Imagine transacting business or buying goods and services one day without using a single dollar bill or other country currency. Imagine further that no one country or organization controls the currency and no one can create further units to dilute the value of your buying power. That’s the promise of crypto-currencies, which, since the first one was introduced in 2009, have been gaining much attention and buying.
In fact, one candidate for the greatest bull market run (uptrend) in financial history is the recent run-up in price of the Bitcoin—the crypto-currency favored by international arms dealers and drug cartels, but also gaining acceptance at some retail locations. The so-called “internet of money” is not backed by any government, which its promoters say is a good thing, because the currency is not subject to quantitative easing, better known as the over-caffeinated money printing presses in Washington, the U.K., Brussels or Tokyo. Ironically, to acquire bitcoins, you’ll have to exchange your dollars, pounds, euros or yen.
Of course, these are not actual coins; the currency exists in “wallets” that are tracked through a global system that updates everyone’s holdings; your “wallet” is on your computer, and sophisticated computers can “mine” new “coins” by solving complex algorithms that also help keep the money tracked. In the early days, there were lurid stories of peoples’ wallets getting hacked, but the crypto-processing seems to be safer now.
As recently as 2011, you could have bought any number of bitcoins for practically $0. In fact, seven years ago, a programmer spent 10,000 bitcoins to purchase two Papa John’s pizzas. Today, a single “coin” is selling for about $2,513, no doubt causing the programmer to wish that he’d held onto his coins for a few more years. But as you can see on the chart, the ride for bitcoin holders has been bumpy, and much of the price run-up has been recent. If you’ve ever experienced a market bubble, you know this is what they look like (and two inquiries about buying bitcoin at my office in the last two weeks tells me that a “correction” in the price is likely not too far off).
But why would the price ever drop? For one thing, the Bitcoin currency now has crypto-currency rivals, among them a similar technology and market system called Ethereum. For the first time, Bitcoins actually make up less than 50% of the crypto-marketplace. For another, costs per transaction—which are supposed to be zero—have risen to an average of $4.75, and it sometimes takes a month for the transaction to settle.
Beyond that, there’s a long-running dispute between the developers of Bitcoin who process transactions, and the “miners” who create the coins, which doesn’t look likely to be settled any time soon. It’s been speculated that Bitcoin will split into two factions, which users will have to choose between. A possible glimpse into the future happened when a new startup called Coinbase was touted as the marketplace that would finally bring Bitcoin to the mainstream. Coinbase was backed by the New York Stock Exchange. After considering its options, Coinbase decided to create a new currency alternative to Bitcoin, called Token—which will be built on Ethereum technology.
The conclusion: This is not a bandwagon you want to jump on at current prices. While prices might work their way higher in the short term, you’ll want to wait for more clarity on which ones will survive, and how governments will respond and attempt to regulate the exchanges. Our traditional currencies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.
The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post
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