Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How Low Can You Go, Bitcoin?

Wow... I know a lot of people like to point at charts, talk about the cycle of investor emotions, etc. but I generally don't follow those too much. If a technology is good, it will (or at least should) eventually rise to the top, short of a catastrophic failure of marketing. Bitcoin is such a technology in my book, so I don't think it will ever fail and go to zero. The time for that was back in late 2011, and most people were saying, "See, BTC is over -- it was a con from the start. Let's move on." Those that sold at $20+ were patting themselves on the back and those that didn't were feeling sad. Except, there were others accumulating coins at a rapid pace, and just three years later if they're still holding they've reaped nearly 100X returns.

But that's all history now. What's going on today with the BTC price? I was surprised to see us go much below $300, and I figured $250 would be the likely bottom. Now we're sub-$200 again, and some are predicting an even bigger fall yet to come. I'm still skeptical, because for a huge panic to occur you would need the biggest supporters of BTC to start dumping. If they didn't dump at $500+, why would they dump now? We're still heading down, however, and until the trend changes those who like to draw lines on charts and talk about SMAs will continue to make guesses on the eventual bottom, and some of the guesses are bound to be correct.

I wrote in the post two days ago that CEX.io halted their cloud mining, and that was when the price was still at $265. At sub-$200 prices things are even worse. Consider this: ZeusMiner just sent out a newsletter about their latest "no limit bid" on the new Antminer S5. This is supposed to be one of the newest and most efficient SHA256 ASICs around, capable of 1155GH/s with a power draw of 550W -- so basically just over a 2:1 ratio. But how much would you pay for such a miner in today's market?

At the current price and difficulty, you would net about $30 per month (depending on the cost of your power). Think about that: it could take well over a year (500 days) to pay for an ASIC that only costs $500 for 1.15 TH/s. Ouch. The interesting thing is that the prices of ASICs have dropped a lot with the drop in BTC pricing, so really the manufacturers were making a killing and they've had to cut into their profit margins because obviously no one would want to pay $1000 for a miner that could take years to -- or potentially never -- reach ROI.

Of course I don't expect BTC prices to continue down indefinitely. The very reason we have the term "bottom" is because at some point the institutional day traders and investors expect it to rebound. The SNP500 is often cited as a great example of the cycle of investor emotions. Twice it reached ~1500 before dropping to half that value, but now it's at an all-time high of ~2000. Bitcoin could very well mimic that sort of behavior, just on a vastly accelerated time scale.

And here's the thing to remember: Bitcoin is not a stock, bond, or even a commodity (though it bears the closest resemblance at times to the latter). When you try to predict BTC price movements based on tools used for stocks, you will encounter problems. And even when you apply the best technical analysis possible, you are still guessing. I always love seeing TA posts on BTC, as they end up presenting three possibilities: up, down, or stay the same. Rarely do they actually state unequivocally the direction they expect BTC to move, but a week later when there's a big change, rest assured they had that possibility covered the week before: "We were right! BTC went way down!"

Fundamentally, then, nothing has changed. BTC is the same technology today as it was last week, last month, and (mostly -- a few updates have undoubtedly occurred) last year. If it was a killer idea five years ago, it remains a killer idea, and nothing has yet been able to usurp BTC as the top cryptocurrency. The market cap is now down to $2.5 billion, sure, but that will change. The same people profiting from the drop in prices will eventually read their tea leaves and decide it's time to be bullish, and we'll see the inevitable reversal.

When will that happen? No idea, but I can't see any way BTC prices get much lower short of another major hack. $150 is a likely bottom, and double digits seems ludicrous to even consider. In a few years, I still plan to be holding onto the BTC I have, and by then I expect to be back into four digits. In the meantime, enjoy the roller coaster ride.

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