Bitcoin: Drawing the Line Between Investors and Gamblers
By: Ziad K. Abdelnour
People who bought and held their .01 bitcoins from 2010 could have enjoyed an increase in value of 119,999,900 percent. If you spent $100 on the most popular digital currency then and didn’t sell or lose your fortune to hackers, your electronic coins might be worth about $120 million today. Those are pretty incredible returns, and few people regret buying a few bitcoins back in the day, holding onto them, and reaping the benefits. Of course, none of that offers any guarantees that the value of this or any other digital currency will continue to rise like this or even continue to increase at all.
Is Buying Bitcoin Investing or Gambling?
In fact, it’s possible to argue that the very thing that maintains today’s value is past performance. As you should know from reading any prospectus, past performance doesn’t ever guarantee future returns. If you can afford it and want to spend some money on digital currency, that’s your choice. However, you really should first spend some time considering what it really means to buy bitcoin.
When you buy some bitcoin, are you investing or speculating? In order to figure this out, you first have to decide if bitcoin qualifies as an investment. This question usually sparks a lot of contentious debates among people who are considered financial experts. Aswath Damodaran teaches at NYU’s Stern School of Business. He’s often referred to as the “Dean of Valuation” for his work valuing various assets.
Professor Damodaran divides all investments into four main categories:
He says it’s easy to dismiss digital currency like bitcoin as an asset, commodity, or collectible. This digital currency doesn’t generate income on its own like a rental property, an asset that you can touch. You can’t consider bitcoin a raw material like a commodity. It certainly isn’t a collectible.
If nothing else, Damodarian is willing to say that bitcoin might be a type of currency, but he also has gone on to comment that bitcoin isn’t a very good currency. These are some reasons that bitcoin hasn’t yet become a good currency even if it might be loosely classified as one:
- It’s not that easy to trade nor commonly accept by most vendors.
- If you do find vendors who accept it as payment, they probably won’t give you an actual price until the moment you want to make a trade just because the value is very volatile.
If bitcoin is an investment, it’s hard to classify. You might call it a currency just because it really isn’t anything else.
Professor Damodaran is not at all a fierce critic of electronic currency and doesn’t believe it’s any sort of fraud or Ponzi scheme. He just says it’s impossible to value right now. You can only trade it or price it. You can find many tougher critics than Damodaran, so it’s worthwhile to consider the words of a fairly unbiased scholar and recognized expert in the field.
He does say that if future technology makes it easier to spend bitcoin or other electronic currencies, he might offer a revised opinion. Still, it might be that blockchain technology and not the electronic currency that really has the value. If that’s true, another electronic currency or even a different kind of technology could replace bitcoin.
Should You Regard Bitcoin as an Investment or Speculation?
Just as you know, you should never sell in a panic, it’s also prudent to be wary of buying in a panic. Right now, you might regard bitcoin as something that’s interesting to study or even risk whatever you can afford to lose. If you want to invest in order to secure your retirement, earn profits, or meet other financial goals, you should probably look for something that’s easier to classify as an investment. More important, you will probably be prudent to find an investment that’s easier to value.
If experts are having a hard time telling if or when this will all come crashing down, it can be easy to see this as a gamble. Some people are fine with putting their savings on the line in hopes that things will go the way they guess, but more savvy investors will typically take the “boring” route and put in the hard work required to ensure their financial growth.
Now you know