Bitcoin: How the skeptics and believers grew so far apart


Throughout history, technology has fostered differing opinions. Remember Y2K? According to some, a simple change in the date was going to disrupt the global computing system. Software developers were paid thousands of dollars to do, what in the end, was nothing.

However, maybe the most divisive debate of them all centers on a decentralized payment system that relies on the ‘trust’ of complicated software protocols and problem-solving techniques, which are purely reliant on the internet: Bitcoin.

At one end you have the combative Winklevoss twins who challenge the imaginations of cryptocurrency skeptics, claiming bitcoin is going to be worth over $300,000 and could eventually replace gold. Then you have your older traditional investors like F. William McNabb, chairman of Vanguard Group, who said bitcoin poses a systemic risk to the financial system, and it’s volatility undermines its adoption, adding that he sees a “decent probability that its price goes to zero.”

So how did we get here? That’s simple: Bitcoin’s price. Owners of the virtual currency have had a tough start to 2018, with the price of bitcoin losing about half its value since Jan. 1. However, had you purchased it five years ago, it’s a different story.

With every 10% swing in the price of bitcoin

BTCUSD, +4.24%

the bulls and bears are moving further apart. Often fueled by wildly inaccurate claims based on little research or understanding on what remains an enigmatic facet of the financial system.

“The current discussions are triggered largely by bitcoin’s spectacular price increases, and all too often, participants only repeat dogmatic claims, for example that ‘bitcoin will soon be dead anyway’ or ‘bitcoin will soon dominate the financial sector,’” Deutsche Bank said in a research note.

Read:The big bitcoin question: What is it good for, and where?

Bitcoin v Banks

At one end of the spectrum, proponents of bitcoin believe that one day digital currencies and blockchain technology will replace the entire banking system. As Deutsche Bank points out, it’s no coincidence that bitcoin was created during the financial crisis. Antiestablishment and libertarian at its core, those who believe in bitcoin argue it’s a more reliable and safer payment system, that doesn’t strip users of their personal information like the evil empires (i.e., banks) do.

However, at seven transactions per second, bitcoin pale in comparison with a credit card system that handles millions of transactions per second. And as bitcoin has become more popular, confirmation time has skyrocketed—a trend that doesn’t bode well should uptake increase.

In reality, there is a middle ground. But either side is willing to give in. It’s boom or bust.

“Ultimately, bitcoin is an alternative means of payment which has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to traditional banking. Bitcoin will probably fill a niche, at least in the short term. Traditional banking and bitcoin can coexist. At the same time, banks are massively investing in blockchain technologies in order to exploit the advantages of cryptocurrencies for themselves,” Deutsche Bank said.

What is bitcoin worth?

Current forecasts on the price of bitcoin range from zero to $500,000, underlining how divisive the debate has become.

Firstly, pricing an asset that is owned by so few people is challenging. According to AQR Capital, 40% of all bitcoin is owned by just 1000 people. Furthermore, there is no return or benchmark that bitcoin is priced against. Supply and demand is based on what many describe as gambling.

”If we consider residential property, we compare house prices to rent income, or if we consider equities, we compare market capitalization to the relevant company’s earnings. Once again, there is no benchmark to which the bitcoin price may be compared,” Deutsche Bank said.

So who’s right? If you bought bitcoin at $100 there’s a good chance you tell your friends you’re a genius when deep down you probably know you’re just lucky. And if you were a skeptic in 2015, you’re probably sick of the whole “do you know how much money you could have made?”

The real answer: no one knows, yet.

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