Virtual Currency vs. Metal: Will Bitcoin Outperform Gold Again in 2014?

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The craze behind Bitcoin has been monumental. Some might even call it silly. In some ways, Bitcoin is acting just like gold did, but on steroids. Investors and speculators wanting an alternative currency or store of value have found a new avenue. This avenue is one that may ultimately lead to rags or riches. 24/7 Wall St. wanted to offer a 2014 outlook for the two crazes.

Gold has been crushed in 2013, while Bitcoin has ramped up handily. In fact, gold is down about 28% year to date. Bitcoin has risen from less than $100 all the way up to more than $1,200, before settling down marginally above $1,100 so far in early December.

There truly do seem to be a lot of overlaps here, except for the obvious — one is physical and one is virtual. Both offer anonymity of sorts. Both are somewhat untraceable. Both can be used as tender with some merchants or individuals, and both can be bought and sold for real cash. And the public seems to have a hard time figuring out the real value of each.

Gold is mined from the ground. New bitcoins are mined algorithmically and online. Both are destinations as a store of value as an alternative to holdings outside of dollars, euros, yen, yuan and pounds. If stolen or lost, both are gone. Both also have been called bubbles, and both have been referenced to the famous tulip bubble. Owning physical gold has been banned before, and regulators are only in the first inning of considering how to regulate Bitcoin for U.S. citizens.

What about exchange traded funds (ETFs) and other investment vehicles? It is without a doubt that the creation of exchange-traded products like the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEMKT: GLD) helped to ease the manner in which the public could buy gold. This grew until the trust was a larger gold holder than almost all the world’s central banks. Now we have an investment vehicle from SecondMarket for Bitcoin, and the Winkelvoss twins still would like to have a decent number of their 1 million bitcoins used in a Bitcoin ETF. If a Bitcoin ETF is ever created, chances are high that it would trade like a closed-end fund, but the GLD reference is almost certain to become a permanent one.

As far as why Bitcoin is acting like gold, that goes well beyond the $1,000 price tag now. On last look, gold was at $1,222, after hitting one-month lows, and it is within spitting distance of challenging that one-year low seen in June and July. The website and Bitcoin exchange MtGox shows that Bitcoin’s last price was $1,148, with a high of $1,185, but note that the highest level was $1,242 back on November 29.

This saga is far from over. You can argue that, with all the money printing, gold could rise to $2,000. Technicians and market historians also may argue that gold should have never risen over $1,000 in the first place. Predicting where Bitcoin goes is anyone’s guess for now. We have seen a recent prediction that Bitcoin will hit $1,400 by year-end, and others warn that Bitcoin will crash.

It is important to realize that gold is physical and Bitcoin is virtual. There are still millions and millions of gold ounces in the ground as probable gold reserves that are known about today. Bitcoin is limited to only 21 million units, although there should never be a limitation because they can be divided up to eight decimal places.

Stay tuned for 2014. The gold story and the Bitcoin story are likely to bring rags and riches to many investors and speculators. Ask yourself this question: What is the value of anything that can be bought and sold? The answer is simply, “whatever anyone is willing to pay for it.”