And so it is with Bitcoin, the asset for which punters’ FOMO has fostered such a MOMO that the bandwagon is speeding out of control with an uninsured, blindfolded, dead-drunk driver at the wheel.
Discussing Bitcoin is a little bit like MiFID II: everyone is talking about it even if no one knows what they are talking about. With a palpable sense I often have of arriving somewhere only to discover that I should have been there the day before, I determined to get my head around the crypto-currency and read an introductory note by a man who was clearly doing his best to be patient with a reader who is a fool but whose opening definition was this: “cryptocurrencies are a new asset class that enable decentralised applications”. This is a whole new world of non-understanding. I’m a man whose motto is “eschew obfuscation” but I felt like Byron reading Coleridge: “Explaining metaphysics to the nation/ I wish he would explain his explanation.”
Whereas my motivation for reading up on Bitcoin was a combination of jealousy and greed, the author informed me that my investment rationale should be predicated on my “opinion of decentralised applications and their value relative to current software.”
I haven’t felt so thick since the bond maths module of the Salomon Brothers training programme where everyone in the class except me seemed to understand intuitively that dy divided by dx was x squared.
I wore an expression of fear and unknowing I only witnessed once since, when George Dubya was reading that story about goats to schoolchildren and someone whispered in his ear about 9/11.
The piece maintained very few people in finance understand what is going on, very few in government, very few in technology and even very few buyers of cryptocurrency itself. I might have added very few people who reach the end of his elucidation understand what’s going on either.
The only part of it which found me nodding assent was the assertion that “As in every mania in history, it is currently rational to be irrational.” This is my time then. That I do understand.
If Bernie Madoff had internet access in his cell and a credit card, Bitcoin would make sense to him. It’s positively conservative besides his wheeze. Jamie Dimon doesn’t get Bitcoin. He thinks the people who trade it are criminal and stupid and in my instance he’s half-right at the very least. If I only invested in things I understand I would never invest in anything.
The criminal and the stupid, however, are having it off. Bitcoin is up 10 times this year and Ethereum (me neither) multiplied so often I can’t keep track and it barely matters because if you owned it, you have already retired and are lying back on a chaise longue in the tropics, crushing grapes between tongue and palate while native girls in grass skirts and bras crafted from coconuts fan your damp brow with palm leaves.
When I mention Bitcoin, most people make an anguished sigh and tell you how they meant to buy it ages ago when the price was this low (the accompanying gesture sees them place thumb and index finger in close proximity to the eye and squint) but it was not straightforward and they were distracted and every time they revisited the price it had doubled again (for which the accompanying gesture is chest thrust forward and arms stretched wide like the angler and the tale of the fish that got away).
This is the inverse of my standard PA trading experience where, despite the sirenic appeal of my latest fizzer, other market players seem oblivious to that and it is all too easy to put my money to work. Then, my odds-on bet miraculously defies all exhortations to levitate and it drifts away like old friends in middle age. It falls. Stocks are like women: full of promise but they all let you down in the end. Whenever I resolve to act decisively and cut the position, I see the price has dropped another 10% and I prevaricate until the next time I think I can’t bear it anymore.
I looked a chart of the various investment crazes throughout history and only the pre-information age insanity in tulip bulbs lasted longer than the present cryptocurrency fad. It also generated a straight-line spike, and attendant degringolade, of similar magnitudes. The South Sea Bubble, the dot.com boom, you name it, every other speculative froth you can think of were mini speedbumps on the economic highway in comparison.
We hear of Bitcoin millionaires who believed like apostles and bought in early, or of those who have given up their day jobs to squat chez eux and speculate in slippers. For every smug bugger who is long though, there is a dozen twitching on the sidelines, agonising “Why didn’t I buy it?” Google search entries for “How to buy bitcoin on a credit card?” are shooting up faster than Bitcoin itself.
Everything they read and hear urges them on and sucks them in. Eventually, they capitulate. Five minutes later, it plummets. Now they are tearing their hair out and renting their garments, “Why did I buy it?” Caveat emptors, previously invisible, are now ubiquitous. It’s the eternal tug of war between greed and fear. There is nothing new under the sun.
I don’t know whether to jump on board the bandwagon for the ride of my life and hope it’s not heading over a cliff concealed just around the bend or to continue sitting here, farting uselessly into my seat, contemplating MiFID.
If I were to lose my shirt and you happen to see me, begging outside Bank Station, throw a few coins into the cap on my lap. Real ones, though — not Bitcoins.