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BLOCKCHAIN INVESTMENT PRIMER

Currencies / BlockChain Nov 28, 2020 - 05:01 PM GMT

By: Raymond_Matison

Currencies

Most people have added at least two new words to their vocabulary in the last decade – Bitcoin and blockchain, even if their understanding of these terms is far from complete.  Perhaps they have been also exposed to the terms “distributed ledger technology” and “cryptocurrency” - with comparable lack of understanding.  Yet all these terms will command increasing attention as investing in future technology will require understanding of these terms, and familiarity with the diversity of these emergent technologies.

These terms represent the language of new investment opportunities, similarly to the formerly new investment terms of more than a decade ago, such as integrated circuits, internet, email, on-line account, Google, and Amazon.  This new technology is developing now, and there already are some investment opportunities at this time, but multiple more opportunities will develop over the next decade – just as they did when computing and internet continued to develop over time.

A clunky brick-sized telephone of the 1980s eventually gave rise to a “smart phone” and the attendant gargantuan investment returns on Apple, and other related technology stocks.  Similarly, yet unknown and undeveloped opportunities will profit those who understand the blockchain technology and its evolution and use.  This article is to provide a general understanding of various emerging technologies which may introduce useful services to consumers that can evolve into attractive investment products.


Bitcoin

It is Satoshi Nakamoto who is credited with developing and releasing the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in 2009.  It is not known who this person is precisely, whether it is a pseudonym, or how many persons wrote the computer code which included the concept of a blockchain as a means for replacing the centralized accounting ledger within a bank with multiple decentralized computer ledgers distributed across the internet as computer data.  This data is stored in publically accessible computer nodes and verifiable by consensus among these nodes.  As this data was limited in size and sealed off, it was identified as a block and as the sequence of additional blocks were added, this became the blockchain.  The release of Bitcoin, which when accepted as payment by its community of users, functions as a means of exchange – currency or money.

These coins initially had little value – initially, under a penny.  But by 2015 the price of Bitcoin had already risen to over $200 per coin.   As more people studied the attributes of Bitcoin, and became adherents, the price of Bitcoin kept rising.  An attractive feature of Bitcoin was that by programed limitation, there could never exist more than 21 million coins.  When compared to the persistent issue of more fiat currency which loses purchasing value persistently, Bitcoin became increasingly seen over time as a store of value.  And, currently a single coin has grown to a value over $18,000.  Thus early believers or adopters of Bitcoin are now millionaires, as the total value of all Bitcoins globally is now about $340 billion.

Early innovations

Alert to such amazing opportunities for riches, various programmers or groups copied the free, open-source computer code, modified and improved it to provide certain tweaks, and multiple new crypto coins came into existence.   Very few people of the general public were ready for these electronically transmissible currencies, and neither was government nor the Federal Reserve Bank which is the nation’s issuer or our fiat paper currency.  More troublesome to regulators was the fact that one could send or receive such “currency” anonymously and almost instantaneously around the globe.  To regulators it seemed as a perfect cover for illicit trade, whereby the purchase and sale of goods and their payment could escape traditional taxation and accounting records.

While Bitcoin has remained the leading global cryptocurrency, as the first innovator, its computer platform left opportunities to improve the ease, speed, safety, expense of conducting transactions, and ability to handle a very large number of transactions at once (scalability) to newer developers.  From an investment perspective we can look at such electronic coin platforms as a service for storing assets. Some such computer platforms are designed specifically for peer to peer transfers, while others are designed for person to merchant transfers, and still others designed for bank or institutional or international transfers.  Another cryptocurrency application is the transfer of funds such that the transaction is untraceable – just as it is for cash today.

Even as computer code can travel the globe in fractions of a second, and ignore geographical country-made borders, local identification helps build the community of users so necessary to adoption and success of a program.  Accordingly, while there exist cryptocurrency computer platforms that are able to serve the world with their blockchain network programs, yet these have been written and originated in a specific country and its early adopters usually stem from a geographical region.  Every economically developed nation has teams of programmers developing or maintaining blockchain inspired systems.  Geopolitics and competition, and lack of trust among nations will not accommodate one blockchain platform to be singularly used by the world’s inhabitants, thus there will be multiple systems on every continent, and many investment opportunities around the globe.  

Bitcoin and other early coins experienced abnormal price volatility to the extent that it could not be used as a reliable means of payment, which nullified its other inherent advantages.  For example Bitcoin’s price declined from approximately $20,000 in 2016 to under $4,000 in 2019.  To solve this weakness, innovators designed a “stable coin” whose price would not be volatile, and usually would remain fixed to the price of the U.S. dollar, or some other currency.  Of course one may need to consider that the dollar itself is changing in value beyond desirable bounds with its volatility increasing.  One could also observe that the Bitcoin cash price did not decline until a derivatives market was set up – which perhaps gave rise to price manipulation.

The desire for banks globally to withdraw traditional paper currencies and issue digital currencies over the next decade will require many currency transfer platforms to institute a global digital money payment system.  Therefore, many opportunities for the ascension and use of cryptocurrency and digital payment platforms will dramatically increase the value of such systems. This industry is still very young, so there will be huge improvements in current programs and services, as yet unimagined products will amaze future users.  Those future improvements signify huge investment opportunities.

More recent developments

The realization that blockchain technology can confirm transactions by distributing their event instantaneously to hundreds of computers worldwide, which therefore cannot be corrupted by individual hackers – expanded its usefulness to an ever growing list of business applications.  The next major development beyond payments systems was/is that of “smart contracts”.  Such application programs can be added to or integrated into the larger networks providing more usefulness to consumers and businessmen.  

Developers have decentralized applications available for purchase or sale transactions – whether the item is a thimble, grand piano, or a house.  The legal terms are in the application program, which are widely distributed to the data computer nodes and bound into data blocks by these information processing validators, sometimes called miners.  Once a transaction is confirmed, arguably its recording is safer than the comparable record held in a single centralized governmental hall of records.

Smart contract development often requires off-chain event data such as product or market prices that are not a part of the trusted and secure blockchain platform.  Accordingly, new specialized information platforms were/are needed that could supply information necessary for a smart contract.  This gave rise to “oracle” programs which provide trusted off-chain data necessary to specifically define a smart contract. 

In effect, blockchain programs are trying to convert all matter of transactions done under centralized banking or traditional legal protocols to a new decentralized way of doing and recording business.  Thus banking, payments, and lending functions are the logical first areas for this new technology disruption.  Another important area for disruption is in the broader financial services area.  This includes basic services such as exchanges, where one can buy, sell, or trade cryptocurrencies.  Such exchanges are modeled after traditional stock exchanges, and therefore presently are still largely centralized themselves.  With innovation, new approaches to a market for such networks are being developed where transactions can be completed without the need to visit a centralized market.

The new exiting space in crypto is called DeFi, for decentralized finance. People who own crypto assets can deposit them such that they can earn “interest”, similar to the way a traditional bank deposit or savings account can earn interest on the dollars deposited.  In this case the “interest” paid is usually in the form of the crypto coins deposited.  Similar to the banking industry, the deposited coins can be lent on a collateralized basis for specified periods at a given rate of interest.  With pools of such deposits exceeding billions of dollars in value, computer programs have been written which scan the market for the highest yields available in a process called yield farming. 

In the simple case of someone giving you a moderate amount of cash, you will likely put it in your wallet for safekeeping – if you receive digital coins you can similarly store them in a digital wallet.  A digital wallet operates like an email address, but instead of receiving a written message you receive information which cryptographically identifies the nature and amount of the asset that is sent to a digital address.  Such information can be stored on your telephone application, or your desktop computer both of which are subject to a modest risk of hacking.  If such information is downloaded and stored on a memory chip, it is highly secure.

Other interesting blockchain platforms include those related to gaming, or virtual reality programs.  Closely related are programs for prediction markets or betting.  There are programs for sharing files and videos.  Other applications address enterprise issues for healthcare, the energy industry, advertising, and supply chain management.  Some blockchain programs offer the experts to build these systems.  In other words, the whole area is one of exploding innovation.  

All such computer software building and processing entails costs which must be covered by their users.  Some enterprises had initial coin offerings (ICO’s) to raise the funds necessary to develop the platform, while others were open source depending on coders to be rewarded for their contribution to development. Also, those who keep validating transactions and maintain these data bases must be compensated.  Generally such transaction fees are far lower than traditional banking or legal fees, promising to significantly reduce the cost of doing business and increase profits – and that is one of the fundamental reasons why the migration to blockchain platforms over time is guaranteed.

Generally, blockchain networks which have greater adoption and a larger community of users handle a greater volume of transactions.  Blockchains which have been designed to handle a greater volume of transactions per second can afford to have lower fees.  In order to increase processing speed some blockchains utilize side chains which are integrated with a larger but slower processing platform.  Other innovative concepts include breaking up the chain into parts and processing them in parallel, a process called sharding. 

Rapid innovation is taking place – global competition and huge profit opportunities are the driver.  Therefore older programs, like Bitcoin or Ethereum, will generally have a somewhat higher fee structure than more recently constructed blockchain platforms.  However, it is unlikely that any fee structure encountered will become a basis for not using the service provided.  It will be the usefulness, or use case, that will determine the growth in adoption of a blockchain network.  Indeed, as blockchains are used more pervasively, there is a need for protocols and platforms to communicate and be inter-operative.  To this end several coin networks are attempting to become an internet of blockchains where transactions can take place between and across different blockchains.

Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things

Anyone who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen an idealized representation of artificial intelligence with the golden metal-skinned talking and thinking robot.  Reality isn’t ready to fulfil the artist’s version, but progress is being made every day.   It was several decades ago when an IBM computer program beat the worlds champion in a series of chess games.  Likewise, it was back in 1979 when researchers had developed a set of logical rules for computer expert systems to simulate the decision making in medical diagnosis and treatment recommendations – and found their artificial system did as well or better than any doctors.  In the financial sphere, mortgage applications have been evaluated and approved by computerized systems for decades.

Ray Kurzweil, author of the visionary book, “The Singularity is Near” published back in 2005, states: “There are no inherent barriers to our being able to reverse engineer the operating principles of human intelligence and replicate the capabilities in the more powerful computational substrates that will become available in the decades ahead.  The human brain is a complex hierarchy of complex systems, but it does not represent a level of complexity beyond what we are already capable of handling.”  More importantly, he concludes that “within several decades information based technologies will encompass all human knowledge and proficiency, ultimately including the pattern-recognition powers, problem-solving skills, and emotional and moral intelligence of the human brain itself.”  Today’s existence of driverless cars, pilotless airplanes (drones), and limited function robots confirms the continuing advance of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence does not require blockchain technology; but some enterprise applications using blockchain could benefit from big data applications and machine learning of artificial intelligence.  Accordingly, there are platforms within the blockchain space focusing on applications of artificial intelligence.  

The Internet of Things refers the use of various sensors such as for temperature, light heat, noise, security and others which are connected to the internet.  Such a connection allows for the assessment or interpretation of the sensory data, distribution of output to a directed source whether it would simply be communication and information, or some directive or implementation for adjustment.

An easy example to reflect on is the sensor for tire pressure - one we are all familiar with.  That sensor, when triggered, informs the driver that tire pressure on a specifically identified tire is low.  It gives you the option of checking the actual viability of the tire before you start to drive.  In the foreseeable future one can anticipate that sensor inter-connectivity with the internet will be such that a sensor could cause an email or alert to be sent to your smart phone, even if you are not starting your car.  A more advanced version yet could trigger a communication to be made with the local tire service company to make an appointment for remediation.  In the still more advanced version, where the vehicle is a driverless car, it could make the appointment, drive itself over for repair, pay for the repair, and drive itself back to the owner – all without his active participation.  Ultimately, we may not need a car at all, because smart internet connectivity and the driverless automobile could simply be summoned when needed for a specific ride service. 

Blockchain enterprises are looking at ways to improve services to customers through the use of sensors and internet connectivity.  Its potential is limited by the imagination of today’s innovators.  But we should be mindful that any payments between sensors, machines and other devices will take place electronically using digital currencies -presently Bitcoin and its alternatives rather than Federal Reserve issued currency.  This, at present, enables freedom from centralized, elite or government control.

The case for investing in blockchain and cryptocurrency coins

Traditional forms of investment in stocks and bonds offers well-understood and familiar risks and rewards.  The dramatic rise in the price for Bitcoin has broken this familiar pattern, confirming, with its recent meteoric price rise the possibilities for far greater profit opportunities than traditional investments.  Many other, far less familiar cryptocurrency coins than Bitcoin have also risen spectacularly in a short period of time.  It is completely mind-shocking to observe that globally there already exist over 5,000 blockchain and cryptocurrency entities, becoming a fairly saturated market.  Of course, innovation will continue. 

The global stock and bond markets are at an inflection point.  Based on growth of revenues and profits and historic valuation principles, the stock market is grossly overvalued and exposed to significant decline.  High tech companies, an important segment of the overall market, are still growing in revenues and earnings – so they may fall less when the general market reverts to sounder valuation principles.  But based on Federal Reserve’s actions to print infinitely more currency, and its policy to depress interest rates - the stock market can continue to rise for a time.  Such a rise would not represent a bull market, but a market driven by the declining purchasing value of the dollar. See: Monetary and Economic Reset -  http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article67778.html The ultimate destruction of our currency through dilution of the current monetary base will destroy the asset value of both bond and stock holders regardless which way the markets move.

Programmed limitations in the growth of cryptocurrency coins has fostered their price actions to increasingly mimic precious metals.  However, we need to observe that market manipulation has existed in precious metal markets for decades, as confirmed by major banks paying huge fines for such unlawful action.  Ultimately precious metal prices have overcome, at least partially, this criminal manipulation. With cryptocurrencies it can be no different.  While blockchain networks cross country borders effortlessly, we should be alert to the fact that geopolitics may bring forth similar manipulation. 

Cryptocurrency markets are tiny in relation to precious metal markets.  Precious metal market’s small size relative to equity and fixed income markets have allowed them to be manipulated for decades.  It would be foolish to assume that global competition among countries does not extend to manipulation in cryptocurrencies.  For the present, it may suffice just to control the price of Bitcoin – but growing global adoption of a multitude of networks across nations will likely foster more manipulation. 

Many of the biggest and best managed investment funds over the last several years have been advocating a small allocation to precious metals.   Even Warren Buffett has added an investment of a gold mining company, exceeding one half billion dollars to his portfolio.   More recently, several portfolio managers have added a small allocation of Bitcoin to their portfolios – thus legitimizing Bitcoin as an investment asset or credible currency.  Also, Paypal recently announced that customers would be able to buy some cryptocurrencies through their payment system.  Fidelity Management and other money aggregators are looking to provide their clients opportunities to purchase coins and blockchain products.

The billions of fees collected by exchanges offering crypto products is just too large

a honey pot for Wall St. bankers and brokers, investment managers, and hedge funds

to ignore.  So look out!  Mass adoption of blockchain projects and massive inflow of new

money is coming, and will explode this small investment venue.  The World Economic

Forum, representing the world’s elite businessmen, projects that the use of blockchain-based business may rise by nearly 3,000 times over the next seven years.  When millions use a new network for more efficiently doing their business, or rush to buy their tokens or coins, the rise in value will be rapid and astronomical.  In fact, it has already started, and it is simply breathtaking.  Those interested in participating in this market’s speculative rise, can start by viewing hundreds if not thousands of videos posted on the internet by experts depicting the attractiveness and merits of these coins. 

Erecting new statues

In the early part of this year, radical rioters were tearing down historical statues of men

honored for their service to liberty and freedom in America.  It is arguable that today, rather than tearing down, there should be loud calls for new statues to be erected.  Specifically, it seems appropriate that a number of statues be erected, worldwide, honoring Satoshi Nakamoto.  Singlehandedly, he has improved the means by which strangers can consummate a trustable business transaction at low cost across borders, replacing the high cost of centralized banking, legal, and recording systems of old.  He has demonstrated that currency can be created outside the central banking system which is trustworthy and subject to less loss of purchasing value than the fiat currency of governments.  He has provided a means by which billions of previously unbanked citizens of the world could participate in creating value for their labor or creating a small business and prospering because of his creation - blockchain and Bitcoin.  Globally, blockchain and Bitcoin is increasing decentralization, and giving more power to those who eagerly work, as opposed to those who do not, but still want to decide how others should lead or conduct their lives. 

Have you noticed yet, that elite politicians of democracies, corporate business leaders around the globe, dictators, socialists and Communists all seek greater centralization – the basis for absolute control over people?  As incongruous as it seems, democracies and Communists seem to be embracing the same goals, which time after time have proven not to work!   It is only computer geeks, who have escaped the socialist teachings in our higher education system, who quite naturally and farsightedly are programming decentralization, liberty, and privacy in their evolutionary networking projects.

Vitalik Buterin, (Canadian citizen, born in Russia) the developer of the Ethereum network, has extended the usefulness of Nakamoto’s (Japanese) blockchain, and should also be found “sitting on a horse” next to Nakamoto, as another one of the “generals” who is delivering decentralization, freedom, and liberty to humanity.  Their statues today are as important as those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the founding of America.  However, because of their apparent ethnic roots, neither the United States nor Canada is likely to confer to them the lauded title of “American exceptionalism”, though both are truly exceptional by any measure or standard.  Nor is either country likely to commission and build a statue in their honor. 

But recognition for this worldwide emancipation must be accorded.  “Whales”, who were the early adopters and purchasers of Bitcoin, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, are financially free.  Absent government recognition, whales should be at the forefront of this important honoring, financing and statue erection process.   

Quick global embrace and development of a large number of increasingly advanced blockchain networks has made many people wealthier, and it has and will continue to benefit anyone financially who is willing to support the blockchain and cryptocurrency adoption, or even those who just buy a few blockchain coins.  If freedom, liberty, privacy, and decentralization of currency isn’t worthy of a few new statues, nothing is worthy, and those important values will be lost to humanity to its detriment.

Raymond Matison

Mr. Matison was an Institutional Investor magazine top ten financial analyst of the insurance industry, founded Kidder Peabody’s investment banking activities in the insurance industry, and was a Director, Investment Banking in Merrill Lynch Capital Markets.   He can be e-mailed at rmatison@msn.com

Copyright © 2020 Raymond Matison - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


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