If you have been around the markets for a couple of decades, the phenomena of bitcoin and the subsequent rise of cryptocurrencies has been more than amazing. Riding high on blockchain, fortunes are being made (and perhaps lost). There are two key issues to consider when it comes it bitcoin and the periphery of its meteoric rise. The first is that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are here to stay. The second is that the price action seen in the past week and in the weeks prior has all the classic hallmarks of a bubble.
It may sound contradictory that something can be both a bubble and here to stay. But looking back at many bubbles simply means that the inherent prices and valuations simply got out of control. In the case of bitcoin, let’s say that the price got way out of control. Its recent price action from $1,000 to $20,000, and then going briefly under $12,000 before rising back to $15,000 over the weekend, feels a lot like the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s into 2000. Many companies saw their stocks soar, only to end up flopping.
In all fairness in referencing the “bubble,” it is important to understand that many of those dot-com bubble companies survived, even if many more did not. Some are now even among the most powerful companies today. One classic hallmark of bitcoin as a bubble is that there have been a slew of companies in recent weeks that have announced bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain strategies and business models. Simply announcing the move created huge rises in their stock prices. Most of them have come crashing back down.
Let’s go back 20 years to the end of 1997 and the start of 1998. This was a time that the world of the internet was just getting ramped up, and most internet users were using 28K or 56K modems with dial-up access. There was a wave of companies that made their stocks surge simply by making formal announcements of “internet strategies” followed by “plans to begin marketing and selling online” and even some companies simply announcing “dot-com name changes.”
In 2017, a slew of companies have announced business model changes, name changes and new strategies simply using the terms bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain in their announcements. The magic of the classic dot-com bubble sure seems to have returned.
There are some obvious risks in using the term bubble. First off, it sounds bitter and resentful. Secondly, bubbles don’t always burst. Thirdly, bubbles can inflate, deflate and reflate. And bubbles can take years to pan out.
If you just take the Nasdaq as a barometer, which also included the meteoric rise of stocks like AOL, Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, Intel, Yahoo and Netscape, the 1990s was a wild ride into 2000. The Nasdaq (using very rounded numbers) rose from roughly 1,300 at the start of 1997 to 2,200 or so by the end of 1998. And from October of 1999 the index went from 2,800 to over 5,000 by March of 2000. After that bubble burst, the Nasdaq went back to around 1,250 in August of 2002 — and it took until 2015 to get back to the 5,000 mark. Now the Nasdaq Composite is challenging 7,000.
Many of the companies in the dot-com bubble saw their valuations surge, only to die miserable deaths or flounder. A few of those companies were eToys, Excite, GeoCities, Infoseek, Pets.com, Lycos, TheGlobe, WebVan and so on. But there was another tier of companies which just simply were jokers of companies that all flopped even if some had their assets and names acquired: eGlobe, Ktel, Value America, Dr. Koop, CommerceOne, Zapata and so on. And there were a slew of offerings from B2B companies, internet incubators, mutual fund launches and even the beloved tracking stocks. Does any of this sound familiar with now in bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain?
There were other virtual currencies that tried to make a go of it before bitcoin, as well. There was Flooz, Internetcash, Digicash, CyberCash and others. The rise of bitcoin in 2017 had many of the same hallmarks as the dot-com bubble and the Nasdaq from 1999 to 2000. Its own price skyrocketed, and many companies have jumped on board.
Here are some of the stocks related to bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain that have risen — and some which flopped.
The Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC) avoided a panic on Friday, with its shares rising 12.3% to $1,990. It was worth $500 back in June, but it hit a high above $3,500 in mid-December. It actually owns bitcoin and issues baskets in exchange for bitcoin. That being said, there is no mechanism to keep this trading above or below a perceived net asset value.