Analysis by CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal: Bitcoin offers big returns – and big risks
“I wish I’d invested in Bitcoin,” is a response I usually hear when I tell people how much they could have made off the cryptocurrency if they had bought it at the start. Just to be clear, if you bought US$100 worth of Bitcoin in 2010 when it was worth 0.003 cents each, you’d be sitting on more than $88 million.
It all sounds so easy. But for regular investors in Bitcoin – those not heavily involved in the cryptocurrency world – Bitcoin has a confusing reputation. It’s known to be highly volatile with wild price swings, but at the same time some, such as Bobby Lee, the co-founder and chief executive of Bitcoin exchange BTCC, have called it a safe-haven asset.
“When the existing money system has problems, people turn to Bitcoin, sort of like people used to go to gold in the old days,” Mr Lee told CNBC in a recent interview.
I’ve never been a big believer in Bitcoin as a safe-haven asset. Sure it has got a touch of support when politics has been rocky. However, a comparison of Bitcoin’s performance over the past year against the Nasdaq, a tech-heavy stock index, and the typical safe-haven asset of gold, shows that the cryptocurrency has more in common with the former.
From around mid-June last year, Bitcoin and the Nasdaq have been on a steady climb with the stock index recently breaking the 6,000-point barrier and continuing to hit fresh record highs. And it appears there isn’t a day that goes by where Bitcoin doesn’t hit a fresh record high.
Buying the Nasdaq represents a risk-on move and I would argue so does buying Bitcoin, a currency that can see swings of more than $100 in a few hours.
A look at Bitcoin’s trading pattern versus gold in the past year also gives a glimpse into how the cryptocurrency isn’t really a safe-haven asset. Gold saw a lot of support between mid-June last year and the middle of October. Bitcoin was just bubbling along quietly. But once US president Donald Trump was elected, investors moved out of gold into riskier assets on the promise that increased spending by the new US administration as well as tax reforms could boost stocks. At the time the gold price continued to decline, Bitcoin rose, and while the precious metal saw a bit of renewed support in the first few months, the cryptocurrency continues to skyrocket.
Investors are flocking to Bitcoin, not because it offers stability, which it quite clearly doesn’t, but more to find solid returns on an asset that is up more than 150 per cent year-to-date.
Investors who still believe Bitcoin is a safe-haven asset might find themselves on the wrong side of the trade.
Arjun Kharpal is a technology correspondent for CNBC in London.
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Updated: May 28, 2017 04:00 AM