Category Archives: cryptocurrencies

13/12/17: Why cryptos might not prevail? Because of their supporters…

Why cryptos might not prevail? Because of this:

Or, put differently, because the entire hype around cryptocurrencies, and increasing also blockchain technology, is based on myths.

Let's tackle the above, shall we?

Are cryptos a liquid market? No. In fact, the markets are illiquid (see here: and worse, transactions costs for even basic movement of Bitcoin across accounts are atrocious today (in markets without a direct liquidity squeeze, amounting, sometimes to 15%). See and Imagine what these can balloon to in a liquidity squeeze event. And then there is concentration issue: and the 1,000 'whales' problem. Oh, no, these are not liquid markets.

Are cryptos global? Yes, if you consider Venezuela, China, Japan and other places where either hype or regulatory evasion or hyperinflation are driving demand for BTC. Yes, if you consider markets for illicit funds flows to be global. No, if you consider usability of BTC in standard sense of money (as a medium of exchange). See It turns out that as a medium of exchange (one function of money) it is utterly useless. It is also useless as a unit of accounting, which is another function of money (no one accepts 'bitcoin-priced accounts' and its volatility makes any attempt at preparing bitcoin-based accounts futile). And bitcoin is horror who as a store of wealth (third function of money), because so far, it has a combination of sky-high volatility, positive correlation with interest rates and upward trend, while also having sky-high volatility to the downside, which suggests that any trend reversal will be really ugly. Now, you do not store wealth over one month (as arguments in favour of bitcoin go), but you store it over the years. And here, bitcoin is untested at best, recklessly dangerous at worst. Take you 'happy middle' pick.

Are cryptos less susceptible to corruption? You need your head examined to believe in this: cryptos are subject to waves and rounds of pump-and-dump scams, potential insider theft, and insider hacks. Worse, they are clearly being used (at least to some extent) to sustain illicit trade and finance flows, and to launder money. Cryptos 'whales' can collude at any point in time to fix the markets in their favour. If bitcoin is susceptible to corruption, a free-for-all unregulated bazar crossed with the Silk Road would be a 'well functioning exchange'.

Possibility of a fractional ownership is clearly available to bitcoin 'investors'. No doubt. So is possibility of fractional ownership for those buying elephants as pets or condos in Bahamas. Hell, you can even have a fractional ownership of a few acres on the Moon. End of story.

Highly secure networks are not a feature of cryptocurrencies, as we all know. Frequency of hacks and other cyber events involving cryptos exchanges this year exceeds the same for large corporate IT infrastructures, according to our research data. Put differently, cryptos appear to be more frequently targeted by cyber crime and/or are more vulnerable to attacks and theft than larger publicly listed corporations. Now, notice that, for now, vulnerability is in wallets and exchanges, not in blockchain itself. 'For now' is the key bit. We do know that cybercriminals are incentivised by abnormally high returns to crime (see and we know that cybercrime is evolving rapidly to acquire ever-expanding capabilities, tools and strategies. It is simply inconceivable that blockchain will remain 'unhackable' into the near future. More importantly, current evidence of the lack of efficient corruption of the blockchain itself rests on the assumption that it is technology that is a barrier to entry for the cyber criminals. This is an untested proposition. In reality, most likely, the reason for lack of efficient penetrations into blockchain system itself is the existence of the low-hanging fruit in the form of exchanges and wallets, as opposed to the impenetrability/security of the blockchain itself.

Blockchain 'changing incentives structure' is the daftest argument in favour of anything, including the blockchain. There is no 'incentives structure' difference between holding/investing in a BTC and holding/investing in any other speculative asset. None. Full stop. Bitcoiners and blockchainers did not change human nature. They did not rewrite our positive and negative incentives systems. To claim otherwise is to impose such a vast range of assumptions on our behavioural incentives and constraints as to make basic economics 101 sound like a reality-hugging discipline of empirical rigour.

'Code wins against theory' is another 'incentives change' mumbo-jumbo. Code, in the case of Bitcoin and cryptos, is theory. Not because it is physically disembodied from the currency. But because it is the basis for the key assumption (axiomatic theory, idiots?) of 'trust'. Bitcoiners are quick to point that there is no 'mistrusted' Central Banker behind the BTC, because there is a 'trusted mathematical algo' behind it. I rest my point, folks. Because you know 'trusted' and 'mistrusted' terms are (1) the defining terms of the bitcoiners' logic, and (2) these terms have nothing to do with logic or mathematics: they are purely subjective. 'Code is theory', morons, because it only matters as long as we believe it matters.

Do bitcoin or cryptos remove 'systems inefficiencies'? Doh! See transactions costs above, lack of exchange medium function, above, lack of storage and exchange security, above. The promise of the blockchain is to reduce systems inefficiencies when it comes to registering and storing information. This has nothing, repeat, nothing to do with BTC or cryptocurrencies. Besides that, there is a host of major problems with market efficiency of bitcoin (see and  In basic terms, today, Visa and Mastercard are vastly more efficient (in cost, time and security of transactions sense) than BTC is. Worse, as bitcoin rage evolves, efficiencies of the crypto to act as an information clearing platform are further reduced by system congestion. If anything, the boom we are witnessing is 'creating inefficiencies' rather than reducing them.

Finally, there is the last argument that 'enough talented people believe' in cryptocurrencies to warrant their rise to power. Oh, dear. Enough talented people believed in the property bubble, in the bubble, in every bubble, to drive the respective assets to mad levels of valuations and the eventual crashes. Enough talented people believed that the Sun revolves around the Earth at some point in time too. Talented people beliefs are not exactly a decent test for resilience or sustainability or success of anything. Let alone, cryptos. Why 'let alone'? Because in cryptos case, 'enough talented people' pool of believers is a highly skewed pool of 'talent' defined by affinity for one type of technology. In a way, 'enough talented people' here is equivalent to the Church of Scientology. They define their own breed of 'talented people' by identifying them as believers in the Church. It is a circular argument, folks.

So, no, none of the above arguments are either necessary or sufficient to establish the future of cryptocurrencies or the BTC. Try again. Try harder.

20/11/17: Bitcoin: an Unknowable Bubble?

There is a much-discussed in the crypto-sphere chart making rounds these days, plotting Bitcoin price dynamics against the historical bubbles of the past:

The chart is striking. Albeit simplistic. See Note 1 below for a technical argument on the chart timing.

On price dynamics alone, Bitcoin looks like a sure bubble - a disaster waiting to happen. But Bitcoin dynamics are basically not suited for any empirical analysis of any significant accuracy.

As noted by some commentators, Bitcoin had numerous 80-90% and larger drawdowns in the past (given its immense volatility). It keeps coming back from these. Some claim this to be the evidence that Bitcoin it not a bubble. Which is neither here nor there: bubbles are generated by exuberant expectations of investors, not by actual parameters of price processes. Causality does not flow from dynamics to bubbles, but the other way around. So to identify a bubble, one needs to identify exuberance. See Note 2 below for more on 80% drawdowns.

In the case of Bitcoin fans, there is clearly such.

No investor or serious analyst has been able to provide a fundamentals-based valuation model for Bitcoin.

A disclosure in order here: myself and a graduate student of mine have looked at the fundamental modelling for Bitcoin over the summer. We found no tangible relationship between any economic or financial parameters tested and Bitcoin price dynamics. In another piece of research, myself and two co-authors are currently looking at empirical dynamic and fractal properties of Bitcoin. Again, we finding nothing consistent with a behaviour of an asset with fundamentals-derived valuations.

Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. But, taken together with the general lack of credible fundamentals-linked modelling of the crypto-currency, this means that, at this point in time, Bitcoin price can be potentially driven solely by… err… expectations held by its enthusiasts, plus the incentives by the predominantly China-based investors to avoid extreme risks of capital controls and expropriations. If so, both drivers would make it a speculative bubble.

The only quasi-fundamentals-linked argument for Bitcoin has been the blockchain one - the promise of Bitcoin serving as a key tool for data aggregation, recording and transmission. This argument, however, no longer holds. Blockchain technology has migrated from public blockchains, like Bitcoin, to either open blockchains, like Ethereum or, increasingly more frequently, private blockchains. It is the latter that currently hold the promise to serve as viable platforms for data economy.

As a libertarian, I should like a private currency system that supports anonymity of transactions. As an economist, I should like the innovative nature of Bitcoin. And, put simply, I do. Both.

But as an investor, I do not have the stomach for Bitcoin’s valuations and volatility, as well as for its higher moments behaviour (in particular worrying are kurtosis, co-skews and co-kurtosis, which severely complicate empirical dynamics analysis, see Note 3 below). And I have even less enthusiasm for the crypto market that is sustained increasingly by undertakings, like BitMEX - a purely speculative platform trading some $35 billion in Bitcoin derivatives with leverage up to x100 to the amateur speculators who, put frankly, have zero idea what they are buying and at what price. The vast majority of Bitcoin investors have no clue what a butterfly option looks like and how it can be valued. And the vast majority of financial markets analysts and professionals won’t be able to price a butterfly strategy for Bitcoin, given its painfully twisted moments. Yet, within a month of starting trading, BitMEX reached 1/3 of the market capitalisation of Bitcoin. This is not just a shoe-shine-boy moment, folks. It is white-powder-under-the-nose-and--empty-bottles-of-vodka-on-the-floor hour for high school dropouts with cash to burn.

Another worrying issue with Bitcoin is the argumentation of its main supporters.

This ranges from the cognitively biased “you don’t know anything about the Bitcoin” to “Bitcoin is scarce & limited in supply” to “Bitcoin is a promise of liberating the masses from the oppression of the Central Bankers”.

The first sort of argument exhibits not just Jurassic ignorance of logic, but also a gargantuan dose of arrogance. Repeated sufficiently enough, it signifies the absurd degree of exuberance of investors’ expectations.

The second argument is patently false. Bitcoin has undergone splits, and engendered dozens of other cryptos, with unlimited supply of such into the future. Bitcoin itself is divisible ad infinitum and, with forks, its supply is potentially unlimited. Worse, Bitcoin rests on man-made mathematical foundations. Which means it has no physical bound or constraint. Anything man-made (and even more so, anything mathematically derived) is, by definition, fungible and axiomatic. Just because to-date no one cracked the code to alter Bitcoin mid-stream or drain blockchain-held information does not mean that in the future such a code cannot be written. So hold your horses: gold is physically limited in quantity (even though in the Universe, it is not as scarce as it is on Earth, which makes long term supply constraint on gold potentially non-binding). Bitcoin is limited by our capacity to alter the underlying code defining it. Anyone thinking of an algorithm as a 'law' needs to go back to Godel's mathematics.

Finally, there is an argument of ‘liberation’. Bitcoin value is only sustained as long as it remains convertible into goods, services and other currencies. This means that Bitcoin cannot remain a government- regulation-free asset, as long as its popularity as a medium of exchange and a vehicle for store of value grows. Which means that in the medium terms (3 years or so?), Bitcoin will either cease to be, or cease to be anonymous. All protection from the dictate of the Central Bankers will be gone.  Benign tolerance of Bitcoin by some regulators can quickly turn into outright prohibition on trading - as current and past examples of China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Colombia, Taiwan, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Bolivia, Russia, and Thailand suggest. Evolution of cybersecurity measures and regulatory and supervisory tools, including their spread into cryptocurrencies domain will only increase effectiveness of such measures into the future. So, unless you are planning to live in a libertarian paradise, where legal norms of other states do not apply, good luck committing much of your wealth to Bitcoin as a safe haven for oppressive or coercive actions of the nation states.

Worse, anyone claiming that Bitcoin is a hedge against inflation fails to understand how modern markets work. Again, to increase in value, Bitcoin requires higher rates of adoption. Higher rates of adoption bring about higher rates of asset instrumentation (see above for BitMIX). Higher rates of instrumentation and adoption, taken together, imply higher holdings of Bitcoin by institutional and diversified portfolio investors. So far so good? Right, now the kicker: these holdings imply greater, not lower, positive correlations between Bitcoin and other asset classes in shock-experiencing markets. That's right, dodos: Goldman holdings of Bitcoin are correlated to liquidity supply in general markets, because if such liquidity starts evaporating, Goldman will sell Bitcoin to plug holes in other instruments. Sell-off in the markets can trigger sell-off in Bitcoin. Now, another kicker: Bitcoin is currently less liquid than any major asset class (see extreme volatility of pricing across various Bitcoin exchanges). Which means that smart folks at Goldman will be dumping Bitcoin before they dump gold and other assets. Hipsters hugging their laptops will be the last to wake up to this momentum (behavioural evidence suggests, they might actually buy into falling Bitcoin in hope of speculatively gaining on a bounce, which, incidentally, can explain why large drawdowns in Bitcoin can turn so fast into upward trends).

The tricky bit about Bitcoin is that its enthusiasts need to learn to live in the real world first. Until they do, Bitcoin will continue its upward path, and this process can go one for quite a while, depending on the supply of cash in the markets for Bitcoin. Once they are taught a sufficient lesson, however, the rest of us will be learning the long term fundamentals valuations of Bitcoin. I, for now, have no idea what these valuations might be.

So Bitcoin, then. A bubble or not? If you ignore the arguments that attempt to justify its valuations, it looks like one, albeit with dynamics that are very hard to interpret. If you listen to them, it looks that way even more, with more confidence in the arguments bogus nature. Draw your own final conclusions.

Note 1: In defence of the chart above, without validating its implied conclusions: the chart plots Bitcoin evolution from 3 years ago through today. This starting point makes sense. Until mid-2014, Bitcoin was extremely obscure, hype-only investor vehicle, with volatility so off the charts, any analysis of its dynamics was futile (I know, I did such analysis and presented the results in my talk at Bloomberg two years ago). Those us who do research in finance generally and routinely disregard the first 3-4 years of existence of Bitcoin for exactly that reason.

Note 2:  A note due here: Bitcoin's returns from 80-90% drawdowns is not a solid evidence of the crypto-currency not being a bubble, because they are in line with Bitcoins' overall massive volatility. In other words, a valid comparative for these drawdowns relative to other asset classes is not "an 80% drawdown in  Bitcoin ~ an 80% drawdown in stocks", but "an 80% drawdown in Bitcoin ~ an 8% drawdown in stocks". Apples to apples. Dust to dust.

Note 3:  Interesting Elliott Wave analysis of Bitcoin dynamics here: and here, although I am not convinced Bitcoin price trends are established enough for this technique to work.

22/5/17: The Economist Calling a Bubble in Cryptos? Why not…

A very interesting chart from The Economist from last week providing evidence on rapid evolution of cryptocurrencies:
Source here

In basic terms, the value of cryptocurrencies market has risen to over USD60 billion, tripling within less than 6 months of 2017, while trading across cryptocurrencies markets has increased tenfold to ca USD 2 billion per day (average) and 38 initial coin offers have been launched in 2017 so far.

What is also notable is that Ripple is now on par with Ethereum and their combined valuation is now a challenger to Bitcoin.

Uncharacteristically for The Economist,  the publication that never sees a bubble until it pops is calling a bubble in the cryptos. Perhaps due to a freshly acquired consciousness of empiricism or due to the publication's innate distaste for anything not-state-centric. Still, given the exponential growth so far this year, cryptos are overdue a major correction. When and how will it be triggered is anyone's guess.