Platinum: Fool’s Gold – Quinlan & Associates

Financial services strategy consulting firm, Quinlan & Associates, has released a landmark 156-page report on the cryptocurrency space, the largest and most detailed examination of the industry to date [LINK TO REPORT PAGE].

The report, titled ‘Fool’s Gold? Unearthing The World of Cryptocurrency’, takes an in-depth look at the fundamental functions of cryptocurrencies and the surrounding ecosystem, powered by blockchain technology.

The report also seeks to demystify the ongoing debate in financial markets (and the wider economy) around the true value of Bitcoin and its future outlook through detailed valuation models.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Cryptocurrencies have been heralded as the revolution of the financial system since its proof of concept by Wei Dai and Nick Szabo in 1998, followed by Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper detailing a ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system’ and open source code, which is now known as Bitcoin.

Underpinned by blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies promised an end to third party institutions and barriers to financial transactions. And in recent years, they have exploded onto the scene at an exponential rate. At its 2017 peak, there were over 1,300 cryptocurrencies in existence, with a combined market capitalisation of nearly USD 650 billion, rivalling the GDP of nations such as Saudi Arabia. Bitcoin (BTC) itself, the most popular cryptocurrency, has touched market capitalisations similar to economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam.

The sudden rise of the cryptocurrency market has generated heated debate by both believers and critics alike for its value, future potential, and use cases. At the centre of this discussion is BTC, with its meteoric price rise capturing daily headlines in mainstream and social media alike, with speculators rushing to the market in the hopes of joining the wave of overnight millionaires. A plethora of inter-related industries have also spawned, including wallets and payment services, crypto exchanges, and mining, as entrepreneurs across the globe look to capitalise on new revenue pools that have opened up on the back of this technological revolution.

To appreciate the recent rise of cryptocurrencies and their future potential, one must understand the underlying technology, surrounding ecosystem, and the place of cryptocurrencies in financial markets (and the wider economy). Our report details the aforementioned criteria, utilising BTC as the exemplar for current cryptocurrencies in place at the time of writing. We also drew further insights from interviews with a wide range of industry stakeholders, as well as survey responses from over 1,500 individuals working predominantly in financial services, FinTech, consulting, and technology.

Most current iterations of cryptocurrencies are, at their core, meant to operate as currencies. However, currencies have, for many centuries, needed to meet a number of specific criteria to be recognised as such – namely, acting as a unit of account, a medium of exchange, and a store of value. Despite fulfilling most of the characteristics of a traditional fiat currency, cryptocurrencies are largely being utilised as speculative investment assets, leading to considerable volatility in their value. This lack of stability, together with soaring valuations, means they are rarely used for payments. In order to achieve status as a legitimate currency, the public must spend cryptocurrencies widely to determine a credible benchmark for their actual value, encouraging businesses to accept them as a medium of payment (hence making them more liquid in the long run). Until then, most cryptocurrencies, including BTC, will continue to exist in a speculative capacity, with all the undertones of being a bubble.

2017 saw the price of BTC surpass the asset price inflation of the 17th century tulip mania, while rendering “bubbles” such as dotcom a mere blip by comparison. Its strong – albeit slowly unwinding – correlation to alternative cryptocurrencies also indicates a collapse in the price of BTC could lead to a rapid downfall for the broader non-fiat cryptocurrency market.

A number of factors underpinned BTC’s price rise in 2017. In the earlier part of the year, many of the gains could be tied to ongoing discourse around its potential regulatory legitimacy. Since then, however, its popularity – and infamy – has appeared to fuel a widespread “fear of missing out” (FOMO), a classic characteristic of most bubbles. Yet, consensus regarding its future value remains literally non-existent, with valuations ranging from USD 0 to as high as USD 1,000,000. Moreover, the majority of these predictions do not appear to be based on any robust, quantitative methods, but are more a reflection of individual opinion.

To determine whether BTC is indeed a bubble, we looked to calculate its value using two overarching approaches: (1) as an asset; and (2) as a currency.

As an asset, we valued Bitcoin using a cost of production approach and a store of value approach, resulting in values of USD 2,161 and USD 687 respectively. To value BTC as a currency, we estimated its utilisation for both legal, retail transactions payments, as well as payments in the black market. After significant testing, we calculated the price of BTC 1 to be USD 1,780.

Irrespective of the valuation methodology employed, we found the price of BTC deviates significantly from its current price of ~USD 14,000. For the longer-term, we are even less optimistic around the future price of BTC and believe it will ultimately be ruled out as a mainstream form of payment. We see this exerting greater downward pressure on its price and forecast it to trade at ~USD 810 by 2020, if not even lower. We therefore believe that BTC, at its current valuation, is a bubble waiting to burst.

While our views on the price (and future applications of BTC) remain muted, our outlook for the broader cryptocurrency industry remains much more sanguine. Existing cryptocurrencies that were designed to replace fiat currencies, such as BTC, are unlikely to act as viable substitutes to the money or currency system we have in place today, due to their inherent challenge to central bank and government functions – namely, fiscal and monetary policy. However, cryptocurrencies with associated utility applications (such as Ethereum’s ETH), as well as fiat cryptocurrencies attached to a sovereign nation, are likely to grow in significance, given the ability of the underlying blockchain technology to provide meaningful enhancements to current payment systems, as well as their broader applications beyond being used as speculative assets (e.g. facilitating the execution of smart contracts).

Although a sharp decline in the price of BTC in 2018 is likely to take the value of other nonutility cryptocurrencies with it, we see the correlation with utility cryptocurrencies being much less pronounced. While we anticipate valuations to decline in the short-term in response to the widespread unwinding of the digital currency space, valuations of utility cryptocurrencies are likely to recover and dominate the market in the long-term. We forecast total market capitalisation of private cryptocurrencies to be USD 407 billion by 2020. We also see fiat cryptocurrencies gaining momentum as governments accelerate their research and piloting efforts, with potential to be a USD 150 billion market by 2020.

While we believe BTC can largely be viewed as fool’s gold at present, digital currencies will continue to unearth major enhancements to the global payments system in years to come.

Source: Platinum: Fool’s Gold – Quinlan & Associates

Decentralization in Bitcoin and Ethereum

We have been conducting a longitudinal study of the state of cryptocurrency networks, including Bitcoin and Ethereum. We have just made public our results from our study spanning 2015 to 2017, in a peer-reviewed paper about to be presented at the upcoming Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference in February [1].Here are some highlights from our findings.

Source: Decentralization in Bitcoin and Ethereum

Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries | American Banker

Wow. Aside from the fact that there should definitely be a movie made of these escapades (The Anti-Social Network?), the DAO debacle spotlights something very important. It is past time to acknowledge that governance of public blockchains is happening, by actual identifiable people, and that these people’s actions impact consumers.

In other settings, such as a corporation, we call the people who take comparable actions officers, directors and controlling shareholders. Along with these titles, we burden them with fiduciary duties because we recognize that others trust them to make good decisions on their behalf. We should treat those that govern public blockchains the same way.

Throughout the DAO episode, the Ethereum core developers have made critical decisions that impact Ethereum users. These include political choices (Should the blockchain be immutable? Should we treat the code exploitation as theft?) and technical choices (How do we write the code to take back the funds?).

The powerful miners of Ethereum, in voting for the hard fork by running the new software, made similarly critical choices for the network.

With millions of dollars of other people’s money on the line, these were enormous decisions for this small group of people to make. This exercise of power makes them look an awful lot like fiduciaries of ether holders, and maybe even of investors in the DAO. Notably, the core developers and big miners have been making similarly consequential decisions since the blockchain’s creation — the hard fork drama just makes this more transparent.

Treating the core developers and big miners of public blockchains as fiduciaries would set a clear standard for performance, make them accountable for actions that significantly impact other people, and ensure that they take their creation and operation of these public systems seriously.

Source: Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries | American Banker

Bitcoin Mining and Its Cost by Sailendra Prasanna Mishra :: SSRN

Bitcoin Mining and Its Cost

9 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017

Sailendra Prasanna Mishra

University of Texas at Dallas – Naveen Jindal School of Management

Date Written: November 24, 2017

Abstract

As cryptocurrencies make a bid to become more mainstream, we investigate the resources needed to operationalize these at scales comparable to the traditional monetary system. As a first step, we study Bitcoin system, its mining process, and its resource requirements. Mining is a necessary process for the creation of bitcoins and verification of transactions. The process also makes the system decentralized and maintains security and trust in the system. Mining, which is tied to the solution of a complex crypto-puzzle, requires significant computing power. This resource demanding process has a significant impact on energy consumption. Our research looks at how the complexity of the problem to commit a transaction to the blockchain and the transaction volume impact computing capacity and energy consumption. We use data from January 2009 to October 2017 to analyze the problem. We highlight how the complexity, transaction volume, and price of bitcoins affect the mining capacity of miners. We find that the energy demand from mining activities will exceed 30,582 MW per month at 400 transactions/second. Our findings suggest that Bitcoin’s protocol induces competition among miners and computational power race, which may not be sustainable for future growth of the Bitcoin network.

Source: Bitcoin Mining and Its Cost by Sailendra Prasanna Mishra :: SSRN

Metcalfe’s Law as a Model for Bitcoin’s Value by Timothy Peterson :: SSRN

Metcalfe’s Law as a Model for Bitcoin’s Value

23 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2017 Last revised: 21 Dec 2017

Timothy Peterson

Cane Island Alternative Advisors

Date Written: October 9, 2017

Abstract

This paper demonstrates that bitcoin’s medium- to long-term price follows Metcalfe’s law. Bitcoin is modeled as a token digital currency, a medium of exchange with no intrinsic value that is transacted within a defined electronic network. Per Metcalfe’s law, the value of a network is a function of the number of pairs transactions possible, and is proportional to n-squared. A Gompertz curve is used to model the inflationary effects associated with the creation of new bitcoin. The result is a parsimonious model of supply (number of bitcoins) and demand (number of bitcoin wallets), with the conclusion bitcoin’s price fits Metcalfe’s law exceptionally well. Metcalfe’s law is used to investigate Gandal’s et.al [2017] assertion of price manipulation in the Bitcoin ecosystem during 2013-2014.

Keywords: Bitcoin, Metcalfe, Finance, Investment, Economics, Network Economics, Currency

Source: Metcalfe’s Law as a Model for Bitcoin’s Value by Timothy Peterson :: SSRN

Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem – ScienceDirect

To its proponents, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin offers the potential to disrupt payment systems and traditional currencies. It has also been subject to security breaches and wild price fluctuations. This paper identifies and analyzes the impact of suspicious trading activity on the Mt. Gox Bitcoin currency exchange, in which approximately 600,000 bitcoins (BTC) valued at $188 million were fraudulently acquired. During both periods, the USD-BTC exchange rate rose by an average of four percent on days when suspicious trades took place, compared to a slight decline on days without suspicious activity. Based on rigorous analysis with extensive robustness checks, the paper demonstrates that the suspicious trading activity likely caused the unprecedented spike in the USD-BTC exchange rate in late 2013, when the rate jumped from around $150 to more than $1,000 in two months.KeywordsBitcoincryptocurrenciesfraudexchange rate manipulationJEL classification

Source: Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem – ScienceDirect

Did Bitcoin just prove it can’t scale? | Hacker News

If proof of stake proves itself to actually work, Bitcoin will adopt it. Migrating a 200 billion dollar network to an untested PoW proposal would be irresponsible.Arbitrarily increasing blocksize without addressing propagation delay and centralization impacts is also irresponsible.Bitcoin has been tirelessly working on the scaling problem in a responsible way. SegWit will allow up to 12t/s. Mimble Wimble and Schnorr Signatures will further compress transaction size and increase t/s to roughly 20t/s. All this without increasing propagation delay (increasing blocksize).Lightning network further reduces the number of onchain transactions necessary.Rootstock adds ethereum compatible smart contracts to bitcoin as a side chain.All these technologies responsibly scale Bitcoin. Your comment implies Bitcoin is stagnant which to me implies you don’t know what you’re talking about.reply PaulRobinson 1 day ago [-]PoS will never be adopted by Bitcoin. The mining pools that have invested in PoW won’t allow it.Every attempt to date to improve transaction rates on BTC have been hampered by a small group of developers who have a vested interest in it not scaling for reasons explained here: https://www.reddit.com/r/BitcoinMarkets/comments/6rxw7k/info…Bitcoin won’t get any of the improvements you hope it will because there is too much money vested in keeping it exactly how it is today.

Source: Did Bitcoin just prove it can’t scale? | Hacker News

Despite run-up, bitcoin’s future is still uncertain – The Boston Globe

That’s the theory. But Preston Byrne doesn’t buy it.“It’s outrageous what CME is doing,” said Byrne, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think tank in the UK and former chief operating officer of Monax, a blockchain software company in London. He pointed to a statement issued Friday by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in which the agency admitted that it has little power to keep bitcoin markets honest, and warned of “the potentially high level of volatility and risk in trading these contracts.”“This is the understatement of the century,” said Byrne.He believes media hype is attracting individual investors to the bitcoin market. Some are gambling their retirement funds, while others are buying the currency with credit cards, saddling themselves with high-interest debt. The bitcoin boom, said Byrne, “exhibits all of the classic features you would expect from a financial mania.” He is sure it will fall, and he worries that the CME’s decision to permit futures trading will ensure that damage from the crash will spread to other financial markets.But for now, nobody’s listening.

Source: Despite run-up, bitcoin’s future is still uncertain – The Boston Globe