More than one person has suggested that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, among hundreds of others, will supplant gold as a store of value and a hedge against inflation. The World Gold Council wants you to know that gold is not going anywhere and will continue to be a “mainstream financial asset that will likely continue to resonate in today’s digital world.”
That “likely” seems a bit wishy-washy. Gold was first used as a currency more than 2,500 years ago. Even the advent of paper (fiat) currency didn’t eliminate gold which backed up the currency until the Great Depression. The Bretton Woods system which pegged the value of gold at $35 an ounce and to which other currency were fixed lasted from the end of World War II until President Richard Nixon lifted the peg and gold began trading freely in the early 1970s.
Then last year happened. Bitcoin appreciated by 13x over the course of 2017 while gold managed a relatively paltry 13% increase. And really, when push comes to shove, gold’s value and a digital currency’s value are both based on what a market decides the two items are worth. Right?
The World Gold Council (WGC) in an Investment Update titled “Cryptocurrencies are no substitute for gold” lists several features of gold that make it “very different from cryptocurrencies.” Here they are:
Gold is less volatile
Pointing to bitcoin’s rapid 2017 rise and nearly equally rapid decline since the end of the year, the WGC notes that volatility is “good for investors looking for extremely high investment returns, it is hardly characteristic of a currency, let alone a store of value.” The WGC says this potentially limits bitcoin’s use for transactions.
Gold has a more liquid market
Bitcoin buyers have a tendency to buy and hold their investments. Partly that’s due to high transaction costs and the current inability to sell bitcoin short in any sufficiently large quantity. Mainly, however, bitcoin doesn’t trade enough volume: the WGC says bitcoin trades around $2 billion in volume a day compared with gold’s daily volume of around $250 billion. That’s what a 2,500-year head start gives you.
Gold demand is diverse
The yellow metal is used in jewelry and in the manufacture of computer chips. According to the WGC, average demand for gold from central banks for the 10 years between 2007 and 2016 was just 6% compared with 10% for technology applications, 30% for investments, and 54% for jewelry.
Gold supply is responsive
Gold and bitcoin share some similarities here. Bitcoin has been designed to increase its stockpile until around 2140, at which time all the bitcoin will have been mined. That’s a growth rate of about 4% per year. Virtually all the gold ever mined is still around and annual growth in newly mined gold is around 1.7% of the total that has ever been mined. Gold is also recyclable and recycling accounts for about a third of total supply.
Gold is regulated
While most countries do not have laws prohibiting cryptocurrencies, some have limited their use — China, South Korea, and Japan, for example. But not having a law against cryptocurrencies is not the same thing as approving them for general use in a country. That day is probably a long way off.
Gold is a strategic asset
The WGC claims that gold is a “tried and tested effective investment tool in portfolios.” Cryptocurrencies “have as yet to be tested in multiple markets” or in anything other than the low volatility bull-market of the past several years. As such, digital currencies are attractive almost solely for their expected high returns.
Visit the WGC website to read the full report.