I’m not writing this article to predict whether Bitcoin is going to $0 or $50,000. I have no idea whether it’s going to go up or down from here. But I have had countless conversations with clients and friends over the past few weeks which starts like this “What do you think about Bitcoin?”
My response is, before you make any type of investment, whether you’re looking to buy bitcoin with PayPal, real estate, a stock, you should be able to answer the following questions. If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, you probably should not be investing in it.
“Explain It To Me In 30 Seconds”
Investing is as much of an art as it is a science which is why you can ask three different investment advisors about the same investment and get three different answers. While the full analysis of an investment can be complex and require a thorough understanding of markets, equity analysis, and financial reports, seasoned veterans have mastered their craft and have a way of simplifying the process. One of the lessons that I learned from my mentor and that I continue to apply to selecting investments today is “If you can’t explain it to me in less than 30 seconds, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Before investing in anything, you should:
- Develop an investment thesis
- Identify the risks
- Identify competitors
- Know at what price to sell at
Let’s look at each of these items and how they apply to the Bitcoin situation.
Develop an investment thesis
An investment thesis answers the question, why are you committing money to that particular investment? When buying a stock, you try to identify companies that have strong management, good cash flow, a promising new product or service, expanding market share, and a competitive advantage with the expectation that the company will outperform a given benchmark.
“Because I think it will go up” is not an investment thesis. You have to include in your investment thesis items that can be measured. If for example, I decide to invest in a cell phone company because they are expected to expand into China, India, and increase their market share over the next 3 years by 50%. I have identified a clear and measurable reason why I have chosen to invest in that company.
Bitcoin poses a challenge in this sense. When you invest in a company, you are essentially investing in the future cash flow that is expected to be produced by that company. Which is why the price to earnings ratio is often used to determine if a company is “reasonably priced”. Bitcoin is a currency that does not produce future cash flow so what metrics can you build into an investment thesis that will allow you to measure your expected outcome? I have yet to hear a good answer to that question. An “expert” making a prediction that Bitcoin is going to $30,000 is not a great metric to use. Remember, price appreciation is a by product of the improvement of the underlying financial drivers of an investment. If you can’t identify what those financial drivers are, price is irrelevant.
Identify the risks
Before making any investment, you should be able to take out a sheet of paper and list of the risks to your investment thesis. If you don’t know the risks, how do you know when to get out of that investment? In my cell phone company example, I bought that stock because I expected that company to gain 50% of the cell phone market share in China & India over the next 3 years. What are the risks to that investment thesis?
- Currency risk: The value of the U.S. dollar increases versus the local currency decreasing profits
- Execution risk: They do not successfully execute their strategy. It takes 5 years instead of 3.
- Political risk: The Chinese government assumes ownership of the company
- Market risk: The global economy goes into a recession
- Competitor risk: Another reputable cell phone company enters that market
- Management risk: The current CEO leaves the company and the new CEO takes the company in a different direction
- Cash flow risk: The company takes on too much debt trying to expand and has to scale back
While everyone goes into a new investment with the hopes and dreams that it is the next Apple, you have to be able to identify what could send your great investment tumbling to the ground.
Can you list all of the risks associated with Bitcoin? It could go to zero but that’s true of any investment. With many new technologies, services, currencies, and medical devices, you have too unfortunately accept the fact that all of the risks associated with that investment are probably not known. It does not necessarily mean it’s a bad investment since most breakthrough technology and products are met with resistance and then uniformly accepted by the masses down the road. But it does imply that the investment comes with a much higher level of risk because a greater number of unknowns exists and you have to be able to live with the fact that it has just as much of a chance of going up by 100% as it does going to zero. While this line of thinking may not completely deter you from making a particular investment, it will hopefully influence the amount that you decide to commit to riskier investments.
When identifying competitors, my first question is usually “how large are the barriers to entry into are particular product or market?” The larger the barriers to entry, the longer it takes competitors to catch up to the market leaders. It would seem in the case of Bitcoin, that the barriers to entry for cryptocurrencies are fairly low. I’m already starting to hear the buzz at holiday parties about “ICO’s” which stands for Initial Coin Offering. If I were looking to invest in Bitcoin, I would be asking the questions:
- Who are the other main stream cryptocurrencies?
- Do they have a competitive advantage over Bitcoin?
- What would entice someone to switch from Bitcoin to another cryptocurrency?
- How large is the cyptocurrency market?
- Will regulations eventually come into play and create barriers to entry?
How many people that invested in Bitcoin do you think can answer these questions? My guess is not many. That in itself is risky.
Knowing At What Price To Sell
Of all the investment criteria that I have listed so far, I think this one is the most problematic when it comes to Bitcoin. When making any investment, you have to be able to answer the question: “Based on all of the information that I have today, at what price should I sell it at?” If I own a rental property and it’s fair market value is $250,000 and I collect $15,000 per year in rent, if someone offered me $300,000 to buy my rental property should I sell it? To answer that question, I would map out all of the income that I expect to receive from that property over my lifetime and apply a reasonable appreciation rate of the property value itself. It’s a similar process in evaluating a stock. You are looking at the annual earnings of the company and what you expect those earnings to be in the future. Both of these examples, like most investments, generate future cash flow and have reasonable appreciation rates that can be applied. With Bitcoin, as I mentioned earlier, there is no future cash flow. It’s value right now is being set based on what the next person is willing to buy it for. If one day people wake up and decide I don’t want to buy your Bitcoin or provide you with any good or services in exchange for your Bitcoin, there is nothing there. There are no earnings, there are no products, there are no services, there are no brick and mortar buildings, it’s vapor. With traditional currency, like the U.S. dollar, you have the taxing power and the assets of the United States government confirming that the dollar bill in your hand is worth something
So if I decide to buy Bitcoin today at $14,000 per coin, at what dollar amount should I sell it because it has become overvalued? I have no idea how anyone answers that question at this point. That’s problematic because if I start to make money, the difficult decision is “when do I get out?” When investing, it’s very easy to sell investments that have lost money. It’s emotionally much more difficult to sell your winners. So again, if I buy Bitcoin today and it goes to $30,000, do I sell it? Does it keep going to $50,000? I have absolutely nothing to based that on and that’s a problem.
Remember The Tulips
The single most important take away from this articles is “make sure you understand what you are investing in”. If you can’t explain it in less than 30 seconds, you probably should not be investing in it. Specific to Bitcoin, I use the saying, history does not repeat itself but it does rhyme. Some of the rhyming took place in the 1600’s in the form of the Tulip bubble. In the Netherlands, during the Tulip mania, the cost of a tulip equaled to the cost of a house. Don’t believe it? Just take a stroll down history lane. Here’s the article: Tulip Mania
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.