‘Normally people would be pulling their hair out’: How are Bitcoin backers handling the crash?

By January 2, 2019 Bitcoin Business
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Cryptocurrencies were the hottest topic of conversation last summer - but a year on from Bitcoin reaching its highest ever price, how have investors fared?

JJ Saleh, 29, invested $20,000 into Bitcoin in 2017. At one point, his holdings were worth over $130,000, but now sits at roughly $10,000.

"The technology really appealed to me as something that could take over from traditional financial structures": JJ Saleh invested in Bitcoin in 2017.Credit:Instagram

"Normally people would be pulling their hair out in this situation, but I have no attachment to this money - if I’m not prepared to hold something for three to five years at least I wouldn’t be prepared to hold it for two minutes," Saleh said.

Bitcoin experienced a meteoric rise in 2017. After the price had hovered in the hundreds for several years, it rose to over $1000 just after New Year's Day, before the value increased rapidly in the second half of the year.

At the highest point in December of 2017, one Bitcoin was worth $25,717. Its current value is nearly one fifth of that, but still well higher than at any point before 2017.

"The technology really appealed to me as something that could take over from traditional financial structures," Saleh said.

He first became interested in cryptocurrency after watching a Netflix documentary, Banking on Bitcoin. From there, he continued to do research for several months before taking the plunge in October.

Saleh acknowledged that the boom in Bitcoin was at least partially due to investors who didn't really understand what they were getting into.

"There’s probably only about 10 per cent who understand the technology. I’ve met people who [hold crypto] and can’t even explain the process of a cryptographic function, or how money works, or what a private or public key is," he said.

Ups and downs: Bitcoin saw a sharp spike and severe drop in the space of a few months across 2017 and 2018.

Ups and downs: Bitcoin saw a sharp spike and severe drop in the space of a few months across 2017 and 2018. Credit:Bloomberg

Andrew Baker was one trader who offloaded all of his Bitcoin holdings during that boom period, and has no plans to re-enter the market – largely due to the level of people investing despite a lack of understanding of the product.

"It’s the greater fool theory – you only buy something when you think you can sell it for more to someone else," he said.

"It’s not just bitcoin or cryptocurrency in general. That happens in equity markets, housing markets ... basically anything that can be traded."

Baker first bought into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies several years before the boom, and estimates he made a return of "several thousand per cent" on his initial investment.

"Basically I was just waiting for a series of technical indicators of irrational exuberance," referencing a term coined by Nobel Prize Laureate Robert Shiller.

"You can’t use the same method to measure irrational exuberance as Shiller does in stocks as there is no way to measure earnings in digital assets. The other ways to measure risk-taking include the percentage of assets purchased with borrowed money and the amount of leverage taken on to invest in cryptocurrency but that information is kept largely hidden by exchanges and as such the best measure of market hysteria has become google search frequency of relevant terms.

"There’s no real method of understanding the earning potential of any cryptocurrency. You’re investing in an idea rather than investing a company."

Laszlo Peter, KPMG's director, innovation and digital solutions and head of blockchain services, says it's difficult to see whether the market will bounce back or not in 2019.

"What’s really hindering Bitcoin is what made it popular – which is volatility," he said.

"2017 was a classic case of fear of missing out. Prices went up for no particular reason."

Peter says that despite the volatility to cryptocurrency, there are many potential opportunities for the technology beyond the cryptocurrency market – and that with any luck, a central bank will roll out its own coin in the next 12 months; but probably not in Australia, which he says has more of a 'wait and see approach'.

One beacon of light for hopeful crypto investors is the impending arrival of Bakkt - the Intercontinental Exchange's proposed trading platform that will enable consumers and institutions to buy, sell, store and spend digital assets.

However, Baker isn't convinced: "To me, that’s not really any different to having a stock market per se. All they’re trying to do is have a stock market equivalent for digital assets."

Saleh offered a more optimistic take, and pointed out the current trading volume of Bitcoin was higher than a year ago.

"Why would Wall Street bring out a product if they thought something was dead?"

"A lot of people will get emotional and not look at things from an objective point of view – I think the people who are relaxing the most are the people like myself who don’t bring emotion into it.

JJ Saleh, 29, invested $20,000 […]

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