In the past week, the Federal Reserve has talked about bitcoin. So has Bill Gates. And the Winklevoss twins are building something bitcoin … again. The USAA is becoming increasingly involved.
All this as the price of the currency crashed. At one point it was tanking faster than the Russian ruble. But in the past couple weeks, bitcoin is up almost 30% off its lows, thanks to — of all things — regulation.
I’m not kidding.
The cryptocurrency that was built to evade conventional world governmental currency controls and maintain secure anonymity among its users is seeing renewed interest by financial institutions, business and individuals because the currency is conforming to regulations that have been set up.
There’s no doubt it’s been quite a journey for the virtual currency from one of the worst investments of 2014 to gaining renewed attention as 2015 starts.
With the failure of major bitcoin exchanges and account hacking, mining operator scandals, and $11 million lost to bitcoin scams since 2011, it’s no surprise the promising start lost significant momentum.
Initially, its strength as an anonymous currency that was beholden to no government and actually held intrinsic value was an alluring concept. And still is.
Bitcoin Is Evolving Into a Legitimate Currency
But, wherever some see good, others are looking for how to game the system. And it was pretty easy. Just like people don’t take too much time password protecting their online accounts, they weren’t doing too much to secure their virtual currency. Much of it was ripe for the taking.
And then the hackers started moving in on small operations that had been more interested in opening a bitcoin shop, but not too concerned about back office security.
These growing pains are expected of something as new and captivating as a cryptocurrency. But bitcoin’s growing pains were being played out in the global press and in the rough-and-tumble — and incredibly unforgiving — global marketplace.
“Is it like gold? Is it like a paper currency? How do I buy it? How do I spend it? How do I invest in it?”
The bitcoin frenzy brought in a lot of sharks and has since taught us all that as the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a sure thing.” Risks abound in all markets, and we began to learn what unique risks belong to bitcoin.
But there’s good news here. Bitcoin is bowed, but not broken. And as it gets back to its feet, the new champions of the currency are learning from bitcoin’s early mistakes. And regulation is now something that takes the currency out of the virtual Wild West and places in the respectable company of all global assets.
New York state has drafted BitLicense, regulations for virtual currencies. New exchanges are lining up to be regulated. The biggest names in the game are the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame. They’re continuing to seek approval for a bitcoin ETF. And now they announced a new regulated bitcoin exchange they’re developing, Gemini. Employees are flocking in, including heavy hitters from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), airbnb and Google Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Wallet.
Our little bitcoin is growing up right before our eyes.
But is it a buy?
The Bottom Line on Bitcoin
I like to think of bitcoin much like a small biotech stock that has an awesome drug its developing.
The Valley of Death, crossing over from a great discovery in a lab to a viable, functioning company is a long and dangerous trek. The name Valley of Death probably gave that away. The larger point is, it takes more than a good idea ‘make it’ in the marketplace. A company has to be resilient, focused and know when to risk and when to play it safe.
The same can be said of bitcoin. It had a wild ride up and down. Where it goes from here is still a mystery. But we’re starting to more serious financial minds getting into the game, and they want stability, liquidity and a decent amount of transparency. All the things adolescents don’t want but more mature people come to appreciate.
This is the next transitional phase for bitcoin and it’s likely that $200 will establish a long-term bottom; at least until we see how this new wave of bitcoin prospectors fare. There’s going to be breakthroughs and setbacks and the end of the Valley of Death isn’t in sight. But bitcoin has made it this far, so maybe — just maybe — it can keep going.
To be sure, bitcoin is not for the faint of heart. But it’s not a silly waste of money either. It’s a speculation — just a virtual speculation.
As of this writing, Gregg Early did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.