When stock investors want to measure the amount of fear in the market, they look to the CBOE Volatility Index (INDEX:CBOE), which lately has been trading at multi-year lows, below 11. Another way to look at fear is to check the U.S. Dollar Index (NYSEARCA:UUP). This chart should also gratify those who like peace — the dollar is doing well against other currencies.
But what about currencies themselves? How do you trade against the fear that money is about to become worthless?
For that, look at “crypto-currencies,” based on blockchain technology and control over encryption keys. The best-known of these is bitcoin (CURRENCY:BTC), which controls 59% of the market, but Coincap lists 822 of them.
Bitcoin Is Hot
The price graphs for many cryptocurrencies right now look like hockey sticks.
Bitcoin itself is one of these. Its price has doubled just since January, with people paying $1,852 for one coin on May 11. Bitcoin advocate Erik Voorhees, who has called the U.S. Federal Reserve System “fraudulent,” thinks a single bitcoin will be worth more than $10,000 in 2021. This assumes bitcoin maintains its share of the cryptocurrency market.
Therein hangs a tale.
When you buy a dollar, you trust the U.S. government. When you buy a cryptocoin, you are trusting a private party and the processes they establish. That’s why there are so many cryptocurrencies. I trust me, but I don’t trust you. Ethereum, the second-leading cryptocurrency, is based in Switzerland. Other cryptocurrencies have specific purposes, like Ripple, which deals in international settlements, or Dash, designed as spending money. Bitcoin pretends to be a reserve cryptocurrency, like the U.S. dollar, and represents 60% of the market.
There is ample reason to distrust some governments with the concept of money. Many recent purchasers of Ethereum, it appears, were from Venezuela. If I were Venezuelan, I might be buying some Ethereum too.
In theory, you can start your own cryptocurrency with a blockchain and an encryption key. It’s a throwback to the 18th century when money, in the form of gold and jewels, was worth only what the money changers said it was worth.
Are you going to trust the guys in that room or (for better or worse) a government entity?
What Can Happen
What can happen when you just trust the guys in a room is illustrated by the story of Tokencard, an Ethereum-based debit card that recently raised $12.7 million in 30 minutes to connect the virtual currency with real debit networks like that of Visa Inc (NYSE:V) which trade in government-created money.
The funding itself was tokenized, and a dispute quickly arose over why cryptocurrency from SNGLS, which also uses the Ethereum algorithm, was valued more highly than coins from the Ethereum market itself.
The issue matters because the whole point of TokenCard is to handle conversions between real currencies and virtual ones. Who controls the pricing on that? The guys in the room do, the moneychangers.
There’s a reason Jesus Christ reportedly only got angry once — at moneychangers in a temple.
And Finally …
Pockit, which wants to give the unbanked in England a virtual bank through a prepaid debit card, recently raised $3.8 million in start-up capital. The higher valuation on the new round gives the early investors a nice profit.
Among those founders? None other than Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United, the soccer team. (Think of him as a British Bill Bellichick.)
Everyone, it seems, is getting into fintech.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the political polemic Saving Trumpistan, Restoring Democracy, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.