Bitcoin: up 120% in less than 2 months

At the end of October, I delivered a keynote speech at the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. That was just 5 weeks ago. When I left for the conference, Bitcoin was trading at $6,300/BTC. But in the next few weeks, it reached $10,000. Last week, I liquidated part of my investment at just under $13,000/BTC. Now, Bitcoin is about to cross $16,000. (I began writing this 10 minutes ago… But it has risen another $1600.00 since then. Now, it is $17,000).

Dear Reader: I believe in Bitcoin. Yet, there is a “But” in the last paragraph below…

I believe in Bitcoin. Its rise is not fueled solely by investor hysteria. Rather, it is a product of delayed appreciation for a radical, transformative network technology.

In the mid 1970s, the microprocessor was spreading to every consumer gadget. It started a trend toward tools that added power and enjoyment to all facets of life. And they were quickly becoming faster, lower-power, lower-cost and more ubiquitous. If you understood the potential of the computer chip before mainstream investors, you couldn’t really invest directly in the microprocessor. After all, it is a platform improvement. But you could come very close—You might have invested in Intel, Fairchild or Texas Instruments.

Jump forward 20 years: In the mid-1990s, the Internet was spreading to every class of citizen and to all corners of the earth. But just as with a computer chip, you could own a web site, but you couldn’t own a piece of the internet’s market potential. You can’t invest in an idea, unless you are the inventor and you hold a patent.

But, 5, 6 and 7 years ago, many individuals saw the future. They understood that Bitcoin is transformative. They recognized that—contrary to popular misconception—Bitcoin is backed by something more tangible than dollars, Euros and Renminbi. More importantly, it exhibits the potential to become the global reserve currency. And it continues to do so, even as internal bickering threatens its utility as a consumer payment instrument. That’s because it diverts liquidity away from gold and national FIAT. Ultimately, it forces governments to be transparent and accountable to its citizens. This is further reinforced by rampant inflation in countries around the world and a growing list of trading partners who seek alternatives to the US dollar.

But, just like real estate, the supply of Bitcoin is capped. No one can produce more. It’s the math, stupid! Even if you only realized this one year ago, you still would have reaped a 2000% return on your investment as of this morning. (I am cherry-picking here, but Bitcoin had just crossed $630 on October 20 2016).

Let’s be clear: This is not a dot-com bubble or a 17th century Dutch tulip bulb mania. It is far more comparable to the 19th century California gold rush. The only frenzy is to acquire a functional instrument that is still trading for far below par value—but with the strange caveat that hoarding retards liquidity and the ‘functional’ adoption that we need to sustain long-term value.

The Bottom Line

In the grand scheme of things, Bitcoin is still undervalued—even at $17,000/BTC. It will fall and it will rise, but it will certainly be valued higher years from now.

…But, I must admit that this sudden and urgent race into outer space is a bit unsettling. From an investor perspective, it is not rational to leave when I recognize that the exuberance is rational. Yet, here we are at $17,000. I am taking some bitcoin off the table—A bit of bitcoin. I have taken some Bitcoin off the table.

What Fraction of Bitcoin Value is Driven by Speculators?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Several hundred of my Quora answers are linked at top right on this page. Today, I was asked “How much of Bitcoin’s value is driven by speculation”. This is my answer…


This is a great question! While the value of any commodity is determined by supply and demand, speculation is one component of demand. Another is the unique utility value inherent in a product or process. This is sometimes called ‘intrinsic value’.

It’s ironic that when a high fraction of value is driven by speculation, short-term value becomes volatile and long-term value becomes less certain—and less likely to produce returns for those same speculators.

Editor’s Note: In the past few weeks, a significant spike in Bitcoin’s value and trading volume relates to a pending regulatory decision expected at the end of next week. This activity is certainly driven by speculation. But for this article, I am considering periods in which the demands of individual events are less clear.

The value of Bitcoin is influenced by:

  • Day traders who buy and churn
  • Long-term speculators who buy and hold. This includes me.
  • Criminals who hope that cryptocurrency transactions can be more easily hidden than government backed currencies
  • Early adopters who use Bitcoin as a payment instrument or to send money
  • Vendors who accept the coin in exchange for products and services
  • Vendors who retain a fraction of revenue in Bitcoin (rather than exchanging to Fiat). To avoid a round trip, they seek to purchase materials, pay staff or settle debts with the Bitcoin they earned.

Here’s the rub: Bitcoin will not become a store of value unto itself (i.e. a currency), and it will not gain a significant fraction of the payment instrument market until the transaction volume of the first to user categories in the above list are overtaken by the the ones further down. Likewise, Bitcoin will not enter its biggest growth spurt until the last two items swamps the others as the largest motive for acceptance and use.

Put another way: Long term value must ultimately be driven by organic adoption from actual users (people who buy and spend Bitcoin on other things).

In another article, I expand on the sequence of events that must take place before Bitcoin grows into its potential. But make no mistake. These things will happen. In tribute to the brilliance of Satoshi, the dominoes are already falling.

In response to the question, I estimate that at the beginning of 2017, 85% of Bitcoin value is still driven by speculators. I have not analyzed wallet holding periods compared against the addresses of known vendors. Furthermore, it would be difficult to understand the relationship between the number of speculative transactions and the overall effect on value. Therefore, my figure is more of a WAG than an calculated estimate. But it’s an educated WAG.

The fraction of speculative transactions will drop significantly in the coming months—even as late speculators jump on board. That’s because uptake from consumers and businesses is already taking off. The series of reactions that lead toward ubiquitous, utilitarian applications has begun. Bitcoin’s value will ultimately be driven by use as a payment instrument and in commerce.

Because it is a pure supply-demand instrument, Bitcoin will eventually be recognized as currency itself. That is, it needn’t be backed by precious metal, pegged convertibility or a redemption promise. When that happens, you will no longer ask about Bitcoin’s value. That would be a circular question, since its value will be intrinsic. Instead, you will wonder about the value of the US dollar, the Euro and the Yen.

As a growing fraction of groceries, gasoline and computers that you buy are quoted in BTC, you will begin to think of it as a rock, rather than a moving target. One day in the future, there will be a sudden spike or drop in the exchange rate with your national currency. At that time, you won’t ask “What happened to Bitcoin today? Why did it rise in value by 5% this morning?” Instead, you will wonder “What happened to the US dollar today? Why did it drop in value by 5%?