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O Bitcoinie, krypto i złocie

2024-05-28
O Bitcoinie, krypto i złocie
Recesja


Without lengthy, and flamboyant introduction this time – as assets we’ll describe simply don’t need one. Bitcoin and gold. Both became super-hot in 2024. Each has its own different anti-fiat approach. Both have very vocal and often fanatical fan base. And each has simply different story to tell.


Chapter One

It has been 15 years since Bitcoin was launched for the first time, and 7 years since 1 BTC permanently surpassed price of 1 oz of gold. Since then, it has gone on a historic run to become the most productive asset of the 21st century. Price growth from under the dollar to all-time highs nearing at 74k USD is something remarkable and cannot simply be ignored. At current (14th May 2024) 1 BTC = approx. 26.5 oz of gold). Such growth even surpassed what occurred on gold during 70’s or generally on gold since ending the dollar peg. Of course, need to remember that Bitcoin’s price may go up and down drastically, especially within next post-halving months. Also previous halvings indicated that achieved heights are not sustainable, and in the meantime double digit percentage-wise corrections are likely to occur.

  • After first halving, BTC price increased from 76 USD to a peak of 1,153 USD on 5th Dec 2013, but later fell to 177 USD in January 2015.
  • In second halving, price charted remarkable ascent, from 963 USD to 20,089 USD reached on 17th December 2017. This was followed by a nosedive to 3,557 USD in January 2018.
  • Halving number 3 has been most unprecedented so far as Bitcoin’s price has skyrocketed from 7,194 USD to 69k USD reached in November 2021. Then it fell sharply and year later bottomed at 15k USD.

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BTC halvings - 2017, 2021 and 2024 in development. Source: Tradingview

Such price volatility may be unbearable for majority of investors, especially if not fully justifiable by fundamental factors and technical analysis. Above is even more magnified with regards to altcoins – alternative blockchains and variety of projects built on such. Bitcoin’s price change cause much higher price fluctuations on altcoins, applicable in both directions. Hence percentagewise double- or triple-digit changes, which may turn hodler rich, but generally more often leave individual with handful of purchased, now useless tokens. Stock exchanges cease trading upon i.e. 8% general daily move down, while on crypto 90% daily loss on invested capital is called… Thursday. And so, while less volatile traditional markets tend to forget certain mistakes, crypto takes no prisoners, hence it’s not for high risk aversion investors.

It’s a result of simple statistics – after all, many capital doners who follow herd and social media gurus tend to buy on top, make panic sales or simply may be simply mislead on usefulness of asset due to insufficient own research. But it may be also result of pump and dump scheme, which benefits only few on cost of many. And it’s easy to perform such on wild and generally non-regulated market. Although certain regulatory actions had been administered in recent years – i.e. KYC requirements - crypto sphere remains untamed. Without regulatory basis it fails to find solution against project shillers attracting other investors to certain project, only to realise profit, causing price first to pump and then dump, whilst leaving rest of interested parties on loss. Such scheme is something not unusual on crypto sphere, while on traditional financial markets is forbidden and punishable.

Similar could be said on many crypto project makers who are unable to deliver promises as presented in white-books and road-maps based on which they successfully acquired funds via IPO or ICO. Many projects cease to exist mere hours after premiere and successful pump and dump. As per March 2024 there is over 13k different projects, including approx. 4k already dead that trade with minimal or no volume. This triggers sectoral voices to claim 99% crypto projects have zero usefulness. And even if they do, number of actual users remains low in comparison to investors only interested in price exposure.

On comparison, precious metals sphere may not be able to deliver such impressive ROI, although who know what records gold may achieve this decade in current circumstances. Currently it’s over 2.2x since 2016 bottom. Here, price movements remain less volatile but at the same time remain more fundamentally and technically justified. Despite conspiracy theorists, price of gold and silver is not artificially supressed but is simply an effect of market conditions and certain danger perception. Also, PM markets are regulated and operate within set of legal frameworks preserving higher transparency.


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Top 10 assets by market cap. Source: https://companiesmarketcap.com/assets-by-market-cap/

Record market capitalisation of crypto market occurred late 2021, when it reached 3 trl USD globally. At that time Bitcoin’s dominance stood at 38-40% range, which means, all the remaining cryptocurrencies were responsible for remainer of such. Sharp drop of BTC price, made altcoins to fall even more, and so BTC regained 50%+ dominance levels. Current valuation of crypto sphere is at 2.26 trl USD, although these calculations may be understated by 1 bln USD. After all, altcoin projects are being born and die daily and are not listed everywhere. In comparison, BTC is at 1.22 trl USD market cap, which is approx. 54% BTC.D (BTC dominance). Hence, had bitcoin sneezes, crypto catches cold.


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BTC.D – BTC dominance – how many % of total crypto market is BTC responsible for. Source: Tradingview

Current capitalisation of global silver market is at 1.6 trl USD while physical gold market had been respectfully at 12 (2021) and 16 trl USD (now). Gold is bigger in market cap compared to any company and despite Bitcoin’s exponential growth in recent years, it still lags yellow metal. Based on prior 2024 calculations, single BTC would have to reach 740k USD, for BTC market cap to equalize gold, however supply, price and proportions for both assets are not static.

Of course, on attempt to compare both assets we must understand different liquidity approaches and limitations, as certain daily gold volumes may partially face logistical barriers if opted for physical delivery. While accessibility to BTC is limited only by internet availability. However, one is to be perceived as defensive store of value, while the other as speculative ‘leveraged Nasdaq equivalent’ - we’ll explain that later. And so, what we have on table are not equal but totally different assets. We compare 17th century ornated winged hussar sabre and modern pistol.

Chapter Two

BTC is first and oldest of all cryptos says its legend, but generally it’s not truth. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain had been under development for many years before Bitcoin was introduced. But main reason they didn't work until Bitcoin, was an issue of double spending - one where a user could alter information on distributed ledger to give themselves back any tokens they spent. Solving this, opened door to crypto-sphere to exist.

However, investors have had hard time categorizing what Bitcoin is and why it has merit as an investment. Recent narrative leans towards ‘informal crypto index’. Of course, BTC is a native token for Bitcoin blockchain, as ETH is token for Ethereum chain etc. They enable paying transaction fees, while sending, purchasing or disposal of tokens. If crypto project has certain usefulness, coins could be used to pay for a service. Also they could be farmed, stacked, re-stacked for yield etc. This happens however generally withing very narrow crypto sphere. And that makes us question general adoption.

Lot has been told and written over the years on potential of mass crypto adoption and of how we’re going to use crypto to acquire everyday goods and services. We were supposed to use different coins for different services, ecosystems were supposed to be mutually interconnected with hustle-free and delay-free bridges. Transactions were supposed to be instant with fees at bare minimum. Contrary to above, it’s nothing unusual for network fees to exceed value of transferred tokens during busy time. Transferring tokens between ecosystems is not time efficient. And even in quieter periods fees may still be higher than if we were dealing with bank transfers.

After 15 years, with full responsibility we could say – mass adoption didn’t occur and crypto predominantly is being used as an asset to make profits or loss due to price changes. Blockchain as a groundbreaking tech is being used more and more – that’s a fact. Even in gold mining sector to improve traceability and flow of goods and information. Another example - banking sector issues certain financial instruments on blockchain. But generally, these are not blockchains we all know, but individually adjusted variations. However, occurrences where we could pay with crypto for services or goods are still more like niche tech trivia. Somebody paid for Papa Jones pizzas with Bitcoins over decade ago, some NYC apartments were listed recently for sale in BTC, certain EV car retailer aims to accept payments in Doge in future, certain fashion retailers accept BTC and ETH. But what prevents wider adoption are financial regulations and volitality of crypto assets. And so in terms of general transaction volume or value, crypto remains far below 1%.

In terms of BTC, of course, in time growth in number of BTC wallets (users) occurred, however actual usage for anything else beyond investing and trading activities remains very low.


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Number of active BTC wallets doesn’t line with crypto adoption. Source: CCN

Just to be fair - we can’t pay for goods and services in gold either (unless both parties decide to do so under the table). However global recognisability of gold is equal if not surpassing of US dollar and far superior to those of crypto and BTC.

Chapter Three

BTC halvings occur periodically, every four years. And while one is not around the corner, BTC generally falls and moves horizontally in terms of price. During part of 2023 and 2024, BTC attempted to act as anti-inflationary hedge following yellow metal, with gold prices leading Bitcoin prices by about a week.


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BTC (black) & gold futures (blue) - 2023 – April 2024. Source: www.mcoscillator.com

But in attempt to understand its moves, key lies somewhere else. Generally BTC follows pattern of 3x leveraged Nasdaq. Of course, sometimes its short-term unique price movements are being caused by different and unique factors. Like when international sanctions had been imposed on Russia, which very quickly increased daily price of BTC, as oligarchs started diversifying onto BTC to preserve possibility of capital outflow abroad.

This imposes another question, on how cryptocurrencies may behave in time of market correcting sharply. Crypto sphere as generally young and developing class of assets haven’t had a chance to experience full scale financial crisis so far. However, if they follow steps of 3x leveraged Nasdaq, this may be very indicative to speed and size of price action..


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BTC vs 3 x Nasdaq. Źródło: https://twitter.com/TaviCosta/status/1780065634795098292/photo/1

In 2011, Bitcoin was becoming more popular with enterprise-sized miners because of its potential price appreciation. It appeared that businesses were going to take control of mining because it was quickly becoming computationally unfeasible for individuals to participate. To some, such looming centralization went against one of the original concepts behind the cryptocurrency, that it would remain decentralized. And so fork occurred. A fork happens whenever a community makes a change to the blockchain’s protocol, or basic set of rules. When this happens, the chain splits — producing a second blockchain that shares all of its history with the original but is headed off in a new direction. Hence Litecoin. And it’s a common evolution in crypto sphere, as LTC had fork in form of Luckycoin (now non-existent), which had a fork in form of Dogecoin. Examples are multiple, but they only prove BTC’s usefulness failed test of time and original concept. As even despite of certain technological breakthroughs it made 9solved double-spending issue), its TPS (transactions per second) equals seven. Which is low compared to centralized systems like VISA, which can handle thousands of TPS. Truly majestic for ‘informal crypto index’.


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Top 15 crypto-currencies by market cap as on 14th May 2024. Source: Coinmarketcap

Blockchains were designed to enable secure virtual payment method to its users. However, limitations of Bitcoin encouraged other to develop its own blockchains which enable more than just secure virtual payment methods. Major breakthrough occured with development of Ethereum blockchain. Imagine platform, on which you could develop your own ideas. Like making website in wordpress or building structures of many available pre-defined in shape Lego bricks. Ethereum enabled creation of variety of projects, making blockchain to boom, and experience its own ever-changing trends.

  • Couple years in the back it was DeFi – decentralised finance – promise of providing financial services on blockchain.
  • Then it was NFT – non fungible tokens. People were paying often thousands of dollars to acquire templated picture or gif, but with individual tracker, making them unique. Tech savvy it was interesting but paying i.e. 608k USD for a jpeg of a stone… let’s just say it wasn’t the smartest move and had all the signs of a bubble.
  • Then in the time of crypto bessa it was stacking and restacking tokens, that involved locking up pool of tokens for yield.
  • Real world asset tokenisation - tokenizing real-world assets like real estate and gold enables fractional ownership, asset-backed stablecoins, and increased liquidity.
  • Recurring trend of all memecoins like Pepe, which generally speaking do… nothing, except serving as a unique brand.
  • And most recently AI, that brings lot of promises, but utilisation can’t be guaranteed.

Fundamentally most important event for crypto are Bitcoin halvings. Bitcoin started its existence with certain number of tokens in circulation. Roughly every four years, total number of Bitcoin that its miners could potentially win is halved (miners also earn transaction fees when building bitcoin blocks). Miners use computing power to help solve mathematical issues and in effect are being rewarded with set number of BTC. At some point in time even 50, but pre 2024 halving at 6.25 BTC and post it 3.125 BTC. Bitcoin whitepaper specifically compares this mechanism to gold mining:

‘The steady addition of a constant of amount of new coins is analogous to gold miners expending resources to add gold to circulation’.

As supply shrinks, demand remains periodically higher and so theory is there will be less bitcoin available to buy if miners have less to sell. In addition, not all BTC tokens circulate, as some remain intact on wallets belonging to whales, since over decade, and some had been lost in time. BTC current supply stands at 19.6 bln and it’s capped at 21 bln. Assuming no code alterations to change that.

BTC price with its average mining costs should give some interesting point to look at, as generally speaking these two go in line, with exception of halving proximity, which increases BTC price, opening opportunity to realise profits and to wipe out periodical losses.


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BTC price & average mining costs. Source: https://en.macromicro.me/charts/29435/bitcoin-production-total-cost

Chapter Four

Above halving schematics is all intentional, as Satoshi Nakamoto - creator of Bitcoin - programmed halving into Bitcoin’s core code with the intention of creating scarcity over time. Considering that he, she or them remain anonymous and since few years disappeared, is very convenient but doesn’t ensure code won’t be altered to increase supply. Let’s just hope it won’t. Mastermind behind blockchain allegedly holds modest 1.1 mln BTC across many wallets. Hence BTC remains one of the few cryptos with limited supply, while vast majority face inflationary tendencies.

We wrote ‘he, she or them’, as none knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is. Many had been indicated, many claimed to be, none had been proven to. Some theories indicate it may be group of programmers under one of governmental agencies, inventing blockchain technology among many, for the purpose of creation and testing mechanisms necessary to implementation of CBDC. Which could have sense, as blockchain as a technology improves flow of funds, services and information, which would be necessary if designers of financial system would like to preserve even more strict control over its users. Besides BTC solved very important issue of double-spending, where a user could alter the information on a distributed ledger to give themselves back any tokens they had spent.

Who knows – maybe in near future we’ll be purchasing physical property via blockchain, using real world asset tokenisation. Then receive act of ownership in form of individual NFT. And all will be fully traceable and transparent, due to KYC requirements and nature of blockchain itself.

That would be ultimate scenario pursued by international financière and governments and potential endangering of civil liberties, as money flow and supply could be easily adjusted, questioned or limited because of, or in line with social credit system. After all, money we store in the bank are not anymore ours – we do loan them to the bank, and therefore they have IOU towards us. With such detailed data flow as enabled by blockchain, wouldn’t be surprising to see temporary spending limitations to curb inflation, because we surpassed limit of carbon credits or misbehaved in any way which AI operator identified as i.e. antisocial. And now perfect utopia turns itself to dystopian vision of full control. Hence, we do not laugh anymore on the statement ‘gold equals freedom’.We slightly exaggerated above paragraph, just to extrapolate possible consequences. Of course, we really don’t want to be perceived as fear-mongers, but point remains intact – crypto is not anonymous and it’s traceable. Bitcoin manifest by Satoshi Nakamoto aka Bitcoin whitepaper specifically indicated need to create:

"‘…an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party (…) The traditional banking model achieves a level of privacy by limiting access to information to the parties involved and the trusted third party. The necessity to announce all transactions publicly precludes this method, but privacy can still be maintained by breaking the flow of information in another place: by keeping public keys anonymous. The public can see that someone is sending an amount to someone else, but without information linking the transaction to anyone. This is similar to the level of information released by stock exchanges, where the time and size of individual trades, the "tape", is made public, but without telling who the parties were.’

Within legal frameworks and regulatory regimes, crypto failed to deliver above assumptions in time. Although beginnings were promising. Blockchain explorers allow to track transactions in between network wallets, i.e. for Ethereum it will be etherscan. In time more and more often wallet owners are being identified by crypto communities tracing and investigating flows on whale’s wallets. So how it works in typical scenario of funds transfer:.

  • Via banking institution there will be involved banking institutions, sender and receiver who know transaction details. Eventually taxman as well. And international transfer via SWIFT may take couple days.
  • With regards to crypto, in theory there will be no middleman. But networks require validators aka trustworthy individuals. A validator is a participant in a Proof of Stake (PoS) blockchain network like Ethereum or Solana that is responsible for validating new transactions and maintaining security of blockchain. Also there is regulatory KYC requirement in law, hence additional counterparties i.e. exchanges. And in majority cases – as adoption generally usage of crypto is limited and you can’t pay for everything and everywhere for it, user will have to transfer it to local fiat currency on exchange (now taxman will now) and transfer to his own personal bank account (banking institution will know as well).

Blockchain transfer generally speaking is much quicker than banking clearing, but if network is actually busy, transfer cost may increase, sometimes even exponentially. Lot of nasty things had been already told in crypto community on gas fees on Ethereum network or generally on its speed, but Bitcoin suffers same problem. To provide alternative, lot of different, better working blockchains had been created, like Solana, Polkadot, Avax, Near etc. Even overly saturating the market. But again, process supposed to be simple and fast, without necessity to constantly being patched and provided with new alternatives. Additionally, there is an issue on irreversibility of such transaction. Wallet address usually is long alpha-numeric sequence – it’s not a problem as we could simply copy paste it. But once done transaction is simply irreversible. Done. Over. Finito. Hence there is no field for mistakes.

Blockchain supposed to be anonymous and privacy protecting! If you stay within a crypto bubble, it is, but due to lagging adoption, possible ROI made on crypto could be utilised only upon transferring to a bank account. Which contradicts idea of anonymity. In addition, certain jurisdictions require detailed info on transactions and wallet addresses for taxation purposes. No anonymity then whatsoever.

Speaking however from technical point of view, tech-savvy, and we mean ‘proper tech savvy’ can prove – and already did – Bitcoin anonymity and untraceability is a myth. Study case made by Sarah Meiklejohn is one very documented example breaking such.

At the end of our story, we finally have to touch subject of BTC ETFs approved by US SEC. Since the launch of spot Bitcoin ETFs on January 11, landscape of investment preferences has subtly and significantly shifted. BTC ETFs new entrants have not only intrigued market’s attention but have unlocked and amassed nearly 10 bln USD in assets under management in just over a month. Quickly they have surpassed previously set records of gold ETFs, which made them even more interesting for potential consumer.

‘This is testament to the interest in cryptocurrency globally’ says crypto - community. Yes - investors were being attracted by possibility of high ROI, and promises of such, which are very thrilling. Demand for such exposure made certain companies (Blackrock, Greyscale etc.) to introduce available products, and so all institutional customers may now obtain legal exposure on BTC. Grand premiere occurred when US indices were performing horizontally in choppy moves, liquidating both longs and shorts. Gold was still ahead of its grand upward move. Hence conditions for something new and shiny were supportive.

Since then, ETFs inflows/outflows became most observed indicator for BTC, as they trigger price falls and growths. Which made current halving unusual, as ‘smart money’ seemed to have strong exposure, while ‘street money’ remained more undecided. Since price tops, smart money started taking profits, making BTC to move horizontally within certain price range. Which usually makes altcoins to bleed badly. To the volatile crypto market additional issue has been added – which is potential heavy asset consolidation in corporate hands. Couple mln USD or 1 bln USD in BTC is heavyweight in crypto world, while for corporate investors, it’s just fracture of assets under management.

Conclusion

Every epoque could be characterised by progress achieved or reversal occurred. While Roman Empire build civilisation and foundations for future development, dark ages made foundation to national countries we know. While 19th century has been changed by steam engines and railways, XXth century focused on means to flight and space flights. 21st century already could be marked as age of technology with its development of AI and blockchain among many. It’s undeniable fact, blockchain is technology to remain and serve needs of humankind. However, blockchain’s additional layer which are tokens, generally remains useless.

It’s not a bubble, like Peter Schiff claims it to be, which is simplification and vulgarisation. Crypto is small and volatile in terms of market cap in comparison to financial markets or even certain classes of assets. As a very young market it attempts to find its cyclicality, behaviours, dominant narrative and most importantly intrinsic value of assets it trades. That’s why it switches from following dollar, to gold, to Nasdaq or attempts to move in its own direction.

By often volatile price action, crypto attempts to determine its usefulness and valuation. In search of such, crypto investors claim that value of BTC is result of energy used to mine it and technology it represents, hence the digits. If that’s the case, then miners work on minimal margins for majority of time and often on loss when energy costs to mine BTC outpace its price. And speaking on tech? In all aspects BTC is slow and with low bandwidth compared to other better designed chains. Problems it solved are now 15 years, which in the tech world equals historical past. Hence there seems to be no justification for such BTC price in technological terms and for true valuations we should therefore look onto layer one chains that provide the same as BTC, just cheaper, faster and better.

BTC valuation seems to be an effect of perceiving it as informal pack leader / index for whole crypto family. But yet again, for majority of time it fails to provide and preserve high price valuations, with exception of halving cyclicality. It is only then, it may deliver interesting ROI, however not to everyone invested, and it requires careful and savvy approach on investors. Ever-developing crypto environment must be ever-aware on scams, projects designed as financial pyramid (i.e. Luna), pump and dump actions, schillers, security issues, high volatility, quickly changing trends and fashions, and behaviours of many immature investors and project-makers.

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