The cryptocurrency community is no stranger to accusations of crypto being a bubble. As far back as 2014, media pundits were referring to the bursting of the Bitcoin (BTC) bubble, with a Financial Times article from September of that year even containing the ill-fated prediction, "We’re going to stick our neck out at this stage and call this the end of Bitcoin."
Well, Bitcoin certainly didn't end in 2014, but this hasn't stopped other experts and commentators from throwing the word “bubble” around with gleeful abandon in the half-decade since the cryptocurrency's prematurely reported demise. However, while certain mainstream observers simply regard the entire cryptocurrency market as one giant balloon, other individuals have been offering more nuanced claims recently, assertions that revolve around a distinction between Bitcoin and the vast majority of altcoins.
More specifically, veteran trader and author Peter Brandt recently compared the altcoin market to the dot-com bubble, claiming that Bitcoin's recent strong rallies won't be replicated by other cryptocurrencies. Similarly, ShapeShift CEO Erik Voorhees argued last year that Bitcoin and altcoins form two separate markets, while on July 1, crypto-Twitter personality Lil Bubble published a parody music video that perfectly encapsulated the current plight of altcoins, which have been slightly flagging behind Bitcoin as it increases its market dominance to 62.2% (as of writing).
But even if it is true that Bitcoin's price has increased by around 128% over the last three months (compared to “only” 81% for Ether), there's no real indication or evidence that the majority of altcoins will tumble to virtually nothing while the original cryptocurrency remains strong. This is because, if you take the matter of market price out of the equation, it still remains just as arguable that certain altcoins have at least as much to offer in terms of functionality as does the bitcoin.
Bitcoin vs. altcoins
But try telling that to Peter Brandt. Not only did the author and founder of Factor LLC compare altcoins with the dot-com bubble in a tweet at the end of June, but in speaking with Cointelegraph, he doubled down on his comparison, predicting that the vast majority of altcoins will disappear in the not-too-distant future:
"I believe that the advance in late 2017 and early 2018 in altcoins will prove to be bubbles. I am of the firm belief that 95% of alt-coins will eventually be worthless and that BTC will occupy 80% to 90% of the total market cap of cryptocurrencies. No doubt several of the altcoins and macro-cap coins will find utility in specialized niches. It remains to be seen which coins these will be."
These are strong views, but aside from the fact that Bitcoin has been rising in value more quickly than its rivals, it finds support in a number of quarters. For one, American broadcaster and Bitcoin cheerleader Max Keiser recently predicted during a CNBC interview that altcoins won't enjoy the same kind of rally that BTC is currently witnessing, and that most will fall away:
"Look, the dominance index is at 60% again, and it's going back to 80% or 90%. Because that's the only logical place for anyone who wants to be in crypto to be. But the short answer is, in my view, the altcoin phenomenon is finished."
In fact, Keiser's views don't stop there. He told Cointelegraph that there's a big gulf between Bitcoin and other assets, particularly in terms of whether they've hit their “true” market value. Keiser wrote via email:
"Bitcoin is virtually the only financial asset ‘not’ in a bubble. Sovereign bonds are in multi-hundred year bubbles. The USD and various fiat money are in historic bubbles. Stock markets are in bubbles. Most property is also in a bubble. Gold and gold mining stocks are undervalued and good places to invest, but their upside is limited as compared to Bitcoin."
In his interview with CNBC, Keiser offered some arguments to support his strong pro-Bitcoin view, such as that the top cryptocurrency has been improving its scalability with SegWit and the Lightning Network, and that it offers the most secure chain by quite a large margin. On top of this, he told Cointelegraph:
"Bitcoin’s hashrate, hitting new highs of 70 quintillion hashes per second (10x the estimated grains of sand on Earth), will continue to explode higher, taking BTC’s price exponentially higher and no alt-coin can compete. Like seedlings struggling under the canopy of a giant oak, they will wither and die."
However, while other crypto traders would concur that Bitcoin is likely to increase its market dominance in the coming months, they wouldn't go so far as agreeing that altcoins are going to be wiped out. This is the position taken by Josh Rager, a trader who told Cointelegraph that, even with Bitcoin's current rise, there will remain other cryptocurrencies that perform well as a result of offering value propositions not covered by BTC:
"The Bitcoin dominance of the total market share is at 65% and as long as this continues to move up than the rest of the market will likely stay stagnant with price. As we see BTC dominance drop, we'll know that the rest of the cryptocurrency market will likely start to benefit with funds shifting towards altcoins with strong fundamentals. Not to mention a lot of other crypto assets with solid tech coming to the market starting in late 2019."
United Kingdom-based trader and author Glen Goodman takes a similar view to Rager, explaining to Cointelegraph that at least some altcoins boast technological advantages over Bitcoin, something that makes their demise unlikely:
"Bitcoin is probably the most rational crypto asset to assign a high price to, because it currently has the highest likelihood of future mass-adoption. Some other cryptos are highly valued because their technological innovations show great promise, and that's perfectly valid, but technology is worthless if no one actually uses it, so all cryptos prices are based on the assumption that one day people will adopt the tech or use the product. Bitcoin is the only one most people have heard of, so it has a big head-start, but that doesn't mean the others are all doomed by any means."
In other words, there appears to be a loose consensus among traders that Bitcoin is separating itself from the altcoin market, and that altcoins in general may be overpriced. Nonetheless, even with this separation, only the most hardened BTC champions believe that the altcoin market is on the verge of withering away. Indeed, as trader and CryptoOracle partner Lou Kerner told Cointelegraph:
"While most altcoins are probably significantly overvalued, some, like Chainlink, may emerge as very valuable entities. So it makes more sense to look at these on a case by case basis then make generalizations."
Crypto as a whole
Speaking of generalizations, it's worth considering the question of whether the cryptocurrency market as a whole, including Bitcoin, is overpriced and currently passing through a bubble period. Well, as with the previous question, there is a consensus among traders that there is probably some overpricing going on, although this doesn't necessarily imply a Bitcoin or crypto bubble is taking place, as it looks as though the market is moving on the basis of a genuine belief in future adoption and growth. Glen Goodman, a former reporter for the BBC and ITV who quit his day job several years ago to become a full-time trader, told Cointelegraph:
"Crypto markets are largely driven by speculation but that doesn't mean they're currently in a 'bubble'. Classic speculative bubbles are characterised by euphoria and the mass-involvement of ordinary people who believe they will soon become rich. We saw that phenomenon in late 2017. […] I sold my crypto holdings shortly after, and waited for the bubble to fully deflate, which took about a year."
Now, Goodman agrees that the market is still driven by speculation, but this is speculation in the sense that people still don't know for sure how the industry will develop, even if they're confident that crypto will sooner or later gain a wider foothold within the global economy:
"The market is still driven by speculation because it's difficult to assign fundamental value to cryptos. They don't have profits and revenues like stocks do, so it's very hard to decide how much they're truly worth. But crucially, that does NOT mean they're worth nothing. They are priced according to traders' personal assessments of their future prospects. Amazon didn't make profits for many years, but its share price kept rising anyway, because people expected great things in the future. Likewise, if many people rationally believe Bitcoin will achieve mass-adoption, then a high price is not unjustified."
Josh Rager also holds that, overall, crypto isn't really in a bubble phase, although he does admit that certain aspects of the cryptocurrency market and industry have been bubble-like in recent months:
"The cryptocurrency market as a whole isn't a 'bubble' but I do believe we saw a bubble with ICOs and crypto assets not backed by solid fundamentals. In 2017 all you had to do is put together a small team, build a website and have a white paper to be considered a potentially valuable company. But as we saw, the majority of these companies 'run out of funds' by the end of 2018 and their assets were dumped on exchanges."
Likewise, Rager asserts that the total crypto market cap has remained generally resilient over the past year, despite having fallen from its peak of around $485 billion. He also argues that, even though the market cap — without taking Bitcoin into account — is just $105 billion, it will start to slowly creep back up once the price of BTC begins a sideways movement and more money will flow into altcoins. More importantly, Rager believes that current market prices are sustainable, and that likely developments and innovations will gradually push it higher. According to Rager:
"The psychology of 5-digit Bitcoin over $10,000 has already set in as we saw sub-$10k prices were quickly bought up over this past week. Bitcoin and crypto miners seem to be holding on to more Bitcoin because they're profitable once again so there is a lack of selling pressure from miners overall. Not to mention all the new instruments for Bitcoin and the crypto market including BAKKT and institutions getting into the market more. And even LedgerX was recently approved to offer physically settled Bitcoin Futures to retail investors."
As Rager concludes, "All these signs show me that the market is maturing and we're not in any type of mania." Other traders agree that things have changed decisively since 2017, as Scott Melker — a trader at Texas West Capital — noted to Cointelegraph that recent advances have come from more sustainable sources:
“I know it's cliché to say that ‘this time is different,’ but the evidence seems to support this belief. The recent increase has been fueled by institutional investors — retail has only started to pay attention in the past week, when the price advanced to nearly $14,000. During the last bull run, average people were already interested long before the price reached $10,000. The mania has not set in this time.”
Regardless, even if much of the current market activity has been sustained by unjustified hype and overexcitement, some traders would argue that this isn't much of a problem, since bubbles and manias are a part of capitalism and are necessary to build the foundation on which lasting industries are based. As GNY.io co-founder Richard Jarritt put it to Cointelegraph:
“Alan Greenspan famously warned against ‘irrational exuberance’ in relation to price-to-earnings ratios of stocks way back in December 1996. The talk of bubbles in stocks had arrived prior to the infamous tech bubble of the late 90's that saw the NASDAQ Composite scale to its height at 5,132.52.”
Jarritt adds that technology has proven particularly resistant to calls of being a bubble throughout modern history, and that Bitcoin and crypto more generally have only just begun as an industry. He said that “taking the diffusion of innovation theory and putting it into the context of how few daily transactions there are on the Bitcoin network currently (compared to how many daily transactions the Visa network handles), it gives space to imagine that cryptocurrency market valuations have not yet fully matured into what could be a peak many multiples above today's values or any past peaks in the industry.”
But assuming that the bubble-esque market of today does evolve into a fully fledged and sustainable industry in the coming years, it still remains to be seen which cryptocurrencies will still be around in a decade or so, and which will have gone the way of the dodo. Once again, opinions on this are mixed, with Bitcoin bulls unsurprisingly arguing that the first cryptocurrency will be one of the few present-day crypto’s still alive.
“In ten years we’ll see Bitcoin, and a bunch of coins that don’t exist now; the new crop of seedlings that start with promise, then fade away,” Max Keiser said, implying that even new coins arising in the future will struggle to dislodge Bitcoin from its position of dominance. Other traders, however, aren’t quite so bold, and while they accept that many cryptocurrencies will most likely perish, they admit that, perhaps, even Bitcoin might end up being supplanted by other coins at some point in the future.
“In ten years, most of the cryptocurrencies we know and love will probably be in the crypto graveyard,” Glen Goodman predicted. He went on:
“As we saw with Netscape, AOL and AltaVista in the early Internet era, it isn't necessarily the first-movers in a new industry that end up the biggest successes. Perhaps even Bitcoin itself will be usurped by something faster and even more ingenious. A household brand name like Bitcoin is a valuable thing but it does not make a brand bulletproof. Just ask Nokia. Or Blackberry. Or Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Or Toys ‘R’ Us.”