I admit I was late to cryptocurrency investing.
I heard about it years ago but never gave it much thought until this year. Everyone was saying it was too late at that point but I had some extra cash I was willing to lose. Therefore, like any investor with a high risk tolerance, I threw caution to the wind and said;
I opened a Coinbase account and bought some coins. The three offered there were Bitcoin(BTC), Ethereum(ETH) and Litecoin(LTC). My “portfolio” was about an even split between the three.
I didn’t have a specific strategy or a timetable for investing. I just knew I didn’t want to make it a big investment due to the potential for loss. It was $200 here, $200 there and it continued until December. All told, I threw about $3300 into this thing.
I didn’t expect much but I did see a this potential new asset class and wanted to see how it played out. There was no harm beyond total loss in putting a tiny bit of my money out there and spinning the roulette wheel.
Beyond my random purchases, I didn’t check the prices nor did I care much about returns. That changed a few weeks ago when I checked my total during a routine purchase of ETH.
The account was worth $15,000.
That means I had a 4.5x return in less than half a year. That return was had with almost no thought to what I was buying. It all seemed pretty silly to me. I decided to pull out my original investment and let the rest keep going.
I opened an account on binance to buy some alt coins and now own a variety of other coins. High quality coins like REQ, XLM, QSP, LINK, VEN, XRP, MOD, ARK, WTC and others.
How do I know these coins are high quality? I don’t because they were initially bought after 10 minutes of research via reddit.
What was the result? Some of these coins have gone up 500% since I bought them.
The account that was worth ~11k after I pulled out my money a week or so ago is now up to 15k again. That includes a large price drop in the market today due to the Korean government’s potential plans to impact trading in that country. When you consider my initial outlay that’s out of this total, my return is 5.5x.
That’s the kind of return that can lull an investor into a fall sense of security and make one think that you know what you’re doing. It’s the kind of return that can make someone like me think; “hmm, maybe I should have put more money into this” and do something risky.
The risks of Cryptocurrency
For me, that kind of return made me think about the real risks that come with this type of speculative purchase.
I’m a long term investor so I didn’t immediately think that I should put more money into this. That might be because I know that the market movements that I saw in these various coins I purchased are insane. There’s no other way to explain it. The problem I have is that money of the people investing in these things likely don’t have that perspective.
I knew something was up when people at work began to ask me if I heard of ripple.
That’s when I knew we were definitely in a bubble. These are people who know I’m into investing and rarely ask me a question about their 401k and yet here came the questions about Ripple. I gave them the standard answer about risk and high returns and ripple soared from 40 cents to well above $2 in a matter of weeks. They were excited and eager to invest more.
It’s not just the fact that random people who never seem to care about investments that make me think we’re in a bubble. Consider Dogecoin, an obvious joke coin with no active development that now has a market cap of nearly $2B. Consider the 1000+ “currencies”, most of which have no viable use competing for the growing $750B market cap.
Bitcoin, the most popular coin had more than 85% of the global market cap of cryptocurrencies as early as March 1st of 2017. Now it has less than 34%. It’s not that bitcoin has fallen, it’s that all these new coins have had a rapid ascent driven by speculative thoughts. We’ve all heard stories about those who made millions from their original bitcoin investments. The obvious thought that pops into one’s mind is if there’s a coin out there now that could do the same for me.
There’s a reason that coins like Doge have risen so much recently. It’s the insane idea that if Bitcoin can rise to $15,000 then how much money can be made from a coin that’s currently priced at 1 cent. People don’t seem to grasp the idea of market cap and how that limits your price. They don’t see that certain coins may have 5000x the amount of supply as bitcoin and will never reach $15,000 because their market cap then would be astronomical.
Still, any sort of reasonable thinking doesn’t seem to matter as those coins continue to go up as more and more people get into them. Even most of my recent purchases soared days after I read about them on reddit. Am I a coin picking genius or is it something else entirely?
The more likely answer is that most of these coins are rising on the backs of a solid marketing campaign, combined with greed and misinformation. There’s certainly good technology out there and interesting coins but it’s not all of them. The number of buzzwords you hear in the white papers(these detail the product and the road map of the coin amongst other things) are sometimes ridiculous. They’re all quantum based, A.I. focused, cloud oriented decentralized world changers.
The CEOs of these coins are often on twitter promising partnerships with real companies and updates that may or may not come. It’s hard to tell which is the truth but the comments delight short-term speculators who reap the benefits. Will the long term benefits be there as claimed by the many who tell you to buy and hodl(popular misspelling of hold)? Who the hell knows!
It all sounds very good and the technology is there but now there are thousands of coins out there. All trying to make use of the blockchain. How is anyone supposed to pick the winners in this emerging technology? The white papers aren’t all easy reads and some require a math and CS degree to make sense of it all.
One has to realize that this not that much different than the .com bubble. The number of coins out there trying to take advantage of this rise and hiding behind some complex buzzwords is huge.
It all echoes back to the late 90s. There were plenty of good companies during the late 90s when the internet started to be hot but there were also many companies just slapping a .com to their name and calling it a day. Those who were lucky to pick the right ones were rewarded handsomely, others were not.
Enter bitcoin’s rise to prominence and suddenly everyone has a coin of their own. That coin apparently does things better and/or it offers a new ground breaking way to utilize blockchain technology. How different is that than slapping .com to the end of your name?
Does Long Iceland Ice Tea Corp rising 289% after changing their name to Long Blockchain sound any different? We’re living in a world where a company can say they’re moving into block chain technology from making ice tea and have their stock triple in days. Kodak just announced a coin to be used for photo purchases and is up nearly 130%. These kind of movements are insane. These stocks are supposedly worth money because they’re businesses that have the potential to grow and make money. How are they suddenly worth 2-4x more simply because they’re utilizing block chain for something?
Why are these coins worth money in the first place? How is anyone supposed to do a fundamental analysis to define the valuation of a specific coin? Is it the network effect? Maybe the potential to replace gold as a store of value? Perhaps potential to replace dollars as a currency or something else entirely?
Ask yourself this question as an investor. When was the last time you saw stocks go up 10x+ in the space of a year? It’s rather rare for something to be so undervalued to necessitate such a move. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen but it’s relatively rare. Google and Amazon grew far more during the internet era even if it took them longer.
That’s not the case with cryptocurrency. These things have moved 10x or more in droves in the past year. What has changed on a fundamental level to drive such a move between 2017 and 2018?The network has certainly grown and more people are aware of it but has the potential of it changed that much? I don’t believe so which is why these valuations scare me.
Initially this seemed like a haven for small investors to participate in an emerging technology but things have changed. There are now many people who are making a lot of money off these things including big investors. Are those big investors there to HODL like some of those who truly believe in bitcoin or do they have thoughts of quick profits? The idea of buy and HODL is nice but it can all turn around if some big investor who bought at $200 decides to sell at $20000. They’ve made their money and it may be us left holding the bag.
There’s also issues with the uncertainty about who actually holds these coins. Often, the case is that the creators hold more than 50% and can dilute the coin quickly if they ever release it. Ripple as an example has a circulating supply of less than 40% of the max right now.
There’s lots of question marks and whether you consider these a risk or not, it’s important to put the gains in perspective. Anything that goes up so quickly can fall just as quickly. I’ll ask again; why are these coins worth money?
Perhaps a lot of it is just greed.
The allure of Cryptocurrency
It’s easy to say this is a bubble, it will pop and then simply ignore it. It’s also easy to see why people are drawn to it beyond just the returns.
Cryptocurrency spoke and still speaks to the forgotten class of investors who want to participate in something new, something big. It is a decentralized system, not driven by the government or created by the big banks which allows any random person with $1000 to participate and potentially make it big.
It’s possible that we’re seeing the emergence of a brand new technology that will be just as big as the internet. If that’s the case then the potential for high returns still exists. After all, there are single companies that were born of the internet that have more than the market cap of the entire cryptocurrency space.
People learn about new technology gradually and now that they’re learning about blockchain, they’re starting to value it as something. How is this different than the internet explosion of the late 90s and why isn’t there more money to be made?
There were times early on when a savvy speculator could “invest” in Google or Amazon pre-IPO and get huge returns. In 1998, Jeff Bezos bought google stock for 7.5 cents! His 250k investment was worth over $280 million by the time of the IPO and would be worth over $1.5 billion now.
We might be past the 7.5 cents lifespan of bitcoin but are we still in the $280 million period with more room to expand? It’s hard to know but it’s certainly enticing to be able to get into something like this so near the ground floor.
One can think of a person putting money into a specific coin as an angel investor trying to find the next big thing. Venture capital funds are typically only an option for the rich. Through them, they get exposure to companies that may become the next Google or Amazon. Investors make bets on new technologies in search for that 100x return knowing that 5/10 of these bets will result in the company they’ve invested in going under.
How is this any different? It’s different because anyone can participate.
That’s why I believe this is so appealing to so many and why so many feel so strongly about Cryptocurrency. It’s not just the return, although that certainly helps, it’s the potential to be part of something big and garner the rewards.
The valuation of Cryptocurrency
I’ve read plenty of things about how to value this and in my mind it’s all a total crap shoot.
I’ve seen valuations based on the size of the network and based on claims that it may replace gold as a store of value. I won’t even attempt to say those are right or wrong.
My view is that much of it is irrelevant right now because we’re valuing a lot of these coins without knowing exactly what they will end up doing. There’s white papers that explain their goal but most of them aren’t anywhere close to that goal yet. The values some of those coins garner make you think they’re already there and not just in development.
In the same vein, if bitcoin is to replace gold then why are gold prices not down to mirror the shift in sentiment? I don’t buy that argument right now but maybe it’s too early to see that shift. I do think that younger people have a different take on value than those who continue the hold gold. It’s possible that as this develops more, people begin to see this as a store of value. If that’s the bull argument to this then note that gold which has a multi trillion dollar market cap.
There’s been arguments made about the value of it as currency, or as a means to transact on the black market and while there’s some merit to that, I’m not sure I can buy it right now with where the technology is and how wildly the prices move.
If we’re talking about bitcoin as a currency then it has a ways to go there too. The price has to stabilize because who wants a massively inflating or deflating currency and the transactions costs have to go down. Right now sending $200 to my Binance wallet costs nearly $17 in transaction costs. Sending $200 ETH as an example costs less than $3 and the same amount of LTC is 5 cents. If we’re valuing anything as a means of transaction then why is the least effective way to do it the most expensive? These costs will likely improve with updates but why haven’t they yet considering the popularity of Bitcoin?
The good thing about the stock market is that it’s relatively reasonable. Stock prices reflect all known information about the stock and generally don’t move in massive swings unless new information arises. They certainly move up and down but not by tens and hundreds of percent. What happened in the last two weeks that caused most of my altcoins to go up 100%+? I know there was a post on Reddit about how great these coins are and some twitter chatter but is that it?
The market cap of the entire universe is hovering in the $700-$800B range with a ton of coins now being valued above $1B. There’s a lot of value being created in this universe that may or may not be warranted. That doesn’t mean these coins have no value at all but it may mean that they’re overvalued. There are plenty of stocks that are valued at an unreasonable level based on their potential. Gold, diamonds, art all have value because we give them value. You may argue that those are all things we can touch and see but so what. Their value is not based on the fact that they’re tangible, it’s based on something else. The internet has changed the way we think about tangible goods and Cryptocurrency is an evolution of that.
The issue is that the speculative fever has driven the prices of a lot of these coins up quite a bit and it has taken almost every coin along for the ride; whether good or bad. Imagine chocolate gold coins rising in price simply because gold was rising too. It doesn’t make sense!
We’re at a stage right now where you can own pretty much any coin and you can make money. In fact, only 10 of the top 100 coins by market cap(at this time last year) had a negative return and the top 10 performers had a return of over 8000%. That kind of return profile is too damn good and it’s simply too easy to make money in this right now.
There’s a danger with from a risk perspective. An investor can get lulled into a fall sense of security thinking they know what they’re doing. I know what I’m doing, I’m benefiting from pure blind luck and riding the wave up. I’m not good at valuing these things and I know it but does everyone else who invests in these coins?
Right now, it really is as easy as throwing a dart at the top 100 list. You can probably pick five random coins today, throw some money into them and make a profit.
That sort of thing is simply too easy and can’t last forever.
My take on Cryptocurrency
We’re right smack in the middle of a classic bubble; to me that much is clear. We might be early on the rising wave or about to hit the top and tumble over. It’s hard to tell with these things and I won’t tell you my personal opinion because it’s not worth that much. However, I’m still invested if that tells you anything.
I believe that the technology behind it is interesting and I understand why the valuations have started to explode in the past year. There’s a level of credibility and mainstream appeal that wasn’t there before. Cryptocurrency is now gaining critical mass and the valuations are following suit with a lot of coins starting to get ahead of themselves.
There’s plenty of intriguing coins out there trying to do something cool in an interesting way. There’s also plenty of crap that is now worth a ton of money. Dogecoin is a perfect example of this and if a coin like that can garner a $1.5 market cap then how can one be sure of the true value of anything?
The obvious question based on all these issues I have with it is why am I still invested?
A part of it is that I love the idea of it all. It’s a group of anonymous people establishing trust in each other via the blockchain and coming together to create things that typically require a centralized authority. It’s a fascinating concept that has insane potential and is happening right before our eyes. On top of that, it’s open to people of any wealth profile. I can participate in something I think sounds like it has a ton of potential with only a few hundred dollars. It’s easy to say the stock market is a better investment and it is in the long run. It’s also true that some of the best investment ideas that exist in the stock market are simply inaccessible to the regular investor.
Here we have something has the potential for great returns and it’s open to anyone. The chance of it being a great investment is small, that’s true. It’s up to you to decide what that chance it but the reality is that it’s not 0%.
Anyone who thinks that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are a sound investment right now is crazy. It’s pure speculation, that is for sure. However, anyone that thinks that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are worthless is crazy too.
That’s why I’m still invested in them and will likely remain invested in them for quite some time. In my mind, there’s something to this technology. I’ve done more reading since my initial investments, read some white papers, realized that some of them are complete nonsense and sold off a few coins.
I don’t think that this price escalation can continue for much longer. I believe we’ll likely see some contraction in the future. It’s just too easy to make money in pretty much anything right now and that can’t last.
That’s the key thing that anyone speculating in cryptocurrency has to keep in mind. There’s thousands of coins out there. They’re all hard to value and potentially overpriced and who knows how many of them, if any, will be around five years from now.
That’s the main risk of investing in crypto. It’s so early in the lifespan of blockchain technology. Yet the prices are starting to reflect an assumption of massive adoption. How can 1000+ coins coexist with one another when many of them offer similar technologies? In fact, a lot of them don’t offer anything at all and yet their value is still more than $0. How can that be?
Right now, if you’re speculating in crypto, you’re making a bet, that’s the hard reality of it. This isn’t investing. I don’t have a long term record or proper valuation metrics to make sense of this as an investment. I know what stocks will likely do in the long run; same with bonds, same with real estate. I don’t know what cryptocurrencies will do in the long run.
What I do know is that they offer me a return potential that can’t be matched anywhere else. That may sound like greed getting the best of me or giving in to the fear of missing out. Maybe but to me it’s just a way of evaluating the risk/reward potential and making a bet that I think has decent odds.
If someone offers me a bet that has the potential of a 10x return and I know the chance of that return is 0%. I will never take that bet. If I know the chance of that return is 100% then I will always make that bet.
I believe that it’s nearly impossible to value any given coin right now. I also believe that the technology is worth something and the short term return prospects are high especially in the altcoin space.
That’s why I compare altcoins to someone offering me a bet that has the potential of a 10x return. I KNOW that the chance of this bet paying off is a lot less than 100%. I THINK it’s higher than 0%. That’s what intrigues me about this. These coins have a chance of a 10x return, they’ve proven that. Even if the chance of that return is 15% then that seems like a decent bet to me. How do I know that it’s anywhere close to 15% and not much lower? I don’t know that, for all I know we could be at the peak right now and everything beyond this is losses. That’s the risk inherent with speculation. If it’s a lot higher, I stand to make some good money and it’s lower then I stand to lose most if it. You have to be OK with that potential.
Why am I more interested in altcoins than the three main coins like BTC, ETH or LTC? I think those three have value but are being propped up by how the marketplace is set up right now. New users generally only buy those three coins since that’s all Coinbase offers. Imagine if the biggest stock exchange only offered Apple, Google and Facebook. Which stocks would be the most expensive?
Imagine it was a hassle to open up an account on a second stock exchange. Now imagine that once you did, you couldn’t buy stocks with cash but had to use Apple and Google as a proxy to trade into other stocks. That’s how the exchanges are set up right now. I have to buy BTC or ETH before I can buy anything else. There’s a reason that bitcoin is so dominant right now and it’s because of this set up. That’s great for Bitcoin and Ethereum and great for the exchanges but not so great for the users. It increases cost(especially if you buy BTC) and decreases availability. Bitcoin and Ether are solid coins but there is additional risk there if that setup ever changes. Those two coins already make up 50% of the overall market cap so their upside is also limited.
If my 10x return is now suddenly 2-3x then I have to be pretty damn sure of that return to make that bet.
That’s why I’m more interested in the other coins now. Altcoins have more potential for that 20x return because they’re still relatively unknown. I think that’ll eventually change as more exchanges are built and more coins are added to popular exchanges like Coinbase and Gemini. Right now, if my coworker wants to buy ripple, he has to buy bitcoin first then trade it for Ripple. What if they could just buy Ripple, it would be easier and would likely cause the price of Ripple to go up because more people who want it could get it. Cryptocurrency is already complicated enough without the exchanges mucking it all up. It’s possible that the market crashes well before that happens but if the ride is to continue then the upside doesn’t lie with BTC, LTC or ETH, it lies with the others.
I’ve taken my cost basis out and I’m willing to let the rest ride.
That’s where I sit with cryptocurrencies right now. It’s a bet but I think the reward potential is large enough that I’m willing to take that bet.
I have investments elsewhere that I believe in and will hold for the long term. Cryptocurrency is not that. I want to make that clear, this isn’t an investment right now. Invest in your 401k, your IRA and your HSA before thinking about this. Make it a small % of your overall portfolio if at all.
It’s play money, it’s risky as hell, it’s a bet, pure speculation. I am personally willing to walk into the casino, roll the dice and see how it plays out. I think that this casino seems to offer pretty decent odds but that’s just personal opinion. That may change in the future if the prices keep rising but right now, I’ll take the odds. I won’t put a lot of money on it but I’ll take it.
My eyes are wide open and I’m aware that any of these coins could go to 0 tomorrow. I’m aware that figuring out my taxes for this will be a huge drag. I’m aware that there are risks beyond what’s mentioned here. There’s governments, exchange issues, hacking, scams, corrections, volatility, etc. I’m mindful that I don’t understand this whole thing that well and need to do a LOT more reading about it. If you want to invest in it, you should try to understand it to make sure you’re not picking crap.
I’m not betting the house but I’ll bet one of the four chairs in my dining room table. If I lose that chair then I still have the house and three chairs and taking type of risk is OK with me.
I’m 90% sure that it’ll be a bad ending for many investors but maybe I’m wrong. If I am then at least I have a bit of skin in there to benefit from the rewards.
If that’s how you play it then I think there’s room for cryptocurrency in your portfolio. I’m just not sure most see it that way.
Please speculate rarely and invest(in real investments – no crypto) often. I don’t have any suggestions on coins to buy; do your own research.
Disclosure: Long BTC, LTC, ETH, REQ, XLM, QSP, LINK, VEN, XRP, MOD, ARK, WTC
Disclosure: Some of these coins are probably scams, I don’t know.