Louise Cooper

The problem with investing in cryptocurrency

The problem with investing in cryptocurrency
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'This time next year Rodney, we will be millionaires.' If Only Fools and Horses was still being made I imagine the scriptwriters would have got Del Boy disastrously deep into cryptocurrencies. Dodgy, Get Rich Quick schemes, skirting around the law always were his forte. And that is how I view cryptocurrencies. 

The bulls will cry, Louise you are wrong! The price of Bitcoin has doubled since the start of the year and up over 500 per cent in a year. The value of rival cryptocurrency Etherium has risen more than 1,500 per cent in the last twelve months. But cashing in depends on buying and selling at the right time and there's no telling when that will be. The price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is highly volatile. And that is why it is risky. It is not an investment, it is gambling. And it is a mug’s game. 

Compare cryptocurrencies to real investments. A share has intrinsic value – it entitles you to a share in the ownership of a hopefully profitable company with the right to vote and potentially a dividend. A bond has intrinsic value – it enables you to be paid back and receive interest payments. Even gold has intrinsic value - to be made into jewellery or catalytic converters or even teeth. What is a bitcoin? It’s a piece of computer code. What intrinsic value does a piece of computing code have? None. So it is not an investment. 

So then, the bulls argue, it is money. And better money than the Dollar, or the Euro or the Pound as they are all being devalued and debased by the money printing excess of central banks. But money, as a means of exchange, needs to be stable. If I order a pizza for delivery for 30 minutes' time I need to know that the price of the currency I am buying it in will not double or halve in the next half hour. 

To be classed as money, cryptocurrencies need to be widely accepted. When I do my weekly grocery shop online with Tesco, I have not yet been offered the opportunity to pay in Bitcoin. The fact the drug dealers and criminals use cryptocurrency is not an endorsement. 

To be used widely, money needs to be stored safely and accessed easily. I store my money in the bank and bring out my debit card to spend it. The government will even reimburse me up to £85,000 if the bank goes bust. But storing cryptocurrencies is much more complicated and can be extremely risky. First if you store your cryptocurrency online then it can be stolen. According to the website tradersofcrypto.com the biggest financial hacks of the last decade have involved cryptocurrencies, with the largest resulting in the loss of half a billion dollars’ worth of crypto. 

Even assuming your cryptocurrency is safe online, many forget their password and cannot access what could now be worth millions. I can call my bank if I forget my password. There is no one to call if you forget your password to your digital wallet. 

Then there are the frauds and the scams. How many of you have received emails promising you will be made wealthy beyond your wildest dreams if only you hand over some cash to invest in crypto? The rise in such criminal activity contributed to the warning from the UK’s financial regulator earlier this year about 'investing' in cryptocurrencies, pointing out that there is almost no consumer protection. This is the Wild West. 

But, they say, Tesla bought $1.5bn worth of cryptocurrency. And Elon Musk is super smart. Firstly Tesla invested and not Mr Musk directly. Secondly Tesla is a big enough player to move the market – by buying Bitcoin Mr Musk caused the price to rise as he effectively endorsed it. 

My ultimate problem with cryptocurrencies though, is that I can never see governments liking them. Governments like to know where your wealth is stored so they can tax it. They like to control a currency as it is so important to the smooth functioning of the economy. Central banks control traditional money. That is not a power they are going to hand over easily.