Banking & Finance

What Americans Think About Investing in Bitcoin

Bitcoin posted a new all-time high of $53,949 Friday morning, as investor demand for the cryptocurrency continues to rise. A new survey from research firm Piplsay indicates that the bitcoin fan club will continue to grow.

Of the 30,330 Americans surveyed who have heard about cryptocurrencies, 57% say they understand the digital currency either somewhat or very well, while 30% don’t understand them at all and 13% have never heard about them. Nearly half (48%) of people who have heard of cryptocurrency are not interested in investing in it, while a quarter say they have invested and 27% say they plan to invest this year.

Half of the survey’s respondents think cryptocurrency is safe while 22% believe it is not and 28% aren’t sure. Among those who believe it is not safe, 31% fear hacking or fraud, 27% say they don’t know enough about how the system works, 22% cite lack of laws or regulations governing cryptocurrency and 20% fear the volatility.

When asked if brands like Apple, Amazon and Walmart should follow Microsoft, PayPal, Visa and Tesla in accepting (or planning to accept) cryptocurrency as valid payment for goods and services, 57% of survey respondents answered yes and just 18% said no. The rest were undecided.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk ginned up the media machine last week when the company reported that it has invested $1.5 billion of its cash on hand in bitcoin. The company also said it plans to begin accepting bitcoin for payment in the “near future.” Since that announcement, bitcoin has added nearly $9,000 to its value.

Another believer in bitcoin and cryptocurrency is Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of Ark Investment Management. Ark’s five managed exchange-traded funds may be the hottest investment on Wall Street right now. The company’s assets under management rose from around $3.5 billion at the beginning of 2020 to nearly $42 billion by the end of the year, according to Bloomberg.

Wood told Yahoo Finance last week that if every S&P 500 company allocated just 1% of their cash to bitcoin, the cryptocurrency could add $40,000 to its price, and if the same companies allocated 10% of their cash to bitcoin, that price could increase by $400,000.

She added: “Bitcoin is only [at] roughly a $600 billion market cap. So [less than] half the size of Apple or Amazon, right now. Doesn’t that put it into perspective? And yet, it is a very big idea, I think. A much bigger idea than Apple or Amazon.”

What about relatively small investors, like those surveyed by Piplsay, who want to use bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency to buy ordinary goods like groceries or fuel? Converting U.S. dollars to bitcoin imposes a transaction cost on purchases that may be worth it for a larger one like a car but less so for a bunch of bananas. As a store of value, cryptocurrency, like gold, is worth what people think it is worth. That implies runs of volatility and, eventually, likely government regulation.

As a financial instrument, though, Ark Invest and other bullish cryptocurrency investors are probably right and will remain so until some major financial institution gets clobbered by a plummeting price. Small investors just need to make sure that they have a seat when the music stops.

Catherine Wood, Ark CEO and CIO, is a non-voting shareholder in 24/7 Wall St. LLC.