Jeffrey Robinson, the author of the well known book “Laundrymen” that I’m now reading, has written an engaging story about The Satoshi Faithful (as he calls them) supporters of Bitcoin and where their Faith is leading them stray.
The book is called BitCon: The Naked Truth About Bitcoin and it doesn’t pull punches in deriding the would-be currency. If you don’t know anything about Bitcoins, it may skip over some of the introductions necessary to hold your own in conversation. This isn’t a primer on Bitcoins or crypto-currencies, but it also doesn’t spend chapters on involved technical details so you won’t be completely lost.
I described the book as “engaging”. For me, already very sceptical of the long-term chances of success for Bitcoin and specifically critical of its suitability as real “currency”, it had me nodding in agreement with many sections. Frankly, I don’t know how persuasive it would be to a fervent supporter (not that much anything would be).
I did enjoy the insights into some of the personalities behind Bitcoin and the histories of different supporters and how this has changed over the short time Bitcoins have been around. I learnt more about the Dark Web than I knew before, gaining a new appreciation for how dark the underbelly of the web and Bitcoins are.
Robinson ignored what I think is a key limitation on Bitcoin. Supporters claim its value derives in large part from the limited supply, but without any intrinsic value, other crypto-currencies are near-perfect substitutes. I’ve blogged about this before and was looking forward to seeing another take on it.
I enjoyed the book, reading through it fairly quickly and without wanting to switch to something else, suggesting Robinson hit the target with length and balance of information vs entertainment.
The UK Telegraph (and other sources) are highlighting the rising panic about Euro area deflation. For those Austrian / hard money / gold standard / bitcoin / generally poorly informed amongst you, it’s not that deflation is itself a problem, but that it creates scenarios of debt spirals increasing the real value of debt obligations and decreases demand and economic growth through increasing the real cost of labour through downwards sticky prices (most especially wages).
European five year inflation expectations
It really does seem that UK / US policies are, more slowly than necessary, coming right and the economies are slowly shrugging off the GFC and are moving forwards. The rest of Europe is not.
S&P declares Argentina to be in default for the second time in 13 years and the third in 25. Inflation is likely to hit 40% this year and the Peso has already lost a quarter of its value this year, measured against the US Dollar.
Messages? This time isn’t different, sovereign debt crises happen all the time, ignore currency risk at your peril and there are many reasons governments can default on their debt.
I’ve been working with a few insurers and reinsurers on credit risk recently. We’ve had plenty of reasons to think about it, what with new regulations (SAM, Basel III) and South African government downgrades. However, sometimes I get the impression that credit risk is viewed as an academic risk, as something that happens to others, micro lenders and maybe banks.
In South Africa, we’ve had incredibly few corporate bond defaults and most market participants don’t even know that the South African government “restructured” some of its debt in 1984 and so has, in fact, defaulted on contractual bond obligations.
In a recent credit risk and capital workshop, I raised the issue of Russia defaulting on Ruble-denominated debt in 1998, a big part of what led to the collapse of LTCM. Again, these events are often figured as “exceptionally unlikely” and not even worth holding capital.
Well, in the news, Argentina is about to default. Again. They have been one of the most regular defaulters on sovereign debt in the last couple of centuries. They’re also an example I often use of “currency pegs” doing precious little to mitigate currency risk except on a day to day basis.
More on that in another post (yes, I’m hoping to post a little more regularly in the coming months.)
I’m not really that close to developments in the Chinese economy. It is a large, complicated beast that is quite different from our own. Over the last year or so I’ve heard more and more from people who generally speak sense that the debt levels in China and the awful investment projects used to show the appearance of a strongly growing economy form a worrying pair of forces.
So I may need to revisit my prediction about Bitcoin irrelevance. While they’re still an awful idea as a currency, they’ve had more attention this year than last.
To reiterate the point about how awful they are as a currency, let’s take the price movement over the last few days.
From the peak (yes, I am taking the worst case scenario to illustrate the point) of $236 closing 6 days ago to a recent trade today of $57, taking that as 7 days of change in price, that means the prices of everything measured in Bitcoins has increased by an annualised 15707854302953800000000000000000000%
So yes, not great for a currency. Although the real risk is of a currency destined to be ongoing deflation. Deflation will encourage hoarding, which will encourage price spikes (massive deflation) then profit-taking (crashg implying hyperinflation). So it looks like not only is ongoing deflation a problem, but massive intrinsic instability.