Although this was originally written in September 2019, I have continually edited w/ last update as of December 2020.
You have heard about it... Bitcoin. What is the big deal?
Why does it have value? What might that value be? And why should anyone buy some and include it in their financial portfolio? Various parts of these arguments have been made in many places all over the web (some of the best material I know of is linked here), and I am hoping to synthesize both an introduction to Bitcoin along with a bullish argument for investing. The tone of this is meant for a layperson who has not already spent much time in the space, although I believe there is something in here for everyone - especially when you include the wealth of linked information.
I'm not an engineer or computer programmer. As such, I'm not an expert on the technical side of Bitcoin, nor am I going to delve deeply in to the technical aspects of how Bitcoin works. The good news is that I do not believe a deep technical understanding is essential to discuss Bitcoin with you today. I believe that investing in Bitcoin is more an economic and financial exercise than a technical one. I believe that you should generally invest in things somewhat proportional to the amount of understanding you have of what you're investing in. Thus because I argue investing in Bitcoin is a good idea, let's get started understanding a bit about BTC & the value proposition first.
Despite the fact that I am bullish on Bitcoin, this article isn't financial advice. Firstly, nobody including myself knows what will happen, especially with something as complex as Bitcoin and the world economic environment. (Anyone who tells you they know what will happen is probably also trying to get some of your money.) Secondly, everyone's financial situation and risk appetite are different, and what's right for one person or myself might not be right for others.
I'm just a guy with an opinion.
First things first: What is Bitcoin?
For those who don't really know what Bitcoin is, there is a lot of great material on the web that can teach you more or less how it works. I'm going to provide a rudimentary understanding of how Bitcoin works here, and I recommend further study if this article makes you interested. Read this link for a nice short piece on Why Bitcoin Matters. Bitcoin is essentially just a decentralized ledger. Computers all around the world come to consensus on which wallets have how many Bitcoins. You transact numbers on that ledger (bitcoins and satoshis, the smallest divisible unit of a bitcoin) with other people, without having to trust a 3rd party (e.g., bank, PayPal, credit card, etc...) to guarantee the transaction. Very simply, this is Bitcoin. Bitcoin is something permanent and growing, in an age of impermanence. Bitcoin is the cathedral of the digital age. The foundation has been laid, here, in the years since its inception. It is kept on nodes all around the world and grows with every block that is added. And this digitally permanent ledger, Bitcoin, becomes very powerful when people decide Bitcoin has value and treat it as a medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, asset, and money.
OK but: Why is Bitcoin valuable?
Simply, because now we can do all of this [medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, asset, money] on a secure system with a defined inflation rate that is not controlled by any entity. Bitcoin is valuable because there is no singular point of failure for counterparty risk. With Bitcoin you don't need to pay for that 3rd party to exist (structural business costs, bank wire fees, credit card fees and interest, etc...) which means you don't have the potential for control or censorship from that 3rd party. Bitcoin is not controlled by anyone and is therefore censorship resistant. Bitcoin itself is very secure. All Bitcoin-related theft is due to carelessness on the part of owners, or incompetency or dishonesty from the companies they used (such as exchanges). Bitcoin transactions are not reversible. If you make a mistake, there isn't a way to undo it. That finality can make using Bitcoin intimidating, especially to new users. But that finality is also a feature which ensures increased security for transactions. Transactions can not be reversed, so you know when bitcoin is transferred it will not be returned without another transaction.
This is a cool chart which shows a potential growth outline of Bitcoin from inception to full blown Global Money.
So, Bitcoin is intended to be an alternative form of money, decentralized and digital money. But Bitcoin isn't there yet. After all, many places don't yet accept Bitcoin. The majority of people don't have or use it. It isn't the easiest to invest in today, and it has, at times, been very volatile for a Store of Value. But it's on a path to getting there. The primary thing holding bitcoin back right now is simply a lack of legal clarity everywhere, and universal acceptance. Think of Bitcoin like a network. It needs adoption. It needs to keep growing.
Is Bitcoin too slow?? The Tortoise & The Hare
Many argue though, that Bitcoin's largest fault is that it can't currently process enough transactions, and not nearly as many transactions as, say, VISA. (This was even a central debate within Bitcoin some years ago and led to the Bitcoin Cash hard fork, which is interesting but beyond the scope of this article) Given that Bitcoin cannot function as a peer-to-peer cash that handles a huge volume of transactions, today, how can Bitcoin be a money then?
I would counter that Bitcoin's most valuable property is not today nor ever going to be its ability to be used as another form of money to buy things every day, even if one day it can be used by people around the world for that. USD, EUROS, and other regular fiat currencies already work very well today when combined with credit cards and other financial instruments in facilitating ordinary daily purchases. So, I can fully understand why people might ask, "Brian, why do I need another internet money to buy things?" You don't. You don't need the amazing and costly security of a decentralized blockchain to guarantee small transactions, such as purchasing coffee for $5 dollars. You just want something like a credit card that works rapidly and conveniently. People living in rich countries with successful currencies don't have a need for this (although people living in countries with bad currencies, or the unbanked - they are another story. There are likely over a billion people worldwide who don't have bank accounts but have cell phones. And I do believe that Bitcoin might be a better option for many of them - even without VISA type transaction speed - and especially if things like the Lightning network end up functioning as intended as layers on top of the base layer. This aside is beyond the scope of this article.).
So, while Bitcoin doesn't have the transactional capacity today to be used worldwide as a day-to-day currency, it does have the capacity to replace international remittance. So forget VISA, and think bank wires and Western Union. Bitcoin is cheaper and faster than those.
Moreover, that way of viewing Bitcoin - as merely another form of digital cash - pigeon-holes it as something much less than it actually is. Understatement to the point of trivializing, in my opinion. It'd be like picking up an iPhone X today and being really impressed that it makes phone calls anywhere. Yes sure, it does do that - but so did cell phones 15 years ago. The iPhone X does so much more. A camera, internet, text, chats, applications, bluetooth, wifi, etc... And so does Bitcoin. Bitcoin is the tortoise. BCash & others are the hare. Slow and steady wins the race. Or in this case, I would posit that Bitcoin already won (explanation coming later).
Bitcoin doesn't derive most of its value from simply being an alternative currency. And I am going to ask you to imagine something that is not precisely like anything else that has come before it. Bitcoin does not neatly fit in to an explanatory compartment and category that has already existed. It is something new, something that blends many different ideas in to one thing. So open your mind, take the red pill, and follow me to see how deep this rabbit hole really goes.
Through the Looking Glass: Transparent Supply
If Bitcoin's most valuable property isn't its transaction speed, what is it? Bitcoin's most valuable property in my estimation is its programmed scarcity. Bitcoin was created with a scheduled inflationary policy. Every 10 minutes when the transactions are processed on the blockchain, bitcoins are "mined" (created) and given to the miners that process these transactions. The number that is created in these blocks is cut in half every 4 years. This process means that every 4 years the inflationary pressure in Bitcoin is cut in half, and that eventually - mathematically - there will be essentially no new bitcoins mined. Right now, (2/2021), there are approximately 18.6 million bitcoins in existence. The final total will be 21 million. Therefore, in Bitcoin's entire future lifespan, there will only be an inflation of 2.4 million more coins, approximately 13% the amount of the current supply. EVER. That seems especially valuable when compared to your local fiat currency controlled by your nation's central bank, whose monetary policy is at the whims of the political climate, special interests, politicians, bankers, and everyone who isn't you nor has your best interests in mind. Now there is a lot of debate about the exact effects of monetary inflation and money supply, and it's an interesting topic to research. I believe that the massive increase in money supply (e.g. Quantitative Easing) that banks are employing, even if it currently hasn't caused demonstrably massive inflation, will eventually cause the continual devaluation of those currencies, and inflation. Here is a chart of the global money supply over the last 30 years, followed by a chart of bitcoin supply:
The first chart shows an exponential growth in Fiat money supply in the world where the rate of supply has been increasing. That might continue or it might not. The Bitcoin supply rate is decreasing, and that WILL continue. It's programmed scarcity. Which of those two moneys would you rather hold, based on the supply curves? This is not a trick question!
More Is Better
Today, monetary policy seems to be focused on keeping interest rates low, deficit spending, and constantly printing more money. This has caused massive growth in Real Estate and equities (SPX, stock markets) in the last 10 years as so much loose money and credit looks for a place to go. There is basically no incentive to save money in a bank, bond yields everywhere are going negative, and US Dollar purchasing power has gone down. Sure, for goods where the technology is continually improved - the Purchasing Power has gotten a lot better (e.g., TVs get better and cheaper). But when you factor out technological improvement, I believe you see quite a lot of inflation, inflation on assets with some scarcity or cruciality of their own: Real Estate, Equities, Health Care, Insulin, Gold, Ivy League Educations, etc... And this was before COVID-19 hit. The COVID-19 response from governments has been to quadruple down on money creation, stimulus, and deficit spending. Stimulus spending has already dwarfed that during the 2008 financial crisis. Estimates vary but a reasonable estimate from McKinsey, in June 2020, is over 10 trillion USD worldwide. It's already October, and the end of Covid isn't in sight with more stimulus, world-wide, on the way.
But what about Gold?
In the current inflationary macro environment, with exponentially increasing money supply, I believe assets that store value and have scarcity will have innate value. Another asset that you might be thinking of at this point is Gold. It is a scarce asset that people perceive to have value. A Saver's asset. Gold has been considered by people around the world to have a lot of value and be a Store of Value for thousands of years. Bitcoin does not have that kind of historical track record, obviously, at 10 years young. Bitcoin also doesn't have practical use, as gold does, as a mineral for various industrial uses and for jewelry. On the other hand, Gold is not a practical form of money, as it is difficult to send, transport, divide... or basically use. Bitcoin, on the other hand, does all of those things very well. Also, the more valuable Gold gets, the more incentive there is to mine it. And more mining means more Gold. So even though Gold is scarce, it is not as scarce as Bitcoin. It is impossible for Gold to be as scarce as Bitcoin. Thus, Gold is NOT theoretically as good of a Store of Value as Bitcoin NOR as useful as a monetary asset. I believe therefore, in the case that Bitcoin becomes increasingly adopted as a Store of Value and digital monetary asset, it will displace Gold in some-to-all regard as the dominant Store of Value asset.
Self-fulfilling prophecy conundrum
In a very real sense, Bitcoin requires people to discover and accept its value as a programmable scarce asset, like gold, but with a whole lot more utility as a money. I can argue this. But money and assets are what people believe they are. That's a key part of this story. The self-fulfilling prophecy. Bitcoin needs other people to realize its great properties, its use cases, and buy it. And if that continues to happen, then eventually Bitcoin will become the Store of Value, Unit of Account, and Digital Currency that right now its believers and investors think it might. In that sense, Bitcoin should exhibit some properties as a network. And so far, most people in the world do not own Bitcoin.
It is still very early in an adoption cycle. While a significant number of people have used or own Bitcoin, the vast majority of people in the world, and money available for investment, are still on the sidelines. So while Bitcoin acceptance has been growing, there is still has much room to grow between now and being a fully accepted monetary asset world-wide; fulfillment of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Nobody Backs Silly Worthless Magic Internet Money
But, some might argue, who is backing Bitcoin? Why does it have any value? It's just numbers on "the ledger" in a computer. They are right, and they are wrong. There is no central authority backing Bitcoin - but ultimately all authorities derive their power and consent from the people inside of the system. So while the US Government backs the dollar, it is ultimately our mutual consent and support of our monetary system, and in the value of the dollar, that is fundamental to its success. As with other forms of money, you have to believe Bitcoin has value, in order for it to ultimately have that value. That value comes from its utility and acceptance by others. We accept the dollar in America because our government prints it, backs it, and collects it for taxes - and other people and businesses accept our dollars when we want to buy things - despite the fact that it's merely a piece of paper or a number in a bank account. Bitcoin isn't backed by a government, that much is true. But, while some see this as a bug, I will turn that around and argue it is actually a feature! Instead of a central authority, which can fail, it simply has a ledger of transactions and keeps a Unit of Account backed by Proof of Work done by all the miners in order to decentralize this authority and disperse it to everywhere. So, while "nobody" is now responsible - Bitcoin is potentially the most robust form of money we have ever created because there is no singular point of failure.
Ultimately, all money is worth something only because someone else will accept it in a transaction. Money by itself is generally worthless, and just a value holder everyone accepts in order to efficiently transact in a society. This allowed us to move beyond basic bartering and trading, to specialize labor, and so on. There is nothing inherently more valuable about a currency because it's backed by a government. It might provide a greater perceived security in that currency, because of that central authority. I would submit, however, that many, many, governments throughout history have destroyed the worth of their currencies, and you've seen all kinds of hyper-inflationary events, like the Weimar Republic, Venezuela today, and others. As of October 21, 2020, Bitcoin had already made an all-time high vs 7 currencies affecting about 500 million people worldwide, despite being only about $13,000 USD (or just under 70% of the USD all-time high of around $20,000). Today, 2/16/2021, Bitcoin stands at $50,000 USD and has made an all-time high against every currency in the world, including the USD. Additionally, states can and do fail, which tends to be bad for their currencies as well. So, while it seems like you want your money to be backed by a country - I would turn that around and say that you should prefer your money to be backed by no one central authority and instead be decentralized. (With the obvious caveat that other people and businesses must also accept it) And I believe the longer the time frame you zoom out, the more this becomes obvious.
Bitcoin is the truth in this regard. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of the inevitable march of monetary soundness.
Some have seen it. One day more will see it. Then all will see it.
Humanity has NEVER had a money like this. A money with no singular point of failure. A money where there is a defined future inflation which trends to zero. I repeat: there will only ever be 13% more Bitcoins produced than the current supply contains.
Bitcoin is simply the best way to save. Because of the scarcity, Bitcoin rewards savers more than any other asset ever has.
Bitcoin: the Fort Knox of asset security
And there is more. I posit that Bitcoin is also the most secure asset. Not only can your bitcoin not be hacked, it can't be seized from you. Someone could put a gun to your head and you still wouldn't have to give them your bitcoin if you didn't want to. Literally everything you own can be taken by force, even if you were willing to do anything - even die - in order to try and stop that. Your property can be seized by the government. (Maybe you trust your government.. but imagine all the people worldwide who do not feel this way.)
Your possessions can be seized, or if you are robbed, they can be forcefully taken with or without your consent. Bitcoin isn't something you physically own. Bitcoin cannot be taken without your consent. (This isn't to suggest that if someone puts a gun to your head, or a government threatens jail time, you wouldn't give up your bitcoin. But you would have the choice not to; your consent is required.) You can access it, but your bitcoin is essentially just an agreed upon number that exists on the Bitcoin blockchain on computers around the world. You alone control access to that, and with relatively simple security methods, you can easily ensure that nobody can access your Bitcoin without your consent. There is literally no asset in the world today that is as secure as Bitcoin, if you choose to privately store and maintain your Bitcoin. And that is an important distinction I am making here - CHOOSE. Bitcoin will have the level of security that its owner chooses. There are easier and less safe methods to store your Bitcoin, in other solutions. You will lose some of the absolute security I've just discussed (by trusting a 3rd party) but gain in ease-of-use and defend against personal carelessness.
Will the Use Cases EVER run out? (I'm getting tired Brian!)
Bitcoin is easy to store. There are currently compact hardware wallets that are very secure - such as a Trezor - which you can carry with you and access your Bitcoin via a USB port (or not carry with you and therefore not be able to access). Bitcoin is easy to transport. You can carry it with you whenever and wherever you want, traveling anywhere in the world with the ability to access and send/receive as much of your Bitcoin as you wish. What other asset is that easy and practical to use? Bitcoin is also divisible to any amount you would conceivably need to send, making it easy to transact. It can be sent relatively quickly (it is not currently as fast as instant transactions such as Credit Cards, but much faster than Bank Wires). It has relatively low fees, often cents, that are not based on the amount sent. Thus, Bitcoin is perfect for sending and receiving large amounts.
Bitcoin is the perfect asset for storing liquid net worth. I believe that one of Bitcoin's primary use cases will be the best way to store net worth that you want to keep liquid. Rather than holding a fiat currency which will devalue over time because of inflation, someone will instead choose to keep their liquid net worth in Bitcoin, which can then be quickly exchanged to a fiat currency of choice, if not used directly.
There are a growing number of options to buy, sell, and store Bitcoin. Further, it is becoming easier to invest in or speculate on Bitcoin, without having to own it directly. There is an over-the-counter stock, Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC), which functions similarly to an ETF. With a variety of investment approaches, Bitcoin offers scalable levels of security and of ownership. Thus, Bitcoin can be different things to different people.
Going Full Network
All things considered - one is logically forced to admit that Bitcoin has amazing properties that just might make it the greatest monetary instrument that man has created to this day. The only thing holding it back at this point is simply mass acceptance worldwide. To achieve its potential, an asset needs to be widely accepted - otherwise its value is limited. Despite not being universally accepted, slowly more and more people are owning Bitcoin, and this growth needs to continue for Bitcoin to ultimately succeed. The world, especially zoomed in, isn't necessarily logical and rational, and individuals often aren’t. But I would bet that the emergent decisions we make economically will tend to be logical and rational. Logically and rationally, as I've mentioned a few times already, Bitcoin seems to be a network. A monetary network. And interestingly, Bitcoin's growth in price as an asset over time has so far conformed to a network growth model, which makes intuitive sense to me.
In the chart above, you can see the similarity between Bitcoin and what a network growth model would predict along a logarithmic growth curve. The upper and lower bounds in red and green resemble a wide log function. I have included horizontals for the current all-time high of approximately 20k, the PlanB predicted valuation of 55k for this halving cycle, and another at 100k (for funsies). The vertical blue lines represent the 3 previous halvings & the future one in 2024. I do believe the halvings create a somewhat cyclical element to the growth of BTC due to the clear effects they have on supply.
Also, this network concept has many interesting parallels as an investment. Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple - are all essentially networks. Google w/ search, Facebook w/ family & friends, Amazon w/ digital shopping, Apple w/ dematerializing things in to the phone. Once these networks grew to a size of $100B, and had a majority market share - they continued to progress from there, increasing 10x or more as they went on to peerlessly dominate their respective fields.
Bitcoin is a network that pools monetary energy. That is why it is growing as a network growth model would predict. It currently has a market cap of nearly $1 TRILLION USD, and represents over 92% of the SoV market cap for crypto coins (and over 60% of the total crypto market, although most other coins are designed for specific application purposes and IMO don't compete with Bitcoin). Bitcoin has already won. Now it is simply a matter of growing to dominate this field. But the field I am discussing isn't clear, because what is Bitcoin? You can't say it is JUST digital gold - going for the Store of Value asset domain, as it can be used for a bunch of other purposes. So now, we need to try to estimate what exactly Bitcoin can grow to encompass.
Smart People's BTC Valuations
Now that hopefully you agree that Bitcoin has value, the next step is trying to wrap your head around how to try to estimate what Bitcoin's value could be. Pfeffer attempts this in his article on Cryptoassets, a seminal paper discussing Bitcoin's value. Despite being 3 years old, his paper is important, and timeless. I would highly recommend it. He postulates the following sources of value: 1) Replacing Gold Bullion 2) Becoming an International Reserve Currency 3) Unit of Account for international trade 4) International payments & Domestic payments in countries w/out stable sovereign currencies. The total speculative range he gives for this if Bitcoin were to become the dominant monetary store of value cryptoasset and realize some or all of those use cases is 4.7 - 14.6 Trillion USD, which gives Bitcoin - fully diluted (all 21M) a range of $260k - $800k per Bitcoin. I would add another potential use case: Bitcoin taking a share out of the offshore private banking market; a market which has been estimated as worth over $21 trillion USD.
PlanB models scarcity by quantifying it as a stock-to-flow ratio, and gives this mathematical prediction for Bitcoin's value based on this in his work HERE. It's very interesting. To take a simple snippet, his estimation for Bitcoin's worth after the May 2020 halving event is $55,000USD. Every 4 years, Bitcoin increases in scarcity with each successive halving, and thus increases in value. While I don't necessarily agree w/ the very long-term implications of PlanB's price estimation model and think there is likely divergence years down the line, I think it is a very interesting look and take on scarcity and interesting for price implications for this current cycle.
People ask where the money comes from to get Bitcoin from its current price levels to the types of valuations that are being discussed here. "People ask me where all the money needed for $1trn bitcoin market value would come from? My answer: silver, gold, countries with negative interest rates (Europe, Japan, US soon), countries with predatory governments (Venezuela, China, Iran, Turkey etc), billionaires and millionaires hedging against quantitative easing (QE), and institutional investors discovering the best performing asset of last 10 yrs." Imagine someone wealthy living in a country with a predatory government wanting the ultimate get-away quick plan to escape with some of their wealth should they need to. Bitcoin is literally perfect for them. 10 million on a Trezor, ready to go in your pocket, instantly, anywhere.
So, Bitcoin is a swiss army knife of utility that could displace value in a number of important areas: gold/SoV, international remittance, international unit of account, offshore banking, treasury reserves for corporations and nations. It's unclear if Bitocin will displace value in each of these areas, and if so, how much. But there is the potential for Bitcoin to be worth over $1 Million USD in 2021 dollars... which could be significantly more 2030 or 2040 dollars.
Who else is buying Bitcoin and where this might go
Just recently a NASDAQ listed company, Microstrategy MSTR, purchased over 38,000 bitcoins for over $400 Million US Dollars, deciding to invest in Bitcoin as its Primary Treasury Reserve Asset. **Article**
Square (SQ) invested $50 Million US Dollars for the same reason. On October 21, a UK firm, Mode, put 10% of its cash reserves in to Bitcoin. And PayPal announced on the same day that it will allow its 350 million users to buy, hold, and spend Bitcoin.
So not only are private investors deciding to buy Bitcoin, but now legitimate companies are joining the fray.
Today (Feb 16, 2021), Bitcoin is the 14th largest currency in the world as calculated by Marketcap size (below the Brazillian Real & Swiss Franc, and above the Russian Ruble), *here*
Now imagine one day in the future, when Bitcoin is multiples larger in size, say 3x the current price, placing it 7th on the Fiat Market Cap, behind the KRW (Korean Won) and ahead of the INR (Indian Rupee). In this world, Bitcoin would be legally accepted worldwide. It would have been established as secure for even longer, and have even greater trust in its security that relies on no central authority or individual. There would be BTC ETPs (exchange traded products). It will have legal regulations and rules. Many individuals, institutions, and companies will be owners. Next up, will be countries. Bitcoin will make the move from being only privately owned to being an international reserve currency, as countries want exposure to an asset not controlled by any one country and that country's financial policy. From a Game Theory perspective, I believe this is inevitable. It is a matter of when, not if. And Bitcoin is likely the answer. New customers have stepped up with obscene purchasing power, and the hardest, scarcest asset ever continues to rise. The farther Bitcoin goes, the more likely it is to keep rising.
Bitcoin: Momentum ---> Lindy Effect
Can anything slow down the train?
The biggest hurdle currently, in my view, is legal clarity in the USA. I believe many large banks are taking a conservative stance on Bitcoin due to the lack of full legal standing as an asset, commodity, or currency, and are waiting for further clarification by the government. Part of this process involves increased regulation on trading, on clarity for Bitcoin ETFs being set up, etc... ETFs would be a huge step in the right direction for receiving the US Government's blessing. All eyes for this are on the SEC, and especially its Chairman. The current chairman, Jay Clayton, hasn't been friendly to Bitcoin ETF proposals. But, he will be replaced in 2021 by President Biden. And while some might fear regulation - even have a philosophical aversion to it - it is ultimately regulation and government approval that will allow serious institutional money to flow in to Bitcoin.
*** Now in Feb 2021, with companies like Tesla buying $1.5 BILLION in BTC, and many HNW individuals and funds buying BTC, there is further validation. Anyone with S&P exposure now indirectly has BTC exposure. This is like armor that will protect BTC from destructive government regulation and bans. If I had to guess now, I'd guess that regulation is no longer the biggest threat, and instead mining being clustered in China due to cheap hydro power is the chief worry at present. ***
ETF approval: BTC's elusive unicorn
When trading firms allow accountholders to buy and sell Bitcoin - whether it is through approved ETFs, or because the institutions work out storage solutions privately and then process the transactions (with fees) - it will open up easy access to all the money private investors hold in their brokerage accounts, especially tax sheltered money. To get an idea of how bullish this might be, take a look at gold when ETFs opened up in 2003:
While it likely isn't reasonable to give all of the credit to ETFs for this price explosion in gold, I do think the new ease of speculation and opening of demand channels played a part. For Bitcoin, not only would an ETF have the same effect on demand channels - it will additionally convey a legal blessing and legitimacy, which was not an issue for gold.
Cryptocurrencies: BTC & Altcoins
I believe that now that this idea is out there, something will become a decentralized, digital Store-of-Value, unit of account, and currency as expressed as a monetary network. Once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, then you can't put it back. I believe that Bitcoin is by far the best option, but why not something else? While I do think it's possible that Bitcoin doesn't realize this and something else does, I think that is unlikely. There are some other cryptocurrencies out there that have been started with other features, e.g., Ethereum, Link, EOS, etc... A lot of these have good features and will likely be useful and valuable for what they are designed to do. But different functions have different values. First, let me differentiate between the value of a cryptocurrency in so far as it supports some other project - vs the value of a cryptocurrency in so far as it is a digital store of value. Pfeffer discusses this in some depth in his paper and makes the argument that the primary value is in becoming the dominant digital store of value. It's a somewhat intricate argument that I would suggest reading, especially if you own ALT coins or are seriously considering investing in them. I personally do not believe that ALT coins should accrue value like Bitcoin if they are trying to perform some specific function (DAPP platform, decentralized betting market, etc...), because even if their chain is used, there is no direct function or reason why the token itself will accrue the value the chain is being used for. The token is not like stock in the company, it is not a part of the total value being passed by users of the blockchain. It really just represents the grease inside the machine, necessary to process the transactions, and will likely converge to the value of the processing power needed to run the network. This differs because whatever is being used as a digital store of value will accrue the value of what is used to invest in the network, as it is storing that value.
And why won't one of these coins take over Bitcoin? I would argue firstly that most of these coins are being designed for specific applications, and because of this will always be inferior to Bitcoin in terms of only being a secure monetary network. Also, Bitcoin has a large first mover advantage. Its name is much more popular and it's more well known, both important for network growth. Additionally, in terms of being a currency, Bitcoin has been proven to be secure for 10 years, with network valuations of $900 Billion USD and higher. No other blockchain has anywhere near this long of life, stability, security, and proven track record. The blockchain is open, on the web, not behind a firewall, thus open to hostile attacks and hacks - and has remained safe. Many projects aren't nearly as proven and aren't decentralized enough - and IMO centralization and control would largely defeat the point and one of the main attractions of this type of digital currency. Bitcoin has shown it is reliable and robust, and those things are both extremely important for a currency. I don't believe it will be replaced by a newer cryptocurrency because no added feature will be worth more than that reliability, robustness, or security already established already by Bitcoin as a SoV, Unit of Account, and currency. And most features, if they proved valuable, could eventually be added to Bitcoin if deemed necessary (through a hard fork, which is beyond the scope of this article).
Precisely Bitcoin's status as the oldest, largest, most reliable, secure, resistant-to-change, defended-by-users Crypto - is exactly why it is the best Crypto to be the dominant, digital, SoV monetary network. And why another one won't replace it.
REMEMBER: Bitcoin is a network that pools monetary energy. That is why it is growing as a network growth model would predict. It currently has a market cap of over $1 Trillion, and represents well over 90% of the SoV Market cap for crypto coins and over 60% of the total crypto market.
Bitcoin is the runaway leader in the race to be the dominant, digital, SoV monetary network.
BTC as an Investment
I believe the Sharpe Ratio, or return given risk, of every single Alt Coin is significantly lower than Bitcoin when considered as an investment. Therefore at the current time, I believe the best long-term allocation for a prospective beginning investor buying Cryptocurrency is 100% Bitcoin. Some are drawn to Altcoins because they are turned off by how expensive and large Bitcoin is already. I hope this article has shown that Bitcoin still has the potential to get much larger than it is today. That said, it is possible, and perhaps likely, that one or more of the thousands of other crypto coins that will outperform Bitcoin in 5 or 10 years - given how much larger Bitcoin is as opposed to some small market cap Alt coins - but I don't believe it will be easy to pick and investing in an array will almost certainly do worse, as a group, than Bitcoin. Bitcoin is already a speculation on whether or not "crypto" will work out. And additionally, most of these other cryptos do nothing today and are additionally speculative plays on BOTH their use case working out AND winning the competition game within their domain. All of that on top of the "crypto" speculation play that you are already making when investing in Bitcoin or any Alt Coin. Thus, in a situation where Bitcoin is already a high-risk/high-reward play, increasing the risk, often greatly, usually makes for a poorer investment (and poorer Sharpe Ratio).
I also believe Bitcoin is likely vying for the most valuable segment of the crypto market, or at least the most valuable for the next 5-10 years. AND Bitcoin is the clear leader for what it is trying to do within "crypto". The case for Bitcoin as an investment TODAY is clear, rational, and reasonable. Almost all other Altcoins trying to achieve a specific function have not already won the race to do the thing they were created to do. Given open sourcing in crypto, there will be competition, and most will not win the competition within their field. Be warned that many Alt Coins are not necessary: with no need for the token (other than to enrich its creators) or no need for a decentralized blockchain to accomplish the coin's goal. So you can swim through all that mess, OR you can pick Bitcoin. Bitcoin has essentially already won the race to be the dominant crypto that realizes a decentralized, digital SoV, monetary unit of account, reserve currency, and medium of exchange. And, at the end of that rainbow is a worth of multiple Trillions, with a T.
100% BTC Allocation?? GTFO
This is essentially the argument for a 100% Bitcoin Crypto allocation for the beginner investor. After being in the space for a while, and developing a much deeper understanding of coins and what they should be worth, perhaps an experienced Bitcoin holder could consider investing in some Altcoin plays. That said, the all too common problem is the exact opposite. Beginning crypto investors think they missed the boat with BTC, get enamored with the potential of blockchain and promises of the various Altcoins, and try to buy the "next Bitcoin". (Already this phrase shows the foolishness of this perspective. There is not another Bitcoin.) You see beginning crypto investors load up on Altcoins that over a relatively short time horizon of a few years rarely outperform Bitcoin, and they are stuck "holding the bags" as we like to call it. Whereas experienced crypto investors are often more weighted towards Bitcoin for their long term holdings. They've seen multiple Altcoin cycles, where the old Altcoins already hit their peak and are on the relentless descent towards ZERO as the founders have cashed out before producing any lasting value. Vaporware. In fact, most experienced crypto traders and investors that I know mostly view Altcoins (at this point in time) as potential trades to earn more Bitcoin, not long term holds. As the market matures I do expect that some of these Altcoins (the best projects that win the competition in their respective domains) will be used regularly, and they will have value for their utility. If you really get in there and do your research, you might be able to pick some winners today or soon, while they are really cheap. Even that I think is mostly a fool's errand, unless perhaps you are able to determine the best projects and invest in them before or as they are launching. It is DEFINITELY NOT something I would recommend for a beginning crypto investor to even consider for a second. And if you had to set your crypto portfolio for 5 to 10 years and couldn't change it; I am confident the right play today is 100% BTC.
This is a LONG TERM play
When considering Bitcoin as an investment, I think an investor should think about it like this... You are making a long-term investment speculating in Bitcoin realizing the use cases and properties discussed here. If it achieves this, it's very likely to reach much higher valuations than today (today Bitcoin is about 50k USD). Let's say that for this current bull market cycle, we are looking at a 1-2 years (2021-2022) price target of 100-200k. But really, once Bitcoin is there - I would be wary of how much you sell, even if you want to rebalance, because now due to the momentum / Lindy effect, it is probably extremely likely to continue growing to a more fully realized MCAP/price even higher. Taking lessons from the Kelly Criterion, the more likely a bet is to work out, the more you should feel comfortable allocating to it. It is a linear relationship. The EV does matter, but you never allocate a higher % to a bet then its likelihood to succeed. Even wildly +EV bets. Therefore, the fact that Bitcoin has become significantly more likely to succeed is very important, even though the payout buying today vs 1+ year ago is obviously less. Simply, even if I rebalance my Bitcoin to other assets, I plan on holding Bitcoin for life.
If Bitcoin doesn't work out, or if there is some kind of systemic problem, the value of Bitcoin is likely to crash and it's unclear how much of the value you might be able to recover. For simplicity's sake, let's say that you are looking at Bitcoin going from 50k to either 0 or to 150k in the next 2 years OR to either 0 or 650k in the next 10 years. So, for this bet to be +EV, it only has to be successful 33.3% or more of the time on a 2-year time horizon or 8% or more on a 10-year time horizon. With this view, this is a very asymmetrical bet with potential upside much greater than the downside. High risk, high reward, that even if it is +EV should be taken with some caution. That said, I consider the likelihood that Bitcoin fulfills these potentialities to be significantly higher than 33.3% and 8% respectively, and therefore think buying BTC to be +EV long term. (Obviously a Bitcoin bear would likely disagree w/ that probability allocation). So something like buying Bitcoin today, holding half for a couple years before taking profit at the end of this bull cycle, and holding the other half for a much longer time frame (forever?) seems like the makings of a reasonable plan.
*** When I first wrote this article, the price estimation was from a 10k price-point to 100k current cycle target & 500k long term target, with respective probability thresholds of 10% & 2%. ***
Despite the fact that Bitcoin has a very high long-term risk factor, it seems to be not correlated with other assets like the S&P 500 and equities, therefore a Bitcoin allocation could be part of a balanced portfolio that might achieve higher expected returns without raising raising a portfolio's risk of ruin - something increased by having a lot of correlated assets. -- While 2020 has seen some correlation for most of the year, recently it has decoupled somewhat -- All that said, it isn't clear to me that Bitcoin needs to be correlated with equities markets, and thus at any point going forward I wouldn't be surprised if this correlation ceased.
CONGRATS! You made it
So that's it. Hope you enjoyed this introduction. The rabbit hole goes much deeper. The goal here was to push you over the edge. Once you start falling, gravity does the rest.
Bitcoin: the self-fulfilling prophecy of the inevitable march towards emergent monetary soundness.
"And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music." ~Nietzsche
Other good Bitcoin resources:
7 Misconceptions about Bitcoin - An article w/ similar goal to this: discuss with beginners + bullish arguments
Light & Su Zhu on Art of Trading - Uncommon Core podcast w/ Hasu Ultimate Bitcoin Argument podcast w/ Murad & Pomp - good podcast with discussion about why Bitcoin is important
Woobull charts by Willy Woo - interesting charts modeling different aspects of Bitcoin