Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have risen dramatically over the past year or so, and many investors are wondering if they should put some of their money into these digital assets.
While there are clearly some investors who believe very strongly in bitcoin’s long-term potential, we’re not so sure. In this Jan. 11 Fool Live video clip, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, explains to Intry Focus: Financials host Jason Moser the three reasons he won’t invest any of his own money in bitcoin, especially at the current elevated price.
Jason Moser: Well, Matt, speaking of fintech and banking of the future and all that jazz, we’ve seen over the past 24 hours, we don’t get into Bitcoin very often on this show. It’s not really what we cover here, but by the same token, we’ve seen Bitcoin pull back considerably here over the last 24 hours. I think it’s down somewhere in the neighborhood of about 20% here. You have some opinions on the matter. Why don’t you elaborate a little bit for us.
Matt Frankel: Now you’re going to make me be the bad guy again.
Moser: Well, I mean, I’ve got thoughts too, but I’m going to go ahead and let you start. [laughs]
Frankel: Well, for one, well, Bitcoin is still several times more than it was at this time last year so it’s taking one of the greatest falls. Bitcoin hit over $40,000 a coin last week, and has since pulled back a little bit. Over the past 24 hours alone, it’s down about 18%. Right around $32,800, right before we started recording this. Regardless of your opinions of Bitcoin, this volatility first makes me tell you to be careful. It’s a volatile asset. There are three arguments that I often hear in favor of Bitcoin. I know I personally don’t own any Bitcoin. I’ve mined Bitcoin. I actually mined about 12 coins in total back in 2012-2013 time frame.
Frankel: I wish I still had them. [laughs] Maybe that’s a little bitterness coming through.
Frankel: I understand the concept. I understand how it works. I understand the utility of it. There’s three main arguments that I always hear when people tell me I should own Bitcoin. One is that it’s scarce. It has a limited amount, and you can’t make anymore. My colleague, Sean Williams, has an article on Fool.com right now that points out, it would just take a majority of the Bitcoin community to agree to raise that. You could make more Bitcoin. I mean a majority consensus is why we have things like Bitcoin Cash, the offshoot cryptocurrency. Not only that, I checked right before we came on here, there are 4,308 different cryptocurrencies that are officially recognized right now. [laughs] Of those, $270 billion of cryptocurrency value is not Bitcoin. If Bitcoin is getting too expensive and still valuable, people can just use a different one.
Frankel: There’s a reason that there’s over $100 billion in the second largest cryptocurrency. I mean, the scarcity argument, I don’t totally buy. No. 2 of the argument that it’s a store of value, like gold. For one, forget about the scarcity thing where you can’t make more gold, but potentially there could be more Bitcoin made. Forget about that. I don’t want a store of value that can fluctuate by 20% in a day. That’s not a stored value.
Moser: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I’m not interested in that.[laughs]
Frankel: My savings account is a stored value because it’s value doesn’t fluctuate. I mean, you could say that inflation over time it will fluctuate but not by 20% in a day.
Frankel: This is why people, I think it was Venezuela that had a hyperinflation if I’m not mistaken.
Moser: Yeah. I believe you’re right.
Frankel: That’s why people were storing value in that currency because it was very volatile and unpredictable at that point.
Moser: Makes sense.
Frankel: The stored value I think I don’t really buy it at the moment. It’s a volatile day when the U.S. dollar moves by 1% in either direction against say, the euro.
Frankel: If Bitcoin got to that level of stability, I might buy the stored value argument a little bit more. But for the time being, it’s not a stored value. Argument 3 that I get and this is the one that’s going to be people really mad, is that there is no real use case for it. Okay, so let me give you one statistic. You can spend Bitcoin at about 2,300 merchants right now. 2,300 different retailers. That sounds impressive, right?
Moser: I guess. But out of a total number of what?
Frankel: If you just look at businesses that have at least one employee, there are 7 million small businesses in America.
Moser: Yeah, I was thinking that’s where we are going.
Frankel: That’s not a lot of penetration into the market.
Frankel: Bitcoin’s been around for a decade now. It’s been pretty well known. Everyone has at least know the term Bitcoin since about 2014-2015. It hasn’t proven as a useful currency over the U.S. dollar. Especially with all these fintech innovations that we’re talking about. With contactless payments, I can pay by just tapping my phone on something. I don’t need actual U.S. dollars to pay in U.S. dollars anymore. It’s become easy to transact in foreign currencies.
Moser: Yeah, absolutely.
Frankel: Which one of the biggest use case for Bitcoin as a currency is that it could be a worldwide universal currency. Now it’s easier than ever to switch from one currency to another. I don’t buy the use case for Bitcoin. I don’t see widespread adoption happening. I mean, you could make the argument that PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) and Square (NYSE:SQ) are onboard with Bitcoin and PayPal has said that it wants to make Bitcoin usable at its merchants. But I still don’t see the benefit to converting my U.S. dollars to Bitcoin to be able to use them on PayPal when I can just take my U.S. dollars and use them on PayPal. I don’t see the use case that’s going to appeal to Main Street. I get the early adopters who loved the technology and things like that. I get why they see a big use case at it, I really do. But I don’t see it translating to widespread mainstream adoption anytime in the next decade or more.
Moser: Just a reminder for all of our Bitcoin bull listeners, you can reach Matt on Twitter @TMFMathGuy. That’s @TMF [laughs].
Frankel: I thought you were about to give out my address or something.
Moser: I was just kidding. No, I won’t do that. Listen, just like I said, we don’t cover a lot of Bitcoin on this show because it stands on its own. It probably deserves its own hour. I think you make a lot of good points there and I’m sure there are folks out there who would take the other side of the coin, so to speak. I’m with you. I’m not saying there is not a use case. I’m not saying it’s not special. Maybe it is. You know what? I don’t care. That’s what it boils down to, is I just don’t care. My time is better spent doing something else. Focusing on what I do.
Moser: I know what I don’t know. I just don’t know enough about Bitcoin to really even care. I just leave it at that.
Frankel: Like I said, I’d make all those points with all due respect to the Bitcoin fans, people who love the technology, I get it. I’ve mined Bitcoin, I’ve used Bitcoin, I lived off Bitcoin for a day just to see if it was possible. [laughs] I get it. But I just don’t see the mainstream case for it at this point.
Frankel: I say it with all due respect.