Thursday, 7 January 2021

Bitcoin's Bull Should Fear Its Other Scarcity Problem

As the value of this asset class rises, generating price spikes becomes increasingly difficult.

The Theory behind Bitcoins

The supply of Bitcoins was set from the start at 21 million.

That means, in the words of its pseudonymous founder Satoshi Nakamoto, it should ultimately be "completely inflation free" - making it a far better store of wealth than assets whose real value declines over time.

That's in theory, at least.

Digital currencies are still a tiny share of the world's investments

With the price of Bitcoin climbing as high as $34,792 Sunday (3.1.2021) and putting the value of all coins in circulation at around $647 billion, there is a different scarcity problem looming larger.

It is easier to think about this in terms of asset allocation.

World equity and bond markets  = $217 trillion

World equity markets = $103 trillion

World bond markets = $114 trillion

Bitcoins = 18.6 million coins = $647 billion.

Cryptocurrencies = $884 billion

Investment Gold = $3 trillion

If investors in aggregate decide to put just 0.1% of their stock and bond portfolios into Bitcoin right now, that represents an additional $200 billion or so, chasing the same pile of 18.6 million coins that have been mined to date - enough to push the price well over $40,000.

In that sense, the roller--coaster ride that Bitcoin has ridden in recent years looks almost sedate.

At current prices, all the digital Bitcoins in circulation are equivalent to about 0.6% of the $103 trillion market capitalization of the world's equity markets.

That is higher than the 0.4% allocation when the crypto price last peaked on Dec. 18, 2017 and much higher than levels shy of 0.1% that have prevailed at times since then - but it looks a whole lot less dramatic than the 79% run-up in coin prices from their last peak.

The success of cryptocurrencies tends to eat itself

The problem for digital bulls is that the success of cryptocurrencies tends to eat itself. 

As the value of the asset class rises, the shifts away from more conventional investments needed to provoke price spikes get larger and larger.

Bitcoin versus Gold

Bitcoin on its own is worth about 6 times the 56 million ounces of metal represented by all the contracts outstanding on the Comex 100-ounce gold contract.   

The world's biggest gold ETF, SPDR Gold Shares, holds about $72 billion of the yellow metal.  

Add in other forms of private investment gold and you've got about $2.87 trillion worth of metal -  but much of that is in the form of bars and coins that aren't easily liquidated when investors want to tweak their portfolios.

Turnover of digital coin derivatives 

Turnover of digital coin derivatives in the September quarter came to $2.7 trillion, according to Tokeninsight, a research company.  

That is not all that far behind the run rate of the world's biggest equity markets.    

The value of all shares traded in Japan in 2019 came to just $5.09 trillion, according to the World Federation of Exchanges, enough to make it the third-largest equity market on that basis.

Hedge Maze

Far from looking like a hedge against equity markets, the correlation between Bitcoin and the S&P is stronger than for many stock indexes.

Why would you choose to allocate a slice of your stock and bond holdings into a digital currency, instead of more conventional assets?

Once momentum stops driving the price higher, as it inevitably will, the best argument is still the hope that it might balance out the swings in your broader portfolio.  The prospect of Bitcoin becoming that sort of negative beta asset is the most promising way for it to become something more useful than a dice game for investors.

Unfortunately there is still little sign of that happening.  These days it looks not so much like a hedge against the gyrations of the equity market as a leveraged bet on the same movements.

  • The correlation between Bitcoin and the S&P 500 index was 0.767 over the past year - somewhat closer than the link between the S&P and the FTSE 100 index, and substantially tighter than that between U.S. and Hong Kong stocks.  
  • Gold's correlation with the S&P 500 was a far lower 0.299, while the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Treasury index of total sovereign bond returns posted a prized negative beta of minus 0.036.

Crypto will only grow up if and when it finds a different driving force to the animal spirits that govern equity markets.  If it really wants to be an alternative asset to stocks and bonds, it needs to start behaving  like one.

January 4, 2021 by David Fickling

Bitcoin Price Surge Creates a Different Scarcity Problem - Bloomberg

Bitcoin’s Bulls Should Fear Its Other Scarcity Problem

As the value of this asset class rises, generating price spikes becomes increasingly difficult.