Data Dive: Bitcoin, Tax Refunds, Email Scams

Holiday vacations are officially over, and the payments and commerce news cycle is back in high gear. Bitcoin turned nine, and was celebrated by seeing its price per coin exceed $20,000. Rumors circulated that FICO might be losing its monopoly in the mortgage market as the FHFA is considering allowing lenders to consider an alternative. China continued its crackdown on the cross-border exodus of funds, and the world got to meet the middleman and Forever 21 got hacked.

And that was just Tuesday.

Credit Karma said yes to early tax refunds for consumers – for free. The Justice Department officially switched their position on drugs – in the form of cannabis – from a soft “maybe” to a hard “no.” And the world learned that the Nigerian royalty that has been trying to scam them for the last several years is neither Nigerian nor a prince – just a guy from Georgia with a side hustle working for scammers.

Good Tax Lending Karma

Good news for consumers avidly awaiting their tax refund for 2018: Credit Karma Tax is rolling out a new product call Earlybird Advance, an online refund advance service.

The new service will allow consumers who filed their taxes using Credit Karma to take a $500-$1000 advance on their tax refund without an additional fee or charge. Funds can be deposited into a consumer’s account with 24 hours of the IRS accepting their fully filed tax return.

“Because filing taxes with Credit Karma Tax is completely free, not only can Americans keep their entire refund, Earlybird Advance can also help them get some money sooner,” said general manager Jagjit Chawla. “It’s our way of helping people who can’t wait weeks for their refund.”

Consumers who file electronically wait, on average, three to four weeks to clear their refund. The wait can be even longer for lower-income consumers who file for the earned income tax credit or the additional child credit. Those who opt to file with Credit Karma and take their refund early will have their funds deposited onto an American Express Serve Prepaid Card. The Serve Card has no monthly fee, does not require a credit check and includes free withdrawals at over 24,000 ATMs nationwide. Additional perks include free early direct deposit and free online bill pay.

“For millions of people, a tax refund can help smooth out finances and alleviate financial stress,” said Stefan Happ, executive vice president of global prepaid and alternative payments for American Express. “We’re excited to team up with Credit Karma Tax as the exclusive prepaid debit card option for refund disbursements and help filers get some of their refund dollars even faster with the Earlybird Advance.”

The funds for the Earlybird Advance come care of MetaBank, a federally chartered savings bank of Meta Financial Group, Inc.

Credit Karma is not alone in this offering in 2018, of course. H&R Block and Liberty Tax Services both offer a similar promotion to get customers through the door, promising early, interest-free tax refund loans of $500-$3,000 for qualified customers. Those loans are a little less free, as consumers must pay a tax preparation fee to receive them – but they are advertised by the extremely handsome Jon Hamm.

The Justice Department (Tries To) Just Say No To Cannabis  

Given his long-standing personal commitment to the clear and present danger cannabis presents to the American people, it probably should not have come as much of a shock when Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially moved to curtail the legalized cannabis industry this week. He did that by revoking the Cole memo (and two other associated memos) that provided a legal framework for the sale of cannabis in the States.

Cannabis remains classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government. The Cole memo(s) sketched out an official federal policy of ignoring the sale and consumption of marijuana in states that had voted to legalize it recreationally and medically. Sessions, however, believes that since the Schedule 1 designation is still in effect, it remains up to the discretion of local U.S. attorneys to determine if and how they want to prosecute the cannabis industry.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a statement. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across our country.”

The memo could be used to crack down on the emerging industry – or it might not, as it leaves the decision to prosecute in the hands of individual states’ U.S. attorney generals. For example, the U.S. AG in Colorado signaled his public intention to do absolutely nothing new in regard to marijuana. Instead, that state’s intent is to continue to follow Cole memo guidance.

Session’s announcement drew widespread criticism. According to the report, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said on Twitter that the move “directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation.” Gardner further threatened to shut down nominations to the Justice Department until this situation is resolved.

“With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” he wrote. “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

The announcement, however, has further complicated the financial management side. Tune in tomorrow for a PYMNTS talk with a cannabis cultivator and distributor who is concerned that his minimal financial services access is about to disappear.

And speaking of providing questionable financial services …

The Nigerian Prince Is Found (He’s Neither a Prince Nor Nigerian)

The only thing worse than being scammed by Nigerian royalty is being scammed by someone merely pretending to be Nigerian royalty – particularly if one’s Nigerian prince is, in fact, a 67-year-old resident of Slidell, Louisiana.

But it seems that those Nigerian prince emails – claiming that the victim can receive sums of money deposited for safekeeping in their accounts in return for paying the “taxes” or “fees” associated with sending the funds – are actually helped out the door by Mr. Michael Neu, a U.S. facilitator who made sure the money moved from the victims in the U.S. to the scammers in Nigeria.

And those scams, according to an 18-month investigation of Leu and the scammers he worked for – are often pretty elaborate.

Some victims get documents in the mail. Some are encouraged to fly to Nigeria to complete the transaction. Some fraudsters have reportedly even produced trunks or stamped money to try to verify their claims.

“According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these emails have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered,” the FTC stated.

Neu is not Nigerian, but the police stated that money acquired by Neu was wired to people in Nigeria. His arrest seems to be in the context of a larger international investigation of the Nigerian price claims.

Neu faces 269 counts of wire fraud and money laundering, having participated in hundreds of scam transactions.

So, what did we learn this week?

Getting an early tax refund this year is the cool thing to do, since so many are offering to do it for free. The outlook for the sale of cannabis remains hazy, and as much as we all loathed getting email scams from Nigerian princes, you have to admit that it’s a bit of a letdown knowing that the real scammer was neither.

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Bitcoin competitor Ripple value climbs, almost beating Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

by Nathaniel Popper

The virtual currency boom has gotten so heated that it is throwing the list of the world’s richest people into disarray.

At one point on Thursday, Chris Larsen, a Ripple co-founder who is also the largest holder of Ripple tokens, was worth more than $US59 billion ($75 billion), . That would have briefly vaulted Mr Larsen ahead of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg into fifth place on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people.

Other top Ripple holders would have also zoomed up that list as the value of their tokens soared more than 100 per cent during the last week – and more than 30,000 per cent in the last year. The boom has turned Ripple into the second largest virtual currency, within striking distance of the original behemoth, Bitcoin.

All the outstanding Ripple tokens were worth $US140 billion on Thursday, while all Bitcoin were worth $US250 billion.
All the outstanding Ripple tokens were worth $US140 billion on Thursday, while all Bitcoin were worth $US250 billion. Shutterstock

The explosion in Ripple’s value over the past month is the starkest illustration yet of how the mania around Bitcoin has spilled over into a broader universe of virtual currencies. These coins – with names like Cardano, Stellar, and Iota – are generally new twists on the Bitcoin technology, which uses a decentralised network of volunteer computers to keep a record, known as a blockchain, of all transactions.

The creation of billionaires

While most of these currencies were worth nearly nothing a year ago, many are now responsible for creating billionaires — albeit with rapidly fluctuating fortunes. If this is a tulip fever, the fever has spread to chrysanthemums and poppies.

Mr Larsen’s soaring wealth sparked a few congratulatory messages on Twitter, even if the value of Ripple — and his Forbes ranking – dropped later in the day. But his net worth, and the ballooning value of Ripple tokens, mostly drew comments about the irrationality of the virtual currency markets, which appear to be largely driven these days by the fear of missing out, or FOMO.

“This is beyond insane,” said Jeremy Gardner, an investor who previously worked at the virtual currency hedge fund Blockchain Capital, which invested in Ripple. “There’s absolutely nothing driving this rally except rampant FOMO, misinformation, and speculation.”

Chris Larsen, a Ripple co-founder, is the largest holder of Ripple tokens worth more than $US59 billion last week.
Chris Larsen, a Ripple co-founder, is the largest holder of Ripple tokens worth more than $US59 billion last week. LinkedIn

Ripple, whose tokens are known as XRP, is far from the only virtual currency being fuelled by the hysteria. In 2017, there were 29 tokens – including Einsteinium and Byteball – that rose more than Bitcoin’s remarkable 1,600 per cent jump, according to OnChainFx, a data provider.

Nearly 40 virtual currencies are worth more than $US1 billion – when all the outstanding tokens are counted at their current value – despite many of them not having been used in any sort of transaction other than speculative trading.

Ripple was invented in 2012 by Jed McCaleb, a programmer who had created Mt. Gox, a Bitcoin exchange that later dissolved in disgrace. Mr. McCaleb designed Ripple as a faster and more efficient version of Bitcoin, without the mining process that Bitcoin uses to distribute new coins and secure the network.

$US140 billion worth

Ripple's rise would have briefly vaulted Larsen ahead of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg into fifth place on ...
Ripple’s rise would have briefly vaulted Larsen ahead of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg into fifth place on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people on Thursday. Manu Fernandez

Mr Larsen joined Mr McCaleb early on to create a company, also known as Ripple. The company helped develop an open source Ripple software that makes it possible to move money between digital wallets. The Ripple token is one of the currencies that can be transferred with the software.

MrMcCaleb later left Ripple in an acrimonious divorce, though he retained a sizeable number of Ripple tokens. His holdings were worth around $US20 billion at Thursday’s prices, putting him close to 40th on the Forbes list. (The actual list is only published once a year, and no big virtual currency holders have been officially added.)

MrMcCaleb has since created a competitor to Ripple, known as Stellar. Stellar has risen even faster than Ripple in recent weeks, with all outstanding Stellar tokens – known as Lumens – worth around $US14 billion on Thursday, making it the seventh largest virtual currency.

In contrast, all the outstanding Ripple tokens were worth $US140 billion on Thursday, while all Bitcoin were worth $US250 billion.

Yet the fortunes of MrMcCaleb and Mr Larsen are not nearly as durable as those of other people on the Forbes list given that the value of virtual currencies fluctuates wildly. If Mr Larsen wanted to access his wealth by selling Ripple tokens for dollars, it would likely drive down the value of Ripple tokens — and his riches.

Mr McCaleb and Mr Larsen did not respond to questions about the recent price increases.

Mr Larsen was Ripple’s chief executive from 2012 until he stepped down last year to become the company’s executive chairman. During his tenure, Ripple focused on helping banks use its software to shift money between different foreign currencies, something that most banks currently do through a cumbersome process involving separate accounts in every country where they operate.

Ripple has said it has signed up more than 100 banks to use the company’s technology, including American Express and Banco Santander.

South Korea is key

But banks do not need to use Ripple tokens for Ripple’s software to transfer dollars, euros and yen. That point appears to be lost on many small time investors who are buying Ripple tokens.

Most of the buying and selling of Ripple tokens is happening in South Korea, according to data providers that track virtual currency exchanges, where ordinary investors have thrown money at a wide array of virtual currencies.

Several virtual currency hedge fund investors said that they have talked to banks and heard about interest in Ripple’s software, but not its tokens.

“I’m not aware of banks using or planning to use the XRP token at the scale of tens of billions of dollars necessary to support XRP’s valuation,” said Ari Paul, a co-founder of the hedge fund BlockTower Capital.

Brad Garlinghouse, who took over as Ripple’s chief executive last year, said in an interview this week that other institutions are also using – or looking at using – XRP, but the company could not name them because of confidentiality agreements.

Mr Garlinghouse said he thought the rising value of Ripple tokens was justified, given the company’s growth and the size of the foreign currency markets that Ripple wants to tackle.

“It’s clear that people increasingly understand that we are solving a very large problem,” he said.

Ripple has attracted the ire of Bitcoin fans because Ripple has a greater degree of centralised authority in Mr Garlinghouse’s company, even though the Ripple software is open source. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies were designed to operate without companies or governments in charge.

But the company Ripple, if not the XRP token, has won a following among top figures in government and finance who are interested in bringing the ideas introduced by Bitcoin into the traditional financial system. The company’s board includes the former top financial regulator in New York state, Benjamin M. Lawsky, and Gene Sperling, who was the director of the National Economic Council under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Still, even virtual currency analysts who believe in Ripple’s software have said there is a big difference between Ripple the company being successful, and Ripple the token gaining enough traction to justify current prices.

“An impossibly long list of things already needs to go right for XRP to become a reserve currency for banks,” Ryan Selkis, a virtual currency analyst, wrote in a post on Thursday.

But, Mr Selkis added, that doesn’t mean Ripple’s price won’t keep ascending. Why? “Because this is crypto, and everyone in the industry is now slinging crack crypto cocaine to retail addicts,” he wrote.

The New York Times


Techmeme: As China mulls regulating power-hungry bitcoin mining, some of the biggest miners including Bitmain, BTC.Top, and ViaBTC open facilities in US, Canada, Iceland (Bloomberg)

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Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund places a big bet on Bitcoin

Billionaire Silicon Valley investor is investing heavily in Bitcoin.

Few mainstream investors have bought large sums of bitcoin, scared off by concerns about cybersecurity and liquidity, but one of the biggest names in Silicon Valley is placing a a very big moonshot bet on bitcoin.

According to various insiders, Founders Fund, the venture-capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in bitcoin.

The bet has been spread across several of the firm’s most recent funds, including one that began investing in mid-2017 and made bitcoin one of its first investments.


Founders and Mr. Thiel, 50 years old, are well-known for early investments in companies like Facebook Inc. that sometimes take years to come to fruition. The bitcoin bet is quickly showing promise. Founders bought around $15 million to $20 million in bitcoin, and it has told investors the firm’s haul is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars after the digital currency’s ripping rise in the past year.

It isn’t clear if Founders has sold any of its holdings yet. The bet hasn’t been previously reported.

Bitcoin vaulted last year from a fringe area of Wall Street interest to the most talked-about asset in the financial world. The currency, essentially a digital form of money with no government or central bank behind it, started 2017 trading around $1,000, then shot to near $20,000 as individual and institutional investors alike ramped up speculating on its rise. From its all-time high reached in mid-December, the price chopped almost in half over the rest of the month.

Prices as of late Tuesday afternoon were up 10% to $14,783, after ending 2017 at about $14,000, according to research site CoinDesk. Bitcoin spiked after The Wall Street Journal reported Founders’ investment.

Relatively few mainstream investors have bought large sums of bitcoin, scared off by concerns about cybersecurity and liquidity, as well as more mundane fears of investment losses. JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon famously called the digital currency a “fraud,” while Bridgewater Associates founder Raymond Dalio said it was a bubble. Even some of those who do own it are cautious about speaking too publicly, lest they draw the attention of hackers.

The late-year price plunge has also spooked some. On Dec. 22, the prominent investor Michael Novogratz said he was delaying launching a crypto-focused hedge fund for outside investors, stating “we didn’t like market conditions for new investors.” South Korea announced last week it would crack down on cryptocurrency trading, an ominous sign given that the country at one point accounted for as much as one-fourth of global bitcoin trading activity.

Founders began buying in for its investors before the recent volatility, the people familiar with the matter said.

The billionaire Mr. Thiel is an outspoken libertarian who co-founded digital payments service PayPal Holdings Inc. and made headlines as a prominent booster of President Donald Trump. He serves on the president’s technology advisory council. Mr. Thiel previously ran a multibillion-dollar hedge fund focused on global macroeconomic trends, and had some success navigating the financial crisis before racking up investment losses by investing in havens and missing out on the subsequent rebound.

As a venture capitalist, Mr. Thiel and Founders fund are among the most successful in Silicon Valley. Founders has more than $3 billion under management and has taken stakes in more-than 100 companies, including Facebook, Airbnb Inc., SpaceX and Lyft. More recent investments include the crypto-focused hedge funds Metastable Capital and Polychain Capital, which puts money into blockchain companies.

Mr. Thiel made the decision to buy up bitcoin together with Founders’ other investment partners, a person familiar with the matter said.

In an October onstage interview at an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Thiel described cryptocurrencies as “charismatic.”

“While I’m skeptical of most of them, I do think people are a little bit underestimating bitcoin, specifically, because it is like a reserve form of money,” Mr. Thiel said. “If bitcoin ends up being the cyber equivalent of gold, it has great potential.”


Bitcoin loses dazzle as second-tier crypto coins catch up

The paper value of all cryptocurrencies combined has more than doubled to almost $US700 billion in the past month.

“The altcoins today, in large part, are not trying to be bitcoin competitors,” said Lex Sokolin, global director of fintech strategy at Autonomous Research in London.

“They are doing something else entirely – ethereum as a smart-contracts platform, iota as a machine-economy token, ripple for interbank payments, and so on.”

How each is used “should become increasingly relevant as the novelty of crypto wears off”.

The technical shortcomings of bitcoin signal its benchmark status may be taken away someday by a second-generation rival, Mr McGlone says.

Photo: Shutterstock

Relative performance is now a multibillion-dollar question as professional investors search for ways to value digital assets that seem to defy traditional techniques, such as profit and dividend potential for equities, or industrial-demand outlooks for commodities.

Correlation, for example, is one of many technical-analysis tools used across asset classes in forecasting, and altcoins historically have moved mostly in step with bitcoin.

While there were many periods of disparity, on balance the group rose or fell together, a Bloomberg survey of more than 5000 data points show from CoinMarketCap and CoinCap prices.

With bitcoin rivals now making bigger gains, it matters more whether the group continues moving mostly in sync – as they largely have done ever since the early days when enthusiasts were mostly computer programmers and libertarians.

Ethereum, the second-largest by market value, has roughly tripled in the last two months. Cardano is up more than 40-fold in the period. That compares with an approximate doubling for bitcoin, which went more mainstream in December by sporting its first US futures contracts. Bitcoin rose 2 per cent on Wednesday.

The technical shortcomings of bitcoin signal its benchmark status may be taken away someday by a second-generation rival, according to Mike McGlone, a commodity strategist at Bloomberg Industries who likens the market to internet-based companies a few decades ago.

“When the frenzy subsides, 2Gs should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” McGlone wrote in a note last week.

“Ethereum appears prime to assume benchmark status, though bitcoin forks ripple and litecoin are the primary up-and-coming contenders.”

With a $US216 billion market value on December 31, bitcoin was often the first stop – and maybe the last – for investors who then maybe dabbled in smaller, more volatile tokens.

A surge in investor interest typically benefits the smallest more, simply because they have smaller market values, said Spencer Bogart, a partner at Blockchain Capital in San Francisco.

“This goes both directions though: often when crypto markets are falling you see a rotation out of the long-tail of crypto assets and into bitcoin, the ‘king of crypto’, which is rightfully perceived to have the most staying power in the ecosystem,” Bogart said.

Crypto party

As the crypto party grew bigger, the crashers – blue-suited investors and hedge funds – have purchased mostly bitcoin, and they have different buying criteria than early converts who may have moved on to less-liquid units like dash or monero, according to industry observers. The diluted investor base may weaken the yoke to bitcoin, the biggest by market value, they say.

“The capital base of these markets is evolving rapidly,” said Kyle Samani, managing partner of Multicoin Capital, a digital-asset hedge fund in Texas.

“Before the recent bitcoin bull run, the investor base in crypto was mostly engineers, nerds, and libertarians. “

In the US, Samani of Multicoin Capital says he sees a division between what’s on offer at the popular Coinbase exchange, and everything else.

“Most retail investors are only buying assets available on Coinbase,” he said. “We should continue to see a decoupling between what’s on Coinbase versus other altcoins.”

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Bitcoin enters the new year not with a bang but a whimper

Bitcoin investors aren’t having a happy new year, as the price of the cryptocurrency continues to slide from its record pre-Christmas highs.

In what was generally a slow day of trading, bitcoin dropped as much as 9 percent, to $13,440, as of 4 p.m. EST, with the price showing little movement since, sitting at $13,462 as of 10:15 p.m. Exchanges in Asia, which often lead the way in driving bitcoin’s price and where it’s no longer New Year’s Day, showed similar trends. Bitcoin’s price hardly moved, though exchanges in Japan and Thailand had bitcoin trading at around a $1,000 price premium when converting local currencies to U.S. dollars — not an untypical gap between exchanges.

The small bear market for bitcoin comes as various commentators continue to dismiss bitcoin’s viability going forward. The latest on the list of bitcoin critics is David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s former director of the Office of Management, who CNBC reported is “warning investors that the cryptocurrency boom will end disastrously.”

“It’s basically a class of really stupid speculators who have convinced themselves that trees grow to the sky,” Stockman said. “It will burn out in a spectacular crash. All of these latter-day speculators will have their hands burned to a crisp, and they will learn the proper lesson.”

Stockman also had some interesting things to say about bitcoin futures contracts being offered on CBOE and CME, saying that they don’t give bitcoin legitimacy. “Anytime Wall Street sees an opportunity to shear the sheep, and they see the sheep stampeding to the slaughter, they line up with some new gimmick to take advantage of the circumstances. That’s all,” Stockman said. “There is nothing that’s being validated by the opening up of a futures market. It’s just everybody trying to get on the train for the ride.”

The lull in frenzied bitcoin trading has also seen a reemergence of conspiracy theories as to why bitcoin’s price rose so rapidly in 2017. Investopedia reported that some believe the market may have been manipulated by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

It is known that North Korea did take an interest in bitcoin last year, with reports that the rogue country had started mining bitcoin in July and another report in September suggesting that the country was actively attempting, sometimes successfully, to hack bitcoin exchanges.

Image: Maxpixel


Bitcoin’s Path To $1 Million: Why This Bubble Is Not Bursting Any Time Soon – Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust ETF (Pending:COIN)


Bitcoin’s Path To $1 Million: Why This Bubble Is Not Bursting Any Time Soon

Ever since a Florida programmer made the first commercial transaction using Bitcoin (), when he traded 10,000 Bitcoins for 2 pizzas, the digital currency was launched. On May 18th 2010 Laszlo Hanyecz posted on a Bitcoin forum that he would pay 10,000 BTCs for “a couple of pizzas, like 2 large ones so he would have some left over for the next day.” Well, as Laszlo’s pizza related dreams came true that evening, an actual value for Bitcoin was born. A value of just $0.0025, or one quarter of 1 cent. However, as news spread around the internet over the now infamous pizza purchase, Bitcoin was soon officially trading at $0.06, an impressive 2,300% increase in just a few short weeks.

Fast forward to today’s world, in which Bitcoin is currently trading at around $13,500 and those 10,000 Bitcoins from 2010 used to purchase two large pizzas are now worth a whopping $135 million. Bitcoin itself is up a mind numbing 540,000,000% since its first implemented purchase.

Bitcoin All-Time Logarithmic Chart

Bitcoin All-Time Linear Chart

I am not sure if there has ever been another asset that has returned over half a billion percent in a 7.5-year window. My guess is that there hasn’t. So, after such astronomical gains I can see how Bitcoin could be perceived by many as being in a bubble. However, it is important to realize that Bitcoin is a unique asset, a groundbreaking concept, a revolutionary phenomenon, which still holds nearly limitless potential to reshape the entire financial global order. Therefore, Bitcoin’s full value potential is far from being fully realized right now, and the digital asset’s price is going to balloon a lot further before Bitcoin eventually reaches its full worth.

1. What will Continue to Propel the Value of Bitcoin?
2. How to Value Bitcoin
3. Bitcoin’s Functionality Prospects
4. Can Bitcoin Effectively Compete in Global Markets?
5. Solving Scalability and Cost Issues
6. What Makes Bitcoin and its Blockchain Unique?
7. Institutional Ownership
8. Recent Price Action
9. Is Bitcoin in a Bubble?
10. Putting a Value on Bitcoin


1. What will Continue to Propel the Value of Bitcoin?

Bitcoin has come a long way from being the largely unknown digital currency you could barely buy 2 pizzas with in 2010. Now Bitcoin is everywhere, it’s on the front pages of newspapers, reporters are discussing it on news channels, family members are debating it over Christmas dinners. The digital asset is seemingly becoming entrenched in the fabrics of our society, yet, not a lot of people own it.

What’s essentially occurring is demand is being drummed up significantly, but a relatively small portion of the population is partaking in the Bitcoin phenomenon, while the vast majority of the populace takes a passive role by simply observing events unfold from the sidelines, for now.

Adoption Rate of Just 0.4%

There are currently fewer than 21.5 million blockchain wallets in use. While this represents a year over year growth rate of roughly 100%, the number still only accounts for around 0.4% of the 5 billion population that has access to bank accounts. Bitcoin is transforming into a lasting, worldwide trend that is likely to become a permanent staple of the new global order. Therefore, the trajectory of this trend will inevitably continue, and as demand for Bitcoin expands so will its value.

The thing about Bitcoin is that there is no conventional way to value the digital asset. Bitcoin has no earnings, no cash flow, no P/E ratio, no growth rate, and no dividend. Essentially there is only supply, demand, sentiment, and price.

Bitcoin’s Unique Supply and Demand Dynamic

So, let’s assess what we can. We know that supply is limited, only 21 million BTCs can ever be mined. Moreover, an estimated 4 million BTCs have been lost forever, therefore, the real number of Bitcoins that will ever be in circulation is likely far fewer than 21 million, more like only 17 million.

Presently demand is robust, but is likely to intensify with increased popularity, widespread adoption, higher institutional ownership, and improved functionality. Moreover, demand will likely reach stupendous levels as peak Bitcoin inevitably approaches. Peak Bitcoin will occur when there are very few Bitcoins left to mine, and supply is forever capped at 21 million. Right now, fewer than 17 million Bitcoins have been mined, and the last Bitcoin may not be mined for decades. However, the consensus is that the clear majority of Bitcoin will be mined by approximately 2032. So, that gives BTC about 15 more years to appreciate.

When Sentiment Speaks Price Listens

Naturally sentiment plays an important role in BTC’s price. Ultimately, Bitcoin’s functionality is what the digital asset should derive most of its value from. Since we are still in the opening stages of the Bitcoin phenomenon it is BTC’s perceived functionality properties that should drive the current price action, not so much the mania and the speculation aspect. Although it is difficult to put a price tag on the speculation and mania portion of BTC’s price, as sentiment strengthens in regards to Bitcoin’s future functionality prospects the price should continue to increase.

3. Bitcoin’s Functionality Prospects

Bitcoin is currently in the opening stages of competing for two major markets. One is the global store of value market and the other is the worldwide medium of exchange segment. The global store of value market is currently dominated by gold, bonds, fiat currencies, stocks, derivatives, and other financial instruments. The global medium of exchange market is presently led by fiat currencies, controlled by central banks, governments, and multinational banking corporations.

Although Bitcoin cannot replace stocks, bonds, derivatives, gold, or even national currencies in the foreseeable future, it can offer a substitute form of value storing, as well as an alternative medium of exchange system.

4. Can Bitcoin Effectively Compete in Global Markets?

The underlying global markets are greatly manipulated by governments, central banks, banking institutions and other market forces. Moreover, the manipulation that takes place in the underlying markets usually benefits, the insiders, the rich, the few, and the privileged. Therefore, there is an inherent uneven playing field to begin with in the current financial world order. Thus, by default there is room and justification for an alternative, more efficient system to exist. Moreover, just like any superior form of technology, the new system is likely to prosper and capture market share form the old-world, corrupted system, riddled with faults and inadequacies.

Bitcoin’s Superior Qualities

Firstly, the Bitcoin, blockchain, digital currency phenomenon is still in its infancy, and is only beginning to scratch to surface potential wise. This new form of technology can conceivably enable numerous elements in a financial system, run smoother, more efficiently, be less complex, and much more transparent. Secondly, it is decentralized. Therefore, it cannot be manipulated by governments, central banks, and banking institutions like traditional store of value assets and central bank issued mediums of exchange.

In the store of value segment Bitcoin can be compared most fluidly to gold. Both are mined, have limited supplies, are widely recognized as having value, have medium of exchange properties, and are highly coveted assets on a worldwide scale. However, Bitcoin is far easier to transact with. For instance, I can transfer $1 million worth of Bitcoin to someone in another country, on the other side of this globe in minutes, and at a minimal transaction cost. If I wanted to conduct the same transaction using gold, this would be a far more complex and expensive procedure.


Bitcoin Vs Fiat Currencies

There is one thing that has been universally true about all fiat currencies, and that’s that they all eventually return to their intrinsic value, which is zero. In recent history, we’ve seen this occur in Germany, Zimbabwe, several post-soviet republics, we are currently seeing this occur in Venezuela, and even the mighty USD has lost about 95% of its value since the FED took over the U.S.’s monetary system in 1913.

If you have a currency backed by nothing, with an unlimited supply the dynamic is bound to be abused. Sooner or later the participants, or victims catch on to this scheme, that the money supply is perpetually increasing, which leads to the diminishing purchasing power of the currency, and ultimately culminates in a loss of confidence and a devaluation of the paper money.

Bitcoin does not share this problem, as the digital currency is decentralized, and has a finite amount that can ever be mined. Moreover, BTC exhibits all the major characteristics indicative of a desirable currency. Bitcoin is durable, easily divisible, highly transportable, extremely scarce, widely recognizable, is impossible to counterfeit, and when it reaches its long-term value potential BTC will become stable as well as consistent.


Essentially, Bitcoin performs all the functions gold and global currencies achieve, but Bitcoin has the distinct potential to accomplish these tasks more efficiently, and in a much more cost effective manner. Moreover, the Bitcoin, blockchain dynamic allows for a much more transparent, and less predatory monetary environment.

5. Solving Scalability and Cost Issues

Concerns have been expressed about Bitcoin’s rising transaction costs and scalability issues. Critics cite the recent spike in average transaction costs associated with Bitcoin as well as the network’s relatively lengthy transaction times and inability to process a massive number of transactions.

Due to Bitcoin’s skyrocketing popularity, average transaction costs have surged from about $2 in early October to roughly $37 in late December. Therefore, you are unlikely to see Bitcoin used to purchase pizzas today. However, the rising costs and lengthy transaction times are very likely to be transient issues in Bitcoin’s evolution process.

The Lightning Network is a protocol that creates an off-chain system by forming a network of payment channels that can be accessed by involved parties independent of the broader blockchain network. This is essentially an add on to Bitcoin’s blockchain that solves scalability and cost issues by taking transactions off the main network and onto a more private network amongst the users of the underlying payment channel.

The Lightning Network can process thousands of transactions per second, compared to the current limit of under 10. Moreover, transactions are conducted at a fraction of the current cost, which makes the upgraded Bitcoin payment system cheaper than the current mass payment processing system, and capable of conducing millions of transactions per day much like Visa and MasterCard. The Lightning Network is scheduled to be launched sometime in mid 2018.


6. What Makes Bitcoin and its Blockchain Unique?

Some skeptics say that they like the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin but not BTC itself. This is peculiar, because while blockchain technology can be implemented for just about anything, as it is largely a decentralized database ledger capable of recording transactions pertaining to anything, there is only one original Bitcoin blockchain. In essence, a blockchain is only as valuable as the product it is coupled with and the service it provides.


What makes Bitcoin’s blockchain so unique and so valuable in the first place is that it is inseparable from Bitcoin itself. Bitcoin has a significant (at least 5 years) head start on most of its adversaries. In addition, Bitcoin’s blockchain has by far the most extensive, best established, and most valuable multibillion dollar infrastructure network capable of withstanding the test of time.

Bitcoin is the gold standard of the digital world, and is widely accepted as the predominant digital currency, despite some of its transitory shortcomings. Bitcoin has been legitimized by the advent of BTC futures trading in the eyes of the entire financial world. Thus, people have become conditioned to recognize Bitcoin as the leading digital currency of the world. Some countries are even starting to officially recognize Bitcoin as legal tender. Japan was the first to do so, and others will likely follow in time.

Therefore, saying that “blockchain technology is great but Bitcoin is not that special” is akin to saying something like “social networking is a great phenomenon but Facebook is not that special”, or that “internet search is a useful technology but there’s nothing great about Google”. Consequently, just as Google is synonymous with search, and Facebook is with social networking, so is Bitcoin and blockchain technology.

7. Institutional Ownership

Bitcoin is an unusual financial phenomenon in the respect that it was not invented on Wall Street. Most financial instruments, trading vehicles, derivatives, and anything else that could be speculated on are usually engineered on Wall Street or in some other highly centralized financial center. Therefore, the insiders are usually the first in, but not this time. Most institutional investors appear to be late to the party, however, that doesn’t mean that they won’t jump in.

In fact, the next wave higher is likely to be propelled by an influx of institutional funds as futures, ETFs and other trading vehicles capable of betting on the price of BTC begin to flood the market over the next few years. Mohamed El-Erian recently mentioned that Bitcoin is facing a crucial test right now, and if it is to continue with its upward trajectory institutions would need to step in around this level and bid the price up.

While this is likely true, mainly from a price action perspective, it’s extremely important to remember that the point of Bitcoin is not to continuously have its price appreciate. A rising BTC price should ultimately be a byproduct of the increased potential in its functional capabilities as a universal store of value and a global medium of exchange.

Recent price action suggests that Bitcoin has gone through a healthy correction process and is now going through a constructive consolidation phase. BTC recently declined by roughly 45% in 5 trading days dropping from its high of around $20,000 to a level of under $12,000. Since then BTC has been trading in a consolidation style trading range of roughly $12,500 – $16,500.

Bitcoin 3-Month Chart

Bitcoin 10-Day Chart

As long as BTC doesn’t fall decisively below $12,000 the long-term trend stays constructive, and BTC is likely to breakout to new highs in the near future. However, if BTC dips below $12,000 conclusively, a test of the $10,000 region becomes inevitable and a possible drop to the $5,000 – $6,000 becomes very possible. Nevertheless, significant long-term price appreciation remains likely regardless of short-term price swings.

9. Is Bitcoin in a Bubble?

Bitcoin and blockchain technology is still a relatively new phenomenon, not that many people (relative to the world’s population) understand what it is, how it works, and the revolutionary functionality properties it offers. It is still looked on by many as a “novelty”, something that’s neat, and interesting, but has little real world worth to offer. In addition, an extremely small percentage of the populous are directly involved with digital assets right now. So, before you classify Bitcoin in the bubble category please take the time consider a few crucial elements.

Yes, Bitcoin is a highly publicized phenomenon, but have you ever seen a bubble that so many people heard so much about but so few were actually involved in? Moreover, have you ever witnessed a bubble in which institutional investors were largely absent from, or one which was predominantly decoupled from Wall Street? Finally, have you ever seen a bubble that had so much “bubble” talk surrounding it, and that so many individuals were adamantly sure was in fact a bubble?

My answer to all three questions is no, therefore Bitcoin is likely to greatly increase in adoption, institutional ownership, popularity, understanding, functionality, and value before its true worth is achieved.

10. Putting a Value on Bitcoin

To attempt to put an objective value on Bitcoin let’s look at BTC’s competitors, and other popular asset classes along with their respective market values.

Investable Gold: Roughly $3.5 Trillion
Physical Currencies: $7.6 Trillion
M1 World Money Supply: $37 Trillion
World Stock Markets: $73 Trillion
M3 World Money Supply: $90 Trillion
Derivative Market: $544 Trillion – $1.2 Quadrillion
Bitcoin: $223 Billion

Bitcoin’s market cap is extremely miniscule right now, even though the digital asset has immense market share potential. I am not claiming that BTC is going to take over the world’s derivative markets, or take on the global stock market, but it can certainly capture some market share from gold and the M1 money supply going forward. BTC represents a legitimate alternative store of value and spearheads what is becoming an optimized medium of exchange system.

Therefore, BTC will likely continuously carve out share from the roughly $40 trillion medium of exchange and store of value market comprised of gold and the world’s M1 money supply. The higher BTC’s functionality as a worldwide store of value and a digital global currency becomes the more BTC’s price is going to appreciate.

Bitcoin doesn’t need to replace the current leaders in this market, i.e. gold, the dollar, Euro, etc., BTC just needs to effectively compete with them, and there is no indication that it will not. In fact, Bitcoin is superior to its adversaries in many respects and should continue to carve out an ever-larger portion of the $40 trillion pie.

A mere 10% share of this market would give Bitcoin a market cap of about $4 trillion and a price of around $250,000 per Bitcoin, a 25% share would increase BTC’s price to roughly $600,000, and a 50% share of this market would give BTC a price tag of approximately $1.2 million.

Naturally, it’s not going to be a straight ride to $1,000,000, and this price is not likely to be achieved in the next few years. But by 2030, with peak Bitcoin approaching, in a global landscape of increased adoption, improved functionality, and worldwide acceptance, I could see Bitcoin at $1 million, can you?


Disclaimer: Despite my very optimistic view on Bitcoin it remains a very speculative and risky investment. There are a number of inherent risks associated with Bitcoin that could detrimentally impact its price. Personally, I would not allocate more than 10% of my portfolio to digital assets. Please don’t take out a mortgage to buy Bitcoin.

This article expresses solely my opinions, is produced for informational purposes only, and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. Investing comes with risk to loss of principal. Please always conduct your own research and consider your investment decisions very carefully.

To receive further insight into this idea and other high alpha investment opportunities please visit Albright Investment Group, my online investing community. Join now and obtain exclusive access to private research articles that include unique features such as trade alerts, trade triggers, price levels, specific trade strategies, and price targets. These high value features are only available to members of our exclusive trading group and are not accessible to the general public.

Disclosure:I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I own Bitcoin


Singapore bar offers bitcoin New Year party package

The New Year idea came after Skyline ran other successful virtual currency-themed nights for people in the financial technology sector

A Singapore bar that bills itself as the world’s highest cryptocurrency club is offering a New Year’s Eve package that includes a limousine pick-up and butler service — but it’ll cost you a whole bitcoin.

Skyline, on the 45th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city-state’s glittering waterfront, is promising partygoers a luxury-filled night out, with champagne and oysters and caviar.

But it won’t come cheap, with the price of bitcoin — which has surged dramatically in recent months — hovering around $13,000 on Sunday.

The party at Skyline is called “Bianco”, with revellers dressed in white enjoying a night of drinking and dancing before watching the New Year’s fireworks display over the waterfront.

While the club has run the night before, it is the first time they are offering a bitcoin deal, and customers can also pay in regular cash.

Manager Subaish Rajamanickam said they had received a lot of inquiries about the package — but no one had yet signed up for it.

The New Year idea came after the bar ran other successful virtual currency-themed nights for people in the financial technology sector, which is booming in the city-state.

Skyline was the first club in Singapore to accept cryptocurrencies when it started taking payments in Ethereum, a bitcoin rival.

There was scepticism among some customers about using Bitcoin due to its surging price and recent volatility

“We had a couple of cryptocurrency after-parties here, and we have also themed a night … called Crypto Thursdays,” Rajamanickam told AFP.

“So that basically got the ball rolling for cryptocurrency acceptance here at Skyline.”

But most transactions are still in regular cash and there was scepticism among some customers about using bitcoin, due to its surging price and recent volatility.

“It’s too expensive to buy alcohol or (conduct) any transaction using cryptocurrency in today’s environment,” said Spencer Campbell, a 47-year-old financial consultant.

Created in 2009 as a piece of encrypted software, bitcoin has been used to buy everything from pizza to cars, and is increasingly accepted by major companies such as online travel giant Expedia.

It has surged more than 25-fold this year and hit a record of around $19,500 earlier in December. Analysts have put the recent increases down to a decision by US regulators to allow bitcoin futures to trade on major exchanges.

But bitcoin has slipped back after a series of warnings from governments — including Singapore — and analysts about the risk and volatility associated with cryptocurrencies.

It fell more than 11 percent after South Korea — a hotbed for cryptocurrency trading — announced curbs on anonymous trading of virtual currencies on Thursday.


Cboe Files for the Listing of Six New Bitcoin ETFs Optimized to Track Futures Performance

This post was originally published on this site

In a move that underlines the company’s growing interest in the emerging new asset class, Cboe Global Markets have the United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to list six bitcoin-related exchange-traded funds (ETF).

  •         First Trust Bitcoin Strategy ETF
  •         First Trust Inverse Bitcoin Strategy ETF
  •         REX Bitcoin Strategy ETF
  •         REX Short Bitcoin Strategy ETF
  •         GraniteShares Bitcoin ETF
  •         GraniteShares Short Bitcoin ETF

The pace of the filing is indeed remarkable considering it comes just days after Cboe became the first major exchange to allow bitcoin futures trading.

Unlike all past bitcoin-centric ETF efforts, the six from Cboe are optimized to track the performance of futures instead of tracking the digital asset itself. This earlier approach, brought into the limelight by the long-running submission by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, failed to convince the SEC because of certain regulatory complications.

In March 2017, the Winklevoss twins appealed to the SEC to approve the COIN bitcoin ETF. Following a rather lengthy screening, the SEC turned down the proposal, thus putting a stop to the much-speculated first regulated bitcoin investment platform on a major stock market.

According to CoinCenter, a non-profit research body and cryptocurrency advocacy center, the primary reason behind the SEC’s decision was the lack of adequate regulations in many overseas crypto markets.

“The Winklevoss ETF proposal was rejected because the SEC found that the significant markets for Bitcoin tend to be unregulated overseas markets that are potentially subject to price manipulation,” Jerry Brito, the executive director at CoinCenter, said earlier in 2017.

“But this creates a chicken and egg problem. How do we develop well-capitalized and regulated markets in the U.S. and Europe if financial innovators aren’t allowed to bring products to market that grow domestic demand for digital currencies like Bitcoin?”

The SEC’s rejection was contradictory to what a large section of the bitcoin market and the finance industry was expecting. So naturally, shortly after the knock-back, the price of bitcoin dropped almost 30 percent to $900.

The global market has changed drastically since that decision, and so has the regulatory landscape watching over it. Many overseas markets like Japan and South Korea have imposed even more stringent regulations compared to the United States.

In fact, both these Asian economies have taken the initiative to implement a national licensing program for cryptocurrency exchanges by enforcing a strict KYC doctrine, as well as more robust Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies.

Judging by the fact that bitcoin regulations in most major economies have evolved significantly over the recent months, along with Cboe’s success with the listing of bitcoin futures, it is extremely likely that the SEC would approve the new ETF within the next 12 months.

Cboe Files for the Listing of Six New Bitcoin ETFs Optimized to Track Futures Performance


Bitcoin Price Surges to $16,500; $1 Million by the End of 2020?

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