Crypto – the suits come out to play after Bitcoin refuses to lie down and die
Estimates of new capital coming into Bitcoin during 2024 range from $500-billion to $1-trillion, which would double its market cap, at the very least.
Best-performing asset of 2023? Bitcoin. Up 80% this year.
Every year I write an article that pokes fun at the “Crypto is dead” crowd. Not because there is nothing new to write about, but because it is a great deal of fun to periodically smirk at the tedious certainties of loudmouthed financial soothsayers.
A site called 99bitcoins.com tracks reports of the imminent demise of cryptocurrencies in the major media. They save articles so that those with a dark streak of schadenfreude (like your correspondent) can go back anytime to have a good snigger.
Since 2013, there have been 474 reports of crypto death, all of them available for the reader’s amusement.
We’ll get to why crypto is very much not dead in a moment. First, a sampling of some of the archived stories that can be found on 99bitcoins.com:
There is an overused aphorism ascribed to Mahatma Gandhi that is often trotted out by Bitcoin maximalists. It is: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” But, like all aphorisms, even those that become annoying clichés, there is a general truth buried in there somewhere.
Crypto is now in stage 4 – the “then you win” stage. Erstwhile sceptics and sniggerers within the financial and investment world have stopped laughing. There are a few remaining holdouts like Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, who don’t seem to understand crypto at all.
And, of course, some governments, especially the US, for whom the success of cryptocurrencies would mean the loss of some financial control over their citizens. But the list of ex-naysayers now enthusiastically joining the party is getting longer by the day.
I recently did some research into which major global banks have gone into production with crypto projects, finally convinced that blockchains are simply a better way to move and store value, across multiple axes.
In 2020, this list was empty. By the beginning of 2022, it was short. Now, towards the end of 2023, every major global institution is knee-deep in blockchain projects, including JPMorgan, Citi, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, China Construction Bank and Santander. In fact, I could not find a single global top-100 bank that has not jumped in.
But these projects pale in comparison to the pressingly pregnant Bitcoin ETF landscape (ETFs are funds that pool together the money of many investors to invest in a basket of securities), with the largest investment banks in the US all awaiting approval on their outstanding ETF applications with the SEC, some of them years old.
The biggest of these is BlackRock, which manages about $10-trillion in assets, giving them as much influence on global financial affairs as most countries (they manage almost as much money as China’s GDP). They are an old-style, conservative, smoky-backroom investment behemoth, not known for risk.
Their CEO, Larry Fink, famously called Bitcoin an “index of money laundering” in 2017. He now admits it will “revolutionise finance” and is about to smooth the way for the injection of hundreds of billions in customers’ money into his ETF when it is approved (likely to be this year, given the signals of surrender from Fort SEC).
And it’s not just BlackRock, but Vanguard, Fidelity and a score of other heavy hitters, all with wads of money waiting to be plunged into Bitcoin and other crypto assets. Estimates of new capital coming into Bitcoin during 2024 range from $500-billion to $1-trillion, which would double its market cap, at the very least.
The rocket-rise in Bitcoin prices over the past few weeks is evidence of consumer demand fuelled by this Bitcoin ETF optimism. When the funds are approved, the price will rise further under the dictates of supply/demand laws, and will continue to do so as more investors finally shed their fear and reluctance and decide to put their trust in Larry Fink’s Damascene conversion.
Obviously, speculation on the price of crypto assets has long been a fool’s game; the streets are littered with the crumpled hopes of crypto gamblers. It is different this time. Capitulation of the old guard is in the air. This is no longer your cypherpunks and speculators and early adopters and tech nerds and extreme libertarians.
There are plenty of OGs, of course, who bemoan the entry of grey suits into the new world of blockchains, itself a grassroots reinvention of thousands of years of received financial wisdom.
I empathise with the collective groan of those who hope for a new world order that sidesteps the entrenched interests of “The Man”. But alas, no matter your political hopes, the truth is that legacy systems would rather swallow and absorb new and better technologies than simply shudder and collapse.
So, it looks like Bitcoin will become a permanent part of the asset landscape, along with gold, silver, stocks, bonds, collectables and real estate. Along with NFTs and Defi and Metaverse and Web 3 and all the other spanking new technologies which also suffered suspicion and derision for years until, suddenly, it’s gone.
That’s when the suits come out to play. DM
Steven Boykey Sidley is a professor of practice at JBS, University of Johannesburg. His new book It’s Mine: How the Crypto Industry is Redefining Ownership is published by Maverick451. It can be ordered directly from the DM store here or on Kindle. It’s also available at bookstores.