Is bitcoin’s historic rise headed for a major fall? Vikram Mansharamani, author of “Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst” and a lecturer at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Yale University, analyzed the likelihood of a new bitcoin bubble in his LinkedIn post. Using five “lenses” he has developed, he concluded that bitcoin’s long-term outlook is positive.
Mansharamani noted behavioral and informational issues distort price at any point in time, but such distortions tend to disappear since supply and demand markets are basically efficient.
This might not always be the case, he observed. Higher prices could actually increase demand, according to George Soros’ Theory of Reflexivity. Soros holds that prices can trend away from equilibrium, creating booms and busts.
Higher Price Raising Demand?
At present it is not clear if a higher bitcoin price has brought more demand, Mansharamani observed. On one hand, rising interest tends to drive up prices. At the same time, bitcoin trade volume has not increased with prices. While trade volume is not a good demand indicator, it does reflect activity. Lense 1: half a point.
Another bubble sign is the presence of leverage pushing higher prices. It is not clear if bitcoin prices are bubbly. There is no sign of leverage driving prices. There are no futures contracts enabling large exposure with little collateral or options providing de factor leverage.
The amount of debt supporting fiat currencies is an indicator. Traditional currencies are getting debased worldwide. Cryptocurrency offers a non-printable currency like gold. Lense 2: zero.
Psychology is another factor. When people assume the belief that “it’s different this time,” it’s time for buyers to beware. Asset prices never increase indefinitely. Bitcoin is no different in this regard.
Agreement exists that cryptocurrencies are in vogue and offer freedom from authoritarian manipulation. Mansharamani noted Peter Thiel has acknowledged that PayPal did not create a new currency, but a new payment system, whereas bitcoin has provided a new currency.
Bitcoin has its dedicated advocates. Internet analyst Henry Blodget and CNBC commentator Brian Kelly have delivered highly optimistic forecasts for bitcoin’s value. Lense 3: check.
Politics is yet another consideration, including both moral hazards and regulations. Regulations can distort prices of any asset by artificially raising or undermining supply or demand.
As an example, political considerations delivered regulations that encouraged people in the U.S. to buy houses. Buyers had Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to fall back on.
Bu there are no artificial government interventions supporting bitcoin prices. Regulators, for their part, are trying to discourage bitcoin. Governments, however, can’t do much more than temporarily impact the price of bitcoin, as was the case when China recently tried to control bitcoin trading.
There are no signs of moral hazards surrounding bitcoin. The people who lost millions when Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy did not get bailed out. Bitcoin market players are buying with open eyes and are aware of the risks. Lense 4: zero.
Bitcoin Not Yet Widely Held
In comparing investment hysteria to a spreading fever, the variables of concern include the infection rate, the removal rate and importantly, the portion of the population not yet affected. The last metric can be seen as the fuel available to keep the fever spreading. Once it runs out of victims, the fever’s over. New demand disappears and prices fall.
The number of potential bitcoin buyers is big. The market capitalization at $20 billion is minuscule compared to its potential. A recent Twitter poll found that 49% plan to buy bitcoin while 22% said they were “max long” on bitcoin or “curious.” Bitcoin is not as widely held as it could be. Lense 5: zero.
In reviewing all five factors above, Mansharamani said the likelihood of bitcoin being a certain bubble only registers 1.5 out of 5 possible points. The stage could be set for it to become a bubble, but it is not yet there.
Short-term price corrections are always possible, but the long-term outlook for blockchain enabled currencies is positive.
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