&P 500. Bitcoin has a 30 % correction every quarter, while the S&P 500 has had 12 corrections of 30 % or higher since its inception in 1929.[10] The main point is that Bitcoin’s volatility makes it poor money, and if it is poor money, then why does it have value?

20

30-Day Rolling Volatility of Bitcoin, Gold, and the S&P 500 from 2013–2018

4.) The Supply is Unlimited

Another prominent reason why Bitcoin is called a bubble is because the supply of cryptocurrencies is unlimited. The open-source and digital nature of Bitcoin enables thousands of new cryptocurrencies to be created for free. As the Crypto Concepts chapter on software forks explains, 19 hard forks of Bitcoin were created, and some of them had an impact on Bitcoin’s price. In addition to hard forks, new tokens can be created on the Ethereum blockchain with only 66 lines of code, and all 66 lines of code can be copy-pasted from online sources. There are even YouTube tutorials on how to create new cryptocurrencies in under six minutes. In 2017, over 472 new cryptocurrencies were launched. According to this argument, the demand for cryptocurrencies is larger than the supply. However, since the demand is finite, and the supply is theoretically infinite, the bubble will eventually collapse, and investors will lose billions of dollars.

5.) An Even Better Technology Will Replace Bitcoin

Bitcoin has only been around since 2009, and the technology has evolved from being a free and fast payment system to an expensive and slow payment system. Critics of Bitcoin claim that if it does not implode because of other factors, Bitcoin will be replaced by a cryptocurrency with superior technological features. Specifically, Bitcoin will be replaced by a cryptocurrency that does not require billions of dollars in electricity and mining hardware per year.[11] Also, post-blockchain technologies such as Hashgraph and IOTA are the talk of all blockchain conferences and meet-ups because they promise to solve the Bitcoin scaling problem. The smartest minds in the world are working on better blockchains because the reward for creating a cryptocurrency better than Bitcoin is astronomical. As fast cars replaced slow horse buggies and sleek iPhones replaced Nokia bricks, the adage goes that Bitcoin is a bubble because it will not be around forever.

The Asset Bubble Checklist

The asset’s price skyrockets.

Bitcoin’s price rose by 1,900% in 2017. Over the past five years, Bitcoin had a 100,000% return on investment.

Everyone is talking about the asset.

Even the American singer Katy Perry sported cryptocurrency logos on her nails to show enthusiasm for what some investors call a new asset class.

When people quit their day jobs to become investors in the asset.

Thousands of young people are quitting their job in hopes of becoming #CryptoRich. The South Korean 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon left math for Bitcoin, “I no longer want to become a math teacher… I’ve studied this industry [cryptocurrencies] for more than ten hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.”

Investors are taking on debt to purchase the asset.

“We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin. … People do credit cards, equity lines.” – Joseph Borg, President of the North American Securities Administrators Association.

The Root Cause of Financial Bubbles

In the past 20 years, we have experienced the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, and now stock and bond markets are close to their all-time highs. Some skeptics are calling the current economy the “Everything Bubble” because every asset class is hitting an all-time high. Around the world, markets have entered unchartered territory. In the U.S, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 26,000 for the first time in history. The Case-Shiller Real Estate Index is back at its 2006 high. In Europe, trillions of euros have been poured into corporate and government bonds that have negative yields, and the UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index is the highest it has been since the 1989 real estate downturn.

However, the increase in price of real estate, stocks, bonds (and cryptocurrencies) cannot be explained by a fundamental improvement in the economy. Former FED Chairman, Alan Greenspan, referred to the Dow’s 44 % increase since Trump’s election and the bond market as financial bubbles. Other critical analysts like Peter Schiff regularly point out that industrial nations do not have real productivity growth. While financial markets are roaring, the economy still seems to have severe problems.

The increase in asset prices does not match a complimentary increase in economic activity; however, another variable is highly correlated: namely, the money supply. Throughout history, excess money has been present before every single bubble.

What is Money and Why Is Excess Money a Bad Thing?

Several economists have observed that excess money is the catalyst of unsustainable financial bubbles; however, economists do not even agree on the definition of “money”. Mainstream monetary theory suggests that money is a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value. In contrast, the Austrian school of economics holds that money’s main purpose is being a medium of exchange, while unit of account and store of value are secondary.[12]

Definition of Money

We asked two economists for their definitions of money: Associate Professor of Economics at WU Vienna, Dr. Guido Schäfer, and Research Assistant Professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, Dr. Robert Murphy.

Schäfer: To serve as money, an object must fulfil the functions of a medium of exchange, a store of value, a unit of account and of legal tender. As of now, bitcoin fulfils these functions only to such limited degrees that I do not think it can be considered as money.

Murphy: Mises argued that a money was a medium of exchange that was generally accepted within the community. This is a fuzzier criterion; the dividing line between money and non-money is not very sharp. So, I think the fair test for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is something like this: If we ever get to the point where the people in a community with at least 1,000 people could manage to get by only using the cryptocurrency to make purchases (like paying rent, buying groceries, paying the utility company, etc.), then it would clearly be a money.”

To reconcile the two branches of economics, one possibility is that money’s value comes can be from each of money’s functions. For example, some people demand money because they want a medium of exchange; others demand money because they want a store of value. The purpose of a medium of exchange is to exchange between two real assets; however, a medium of exchange does not necessarily need to be a store of value and vice versa. In Principals of Economics, Carl Menger argued that certain goods such as livestock, tea, and slaves functioned as a medium of

exchange, while precious metals, jewels, and pearls were used as a store of value In early agrarian societies, cattle were primarily used as a medium of exchange while wealth was accumulated in salt. In Austrian School for Investors, Taghizadegan, et al. (2014), explain how African tribal chiefs hoarded ivory before European merchants began using it as a medium of exchange.[13] Since the 1600s, gold has been kept in clearing houses and depositories as a store of value while paper certificates of deposit became the most marketable medium of exchange.

In the current financial system, the supply of money is increased via credit expansion triggered by artificially low interest rates. Due to the architecture of fiat money systems, central banks are authorized to create money out of thin air.[14] A large portion of the newly created money is channeled directly into financial assets, which raises the prices of those assets. Meanwhile, a small amount goes to entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to expand operations.[15]

In addition to indirectly raising the demand for financial assets by pumping newly printed money into financial markets, printing money debases the currency. Each newly printed dollar decreases the purchasing power of the other dollars circulating in the economy. When central banks create new money, they do not create new goods or services. Therefore, the new money can only be spent on the existing supply of goods and services. Since the demand for goods and services goes up and the supply is fixed, price inflation ensures. Due to the inflationary bias of the fiat money system the currencies are no good long-term store of value. Gold still is seen as a store of value. If one denominates paper-currencies in Gold one might get a different perspective of the long-termstability of fiat money.

21

Fiat Currencies in Terms of Gold (Logarithmic Scale)

Under fiat monetary systems, average Joes and Janes can no longer store their money under the mattress for safekeeping. If they do, price inflation will eat away the purchasing power of their savings by 2 % to 7 % per year based on official and unofficial calculations, respectively. Permanent money debasement discourages saving and encourages consumption spending on cars, clothing, and vacations. People who are determined to save money are forced to take on additional risk to preserve the purchasing power of their savings over time. Instead of saving their money in bank accounts, savers are forced to look for other long term stores of values like stocks, bonds, and real estate.

The main problem is that printing money is only a short-term strategy. If the purchasing power of a currency depreciates too quickly, demand for that currency decreases. In hyperinflations, demand for holding currency tends toward zero. Subsequently, the currency becomes worthless. However, increases in the money supply happen all the time. Harvard professors Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart analyzed the past 800 years of our global financial history and found that governments always increase the money supply and that frequently governments print so much money that confidence in the money collapses.[16]

The following table shows 21 governments inflated their currency in Europe, Oceania, and North America between 1800 through 2008.

22

Severe Inflation in Europe, North America and Oceania from 1800 – 2008

In summary, newly created money from low interest rate policies and limited ways to save money have led to excess cash in the economy. The excess cash must go somewhere. Currently, the excess cash has found its way into stocks, bonds, real estate, collectables, and cryptocurrencies. Like all of the bubbles before, removing the excess cash will remove the bubble. If central banks raise interest rates too much, the nominal growth of financial markets will slow down or even decline.

Why Bitcoin May Not Be a Bubble

It is true that low interest policy and demand for a secure way to save are fueling part of Bitcoin’s rise in price. If central banks stop debasing the purchasing power of fiat currencies and people can return to the good old days of saving cash in their bank accounts, a large portion of Bitcoin’s appeal will vanish. In contrast, Bitcoin’s price will go much higher if fiat currencies continue to be a poor vehicle for saving. The number one reason Bitcoin may not be a bubble stems from Bitcoin’s technological qualities that make it a superior way of saving value. The upward price trend and speculation around Bitcoin stems from Bitcoin’s potential to be a global and permissionless system of managing wealth that cannot be confiscated. Like with Gold, one also gets a different perspective denominating the USD in Bitcoin. We would not expect the steep decline of the USD to continue, however the deflationary nature of Bitcoin would imply that it has more value relative to an ever inflating USD (or any other FIAT money).

23

USD in Terms of Bitcoin (Logarithmic Scale)

Also, the five reasons why analysts call Bitcoin a bubble can be countered. First, it is true that Bitcoin’s price fluctuates heavily; however, this does not mean that Bitcoin is not a good investment. To avoid buying at all-time highs, several investors invest a small amount of money in cryptocurrencies every month to gain exposure at an average price. This strategy is commonly referred to as cost averaging. Highly volatile assets have the advantage, that a small position of a portfolio has a reasonable impact on the overall performance. If sized correctly a saver/investor may be able to handle the volatility much better. The second argument that Bitcoin has no value because it has no use cases collapses upon closer inspection as well. The 19th century economist Carl Menger observed that value is subjective. Each individual values Bitcoin for a different reason. The market price is a surrogate of information concerning the individual preferences of consumers in society. If one Bitcoin costs $10,000, this means that a lot of people around the world value Bitcoin even though it is not a physical commodity.

The third argument that Bitcoin is the most volatile asset class is also not evidence that investors should avoid Bitcoin. Many investors specifically target volatile asset classes with active trading strategies. Fourth, any analyst or economist that says the supply of cryptocurrencies is infinite does not fully understand the technology. Creating cryptocurrencies by copying and pasting code is free and can be used to increase the supply of cryptocurrencies. However, creating a new cryptocurrency does not mean it will have a network of users. Creating a network of users requires scarce resources such as capital and labor. Although the supply of cryptocurrencies is technically unlimited, the supply of global cryptocurrency networks is limited. The final point regarding Bitcoin being replaced by a better technology is probably the strongest argument against Bitcoin. However, Bitcoin is open-source, and many developers say that Bitcoin code change the underlying code to reflect consumer preferences. If another coin, such as Bitcoin Cash, begins to overtake Bitcoin, the original Bitcoin can adopt Bitcoin Cash’s features if necessary.

Three Potential Outcomes

Bitcoin was designed to fulfill three functions of money: store of value, medium of exchange, and unit of account. Bitcoin’s inherent scarcity removes the problem of excess money and currency debasement from the financial system. The total number of units is capped at 21 million and its inflation rate is more predictable than fiat or gold. Similar to Gold, Bitcoin allows Joes and Janes to save without having their savings diluted slowly by ever increasing money supply (or quickly in the case of hyperinflation). In both cases there may well be phases, where a saver has to be willing to lose nominal purchasing power for a longer period of time. However, Bitcoin does not only enable secure saving, this technology also allows people to directly send their savings to other people without converting into fiat or any other asset. The Bitcoin network does not depend on intermediaries. Stocks, bonds, real estate, and fine art, all depend on government stability and efficient courts that uphold legal contracts. Even owning gold was outlawed in the U.S. from 1933–1974. Today, it is only possible to move $10K worth of gold out of the U.S. at once.

Given Bitcoin’s qualitative features, there are three possible outcomes for Bitcoin.

1.) Bitcoin Becomes A Store of Value

Bitcoin’s qualities of durability, portability, fungibility, divisibility, scarcity, and non-confiscatability are attracting an injection of trust from users. The nominal and real price of Bitcoin in terms of the good and services that it can purchase is increasing because more and more people are demanding it. Since the quantity is fixed, all of the fluctuations in demand directly impact the price of Bitcoin. In contrast, investors are withdrawing trust from fiat currencies. In the U.S., quantitative easing 1,2, and 3 have resulted in over $12 trillion newly printed dollars. In January, the dollar index hit its lowest point since 1987 and its lowest exchange rate with the yuan since 1994.[17]

Velocity, or how often a currency is spent, is one way to estimate a currency’s value. Gresham’s law says that overvalued money flows into circulation while undervalued money is hoarded. Named after the 16th century financier Thomas Gresham, the law states that people hold on to money that is expected to retain its value and spend money that is expected to lose its value. Thus, inflationary money changes faster than deflationary money. The next chart compares the velocity of the dollar and Bitcoin. In this graph, velocity of the dollar is the ratio of nominal GDP to the M1 money supply, velocity of Bitcoin is calculated as the ratio of Bitcoin’s transaction volume in USD to Bitcoin’s market capitalization in USD.

24

Historical Velocity of Bitcoin and the U.S. Dollar

When the media has negative reports concerning Bitcoin, such as China is outlawing ICOs or the electricity use is unsustainable, the perception that Bitcoin can become a global store of value is weakened, and the price drops. A crisis of confidence leads to investors pulling out their investments. Similarly, investors inject trust when there is good news about Bitcoin’s adoption such as the Lightning Network or CFTC Chairman Christopher Giancarlo’s positive comments about Bitcoin at the hearing on blockchain on February 6 of this year.

If Bitcoin is adapted as store of value in the long term, the current period of volatility may be referred to as Bitcoin’s “hyperdeflation” phase, and this is the first time in history we are experiencing this type of economic phenomena. Investors are speculating whether or not Bitcoin will become digital gold, and rightly so. Due to the inflationary design of fiat money, Bitcoin exhibits interesting properties relative to fiat money as store of value. If Bitcoin achieves this goal, the price may level out and volatility could fall drastically.

2.) Bitcoin Becomes A Store of Value and a Medium of Exchange

The original Bitcoin white paper written by Satoshi Nakamoto states that Bitcoin was intended to be an electronic cash system; however, many people believe that Bitcoin can never become global and permission less money. According to Dr. Schäfer (and several other experts), the authorities will crack down on the technology if people really started to use it. In addition to legal uncertainty, Bitcoin’s high transaction fees and network latency make it cumbersome to use as a medium of exchange. If one mistake in the receiver’s address is made, the Bitcoin are gone forever. If the Bitcoin are sent to an Ethereum address by accident, the Bitcoin are gone forever. If a coffee is bought with Bitcoin, the merchant has to wait at least ten minutes before they know if the payment was valid.

If a transaction is sent in the wrong amount, there is no way to do a chargeback or file a dispute. Given the technological problems, the majority of Bitcoin users do not use it as a medium of exchange. Our current payment system is easier to use. We already have credit cards, banks, and PayPal to facilitate our payments to merchants around the world. On the other hand, technologies such as the Lightning Network and SegWit may eventually make Bitcoin a good medium of exchange as well. If Bitcoin can scale to become a global medium of exchange, its purchasing power will increase because it will be able to serve three distinct functions: storing value, transmitting value, and ultimately being a unit of account.

We contacted two monetary economists, which have different views on this topic. The following table summarizes the views of the professors on why Bitcoin has value, and whether or not Bitcoin is a bubble.

25

Will Bitcoin Become Money?

3.) Bitcoin Becomes Neither and Collapses

Bitcoin’s success so far has been nothing short of a miracle. Since Bitcoin’s inception in 2009, Bitcoin has been declared “dead” hundreds of times in the media.[18] The Bitcoin network has several threats including hacking the SHA-256 encryption algorithm, being outlawed by governments, a 51 % attack, and solar flares bringing down the Internet. If Bitcoin fails to become a global store of value or medium of exchange, the value and subsequently the price of Bitcoin will fall.

Conclusion

The Bitcoin revolution is about having a way to store and transmit value that does not depend on central bank monetary policy, capital controls, or property rights. The reason people pump their paychecks into real estate, bonds, and stocks is not because these assets make a better medium of exchange. These assets make a better store of value than fiat currency, and Bitcoin has the technological features to become an even better store of value than these assets. If Bitcoin manages to additionally achieve worldwide adoption as a medium of exchange, the price of Bitcoin will most probably have a spectacular return going forward. If Bitcoin fails, the price will collapse, and it will go down in history as one of the largest bubbles of all time.

Eighteen years after the infamous highs of the tech-markets in the year 2000 most companies have embraced the opportunities of the Internet. Today, the Internet is definitely not referred to as a bubble. Similar to internet stocks, many of the cryptocurrencies may be gone in five years from now; however, the dream of a decentralized and private store of value has been born, and this will inspire an onslaught of technologies until the mission is complete. Diversification is a key component of building a portfolio that retains value in the long run. The major takeaway is that a little bit of gold, a little bit of cryptocurrencies, and a little bit of fiat may provide investors with a type of insurance against changes in the future. Future generations may use a combination of cryptocurrencies, commodities, and fiat currencies depending on which money serves their needs the best for each of their different goals.

We want to sincerely thank Professor Dr. Guido Schäfer, Professor Dr. Robert Murphy, and Mark Valek for contributing to this chapter. Guido Schäfer is an associate professor of economics at WU Vienna. Robert P. Murphy is a research assistant professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University. He is also a senior fellow at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. Mark Valek is a fund manager and research analyst at Incrementum AG.

[1] Bitcoin traded above $20,000 on some exchanges.

[2] “Bubble”, Investopedia, 2018, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bubble.asp.

[3] Jim Edwards, “One of the kings of the ‘90s dot-com bubble now faces 20 years in prison,” Business Insider UK, Dec 6, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/where-are-the-kings-of-the-1990s-dot-com-bubble-bust-2016-12.

[4] Preston Teeter and Jörgen Sandberg, “Cracking the enigma of asset bubbles with narratives,” Strategic Organization 15, No. 1 (2017), http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1476127016629880#articleCitationDownloadContainer.

[5] Jean-Paul Rodrigue, The Geography of Transport Systems. New York: Routledge, 2017. https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch7en/conc7en/stages_in_a_bubble.html

[6] Jamie Dimon retracted his statement in an interview on Fox Business in early January, https://www.ft.com/content/e04e359a-e9e9-3f8e-8e2f-3f4373e5efb0.

[7] Jacqui Frank, Kara Chin and Joe Ciolli, “Paul Krugman: Bitcoin is a more obvious bubble than housing was,” Business Insider, Dec 15, 2017, http://uk.businessinsider.com/paul-krugman-says-bitcoin-is-a-bubble-2017-12?r=US&IR=T.

[8] Eng-Tuck Chea and John Fry, “Speculative Bubbles in Bitcoin markets? An empirical investigation into the fundamental value of Bitcoin,” Economic Letters 130 (May 2015), pp. 32–36, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165176515000890.

[9] Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (1912).

[10] Jake Weber, “The Bitcoin Bubble Expained in 4 Charts,” Mauldin Economics, Nov 13, 2017,

http://www.mauldineconomics.com/editorial/the-bitcoin-bubble-explained-in-4-charts#.

[11] Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index,” Digi Economist, 2018, https://digiconomist.net/bitcoin-energy-consumption.

[12] Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (1912).

[13] Rahim Taghizadegan, Ronald Schöferle and Mark Valek, Austrian School for Investors: Austrians Investing between Inflation and Deflation. Mises Institute, 2014. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D2A4Z7S/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1.

[14] Jörg G. Hülsmann, The Ethics of Money Production. Mises Institute, 2008.

[15] People who are unwilling or unable to take on debt do not directly receive any of the “economic stimulus”.

[16] Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, This Time is Different. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

[17] Peter Schiff, „Ep. 324: Obama & Yellen Strand Trump & Powell in Dodge,“ YouTube, Jan 31, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NN7n3ABYx4&feature=share.

[18] “Bitcoin Obituaries: Bitcoin has dies 259 times,” 99Bitcoins, 2018, https://99bitcoins.com/obituary-stats/.

War Within Bitcoin

War Within Bitcoin

“… Bitcoin is an excellent idea. It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right.

Finally, Bitcoin will go through hick-ups (hiccups). It may fail; but then it will be easily reinvented as we now know how it works. In its present state, it may not be convenient for transactions, not good enough to buy your decaffeinated expresso macchiato at your local virtue-signaling coffee chain. It may be too volatile to be a currency, for now. But it is the first organic currency.

But its mere existence is an insurance policy that will remind governments that the last object establishment could control, namely, the currency, is no longer their monopoly. This gives us, the crowd, an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.”

Nassim Taleb

From now on, every edition of the Crypto Research Report will include a chapter dedicated solely to covering coins and tokens that are relevant for financial market participants. At the moment, the most debated coins are Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. In this chapter, we will review the arguments being made on both sides, and we explain the steps we are taking to hedge Bitcoin’s risks of being replaced by a better technology.

Bitcoin Cash came into existence on August 1, 2017 after a hard fork of Bitcoin.[1] Believers in Bitcoin have split into opposing fractions. Both groups believe that Bitcoin’s value comes from being a fast and affordable global payment system. The disagreement is about how to achieve that goal. One camp, the Bitcoin Cash camp, believes that Bitcoin should have bigger blocks now. Another camp believes that bigger blocks may be inevitable, but they would like to try all other options before resorting to a hard fork. This camp is researching and developing tools such as SegWit, The Lightning Network, Sharding, and Schnorr signatures. Other camps believe that big blocks will never be a feasible solution to Bitcoin’s scaling problem. To take a step back, the first section explores Bitcoin’s scalability problem. The second section compares the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, and the final segment discusses how mining hash power may be a good proxy for sentiment in cryptocurrency markets.

a. Scaling a Blockchain

The main problem that the cryptocurrency community is debating is how to garner widespread adoption for Bitcoin. As argued in the featured article of this edition, “Bubble or Hyperdeflation?” Bitcoin’s value can be explained by being a global and permissionless store of value and payment system. However, scalability issues with the blockchain technology are hindering further Bitcoin adoption. The high transaction fees and latency on the Bitcoin network has ruined user experience. The transaction fees on the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks are currently too high to facilitate micropayments. The rise of transaction fees has pushed applications onto other more affordable blockchain protocols. For example, the nanopayment token, Satoshi Pay, uses the Stellar blockchain because their business model relies on low transaction fees.[2]

The drama began when Bitcoin developers proposed Segregated Witness (SegWit) as a solution to the scaling debate. Invented in 2015 by Bitcoin developer Pieter Wuille, SegWit reduces the amount of data required for each transaction. Since each Bitcoin block has a data limit of 1 MB, reducing the data required for each transaction means that the network can process more transactions. Segregated Witness reduces the data required for each transaction by removing data related to signatures or segregating the witness from the transaction.

On February 21, 2016, developers and firms in the cryptocurrency space came together to discuss Bitcoin’s scalability problem. In what became known as the Hong Kong Agreement, members of the Bitcoin community agreed to release Segregated Witness as a short-term solution to the scaling problem. To achieve this agreement, the proponents of Segregated Witness had to find a compromise with the so-called big blockers who wanted to scale Bitcoin by increasing the block size. The compromise was that Bitcoin’s block size would be increased once the developers had built a safe hard fork implementation. This implementation was supposed to increase Bitcoin’s block size from 1 MB to 2 MB.

As shown in Figure 11, the Bitcoin transaction fee hit a high of $55.16 on December 22, 2017. Meanwhile, Bitcoin Cash flaunted fees well below $1. Network latency, or how long it takes for a transaction to be confirmed on the network, also reached record times during January. As of now, each transaction takes approximately eight days to be confirmed on the network on average. In contrast, the average time for a Bitcoin Cash transactions confirmation is ten minutes.[3] This number can be compared to Ethereum, which takes approximately two minutes for a transaction to be confirmed in the blockchain. Given the better user experience of Bitcoin Cash, it is no wonder that Bitcoin Cash’s value relative to Bitcoin increased from 0.1 Bitcoin on August 1, 2017 to a high of 0.24 Bitcoin on December 20, 2017. Bitcoin Cash has dropped down to 0.14 Bitcoin or approximately $1,000 per coin since then.

As shown in Figure 10 Bitcoin’s market share to Bitcoin Cash has recovered a bit, but Bitcoin Cash has retained its position in the top five cryptocurrencies for several months. This could signal that market participants are not settled on the debate.

b. Bitcoin versus Bitcoin Cash

There are three main reasons why Bitcoin Cash has not toppled Bitcoin despite having lower transaction fees and confirmation times.

1.) The Proponents of Bitcoin Cash Have Conflicts of Interest

The main proponent of Bitcoin Cash is the early Bitcoin investor Roger Ver who denounced his U.S. citizenship for political reasons. Since 2011, Roger Ver has been an outspoken proponent of Bitcoin and libertarianism. Critics of Bitcoin Cash frequently point out that Roger Ver served ten months in federal prison in the U.S. However, there is plenty of evidence that Roger Ver’s interest in Bitcoin Cash is not purely financial. In 2012, Roger Ver donated money to create the Bitcoin Foundation, which supports the developers of Bitcoin. Additionally, Roger Ver has donated millions of dollars to educational charities such as the Foundation for Economic Education and Angela Keaton’s antiwar.com.

Roger Ver is a frequent guest on talk shows, and his behavior during interviews is notoriously raucous. However, Roger Ver’s profile is not the shadiest profile involved in Bitcoin Cash. Roger Ver is aligned with Jihan Wu, who is the owner of the Bitcoin mining hardware company Bitmain, and Craig Wright, who claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto.

Critics of Bitcoin Cash accuse Jihan Wu of hard-forking the Bitcoin blockchain in order to gain personal wealth. Due to a technology flaw in Bitcoin’s proof-of-work consensus algorithm, accusations have been made that Wu’s company Bitmain was able to gain a competitive advantage over other cryptocurrency miners.[4] As documented by the Bitcoin Core developer Gregory Maxwell, Bitmain may have been able to save $100 million per year. Using a patented technology called AsicBoost, Jihan Wu was able to mine block headers for candidate blocks using less electricity than other miners.

Many Bitcoin Cash supports believe that Jihan Wu was just doing business as usual. After all, savvy businessmen always find ways to cut costs. However, critics of Bitcoin Cash say that Jihan Wu spearheaded the movement to hard fork Bitcoin on August 1, 2017, because he was losing his competitive advantage over other cryptocurrency miners.

Shortly after the Hong Kong Agreement, it became apparent that not everyone in the cryptocurrency community agreed to the dictates passed down from the community members who were present at the meeting. Jihan Wu began speaking out against SegWit in favor of increasing the block size. When SegWit gained enough support in the community, Jihan Wu acted quickly to bring Bitcoin Cash into existence.

Segregated Witness removes the possibility of exploiting the AsicBoost advantage that Jihan Wu has a patent on in China. Opponents argue that miners who mine Bitcoin Cash can covertly use AsicBoost to gain an unfair advantage. Since AsicBoost is patented, Jihan Wu has a legal right to higher profits. The closed-source nature of the AsicBoost protocol can be used to centralize cryptocurrency mining even more than it is already. In Jihan Wu’s defense, he denies that his company ever used AsicBoost. Instead, he claims that he switched to Bitcoin Cash because he believes that having a larger data limit on Bitcoin blocks is the best way to scale Bitcoin.

2.) Increasing the Block Size Gives Miners an Advantage

When Bitcoin Cash did a hard fork from the Bitcoin protocol on August 1, 2017, the total amount of data that could be contained in each block increased from 1 MB to 8 MB. To put this into perspective, downloading 20 emails on to your phone requires approximately 1 MB of data. In the Bitcoin network, 1 MB of data can be processed every ten minutes, which effectively limits the number of transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain to 7 transactions per second.
For years, members in the community have been critical of this limit on the transactions. Several solutions have been proposed, including Segregated Witness, Lightning Network, and increasing the block size with a hard fork. The first two options try to solve Bitcoin’s scaling problem without a hard fork of the software.

Segregated Witness was introduced to Bitcoin on August 24, 2017, when a soft fork was released to the network. However, most Bitcoin nodes have not upgraded their version of the Bitcoin software, and therefore, Segregated Witness is only used in approximately 14 % of all Bitcoin transactions. In addition to SegWit, the Bitcoin community has been working on the Lightning Network since 2015. Invented by Joseph Poon and Thaddeus Dryja, the Lightning Network is an additional payment system that is built on top of Bitcoin. As discussed in the following section, the Lightning Network is already reducing the costs of using Bitcoin.

“3 million today. Let’s say that in two years, we have 30 million people. To maintain exactly the same level of fees as we have today, we need a block that is 10 MB in order of magnitude bigger. Five years from that, bitcoin gets really successful and we need to get 300 million people to use it. Now we need 100 MB blocks.”

Andreas Antonopoulos

Unlike SegWit and the Lightning Network, increasing the block size can lead to centralization. As explained by Andreas Antonopoulos, as the size of each block increases, the time it takes for each node to validate that block also increases.

A node cannot begin searching for a new block until they have validated the last block. Therefore, the miner who found the last block has an advantage over the other miners. Even if it only takes seconds for the other nodes to validate the latest block, these seconds could forfeit their chance of successfully finding the next block first. The miner who found that last block can directly begin mining the new block on their old block. This means that the miner who found the last block gains time instead of losing time, which makes the advantage even greater. To compound the problem, large miners are more likely to find the new block because they have a larger share of the mining network.

Critics of Bitcoin Cash argue that larger blocks result in centralization of the miners who validate the transactions. As Jameson Lopp of BitGo discussed on episode 1,064 of the Tom Woods Show, centralization of the network can decrease the security of the network for several reasons. Jameson argues that miners could form a cartel and change the rules of validation. For example, miners could decide that their profits are too low, and they could force a hard fork of the protocol that increases the total number of Bitcoins. Since only a few miners would be validating transactions, the average users of the network would not even be aware that the supply of Bitcoin changed.

In addition to forming a cartel, concentration of miners also makes the network more vulnerable to external attacks. For example, if Jihan Wu’s company and a few other Chinese miners become the main validators of the network, the Chinese government could easily shut down Bitcoin by making mining illegal. Centralization reduces a cryptocurrency’s censorship resistance. Censorship resistance is the ability for any user to make an account or send a transaction without permission. If only certain companies validate transactions, governments can encourage or force those companies to stop certain users from making accounts and sending transactions.

As discussed in the chapterBubble or Hyperdeflation, part of Bitcoin’s value comes from being a global and permissionless store of value. If Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies become too centralized, their ability to become a global and permissionless store of value decreases. One metric that is often cited as a way to measure the centralization of a cryptocurrency is the number of nodes and the growth of nodes over time of a cryptocurrency. Currently, there are 1,043 nodes running on the Bitcoin Cash network and 10,059 nodes running on the Bitcoin network. However, this metric has limitations. Since no permission is required to run a node, one individual or company can operate several nodes. Therefore, Bitcoin may look more decentralized than Bitcoin Cash because more nodes operate the Bitcoin software, however, this number can be manipulated. A precise measure of centralization does not currently exist.

3.) The Original Bitcoin is Scaling Slowly

If users can send fast and affordable transactions over the original Bitcoin blockchain without the centralization problem of bigger blocks, Bitcoin Cash may slowly lose users. As mentioned in the previous section, the Lightning Network and Segregated Witness are both being used to scale the original Bitcoin blockchain. Currently, 429 nodes are using the Bitcoin Lightning Network and over 1,000 payment channels are open. The Austrian cryptocurrency broker, Coinfinity, successfully completed the first Lightning Network transaction using a Bitcoin Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in early February of 2018. In addition, companies such as Coinbase are implementing Segregated Witness, which will further reduce the amount of data being sent over the Bitcoin blockchain.

c. Hash Rate as a Proxy for Market Sentiment

A proxy for how much “community support” a specific cryptocurrency has is mining hash rate.[5] If a proof-of-work coin, such as Bitcoin, has more hash power than another coin, such as Bitcoin Cash, this is a sign that more people support the former. Large investors, such as exchanges, buy cryptocurrencies from miners directly to save money on exchange fees. Subsequently, miners have more information about demand than average investors. Furthermore, many miners are directly in contact with the developers of the coins that they mine. To forecast earnings and costs, miners can ask developers if and when they plan to change the coin’s mining algorithm. For example, miners who are concerned that Ethereum will switch to proof-of-stake can ask Ethereum developers when they plan to release the proof-of-stake algorithm Casper on the network. Miners use this information to decide which graphics cards to buy because specific cards are better at mining specific algorithms.

In addition to being a metric for a coin’s popularity, the hash rate measures the security of a blockchain network. Blockchains that have more hash power are more secure than blockchains with less power. This is because double spends and 51 % attacks are harder to perform on blockchains that garner larger amounts of capital investment. The website gobitcoin.io tracks the cost of attacking the Bitcoin network over time. If an adversary wanted to attack Bitcoin, they would need to invest approximately $6 billion in hardware alone. This figure does not include electricity costs or cooling. As shown in Figure 13, Bitcoin’s mining hash rate has been considerably higher than Bitcoin Cash’s, which signals that Bitcoin is more secure and more popular than Bitcoin Cash. However, the Bitcoin Cash network still has a much higher hash rate than other cryptocurrencies. This means that Bitcoin Cash is still a potential threat to Bitcoin.

Conclusion

Blockchains are inherently slow and expensive databases, and the cryptocurrency market is divided on how to solve these problems. What we are seeing is the free market at work. Professional and institutional investors that are willing to pay high fees are using Bitcoin, while users who are less willing to pay high fees are switching to other coins such as Dash, Ripple, and Bitcoin Cash.

 Bitcoin Cash is one way to hedge the risk that Bitcoin fails. If code errors are found in second-layer technologies such as the Lightning Network, Bitcoin’s price will be negatively impacted. However, Litecoin, Dash, and lesser-known forks of Bitcoin, such as Feathercoin, also offer a hedge against Bitcoin’s experiment with the Lightning Network and Segregated Witness. Bitcoin has a stronger hash rate than Bitcoin Cash, meaning that Bitcoin is a better store of value because it is more secure. Also, Bitcoin’s code repository on GitHub is more active than Bitcoin Cash’s, which signals that more brainpower is being contributed to solving Bitcoin’s problems. Like putting eggs in many baskets instead of one, prudent investors are diversifying their portfolio across a basket of coins.

In the next edition of the Coin Corner, we plan to focus on “post blockchain” coins such as Hashgraph, and we will cover two other money coins that have unique technological features: Monero and IOTA. If there are specific coins that you would like to have covered, please email us at Crypto@Incrementum.li.

[1] For more information on hard forks, please refer to the “Crypto Concept” chapter at the end of this report.

[2] https://medium.com/@SatoshiPay/satoshipay-partners-with-stellar-org-4288ae0baa72

[3] If a cryptocurrency user pays the highest fee to send a transaction on the Bitcoin network, the average time for that transaction to be confirmed is the same as a transaction on the Bitcoin Cash network: ten minutes.

[4] https://themerkle.com/what-is-asicboost/

[5] Adam Hayes, “What Factors Give Cryptocurrencies Their Value: An Empirical Analysis,” SSRN (March 16, 2015), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2579445.

Forks

hard fork

“A ‘hard fork’ occurs when a new rule is introduced, one that is no longer compatible with old software. If you do not join the upgraded version of the blockchain, you do not get access to the new system’s user base and transactional traffic. Think PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4: In a hard fork, you cannot play PS3 games on PS4 and you cannot play PS4 games on PS3. Should a soft fork take place, sticking with the PlayStation analogy, you would be able to play PS3 games on the PS4 (but not PS4 games on PS3).”

Credit Suisse, Blockchain 2.0

In 2017, several famous forks of Bitcoin were launched including Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin Gold. More than $44 billion of market value was created via forks last year.[1] This trend will most likely continue during 2018 because forking an existing cryptocurrency is an easy way to create a new cryptocurrency. First, ICOs are illegal in several countries; however, hard forks are not. Second, forking an existing coin automatically gives the new coin a network of users: everyone who held the old coin now has access to the new coin. This eliminates the obstacle of building a network of users from scratch. Finally, forking an old coin can have lower development and marketing costs compared to creating a completely new coin.

What is a fork?

A “fork” in the context of software development describes the creation of a branch of a program that represents a different version. The concept itself is nothing new in the world of software, as it has been around since the 1980s. The first documented fork was MIT’s Lisp Machine OS in 1981.[2] In open-source projects, anyone is allowed to “fork off” a version of existing code. Forks are used when no clear agreement could be established in a developer community, and consequently, community members split off and create altered software code.

So why have forks become such a big deal in the world of cryptocurrency lately? Given the high interest in speculation of blockchain protocols such as Bitcoin, a fork has quickly become much more than just a technical term, as it also has huge financial implication for investors and speculators in cryptocurrencies. Before we assess these implications, let’s take a brief look at what types of forks can be distinguished.

What Types of Forks are There?

1.) Unplanned Forks

Unplanned forks, or consensus splits, occur every time two miners find new blocks at the same time. However, this type of fork is not permanent because the longest chain rule resolves the discrepancy automatically. As soon as the next block gets mined, the longest chain represents the valid one and the other chain is abandoned. Thus, this type of fork does not impact cryptocurrency prices.

2.) Planned Forks

Planned forks activate at a certain block time and are usually announced by the developers of a blockchain protocol. This type of fork only happens if developers intentionally change the code to update the rules of a protocol. Here, two types of protocol upgrades can be distinguished.

a) Soft Fork

A soft fork is a voluntary way to upgrade a software where participants who do not upgrade merely risk out on missing new functionalities. This type of fork is considered to be “forward-compatible” from the viewpoint of existing nodes. In the case of a blockchain soft fork, this means that old nodes will still recognize the new blocks as valid after the update. Thus, old nodes can in principle still use the same blockchain without performing the upgrade. Note that if a soft fork is coordinated by miners, it’s called a “miner-activated soft fork” (MASF), whereas if a soft fork is coordinated by owners of full nodes without the support of miners, it is called a “user-activated soft fork” (USAF).

A prominent example of a soft fork is BIP141, better known as Segregated Witness, which was activated in August 2017 when the majority of miners switched to the new version of the Bitcoin protocol. As can be expected for a soft fork, due to backwards-compatibility transfers between new “Segwit” addresses and old addresses are possible.

b) Hard Fork

A hard fork is the more extreme type of a fork because it is incompatible with previous software, and thus updating becomes necessary for all participants. In the case of a blockchain hard fork, a permanent divergence in the blockchain is caused by non-upgraded nodes not following new consensus rules. Depending on the willingness of blockchain participants to upgrade their nodes accordingly upon the proposal of either the miners (MAHF) or the users (UAHF), two results are possible:

i.) In the case that some nodes do not update and enough support for old chain remains, two competing blockchains result. A well-known example of a hard fork where the old chain remains to be supported to this day is Ethereum, which was hard forked in 2016 after the leading developers of the Ethereum protocol decided to alter the code in an emergency response to the successful attack on “the DAO”. The members of the community who ran full nodes and opposed the hard fork refused to upgrade their nodes. Thus, the old chain still exists to this day under the name Ethereum Classic.

ii) Most of the time, however, all participants support the new chain and move along with upgrading their nodes. In this case, the old chain simply dies off. A recent example is the Ethereum Byzantium hard fork in late 2017, which went through smoothly without any complications and the old Ethereum chain simply ceased to exist.

   c) Spin-off Coins

Aside from forks originated for the purpose of upgrading a blockchain protocol to improve it, the open-source nature of many protocols allows any developer to clone it, add a few new features and release it under a new name. Some well-known examples of spin-off coins based on the Bitcoin codebase are Litecoin, Peercoin, Namecoin and Dogecoin. In 2017 alone, 19 Bitcoin forks were released in total.[3] In many cases, these forks are used as a quick way to capitalize on the public’s familiarity with Bitcoin. In 2017, more capital flowed into new cryptocurrency forks than ICOs. There even exists a website promoting the automated generation of a Bitcoin fork. Thus, some people speculate that more Bitcoin forks will be seen in 2018.

What Implications Do Forks Have For Cryptocurrency Investors?

Forks do not only have technical implications but also affect the price of a cryptocurrency being forked in multiple ways. While unplanned forks (consensus splits) usually do not impact the price at all and the price impact of soft forks is usually limited, it is hard forks that result in two competing blockchains that are most relevant for investors. When a coin is hard-forked, the holders of the original cryptocurrency are automatically entitled to the coins on the new blockchain. This occurs because the private keys that control an address on the original blockchain also control an address on the new forked blockchain. Hence, investors have exposure to the original cryptocurrency and the new hard forked cryptocurrency, which presents an opportunity to profit from the fork. The value of the new coin that results from the fork can be sold. Market participants discount the future value of this coin and bid up the price of the original coin before the fork happens.

As the strategy of buying a cryptocurrency before a fork and selling the new coins after the fork spreads, prices will rise even earlier, as traders try to buy the original coin before others. As a result, the price of a cryptocurrency usually rises before a fork takes place and drops once the fork has occurred. If the hard fork is cancelled, the price of the original chain drops because the discounted future value of the hard-forked coin is zero (see Figure 15).

Conclusion

While forks are a long-standing way to upgrade software protocols without forcing everyone to participate in the upgrade, there are real risks and opportunities for investors. On the plus side, the possibility of forks keeps development teams in check and might prevent rash, hasted decisions. Additionally, forks represent a possibility to create new coins in jurisdictions where ICOs are banned by law, such as China. On the negative side, a large number of spin-off coins may dilute the initial idea of a protocol and split the joint efforts of the community further. One thing is for sure: we are going to see more forks in 2018.

[1] Blockchain Research Institute, tweet on Twitter, Feb 10, 2018, https://mobile.twitter.com/GeniaMiinko/status/962393176769167362.

[2] “MIT Lisp Machine License Signed,” press release, Oct 1, 1980, http://www.textfiles.com/bitsavers/pdf/symbolics/LM2/MIT_Lisp_Machine_License_Signed_Press_Release_Oct1980.pdf.

[3] Olga Kharif, “Bitcoin May Split 50 Times in 2018 as Forking Craze Mounts,” Bloomberg, Jan 23, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-23/bitcoin-may-split-50-times-in-2018-as-forking-craze-accelerates.

Technical Analysis: Is a Crypto Winter About to Start?

Is a Crypto Winter About to Start

After an epic rise from $162 up to $19,886 in just over two years, the price of Bitcoin fell by nearly 70 % between December 17, 2017 and February 6, 2018, to under $6,000. Alternative cryptocurrencies (altcoins) came under tremendous pressure too and some of them lost 80–90 % of their recently achieved all-time highs. Meanwhile, at least Bitcoin was able to recover some of those losses and has reached $11,300 again. Early cryptocurrency investors are still sitting on very comfortable gains, but investors who started during the last two to three months have underwater positions. They are only hoping that Bitcoin & Co. will recover as soon as possible.

“Hodl”– Easier Said Than Done

It is yet to be seen if this relatively new group of mostly inexperienced market participants will be able to follow the well-known battle slogan “hodl”. To cryptocurrency investors, hodl is the strategy of simply holding all purchased coins and tokens through any correction, trusting that the crypto and blockchain technology is still at the very beginning of its development and that in the medium to long term much higher prices are to be expected.

Although this approach has worked extremely well over the last nine years, this strategy must be seriously questioned in light of the current bloodbath and the possibility of another two-year “crypto-winter”. Ultimately, many roads lead to Rome, and every investor or trader has to decide for himself or herself which strategy suits them best.

The pain from the enormous volatility of cryptocurrencies and the incredible patience required by the hodl strategy is simply not for everyone. Here an investor’s psyche is challenged to the utmost: especially if they follow the market closely and regularly. If they look at prices just once every few months, the hodl strategy will naturally be much easier.

Latent Danger of a Bubble Speaks Against the Hodl Strategy

If one considers the possibility that Bitcoin is a bubble, the hodl strategy becomes questionable. Investors who experienced the Internet bubble at the end of the 1990s know that the classic “buy-and-hold” strategy will eventually stop working. An investor could be right for many years, but if they missed a sale during the highs in 2000/2001, they lost their entire investment. Most of the Internet stock highflyers went straight into bankruptcy. A similar fate soon or later will probably impend to most of the altcoin bag holders. In this regard, the hodl strategy must be viewed critically and should at least be accompanied with appropriate risk management.

Trading in the Short to Medium Time Frame

Another approach to making money with cryptocurrencies is short-to-medium-term trading (day trading / swing trading). Using the help of classical chart analysis, cryptocurrencies can be screened for possible entry and exit signals. Of course, here too, many roads lead to Rome, meaning to success. Every trader has his or her personal favorite indicator or setup, and he or she has an appropriate time window and their own risk management approach. It is therefore not possible to come up with a successful strategy for everyone. However, the crypto market is based on the same laws and principles as all other markets. The crypto market is not as distorted by intervention as other markets, such as the bond market, which is heavily manipulated by central bank quantitative easing. Since there is less distortion, many technical analysis strategies and indicators work better because prices are surrogates of real information about market participants. All in all, trading in the crypto market also involves consistent risk and money management and above all a professional approach. Investors who treat their trading as a business will naturally be more successful.

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Bitcoin Has Had 16 Days With Losses Greater Than 20% During the Past 8 Years

Source: Coindesk.com, Incrementum AG

The Vast Majority is Losing Money

As the crypto market has seen a clear uptrend over the last two years, all traders should have made good profits. Anyone who has not managed to make money in these markets must seriously ask him or herself if trading is the right occupation. The bottom line is that the crypto market will run the same way as any other market in the medium to long term: an estimated 90 % of traders paying in and only 10 % of traders making consistent profits. For longer-term investors, this ratio improves slightly to around 80 % losers and 20% winners.

The Future is Uncertain

Why does Pareto’s 80/20 rule apply to investors? Quite simply, nobody knows the future, and trading and investing is about psychology. Ultimately, everyone pokes around in the dark: some with more experience and discipline, others completely overwhelmed by their emotions, a third group is an unclear mix of both, a fourth group, the so-called greenhorns (especially active in the crypto sector), and finally and unfortunately, a certain number of criminals or fraudsters!

12 Questions to Check If You Are Investing Responsibly

  1. How well does the trader know him or herself?
  2. How disciplined is he or she?
  3. How exactly did they do their homework and their preparations?
  4. Are they acting emotional or rational?
  5. Are they immediately convinced by exaggerated promises of profits?
  6. Do they take losses personally?
  7. Can they accept losses as part of trading & investing or are they dwelling over their losses forever?
  8. How much do they think they can predict markets with extensive fundamental analysis or sophisticated charting?
  9. Is the trader ready to learn from their mistakes?
  10. Do they take responsibility for their results?
  11. Has the trader accurately calculated the risk before buying?
  12. Are they really aware that no one knows the future? No guru, no famous stock market letter writer, no central banker and no politician…

Know Thyself!

Therefore the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself!” applies to any participant in the crypto market as well as in all other markets and of course in life in general. Anyone who made a conscious investment decision must also have a plan to exit. Whether this is based on technical signals, fundamentals, sentiment data, or a mixture is ultimately everyone’s personal decision.

However, there is an important difference in the crypto market. Many “millennials” believe that cryptocurrencies will replace our fiat money system. They are convinced that they do not need to exit because they will be able to directly spend their cryptocurrencies one day. As seductive and idealistic as it may sound, the victory of decentralization is not sure yet! In any case, the established financial system will certainly not give up its power and its control without massive resistance. Therefore, a partial exit into other asset classes may be part of a prudent strategy if an investor’s portfolio becomes too heavily concentrated in crypto assets.

Sentiment Analysis – the Discipline of Kings

Sentiment analysis sheds a questionable light on cryptocurrencies because the mood of the crypto market continues to be extremely optimistic, if not idealistic. For market participants interested in the medium to long-term timeframe, sentiment analysis is probably the supreme discipline. Anyone who understands mass psychology can determine highs and the turning points of long-term trends with amazing accuracy. Ultimately, market prices are created by constantly fluctuating perceptions of market participants. Subsequently, there can never be an objective or fair price of an asset. If a financial asset is heavily discussed in the mainstream press, it can be assumed with great certainty that everybody is invested in it already and that there will be no more new buyers. Therefore, it would be advisable to do the opposite of the masses once such signals appear.

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Source: CNBC.

The problem, however, lies in the relatively small number of crystal clear signals. For example, the front-page of the German newspaper Bild showcased gold bars during the top of the gold rally in August of 2011. Regarding Bitcoin, the online edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Bitcoin’s colossal price gains exactly two days before its 2013 high on November 28, 2013. As everybody knows, Bitcoin crashed from $1,156 to $162 in the following months and disappeared for two years into a crypto winter. However, sometimes the signals can be accurate. On December 17. 2017, CNBC delivered a perfect sell signal with their headline: Analyst who predicted Bitcoin’s rising now sees it hitting $300,000–$400,000.

Crypto Sentiment is Hard to Grasp

In addition to the famous front-page indicator, there are of course many other approaches to measure the mood among market participants. In the young crypto market, there is no established sentiment data available. Futures on Bitcoin have been trading for only two months with relatively manageable volume. As a result, traditional sentiment data such as put-call ratios, Sentix, and sentiment surveys are not available to the extent that investors are familiar with from other markets. The website sentimenttrader.com provides a well-functioning sentiment indicator called Bitcoin Optix. Here, an automated algorithm compares Bitcoin’s expected future volatility with the current price behavior and the discount of a Bitcoin ETF in relation to its NAV. Recently, the sentiment indicator reported an extremely pessimistic sentiment, but this has strongly recovered over the last couple of days.

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The latest sentiment data clearly shows that the early February recovery in Bitcoin brought sentiment back to very optimistic levels.

Source: Sentimentrader.com.

Alternative sentiment indicators are also of interest in the crypto sector. Twitter tweets, Reddit posts, the size of a telegram group, or simply the contents of YouTube comments can be helpful for gauging the market’s mood. For example, investors can find numerous comments that expect an asset’s price to rise to the moon very shortly below any YouTube video about finance, gold, or crypto. As a true contrarian, that should give you something to think about.

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Right after the launch of Bitcoin Futures trading in December, Bitcoin lost 70%.

Source: Midas Touch Consulting/Tradingview

Currently, only major financial and economic news portals have added a new crypto section; however, more data analysis and reporting are needed because new trading opportunities via Contracts for Difference (CFDs) and Bitcoin futures are available. For example, data on Bitcoin Futures are available in the U.S. Although futures exchanges were originally created primarily to hedge future fluctuations in market prices (for example, agriculture producers), hedge funds and private traders use futures markets to profit from price fluctuations. Since all of the futures markets in the USA are regulated, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) publishes the current positions of traders every Friday. This information is completely new to the unregulated crypto market and should become very helpful and valuable in the medium term. In the short term, however, only a very thin data series is available so that comparisons and classifications of the current positions have to be treated with caution.

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Commitment of Traders (CoT) for Bitcoin

The CoT Report shows that hedge funds are largely short while amateurs are mostly long. Source: CFTC

Based on the current CoT report for Bitcoin Futures, it is obvious that traditional funds (asset managers / institutional investors) are not heavily invested in Bitcoin. Similarly, there is virtually no position of hedgers (intermediary dealers). This is because there are not many securitized products available on Bitcoin, which would have to be hedged via the derivatives market.

In contrast, the “leveraged funds” (hedge funds etc.) have significantly expanded their short positions in recent weeks, which means that they occupy 50.2 % of the open interest. The “other reportables” (dealers with systematic trading approaches and high volume) show more or less balanced positions. Finally, the small speculators continue to be massively long, representing 48.5 % of all open interest.

The large short position held by hedge funds and at the same time the strong bullish position of small speculators rather point towards further falling prices. It is also noticeable that the correction in December began pretty much on the day when Bitcoin Futures started to trade. However, an obvious causality is not easy to detect.

Bitcoin Technical Analysis

After such a brutal crash, it always makes sense to take a look at the big picture. Otherwise the short-term high volatility may cause investors to lose sight of the larger trends in the market. On the weekly chart, Bitcoin’s long-term uptrend is still intact. Basically, the price for one Bitcoin has returned back to where it was trading at the end of November. So far, the sharp correction ended just below the typical 61.8% – Fibonacci retracement. If the overall correction continues, the next lower retracement level (76.4 %) would be around $4,818. This level coincides with the intermediate high at $5,000 from last September. Therefore, technically it is still possible that the price of Bitcoin could fall towards $4,500 – $5,000 in the coming months. This assumption is also confirmed by the fact that Bitcoin temporarily dipped below its green uptrend channel. Despite the fast recovery and the move back into the channel, the general support of this uptrend channel has been weakened.

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The weekly chart for Bitcoin still has an uptrend intact.

Source: Midas Touch Consulting, Tradingview​

In the “worst case” scenario, one target of the correction could be another significantly lower uptrend line (currently around $2,075). The lower Bollinger Band ($3,236) also offers a lot of space and will need much more time to reach current price levels above $11,000. A very encouraging signal, however, is the new buy signal that comes from the slow stochastic oscillator. After reaching its oversold zone this indicator now has turned and would have a lot room to move higher.

On the Bitcoin daily chart, the recovery, which began just two weeks ago, has already made up well over a third of the previous correction, and has now reached the classic 38.2 % Fibonacci retracement around.

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On the daily chart Bitcoin’s recovery is very overbought. Prices above $12,200 are bullish, any move below $8,000 is very bearish!

Source: Midas Touch Consulting, Tradingview

$11,300. Bitcoin’s price trajectory for the next couple of months will most likely be determined at this important resistance zone. If Bitcoin prices can breakout above $11,300, bulls will be back in charge and should quickly push prices towards $14,500. If the bulls instead fail at this first Fibonacci retracement, it would be a clear sign of weakness. In that case, everything will depend on the support zone around $8,000. The crypto markets are either facing a winter or the beginning of the next rally.

Using a slightly more complex Fibonacci projection consisting of the first down wave from $19,889 to $10,700, and the bounce back up to approximately $17,200, the 1.236 % extension would be at $5,891 and the 1.382 % extension at $4,550. The first extension was already reached when Bitcoin hit a low at $6,000. The 1.382% extension confirms further downside potential towards $4,500 to $5,000. Given the strongly overbought situation on the daily chart, a pullback is getting more and more likely in short term.

Despite the strong recovery, one should realistically assume that the crypto market is not out of the woods yet. The correction that begun two months ago may take a few more months, if not a year or two, or even longer. Bitcoin could possibly fall back to about $5,000 and theoretically correct as low as $2,500. For most of the altcoins this would mean dramatic losses again. Only a move above $12,200 and especially above $14,500 will increase the odds that the correction is over, and Bitcoin is on the way to new all-time highs.

Conclusion

Facing the ongoing crypto euphoria, it cannot be ruled out that Bitcoin and the crypto sector are already in a corrective winter cycle. The future is unknown, but this young asset class will likely experience further correction. In addition to the described blind idealism, the rather bearish CoT data and the questionable technical picture do not yet speak for a rapid rebound or rallies to new all-time highs. However, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology will not disappear. On the contrary, after a hard and possibly bitter winter, Bitcoin prices beyond $50,000 and $100,000 are certainly possible in the coming decade. If Bitcoin prices move above $12,200 and $14,500 in the short term, reconsideration of the bearish outlook is expected.

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ThisTrader Joke: The markets may be crashing but I sleep like baby at night: every hour, I wake up and cry. is the heading

Source: singularityissonear on Reddit

Incrementum Insights: How Will Cryptocurrencies Change Finance?

How Will Cryptocurrencies Change Finance

“Virtual currencies mark a paradigm shift in how we think about payments, traditional financial processes, and engaging in economic activity. Ignoring these developments will not make them go away, nor is it a responsible regulatory response. The evolution of these assets, their volatility, and the interest they attract from a rising global millennial population demand serious examination.”

Commodity and Futures Trading Commission Chair Christopher Giancarlo

We want to sincerely thank Stefan Kremeth for contributing to this chapter. Stefan Kremeth is the CEO of Incrementum AG in Liechtenstein. Prior to joining Incrementum, Stefan worked for UBS, Sal. Oppenheim, and Lombard Odier. Mr. Kremeth is also the writer of Stefan’s Weekly, a weekly newsletter that covers practical questions concerning equities, commodities, and pension systems, amongst other financial topics.

In this chapter, the CEO of Incrementum Stefan M. Kremeth shares his experience with cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology. Coming from a financial background, Kremeth finds the crypto space to be faster and more inclusive. In this interview, we discuss some of the misconceptions about cryptocurrencies and what role he sees for his firm in this space.

Can you tell us a little bit about Incrementum and about yourself?

I cofounded Incrementum AG, a wealth management firm, in 2013. Today, the partners of the company expanded to encompass Ronald Stöferle, Mark Valek, and Dr. Christian Schärer.

My career in finance began when I was a young man. After completing an apprenticeship at UBS, I worked for UBS in various countries. After some time, I switched employers and eventually held executive positions in two private banks. Parallel to this, I attended the Swiss Banking School and I acquired an executive MBA in international asset management from the University of Liechtenstein. After which I continued my studies at Durham University in England. I am currently a part-time doctoral student in the business school at Durham.

How is the crypto space different from the traditional finance space?

It is very different. First of all, everything is quicker and faster. Costs have been minimized. A broader part of the population can access financial services in the crypto space compared to traditional banking. People who normally would not have access to capital or banking facilities can have access to financial services via Internet.

In my opinion, this “inclusive” aspect of the blockchain technology is revolutionary. Capital market transactions can become easier, quicker, cheaper, and available on a global scale thanks to the blockchain technology.

Do you see any common misconceptions about cryptocurrencies and blockchains?

Yes, actually. There is the misconception that intangible assets do not have value. However, this is not true: some cryptocurrencies are backed by tangible assets, some provide access to potential earnings, and some provide access to a network.

We can look at this argument the other way around as well. If I am wrong, and it is the case that intangible assets have no value, then this would apply to a lot of other asset classes as well. For example, fiat currencies are mostly intangible. Although fiat currencies are backed by a government that can tax income, that does not make fiat currencies tangible in my opinion.

However, I think we are the very beginning of the blockchain revolution. At Incrementum, we believe that a lot of the cryptocurrencies that we see today are going to disappear in the short to mid-term. There is potential for some to stay, and for some to stay for a long time. If cryptocurrencies stay around, I am convinced that regulators will regulate cryptocurrencies like every other investment, which they should do in order to level the playing field for all financial assets.

The technology will stay. If a young person has a fantastic idea but is sitting somewhere in Bangladesh with limited access to financial markets, the blockchain technology enables him or her to tap into the global capital market. With an Internet connection, he or she can find people who are willing to fund their idea in exchange for virtual tokens. The blockchain helps people make businesses, and I find this fantastic.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but historic events, regulations, and high capital requirements restrict market access to newcomers. The blockchain technology can reduce the barriers to capital and financial services, such as lending, borrowing, and saving.

Do you see a role for Incrementum in the crypto space? Incrementum has the Crypto Research Report, but do you have any other products in the pipeline?

Yes, since we see a future for the blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies, we are working on crypto-related products. As you mentioned, we produce a quarterly research report on cryptocurrencies called the Crypto Research Report. We decided to do a Crypto Research Report because we wanted to build-up our own base of knowledge on the topic. Second of all, we want to inform a broader audience about what is actually happening in this space. The report is unbiased and informative. We never give investment advice. Our other report, In Gold We Trust, has become an industry standard for gold market participants. Like In Gold We Trust, we hope that the Crypto Research Report becomes a go-to guide for financial market participants interested in the blockchain technology.

Also, we have seen demand in the market for a crypto fund. Not everyone wants to open wallets at exchanges that have limited history or no history. A lot of people want to have consolidated reports on their assets for tax and regulatory reasons. We believe that a regulated product that stores a diversified portfolio of cryptocurrencies will be interesting for investors. Of course these investors must know that cryptocurrencies are very volatile. However, a company that is regulated by financial market authorities, has transparent accounting, and a good reputation can help investors enter this market with the appropriate risk management. Together with a custodian bank and a fund administrator, we have filed a proposal at the Liechtenstein Financial Market Authorities for a license for a multi-currency crypto currency fund and have received approval some days ago!

You mentioned that the Crypto Research Report does not give investment advice. Why is that?

There are various reasons. First, a neutral and informative report can be used by a much wider audience, which will increase our brand exposure worldwide. We want to signal that Incrementum is ahead of the curve by informing readers about the market. If our report is well done, it has the potential to become the standard for crypto research in the entire industry. Second, there is a regulatory reason. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where our readers take investment decisions solely based on our report. As a wealth-management firm, our readers could come after us if they lose money because of our advice. Incrementum is working with academics at the University of Liechtenstein to bolster the Crypto Research Report’s scientific rigor and relevance; however, we make the academic research easy for everyone to understand.

If the report is free, how does the report contribute to Incrementum’s bottom line?

Thanks to the neutrality of the report, we are able to find sponsors such as Bank Vontobel, who benefit from cryptocurrency research and increased brand recognition in the cryptocurrency space. We like to have sponsors from various business fields, and our sponsors can advertise services such as fund custodianship, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency trackers. We are looking for more sponsors, and we encourage prospective firms to contact us if they are interested.

10 Facts About Max Tertinegg, the CEO of Coinfinity

10 Facts About Max Tertinegg, the CEO of Coinfinity

“The open-source nature of public blockchain protocols, combined with intrinsic mechanisms to break down monopoly effects, mean that the vast majority of this economic surplus will accrue to users. While tens or perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars of value will also likely accrue to the cryptoassets underlying these protocols and therefore to investors in them, this potential value will be fragmented across many different protocols and is generally insufficient in relation to current valuations to offer a long-term investor attractive returns relative to the inherent risks. The one key exception is the potential for a cryptoasset to emerge as a dominant, non-sovereign monetary store of value, which could be worth many trillions of dollars.”

John Pfeffer

We want to sincerely thank Max Tertinegg for contributing to this chapter. Max Tertinegg is the CEO and founder of Coinfinity. Coinfinity is one of the largest cryptocurrency brokerages in Austria. Recently, Coinfinity was the first company to successfully complete a transaction using the Lightning Network on a Bitcoin Automated Teller Machine. In addition to managing Coinfinity, Max is a Bitcoin activist and musician.

This chapter features a sneak peek into the life of the CEO of Coinfinity and advisor to the Crypto Research Report, Max Tertinegg.

1.) How did you get into the crypto space?

I heard about Bitcoin in 2011 in a Podcast and was fascinated by the idea of a non-governmental form of money. To be honest, I thought about Bitcoin as just a purely idealistic concept without any real-word relevance and did not expect it to grow that fast. But here we are now …

2.) What does your business do?

We are a cryptocurrency broker, helping people buying and selling Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Also, we consult on the topic of blockchain technology.

3.) What is the competitive advantage your company has over other firms in your industry?

We focus on customer service and try to help people getting into this new space safely and with caution.

4.) As a crypto broker, what is the most challenging part of your job?

Keeping up with the enormous pace – the crypto scene is developing very, very fast.

5.) Some investors claim that high-frequency trading and intermediary markets exist for cryptocurrencies. Do you think that exchanges manipulate prices on a small scale so that limit orders are executed, which generates handsome transaction fees for the exchange?

I’m pretty sure that crypto markets are manipulated by one player or another. But I guess that’s the case in any market without too much regulation and is something that can’t be avoided.

6.) What is the biggest opportunity for young entrepreneurs who want to make a successful business in the crypto space?

Having a mindset advantage over other players in the market who still think that crypto is just a fad that will go away at some point.

7.) What is the biggest threat to the crypto space?

Internal risk (technological and political obstacles, e.g., the block size debate) and external threats like over-regulation or potential prohibition of cryptocurrencies. But I’m pretty optimistic that all these threats won’t stop Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

8.) Where will the sector be at the end of 2018?

Many banks and traditional financial players will be active in the space. We won’t have mainstream adoption yet, but cryptocurrency users will be in the hundreds of millions.

9.) Where will the sector be at the end of 2025?

It will be ubiquitous – like the Internet today.

10.) Do you mind telling us what coins you like most at the moment?

Bitcoin and Ardor.

11.) During your career as a crypto broker, what were the strangest and the funniest things that happened? Please give us a story.

People have to fill in their Bitcoin address on our web platform when buying Bitcoins from us. It was a funny moment when a customer in our office tried to put in his postal address and then complained that the form won’t accept it.

Quarterly Review Q1 2018: Ikarus Edition

Ikarus

“In 1924 John Maynard Keynes stated that an excellent economist has to possess a unique combination of gifts. He had to be a mathematician, historian, statesman and philosopher. In regard to Bitcoin, this list needs to also include several more traits. An excellent crypto-economist should also be a software, hardware and blockchain specialist on top of the above. Faced with these almost insurmountable intellectual hurdles it is easy to see why traditional economists have a hard time joining in the discussion.”

Jochen Möbert, Deutsche Bank

Bitcoin flew too close to the sun. Now the eyes of the world are upon the crypto market. With all the consequences that follow. Argentina is the land of tango, steak, and inflation. From one day to the next it can happen that those delicious empanadas cost an unsuspecting tourist 30 to 40 percent more. Locals are accustomed to getting a new menu with every pizza delivery due to higher prices. Many have long since renounced the Peso, which is abused again and again by the government and central bank for public financing. Major purchases are paid for in U.S. dollars. In the countryside, there are even a few communities that organize trade amongst themselves, completely without the use of state money.

Of all places, in 2018 this is the country where the most powerful people on the planet will discuss regulations for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as Argentina will be hosting the G20. Apparently, the topic is already on the agenda for the meeting in March – according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He is not alone: the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and the German government have declared Bitcoin a top priority for G20.[1]

The issue at the G20 will of course not be if the deflationary Bitcoin as an actual viable alternative to the broken system of fiat currencies. Rather, the discussion will focus on the looming triple threat: terrorists, money launders, and criminals – all of whom have apparently discovered Bitcoin for their illegal businesses.

Will these discussions lead to anything? Multiple press releases and declarations will most likely be published and cause some disruptions on the cryptocurrency market. However, no one really believes this could kick-start a global set of rules. Even on the off-chance that two states as opposed as China and Japan could come to a consensus, there are countless smaller countries that aren’t going to be part of the discussion at all.

To a certain degree it would be preferable if states would and could control the abuse of cryptocurrencies – and we are not talking about terrorists or money launderers here. The price explosion over the last months of 2017 has given way to an immense wave of criminal activity, scams and hacks. The dip in the market back in January 2018 just caused for the list of distressing occurrences we were collecting for this report to grow at an uncontrollable speed.

Let’s back up and go back to the beginning. There is much more going on in this sector than the call for regulations on the one hand and the surge of illegal profiteers on the other. The new boom has made room for many a promising project of the second and third blockchain generation. The blockchain has not only made it into the mainstream but is also slowly seeping into daily life. More and more existing companies are taking a closer look at the blockchain technology.

We are well aware that the title “In Case You Were Sleeping” is slightly mean. The developments in this field are running at such a speed that even the most attentive spectator is likely to miss a good deal of the action. In this chapter we will try and eradicate the white noise and block out the useless information circulating out there in the Internet and in the media. We will break it down to the most essential pieces so that our readers are better informed. This chapter will consist of four areas which shaped the market in the last months of the year 2017 and the beginning of 2018 :

  • Bubble & Crash
  • Hacks & Scams
  • Reaction & Regulation
  • Adoption & Trends

a. Bubble & Crash

It all happened as it always has. Bitcoin reached an all-time high and then predictably it fell again. All common stages of the classic bubble were accounted for: euphoria, infatuation, denial, fear, desperation. When Bitcoin fell under $7000 and the market capitalization of the whole sector halved, the funeral preparations by nay-sayers were already underway. The fact that cryptocurrencies have already survived five such bubbles, as the brilliant analysis by Michael B. Casey shows, is dutifully ignored by said grave diggers.[2] Figures 1 and 2 show Bitcoin’s largest rallies and drawdowns since 2010.

In general, we are talking about old-school economists who said it from the start: Bitcoin is a scam. On February 2, Nouriel Roubini took the cake by claiming we are witnessing “the largest bubble in the history of mankind” because Bitcoin had lost 60% of its worth.[3]  Uber-Keynesian Paul Krugman could hardly contain his joy over the Bitcoin crash – he even created a new word for it: “cryptofreude” alluding to the German word “Schadenfreude” (i.e. to revel in someone else’s pain).

According to Roubini and Krugman Bitcoin will fall to zero and the whole crypto sector will simply dissolve. Of course, this may happen. However, we are still baffled by these economists who so profusely claim to know it better than anybody else. Especially considering that Bitcoin has seen five bubbles, crashes, and recoveries. Each time gaining in worth – which actually speaks in favor of Bitcoin.

Roubini and Krugman can end up being right, Bitcoin could drop to zero and then disappear. If this should be the case and Bitcoin is already a thing of the past at the time of publication, please accept our sincerest apologies for our harsh tone of voice. Nonetheless, if history has taught us anything it is that mainstream economists such as Roubini and Krugman have a very hard time grasping the matter of Bitcoin. Strangely enough, both do not let an opportunity pass to voice their opinions in the media on a matter they do not seem to understand.

Jochen Möbert from Deutsche Bank explained the predicament of economists as follows: “In 1924 John Maynard Keynes stated that an excellent economist has to possess a unique combination of gifts. He had to be a mathematician, historian, statesman and philosopher. In regard to Bitcoin, this list needs to also include several more traits. An excellent crypto-economist should also be a software, hardware and blockchain specialist on top of the above. Faced with these almost unsurmountable intellectual hurdles it is easy to see why traditional economists have a hard time joining in the discussion.

All’s well that ends well? Not so fast. Möbert also criticizes the other side: “Bitcoin enthusiasts tend to simplify the topic at hand and predict a complete market absorption and completely ignore the negatives of Bitcoin in comparison with conventional currencies and the traditional banking business. They underestimate how many people are actually scared off by a global, decentralized technology outside the legal sphere.”

We could not agree more; however, in Nouriel Roubini’s defense one should add: He recognized the potential for a scam epidemic in the blockchain sphere and rightly so, criticizes it. The problem is, Roubini is convinced that the whole thing is a scam, one huge Ponzi scheme. Even Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, has called Bitcoin a scam.[4]

We strongly disagree: This initial scam phase is part of the Wild West stage of any new unregulated market, and Bitcoin and the blockchain have simply a maturing process ahead of them to weed out the bad seeds. In this respect, the crash of the past months is to a certain extent desirable because it is cleansing the market of criminal, half-baked ideas. That is how free market economy works. But it might be a tall order to expect mainstream economists to recall this after more than a decade of bail-outs and quantitative easing.

In our first report we already predicted that it may come to an ICO mania, which in turn would cause a bubble and the inevitable crash. As did many others. Even the founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, warned of the bubble.[5]  Based on current analysis we can also expect it not to have been the last ICO-bubble.

In actual fact larger companies are looking into generating money via ICOs. Some may all the same be more in the category of “marketing-stunt” as the proposed revival of Kodak via an ICO. Others, such as the chat-app “Telegram” that apparently wants to raise up to a billion dollars, should be taken more seriously. Clearly exemplified by the sheer number of self-proclaimed Ethereum-successors (like NEO, EOS or Cardano) we can safely say the ICO craze has not yet reached its peak. These so-called platform coins will probably be the true winners of 2018, but more on that later.

b. Hacks & Scams

No one can deny that the crypto market has a dark side. The dark web itself would not be able to function the way it does without Bitcoin (and privacy coins such as Monero). Hacks and scams have been part of the deal of getting into cryptocurrencies from the very beginning. The rise of Ethereum and the aforementioned ICO boom together with the general growth of the market cap in the last months of 2017 as a whole have increased these dubious developments immensely. As prices began to fall, so did some of the dubious projects. The following chapter will highlight only a few of the possible problems which one is confronted with in the crypto sector.

Hackers Steal Half a Billion – is North Korea to Blame?

In a hack targeting the cryptocurrency NEM, which has great similarities with the hack against the Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox a few years ago, more than $500 million were stolen in February. Once again it hit a Japanese exchange: Coincheck. It was the same mistake as with the Bitcoin heist at Mt. Gox: Coincheck had stored NEM reserves in a “hot-wallet”, i.e. in an account with connections to the Internet.

Usually exchanges store these reserves in “cold-wallets”, out of reach of prying hacker hands. Although this can be considered the largest crypto theft of all time, amazingly enough the exchange survived the hack. They also stated that they plan to reimburse the affected clients. The plot twist: The South Korean secret police voiced the suspicion that North Korea is to blame for the hack.[6]

Confido and Bitconnect: Gone With the Wind

Bitcoin has already infiltrated our daily usage of language. Without hesitation we talk of blockchains, ICOs and we even say “hodl” when we mean hold. One of the more undesirable words of the new vocabulary is “exit scam”. It describes exactly what we think when we hear the term. It is a scam in which a lot of money is collected, and the initiator then bags it all and makes a run for it.

Once the term was only used for shady exchanges that eventually took off with their investor’s money. Since the ICO boom, new versions of the old trick have arisen: in comes Confido. This coin was distributed via ICO at the beginning of November 2017. We will spare our readers from having to read about the details of the apparent “business model” of the coin. The ICO raised a total amount of $375,000 dollars. This money then quickly vanished together with the founders. On November 14, 2017, the coin was worth $1,20, it subsequently crashed to 2 cents. The website, blogposts, and all social media channels of Confido: deleted.[7]

The prize for the most dramatic exit, however, still goes to Bitconnect. Without exaggeration, this is probably the biggest rip-off the crypto market has seen so far. Bitconnect promised its investors ridiculous returns. All they had to do was invest their Bitcoins in Bitconnect. The extent of the whole story is not known, but the Bitconnect token had a market cap of more than 2.5 billion when the whole operation came crashing down. At the height of the game the value was more than $400, after the crash it was merely $5.[8]

Sadly, frauds like these have become commonplace on the crypto market. Similar scams in Spain and in Austria have recently been discovered.[9]  The simple fact that these Ponzi schemes do fall apart as soon as the price begins to sink is not further noteworthy, they always do in the end. What sets Bitconnect apart, however, is the sheer volume of the whole operation. Plenty of Bitconnect advocates actively posted on YouTube and in turn gained more followers and investors. Unfortunately, the end of Bitconnect, whose founders are still unknown, has not lead to the end of YouTube scammers, nor to the improvement of the YouTube crypto content. But this in itself would be worth a whole chapter.

What else?

Sadly, if they are not careful, investors can also lose money due to minor hacks. These hacks or scams sometimes do not make it into the media, as they are almost seen as part of the deal. Here is a minor example: Hackers targeted the Blackwallet website and stole $400,000 worth of XLM. A similar case occurred to the Monero wallet mymonero.com in which a hacker managed to get away with money in the form of Monero in mid-December.[10]

This story never broke out of the Monero-Reddit thread into the wider view of the public, as seemingly only a small portion of investors were damaged. Both cases seem to be based on skillful phishing tactics which enabled the hackers to gain access to the DNS servers. Worst of all, it is almost unavoidable for users to become victim of such attacks.

Users of the popular exchange Etherdelta had to learn this the hard way when more than 300 ETH – at the time worth $250,000 were plundered from the site.[11]

Iota users who used an online seed-generator when creating their wallet would also come to regret this later: Iota coins in the total worth of almost $4 million were silently removed from the wallets of these users in January. The way in was via the online seed generator.[12]  Needless to say, such heists occur predominantly when the prices are high and there is much to gain. We therefore expect to see a pick-up of fraudulent activity as soon as the bull market resumes in full.

c. Reaction & Regulation

Even if you tried to follow the news regarding various plans and statements for regulations of cryptocurrencies by different states and government authorities 24/7, you would still be bound to miss half of it. It has become the fashion of the day for politicians and jurisdictions to try to understand the phenomenon that is the blockchain, and they are desperately trying to keep up with it and its consequences. This has given way to a mass of attempts to create a regulatory framework on the go. Everyone is confronted with the same problem. In a very good paper concerning this issue, Jochen Möbert from Deutsche Bank highlights one core obstacle. “Attempts for a regulatory framework are faced with the complication that a global, decentralized currency has many alternatives.”

As previously mentioned, discussions have reached the highest levels of government and will be a topic at the G20 summit. Möbert is skeptical if these talks can be constructive: “The implementation of international regulations, for example on G20 level, is all the more illusory as different attitudes of governments world-wide towards regulatory needs in this sector are already apparent. For example, Canada and Japan are obviously aiming for a more Bitcoin-friendly regulatory framework.”

Japan is a noteworthy exception in several regards.[13] Bitcoin is a legal payment method, and the general public seem to not have few if any reservations regarding the cryptocurrency. A different analyst from Deutsche Bank even suggested that (at one point at least) almost 40 % of the total crypto volume came from Japan.[14]

Other Bitcoin-friendly countries are small and well known within the international finance sector. We are of course talking about Switzerland and Singapore. The latter, which is extremely popular for companies wanting to initiate an ICO, has already expressed in quite clear terms that they do not intend to ban the trade of cryptocurrencies. As the Deputy Primeminister Tharman Shanmugaratnam puts it: “This is an experiment. It is still too early to say if cryptocurrencies will prevail.”[15]

Switzerland is very keen to show how open it is towards Bitcoin and the blockchain. The area of Zug has unofficially been named “Cryptovalley”, and in some places you can even pay your taxes via Bitcoin – this is rarely taken advantage of, but it is a statement. The Swiss Finance Minister Johann Schneider-Anmann has made such a case for cryptocurrencies that the Crypto Finance Conference in St. Moritz felt the need to give him an award for his efforts. His reasoning for his positive approach towards cryptocurrencies reads as follows “Innovations have helped this country achieve greatness. We have now finally reached an innovative moment in the finance world. Cryptocurrencies are part of the fourth Industrial Revolution. We are merely looking to see what new possibilities it can bring.”[16]  Russia’s Sberbank is also betting on Switzerland as their location in regard to cryptocurrencies.[17]

Until recently, Austria had a finance minister who was and proud fan of Blockchain, Harald Mahrer.[18] He even initiated the “Blockchain Roadmap Austria”. However, after the last elections he stepped down, and since then nobody else seems responsible for the matter. A positive development and sign that the topic may still be taken seriously is the founding of the Institute for Cryptoeconomics at the University for Economics in Vienna.

Like in many other European countries, the Austrian government is waiting on directive from the European Union on how to proceed regarding any regulations. The Union itself has so far only taken one vital step. That is to include crypto dealers and exchanges to the money laundering regulations. This means the same “know-your-customer” (KYC) which apply to banks also apply to the crypto market.[1]  Interestingly enough, back in 2015 the European Court of Justice already ruled that sales tax should not apply to Bitcoin.

Nonetheless, the question still arises on a regular basis. We believe, so far, Europe seems to be doing quite well in matters of the crypto market. This observation is further supported by the fact that no European measure has led to disruptions, panic, or huge falls in the market, as they were always well foreseeable and in good measure.

A further European country – outside the EU – which has a made a name for itself on the Bitcoin-friendly side of things is Iceland. Many Bitcoin mining farms are to be found there due to fortunate weather conditions and cheap power supply.

China, on the other hand, has opted for a less friendly and more chaotic approach. Not a day goes by in which the West is safe from dreadful news from the Yellow Dragon. The meme “China bans Bitcoin” has reached cult status in the scene. Peking has in part started to tackle one topic after the next since the second half of 2017. First, they forbade ICOs, then all exchanges were expelled from the People’s Republic, lastly even Miners, that had sprouted in China due to very low energy prices, were silently asked to leave. A complete ban on crypto trading lies in the air, as even the “Great Firewall”, China’s prime Internet censorship tool, was used to deny Chinese users access to international market platforms.[20] [21] [22]

This strict approach has many a reason: Firstly, China has an authoritarian government. Just because the country opens itself up to capitalism, does not mean that it was ever part of the plan to give billions of Chinese economic freedom and independence – at least not without the “protection” of the yuan. There is also a great worry that assets will slowly but surely make their way out of the country and most probably to the United States of America. Russia, also under authoritarian rule, has similar issues. The main difference being the Chinese hunger for and joy in gambling.

The same goes for South Korea where the Bitcoin mania has reached a pinnacle unheard of on these shores. The government has also introduced regulations in the vain hope to cut back the hype. Even though western media has reported the ban of exchanges, this has yet to be realized.[23]  The crypto bug has reached all levels of the nation. Civil servants and politicians have been caught having used insider information of the government’s steps to profit from certain crypto trades based on this knowledge.[24]

India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley apparently called for a ban on Bitcoin and caused a ripple through the crypto market. India’s Bitcoin industry and western media reacted turbulently until his statement was corrected as he had actually said in a speech that Bitcoin cannot be accepted as a legal method of payment. This may not be praise and support, but it is also far off from a ban. India has set up a research team to look into the subject in more depth.[25]

The USA have done the same, under the name Task Force. U.S. authorities are having a hard time dealing with the topic of Bitcoin. Nonetheless, a hearing of the managers of CTFT and SEC at the beginning of February was largely welcomed by the community. The authorities of course used this chance to voice criticisms and underline how necessary regulations are for the market – but generally the optimism and belief in a long-term chance of survival toward cryptocurrencies and the blockchain was surprising. Subtext: Bitcoin is here to stay. [26]

d. Adoption & Trends

Bitcoin and the crypto sector as a whole have undergone a huge surge this past year. The exchanges already had a hard time coping with all-time highs of many altcoins this past summer. The boom that was to follow in the winter months put this new and very young infrastructure for blockchain assets to the test. Many of the large, international exchanges had to halt the registration process of new customers for a couple of weeks. Others were simply not attainable in certain parts of the world. For example, the ever-popular exchange Kraken in Europe. The app Coinbase is already known for hiccups in the system when the price moves drastically in either direction.

It therefore comes as no surprise that more and more suppliers are rushing into the market hoping to pick up some crumbs of this profitable cake. Take the Asian exchange Binance, for instance. A mere few months old and already it is classified as a top league player. And this trend shows no sign of stopping. More established providers, especially in the field of finance apps, have made first moves to expand into the crypto market. One of the most famous is Revolut which lets you buy Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.[1]  It does have one major drawback though, the app does not let you store your amassed wealth of coins on a wallet. According to Revolut, their clients do not ask for this option that is why it is not offered. This is astounding because this means that next to long-term investors and the altcoin gamblers there are casual Bitcoin buyers out there who only want to profit from the price. By extension this leads to an ever-growing number of proxies for Bitcoin in the form of certificates or CFDs.

In 2017, Ethereum was a huge game changer in the world of crypto. It introduced the concept of smart contracts and ICOs into the blockchain. It did not take long for imitations and competitors to appear in the market. Antshares, now called Neo, rose to fame in the summer months and is known as “the Chinese Ethereum” as it also has smart contracts on the blockchain which in turn acts as a platform for other products and tokens. One of the founders of Ethereum set up a further competitor: Cardano; and then there is also Icon, “the Ethereum of South Korea” and last, but definitely not the least, EOS, the “Ethereum killer”.

Which of the above will be the last one standing? Will more than one or even none survive? At this moment in time nobody can really tell. For now, all we can say is that these platforms seem to be more attractive for investors than singular projects or the “old school” cryptocurrencies. It is very likely that Ethereum can use its first-mover advantage, together with technological advances and a huge community of developers, to extend its lead on the competition in 2018. A so-called flippening, in this case that Ethereum takes the first spot in the market, is well in its reach, especially as banks such as UBS and Barclays have Ethereum on their radar.[28]

Yet another player who has specialized in “simple ICOs” and has caught people’s eyes with the projects Mobius and Kik is Stellar (XLM). The chat app Kik initiated their ICO on Ethereum before they decided to swap to the Stellar blockchain. “We’ve been using Ethereum to date, and to be honest I call it the dial-up era of blockchain,” said CEO Ted Livingston. Another company betting on the Stellar blockchain with its cryptocurrency MobileCoin will be Moxie Marlinspike’s chat app Signal, the ICO is said to happen this year.

The largest ICO in the pipeline for 2018 is yet another chat app: Telegram. It is held in high regard already and the company plans to collect $1 billion with their cryptocurrency Gram. There are no official plans yet, although, there is a whitepaper circulating on the Internet. This largest ICO is, however, supposedly taking place on the “old school” Ethereum blockchain.[29]

If Kik, Signal, and Telegram as relatively small players in the social media and chat sector are already creating crypto coins, how long will it take Facebook and Co. to do the same? And if Robinhood, Revolut and Cash as small players in the finance sector are betting on cryptocurrencies, how long can your trusted old bank wait before it finally catches on?

[1] Sujha Sundararajan, “Mnuchin Calls for Crypto Regulatory Talk,“ Coindesk, Feb 2, 2018, https://www.coindesk.com/mnuchin-talk-crypto-regulation-g20-summit/.

[2] Michael B. Casey, “Speculative Bitcoin Adoption/Price Theory,” Medium, Dec 27, 2016, https://medium.com/@mcasey0827/speculative-bitcoin-adoption-price-theory-2eed48ecf7da.

[3] “US-Ökonom Roubini: ‘Die Mutter aller Blasen platzt jetzt’,” Die Presse, Feb 2, 2018, https://diepresse.com/home/wirtschaft/boerse/5365158/Bitcoin_USOekonom-Roubini_Die-Mutter-aller-Blasen-platzt-jetzt.

[4] Hugh Son, Hannah Levitt and Brian Louis, “Jamie Dimon Slams Bitcoin as a ‘Fraud’,” Bloomberg, Sep 12, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-12/jpmorgan-s-ceo-says-he-d-fire-traders-who-bet-on-fraud-bitcoin.

[5] Avi Mizrahi, “Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin: We are in an ICO Bubble,” Finance Magnates, Sep 11, 2017, https://www.financemagnates.com/cryptocurrency/news/ethereum-founder-vitalik-buterin-ico-bubble/.

[6] Sohee Kim, “North Korea Susptected for Hatching Coincheck Heist,” Bloomberg, Feb 6, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-06/north-korea-is-said-to-be-suspected-of-hatching-coincheck-heist.

[7] Arjun Karpal, “Cryptocurrency start-up Confido disappears with $375,000 from an ICO, and nobody can find the founders,” CNBC, Nov 21, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/21/confido-ico-exit-scam-founders-run-away-with-375k.html.

[8] “Cryptocurrency Market Capitalizations,” CoinMarketCap, https://coinmarketcap.com/currencies/bitconnect/

[9] Nikolaus Jilch, “Ermittlung gegen ‘Optioment’: Ein Bitcoin-Pyramidenspiel aus Österreich,” Die Presse, Jan 31, 2018, https://diepresse.com/home/wirtschaft/boerse/5363950/Ermittlungen-gegen-Optioment_Ein-BitcoinPyramidenspiel-aus.

[10] https://www.reddit.com/r/Monero/comments/7kmzkv/psa_regarding_recent_reports_of_mymonero_thefts/

[11] Stan Schroeder, “Cryptocurrency exchange EtherDelta got replaced with a fake site that steals our money,” Mashable UK, Dec 21, 2017, https://mashable.com/2017/12/21/etherdelta-hacked/#rKj9VSYqwqqJ.

[12] Avi Mizrahi, “IOTA Attacked for Subpar Wallet Security Following $4m hack,” Bitcoin.com, Jan 22, 2018, https://news.bitcoin.com/iota-attacked-for-subpar-wallet-security-following-4m-hack/.

[13] https://www.ft.com/content/b8360e86-aceb-11e7-aab9-abaa44b1e130

[14] Tyler Durden, “One Bank Believes It Found The Identity Of Who Is ‘Propping Up By The Bitcoin Market’,” Zero Hedge, Dec 14, 2017, https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-12-14/one-bank-believes-it-found-identity-who-propping-bitcoin-market.

[15] Lubomir Tassev, “No Strong Case to Ban Crypto Trading, Singapore Says,” Bitcoin.com, Feb 7, 2018, https://news.bitcoin.com/no-strong-case-to-ban-crypto-trading-singapore-says/.

[16] “Bundesrat über Kryptowährungen: ‘Die Schweiz soll zur Krypto-Nation werden’,” SRF, Jan 19, 2018, https://www.srf.ch/news/wirtschaft/bundesrat-ueber-kryptowaehrungen-die-schweiz-soll-zur-krypto-nation-werden.

[17] Sperbank setzt für Cyberwährungen auf die Schweiz,” Handelszeitung, Jan 30, 2018, https://www.handelszeitung.ch/invest/sperbank-setzt-fur-cyberwahrungen-auf-die-schweiz.

[18] https://futurezone.at/thema/start-ups/oesterreich-will-zentrum-fuer-blockchain-technologie-werden/288.232.922

[19] “EU: Einigung auf strengere Regeln für Bitcoin-Handelsplattformen,” Die Presse, Dec 15, 2017, https://diepresse.com/home/wirtschaft/boerse/5339451/EU_Einigung-auf-strengere-Regeln-fuer-BitcoinHandelsplattformen.

[20] Lulu Yilun Chen and Justina Lee, “Bitcoin Tumbles as PBOC Declares Itinitial Coin Offerings Illegal,” Bloomberg, Sep 4, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-04/china-central-bank-says-initial-coin-offerings-are-illegal.

[21] Chao Deng, “China Quietly Orders Closing of Bitcoin Mining Operations,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan 11, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-quietly-orders-closing-of-bitcoin-mining-operations-1515594021.

[22] David Meyer, “China Enlists Its ‘Great Firewall’ to Block Bitcoin Websites,” Fortune, Feb 5, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/02/05/bitcoin-china-website-ico-block-ban-firewall/.

[23] Dahee Kim and Cynthia Kim, “South Korea says no to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, uncovers $600 million illegal trades,” Reuters, Jan 31, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-bitcoin/south-korea-says-no-plans-to-ban-cryptocurrency-exchanges-uncovers-600-million-illegal-trades-idUSKBN1FK09J.

[24] Kevin Helms, “South Korean Officials Caught Trading On Insider Knowledge of Crypto Regulations,” Bitcoin.com, Jan 18, 2018, https://news.bitcoin.com/south-korean-officials-caught-trading-on-insider-knowledge-of-crypto-regulations.

[25] Sindhuja Balaji, “India Is Not Banning Cryptocurrency, Here’s What It Is Doing Instead,” Forbes, Feb 6, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/sindhujabalaji/2018/02/06/india-is-not-banning-cryptocurrency-heres-what-it-is-doing-instead.

[26] Lucinda Shen, “Bitcoin Traders Are Relieved at CFTC and SEC Cryptocurrency Senate Hearing Testimony,” Fortune, Feb 7, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/02/06/bitcoin-price-cftc-sec-cryptocurrency-hearing/.

[27] “Am Handy tummeln sich die Banken,” Die Presse, Dec 17, 2017, https://diepresse.com/home/meingeld/aktien/5340102/Am-Handy-tummeln-sich-die-Banken.

[28] Michael de Castillo, “UBS to Launch Live Ethereum Compliance Platform,” Coindesk, Dec 11, 2017, https://www.coindesk.com/ubs-launch-live-ethereum-platform-barclays-credit-suisse.

[29] Mike Butcher & Josh Costine, “Telegram plans multi-billion dollar ICO for chat cryptocurrency,” TechCrunch, Jan 8, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/08/telegram-open-network.

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