Bitcoin is the future, again: this morning, it hit an all-time high value of over $50,000. Is there a lesson in here? Are Elon Musk’s tweets a good investment strategy? Should we get in on this? We have yet to learn. Or maybe we learn nothing, and the notoriously volatile currency will level out, unlike when some lost everything to the 2018 crash.
Elon Musk first sent Bitcoin and Dogecoin soaring a few weeks ago as a sort of sequel to Reddit’s WallStreetBets frenzy, changing his bio to “Bitcoin” and tweeting “Doge” to the glee of his fans. (A meme on his feed captured the spirit of the resulting 50% upswing.) He tweeted about both cryptocurrencies before Tesla disclosed, in its annual report, that the company had converted $1.5 billion USD to Bitcoin. Naturally, this led to some analysts calling the investment “risky” and “crazy,” and pointing out that Tesla could lose nearly all of its 2020 net income on the gamble if Bitcoin were to plunge by 50%.
More quietly, a handful of banks and fintech companies, including Mastercard, Bank of New York Melloncorp, Visa, PayPal, and Square have recognized the demand for cryptocurrency exchange and have started supporting Bitcoin and others.(Incidentally, major credit card companies might have indirectly driven even more demand thanks to their decision to cut ties with Pornhub, creating a cryptocurrency market on the country’s 14th largest website.)
“Mastercard isn’t here to recommend you start using cryptocurrencies,” the company’s press release hedged last week. “But we are here to enable customers, merchants and businesses to move digital value – traditional or crypto – however they want. It should be your choice, it’s your money.”
Ethan Lou, journalist and author of “Once a Bitcoin Miner”—an autobiographical account of running a blockchain start-up through the first boom—doesn’t see the price movement itself as extraordinary.
“I think a 5-10 per cent move is a perfectly normal day for bitcoin,” he wrote via email. The upswing isn’t so surprising given that Bitcoin has, “increasingly moved in correlation with the broader financial markets,” and the markets seem to reflect the fact that a stimulus is on the way.
The market has been extraordinarily volatile over the past year, and the price of Bitcoin followed the March 2020 crash, at one point trading at a little over $5,000. A 10% one-day price move would be remarkable for the stock market, but this is a year of meme stocks and rocket ships fueled by nihilistic fever after the GameStop short squeeze, not to mention Tesla’s own incredible (possibly precarious) surge.
Lou doesn’t believe that Tesla’s decision to buy into crypto would likely scare off Tesla investors, either. “There are those who already think Tesla is overvalued, even before this year, so I think a Tesla investor is already someone who has a high tolerance for risk,” he wrote. “I think the effect is asymmetrical. Tesla’s purchase affected the market, but not so much the other way around.”
This morning, Elon Musk again tried to move the Doge market by offering to pay cash to the largest hoarders of joke currency Dogecoin if they agreed to “void their accounts” in order to, in his view, decentralize the market. (According to the Dogecoin Rich List on bitinfocharts.com, a single account holds 28.7% of all Dogecoin.)
If all this sounds like the plot of a forthcoming tragic documentary and/or Adam McKay movie to you—same.
UPDATE 2/16/2021 1:10pm ET: In response to Gizmodo’s follow-up question of whether this is a repeat of the 2017 Bitcoin bubble, Lou seemed a little more cautiously optimistic about Bitcoin’s longterm stability. But Bitcoin is not immune to the 2017-like blind enthusiasm swirling around the WallStreetBets and Elon Musk, so take it all with a grain of salt:
The Gamestop matter was exactly like 2017 — an easy path to investment for the uninitiated (the Ethereum platform then, Robinhood now), confidence in assets built on memes and viral content, a rebellious, anti-establishment attitude. While I believe Bitcoin itself has sound fundamentals, the 2017 price rally was fuelled mostly by speculation on the thousands of alternative cryptocurrencies, or shitcoins, most of which are now practically worthless. Like Gamestop, that was a rally built on hype and naivety, without underlying fundamentals. At the end of that, some people will make a lot of money, yes, but it was on the backs of others who end up holding coins that were deep in the red. And now the excess energy from the Gamestop matter is bleeding into crypto.