Bitcoin Takes it in the Shorts (Op-Ed)
It’s a new year and a new crop of obituaries for bitcoin, following a dramatic price decrease over a 48-hour period starting in the wee hours of January 13, almost immediately following a dire warning by ex-Wall Streeter George Samman in this very publication a few days earlier predicting such a collapse was necessary to find the bottom of the current bear market and that the recent price declines were far too orderly.
It’s a new year and a new crop of obituaries for bitcoin, following a dramatic price decrease over a 48-hour period starting in the wee hours of January 13, almost immediately following a dire warning by ex-Wall Streeter George Samman in this very publication a few days earlier predicting such a collapse was necessary to find the bottom of the current bear market and that the recent price declines were far too orderly. Samman is the co-founder and ex-COO of BTC.sx, a service that lets users short bitcoin (among other financial leveraging instruments). How convenient.
It was a well-written article with charts, graphs and even a cartoon, it was retweeted more than 250 times – and, in my opinion, it helped foment the very panic he predicted: a run for the exits (mainly by newbies; it has been noted in forums that there has been virtually no selling from the sizable bitcoin holdings at addresses known to have been the earliest of adopters when prices were in the pennies).
On Wednesday, Samman wrote a second article saying we still hadn’t found the bottom and that the blood in the streets was not yet red enough. This time, there were enough buyers – and those who recognized the shorter’s methodology of maximizing fear at the bottom of the “fear and greed” cycle that drives most markets (and was reprinted in Samman’s initial column). I personally pegged the bottom at US$150-175, so if this is indeed the end of the carnage, then I’ll have predicted the bottom three years in a row, calling it publicly at US$70 in 2013 and US$275 in 2014.
Here’s my point: It always amazes me when mainstream financial media can’t recognize mainstream financial activity when they see it. Can the 2008-09 meltdown of the global economy due in large part to excessive leverage, sophisticated financial instruments, publicly traded triple-leverage-shorting ETFs, and naked short selling hedge funds be that far from our collective memories that we can’t recognize it in a much smaller, less regulated marketplace?
Yes, bitcoin was undoubtedly overvalued at US$1,100 in late November, 2013 (and I’m lousy at calling the tops of markets or I would have sold most of my small holdings that month and cleared a tidy profit). There aren’t many assets that have 8,000 percent increases in 11 months that don’t have a notable correction. Yet, few point out that anyone buying bitcoin in January, 2013 (that’s only 24 months ago, folks) is still up 1,600 percent from that arbitrary date (much further up from any time in 2012). That’s a far better return than one would have gotten from Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google.
Since nothing is broken in the technology (one could argue it’s stronger than ever), and since the the technology advances in blockchain assets and applications, venture capital investment and merchant adoption have all been increasing at a furious pace, this downturn is more reminiscent of what happened during the dot-com crash (and that was a 99 percent crash for most stocks) when over-investment (and, yes, shorting of fundamentally sound stocks like eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon) led to investors abandoning the entire web sector as being toxic for several years.
Meanwhile, the technology marched on, building Web 2.0, Wi-Fi, peer-to-peer, social networks, and more while the pundits wailed about the death of the Web and revenge of the brick-and-mortar. Flash forward to 2015, and those early 2000s investments in left-for-dead companies like Amazon at roughly US$3 and Apple at around US$5 a share yielded some of the greatest mainstream market returns of the past 100 years – 100x in many cases.
Like the Web of 2000, Bitcoin (both the technology and, in my opinion, the currently maligned currency) are far from dead. I recall columns from late 2001 gasping in amazement how a bubble could have possibly created US$13 billion in online advertising revenue and how that could never happen again. Today, there is more than US$120 billion in online advertising, roughly US$40 of it from Google alone (a startup with no revenue and not much of a business model at the time of the dot-com collapse).
Like the Web of 2000, bitcoin of 2015 will be back in a big way – and I don’t believe it will take until 2030 to get there. It’s not called the honey badger of currencies without reason. It may also, like the Web, be the honey badger of technologies. I started the first Internet-based press release distribution company in 1994 – and in the early 2000s we lost our core client base of funded Internet startups, but we improved our technology and replaced them with larger, more mature companies who liked the faster-better-cheaper aspect of the Web over the satellite technology of our competitors. Today, Marketwired (which we sold in 2006 for US$35 million) is a global leader in press release distribution and has annual revenues of more than 10x above what they were when we sold it.
In the early 1990s, it was said that the Internet interprets censorship as damage and simply routes around it. In the early 2000s, both peer-to-peer technologies and social networks like MySpace were attacked by regulators and governments (Facebook is still banned in China). Yet, the Web has created trillions of dollars of wealth and social media has created hundreds of billions of dollars in its own sector. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are both here to stay. Fire away, short sellers; I’m not panic selling.
(Note: I know, like and admire George Samman and the whole BTC.sx team, as well as their investors, and they are not the only platform that lets one short bitcoin. I also have no idea as to whether he or anyone in his company had short positions themselves; it’s the technology to short they offer. I additionally recognize that financial instruments that provide leverage on long and short positions are inevitable as a financial market grows, and I don’t begrudge anyone their profits in an actively traded market. George gave a great presentation at our annual BitAngels conference, CoinAgenda, this past October in Las Vegas and I have no intention of starting a flame war. My issue is chiefly with the “lamestream” financial media who are taking the easy path out by regurgitating their tried and true “bitcoin is dead” headlines without looking at what’s different about this decline vs. ones caused by things like the failure of Mt. Gox or fear of Chinese regulation. The folks I feel sorry for are the new users who bought in at US$1,000 on the upside hype of the initial Wall Street dipping of toe in the water, then sold in a panic at US$180 and will curse themselves – and perhaps buy in again – when it’s at US$2,500 in a couple of years, which I still see as virtually inevitable).
About the author
Michael Terpin is a serial entrepreneur in marketing and cryptocurrency, as well as an active angel investor. His bitcoin endeavors include BitAngels (www.bitangels.co), AngelList Bitcoin Syndicate, and CoinAgenda, and his public relations firm, Transform (www.transform.pr), has worked with more than 40 cryptocurrency companies, as well as other tech companies. He founded and sold Marketwire, one of the world’s top three company newswires.