The Week of the Altcoins
This graph show how prices have changed since the midnight December 7th with prices at that point being rebased to 100
Prices as of 11:59 PM UTC 13/12/17 (Source: coinmarketcap)
The cryptocurrency market has seen another week of volatility. Litecoin’s market cap has increased by over 200% as it becomes a popular alternative to bitcoin, as the latter has faced fears of increased regulation. XRP has also been riding the wave, seeing a 50% price hike from last week.
1. Bitcoin Futures Live on Cboe
Plans to launch bitcoin futures contracts on the Chicago Board Options Exchange have gone ahead as contracts began trading at 23:00 GMT on Sunday. The contracts will allow investors to bet on the future value of bitcoin. On the news bitcoin’s price rose significantly.
Why It’s Important
The contract allows individuals to bet on bitcoin’s price at a specified time in the future. Given bitcoin’s rise of over 1,000% this year, many investors are keen to get in on the action; CBOE’s Bitcoin futures contract will enable investors to do so without actually owning the cryptocurrency. Additionally, it will be possible to short sell the digital asset for the first time, allowing investors to profit from price falls.
The move suggests the cryptocurrency is now becoming a mainstream investment, however, Bitcoin remains to be traded on unregulated markets. Consequently, its price is likely to remain volatile.
In an effort to ease volatility, the CBOE decided it would suspend trading for two minutes for price fluctuations of more than 10% and five minutes for more than 20%. In the contract’s first session, trading was stopped twice: once for two minutes and once for five minutes. While bitcoin remains traded on largely unregulated markets, it is questionable whether this policy will have any effect on the underlying cryptocurrency’s volatility.
Bloomberg’s Adam Haigh said the futures contracts was “an incremental step that allows Wall Street and indeed the professional finance community to make a bet either way on bitcoin.” The Chicago Mercantile Exchange is expected to list a similar contract next week, and Nasdaq has announced plans to host such trading too.
Last week Revolut’s decision to facilitate the trading of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could increase demand for the underlying asset.
Allegations that 1,000 people own 40% of all bitcoins in circulation suggest its price could be manipulated by a relatively small number of individuals.
2. 1,000 People Apparently Own 40% of Bitcoin
The Winklevoss twins invest $11m in bitcoin back in 2013. (Attribution: By cellanr [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/
Roughly 40% of the cryptocurrency is owned by 1,000 people, claims Aaron Brown, head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management. In such an unregulated market, Brown said large holders of bitcoin could potentially be working together to orchestrate price changes. Given bitcoin’s recent spike, now could be a great opportunity for these users to part with a portion of their bitcoins, locking in the near 1600% price increase since the start of the year.
Why It’s Important
Bitcoin appears to be making its way into mainstream investing. Last Friday the US regulator gave the CME group and CBOE Global Markets the green light to launch bitcoin futures. Just yesterday, London-based digital banking company Revolut launched Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ether trading for their users.
As the cryptocurrency becomes a more mainstream investment and demand for it rises, these bitcoin ‘whales’ will be able to part with their bitcoins for a hefty profit. This could leave new investors with an asset in the midst of a bubble.
Roger Ver, a well known early adopter of bitcoin said, regarding ‘whales’ working together, “I suspect that is likely true, and people should be able to do whatever they want with their own money.”
While the question of whether Brown’s allegation is true must be approached with scepticism, there is evidence of some very large investors in the space. Bloomberg recently reported that on November 12th, “someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange.” Bitcoin’s market cap is roughly $270bn at the time of writing, but if this investor was to sell on a single exchange, it could potentially crash the market.
Large Bitcoin Investors
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who gained fame for attempting to take control of Facebook, invested $11m in bitcoin back in 2013. This amount has many times over.
Tim Draper, a billionaire venture capitalist best known for his investment in Skype – during the companies early days – bought 30,000 bitcoins back in 2014. He has since invested in Tezos’ ICO.
Barry Silbert, the founder of the Digital Currency Group, picked up 48,000 bitcoins when the cryptocurrency was worth $350 a piece.
3. Ethereum Wallet Scam Closed Down
Digital wallet provider myetherwallet.com announced yesterday that it had no affiliation with an iOS-based cryptocurrency wallet app using its name. The app, which became the third most popular on the finance section of the App Store, allows users to import and open a digital wallet to store ether. Fake digital wallets could lose investors their cryptocurrencies permanently, so it is important investors (and app stores) keep an eye out for scams.
Security and Ethereum
In July, a developer error on the ethereum network meant a hacker pocket $31m worth of ether. While the technology is still in its infancy mistakes are bound to be made. However, several digital wallet hacks have emerged since cryptocurrency prices have skyrocketed and users need to take security seriously while safeguards are not in place.
When it comes to cryptocurrencies security, the owness is with the users. Sending ether from a digital wallet means I am responsible for my transfers. If I make a mistake when typing in the amount, or address of the receiver, I cannot call my bank and ask them to void the transaction. Consequently, user’s wallets are being targeted by scammers.
So far there have been no reports that the fake wallet stole from anyone. The company may have simply used the name for its familiarity in the ethereum community.
Myetherwallet.com have since announced the removal of the app from the iOS store.
4. San Francisco ICO Closed Down by SEC
San Francisco-based restaurant reviewing app Munchee has been forced to stop its initial coin offering (ICO) and reimburse investors after regulators raised concerns over the company’s tokens not meeting securities regulations. Munchee was looking to obtain $15m to “improve an existing iPhone app centred on restaurant meal reviews and create an “ecosystem” in which Munchee and others would buy and sell goods and services using the tokens,” according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
However, “in the course of the offering, the company and other promoters emphasized that investors could expect that efforts by the company and others would lead to an increase in value of the tokens,” they added. The regulator felt investors were led to believe they would gain a return on their tokens, however, the tokens did not meet the authority’s standards. The company was not fined due to its quick response to the SEC’s requests.
Why It’s Important
Last week PlexCoin’s founders were charged with defrauding investors. This was the first time the SEC’s newly established Cyber Unit filed charges. The regulator issued a statement back in July saying ICOs will be subject to US security laws.
Both cases suggest a serious commitment to ensuring investors are not mis-sold securities, particularly in the ICO space.
5. Goldman Sachs: Bitcoin Not A Substitute for Gold
The simultaneous rise of bitcoin and relatively poor performance of gold has provoked many to ask whether the two assets are in competition. The short answer is no, they are not.
“Bitcoin has real potential, if it were to become digital gold it might have tremendous space to grow,” said Gabor Gurbacs, Vaneck Securities Director of Digital Asset Strategy. It is this sentiment which has put the two in contest. However, the investor pool for each is “vastly different”, according to Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs.
Gold based exchange-traded funds are currently at close to their highest since May 2013, suggesting the metal remains part of investor’s portfolios, and not that investors have not cashed out and moved over to bitcoin. The reason this is not the case lies in comparing the function each asset serves and the investors it attracts.
Comparing Bitcoin and Gold
Bitcoin attracts more speculative investors looking for quick returns, while gold is often held as a portion of investment portfolios to spread risk. In times of economic downturn gold tends to go up in price, balancing any losses from stocks and bonds. The two assets currently serve distinct purposes. Consequently, bitcoin’s price rise is unlikely to have turned investors away from gold.
6. Jamie Dimon Eases Hostility Towards Bitcoin After Futures Contracts Go Live
Source: By Steve Jurvetson (Flickr: Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/
“I remain highly skeptical of it,” said JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon, when recently asked about bitcoin. “I’m open-minded to uses of cryptocurrency if properly controlled and regulated,” Dimon added. The executive, who famously called bitcoin a “fraud” appears to have softened his opinion just days after the bitcoin-based futures derivative began trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
Why It’s Important
This is the first time Dimon has spoken about bitcoin for two months. The timing of Dimon’s comments might suggest JPMorgan will offer the bitcoin derivative to its clients. The contract would allow clients to take long or short positions on bitcoin’s price.
Similar contracts will trade on the CME and Nasdaq exchanges in the near future.
7. Cryptocurrency as Collateral for Loans
A growing number of early cryptocurrency adopters, who have seen astronomical gains, will now be able to use their cryptocurrencies as collateral for loans. London-based Nebeus is helping third-party lenders create loans guaranteed by cryptocurrency collateral. The company created 100 of these loans on its first day and has made 1,000 more since says Nebeus’ Managing Director Konstantin Zaripov.
Given bitcoin’s market cap of almost $300bn, and a total cryptocurrency market cap of over $500bn, the market for these loans could be colossal. However, some worry that these assets are in a bubble, and their collapse makes these loans hugely risky for lenders.
Why It’s Important
Around 40% of all bitcoins are held by 1,000 people, Bloomberg reported last week. Prior to this innovation, these users would only be able to cash in on their gains by selling their cryptocurrencies. “I can see a lending industry in the tens of billions of dollars,” said Aaron Brown, former managing director at AQR Capital Management.
The loans could attract attention from cryptocurrency miners, who earn tokens for processing blockchain network transactions. This group are typically ideologically attached to the idea of decentralised currencies, and such loans could allow them to hold on to their cryptocurrencies while they cover their overheads.
However, bitcoin’s 1700% rise since the start of the year has caused many to stay clear. A collapse of these digital assets would leave lenders in a tough position.
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