Bitcoin Investment Theses (Part 1)

We can classify the investment theses for (and against) investing in Bitcoin into categories. This helps clarify how much of an impact a given narrative could have to Bitcoin’s valuation. Investment theses that have a short holding period are less meaningful for investors than ones with a long holding period. Likewise, theses with a large number of potential adopters are more meaningful for investors than ones with a small number of potential adopters. This is an imperfect heuristic that should be debated and refined.

Investment theses with a short holding period are focused on using bitcoins as a method of payment. Some of these theses would find ubiquitous usage while others are niche verticals. If you disagree with anything written here, feel free to contact me on Twitter or on GitHub.

A. Short holding period, wide adoption

1. Retail payments

Anti-thesis: Reversibility increases consumer confidence. A “pull” system enables subscriptions which are an important business model. On-chain transactions can not scale without centralizing the Bitcoin network. Off-chain and layer 2 transactions have an up-hill battle against entrenched debit and credit card payment systems. Credit cards give consumers flexibility in financing their purchases. Many countries have already deployed payment systems that are instant with low to zero fees. Consumers who acquire bitcoins with the intent of making retail payments end up just holding the bitcoins for price appreciation instead.

2. Micropayments

Anti-thesis: Subscriptions provide a better revenue model for content publishers and social media tipping ignores why people actually engage with each other. Game creators and players currently have no serious issues with in-game purchases. If there are any complaints, it’s from players who feel nickel-and-dimed, which would only be worse with micropayments.

3. Machine-to-machine payments

Anti-thesis: It’s unclear why the businesses, which own the machines, would not invoice each other on a monthly basis, instead of continuously streaming payments. Companies will continue to keep track of their payables and receivables, and netting them out for payment, in which case Bitcoin is not a necessity. Today Amazon Web Services charges by the second and can be controlled by an API, but payments are made monthly with fiat-denominated credit cards, wire transfers, or ACH.

4. International remittances

Anti-thesis: Senders want to send their local fiat currency and recipients want to receive their local fiat currency. Neither side has bitcoins. Using Bitcoin means adding an FX conversion on the sender’s side and on the recipient’s side. This inherently increases cost. The cost of sending $200 anywhere in the world has declined from 10% in 2008 to 7% in 2017. Money transfers are expensive due to physical locations, marketing, licensing, and compliance. Bitcoin on its own does not solve any of those issues. The slow fiat payment rails are being improved by fintech startups using fiat banks and SQL databases.

B. Short holding period, narrow adoption

1. Tax evasion

Anti-thesis: Tax auditors have experts in computer forensics and there’s always a paper trail for the creation and sale of a good or service. It would be risky and time consuming to convert the proceeds into fiat. Tax evasion does not scale due to whistle-blowers, reporting by third parties (1099’s in the US), and the lifestyle/income mismatch.

2. Black markets

Anti-thesis: Ultimately most goods and services have to be delivered in the real world, so even if the payment is pseudonymous the delivery can reveal the identities of buyers and sellers. Additionally, even if the bitcoins are bought and sold in person for fiat cash, there is a risk that the bitcoin broker is an informant or government agent. Buying and selling bitcoins on an online exchange with KYC/AML is even riskier. This problem is compounded by the visibility of on-chain Bitcoin transactions.

3. Ransomware

Anti-thesis: Increasing awareness of the problem is leading to effective mitigation strategies, whether with anti-virus software or offline data backups.

4. Online gambling

Anti-thesis: If US legislation changes to be more favorable towards online gambling then this niche for Bitcoin could disappear.

5. Unbanked businesses

Anti-thesis: As long as the rest of the economy is using fiat currencies, the unbanked still need a way to exchange their bitcoins for fiat. They can use in-person cash exchange services, though there are cases of people being robbed and it is not a scalable solution for anything but the smallest business.

6. Speculative trading

Anti-thesis: Speculation is zero-sum, eventually bad traders will run out of capital and good traders will see diminishing profits and move to greener pastures. Bitcoin’s volatility has been decreasing as its liquidity increases. The markets are manipulated to favor whales and they will be shutdown or become boring when government regulators intervene to stop manipulation. The speculative frenzies are faked by wash-trading volume and fractional reserve exchanges.

7. Ponzi scheme

Anti-thesis: Every money has no intrinsic value. They are bubbles, shared illusions, inter-subjective Schelling points. A money is an unproductive asset which is best suited to be society’s medium of exchange, store of value, and unit of account. Bitcoin is bootstrapping to potentially fill that role from a value of zero. This has led to an astounding run-up in its fiat price. What goes unexplained in the Ponzi scheme thesis is why severe drawdowns (most recently a 91% peak to trough drawdown in 2014) are not a deathblow. So far, the value of Bitcoin has recovered and ultimately has increased beyond the previous all time high.

8. Money laundering

Anti-thesis: Any involvement of Bitcoin raises suspicion, so laundering bitcoins is ultimately harder than laundering fiat.Data indicates that Bitcoin money laundering has been an increasingly marginal activity. Bitcoin faces stiff competition from large international banks, which continue to be the go-to providers of money laundering services.

9. Routing around capital controls

Anti-thesis: While Bitcoin can help small-scale evasion of capital controls, it is not liquid enough to capture market share from other forms of evasion. Governments have and will crackdown on their local Bitcoin exchanges to further reduce liquidity.

10. FOMO buyers

Anti-thesis: The FOMO buyers become FOCO (fear of cashing out) holders. They sit on the bitcoins they impulsively bought, waiting for the next bubble. A small percentage start to research what Bitcoin is and continue accumulating during the bear market.

11. Vehicle Currency

Anti-thesis: Bitcoin is not nearly liquid enough to be a vehicle currency. Competing with the U.S. dollar for this is extremely difficult, the most likely candidate has been the euro and it has made little progress.

12. Electricity monetization

Anti-thesis: As Bitcoin mining finds increasingly inexpensive sources of electricity, it will become less and less profitable for governments to mine even if they have favorable access to fossil fuels.

Part 2 here!

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