Charles Hugh Smith: Bitcoin, Sour Grapes and Jamie Dimon

Charles Hugh Smith says, “If I had a bitcoin for every time some pundit declared bitcoin is a bubble, I’d be a billionaire.” ($1,000,000,000 / $3700). Here are the three main problems Charles sees with declaring Bitcoin a bubble…

by Charles Hugh Smith via Daily Reckoning

Institutional ownership of bitcoin is in the very early stages.

If I had a bitcoin for every time some pundit declared bitcoin is a bubble, I’d be a billionaire. There are three problems with opining that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are bubblicious:

  1. Everything is in a bubble now: stocks, bonds, housing, heck, even bat guano is bubblicious. Exactly what insight is being added by yet another guru repeating the BTC is a bubble meme?
  1. What’s the value proposition in declaring BTC is in a bubble? Spotting bubbles is like shooting fish in a barrel; the value proposition is in identifying the price/time tipping point at which bubbles pop.
  1. Declaring bitcoin is a bubble is starting to sound like sour grapes. Sour grapes defined: those who missed the 10-bagger (never mind the 100-bagger) feel better by dismissing the whole thing as a fad and a bubble, but as BTC continues marching higher, it looks like they missed the boat but are too proud to admit they didn’t grasp the significance of cryptocurrencies and BTC in particular.

Take J.P. Morgan CEO and President, Jamie Dimon.

He came out recently and called Bitcoin a fraud.

Well, here’s a quick question for you, Mr. Dimon: which words/phrases are associated with you and your employer, J.P. Morgan?

Looting, pillage, rapacious, exploitive, only saved from collapse by massive intervention by the Federal Reserve, the source of rising wealth inequality, crony capitalism, privatized profits-socialized losses, low interest rates = gift from savers to banks, bloviating overpaid C.E.O., propaganda favoring the financial elite, tool of the top .01%, destroyer of democracy, financial fraud goes unpunished, free money for financiers, debt-serfdom, produces nothing of value to society or the bottom 99.5%.

Jamie, if you answered “all of them,” you’re correct.

The only reason you have a soapbox from which you can bloviate is the Federal Reserve saved you and your looting machine (bank) from well-deserved oblivion in 2008-09. That, and the unprecedented, coordinated campaign by global central banks to buy trillions of dollars of bonds and stocks.

J.P Morgan would have done very well in the past eight years if they’d replaced you with a crash-test dummy. In fact, the shareholders would have done much, much better if the crash-test dummy had a Post-It note on its chest reading “buy bitcoin.”

Compare the return for an investor who “bought the dip” in J.P. Morgan stock (JPM) at $57 in early February 2016 and the investor who bought bitcoin (BTC) at $376 at the same time.

The buyer of JPM has certainly done well, earning a return of around 77% over the 19 months (JPM has risen from $57 to $91, a gain of $44, not counting dividends). But the buyer of bitcoin has earned about a 10-fold increase, gaining $3,200 per bitcoin at the current price around $3,560. (A few weeks ago, an owner of BTC could have skimmed an additional $1,000 per coin.)

The buyer of 1,000 shares of JPM for $57,000 gained $44,000 plus dividends, yielding a total of around $93,000, while the buyer of $57,000 worth of bitcoin at $376 (roughly 150 BTC) gained $478,000 and has a total of $534,000.

The buyer of JPM could sell his shares, pay the capital gains tax and buy a modest mid-sized car with the gains. The buyer of bitcoin could sell his bitcoins, pay the capital gains tax and buy a very nice house or flat in all but the most overvalued markets with his gain, and buy a brand-new vehicle with whatever cash is left.

Some initial coin offerings have made gains that make this mere 10-bagger look like small change.

And a lot of institutional fund managers are angry that they’ve missed out.

This might look like a speculative side-game, but for institutional money managers, it’s getting serious. As we all know, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage money such that the returns on the managed money exceed the return of an S&P 500 index fund.

If a passive index fund does better over five years than an actively managed fund, then what the heck are we paying the fund managers big bucks for?

This is a question that occurs to everyone with money in a pension fund, mutual fund, insurance company, etc. Why are we paying these guys and gals annual salaries of $250,000 plus bonuses if they’re missing out on the big winners like bitcoin?

Let’s stipulate up front that no institutional money manager can speculate in the cryptocurrency equivalents of penny stocks, i.e. ICOs (initial coin offerings). The risk management rules of serious money funds preclude this sort of rampant speculation, no matter how potentially lucrative.

But bitcoin is different. It’s been around the longest, and has survived all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune tossed at it.

Bitcoin is tailor-made for institutional ownership. While it is inherently volatile, it is stable and transparent; there is no “insider trading” or financial trickery (such as bogus financial statements) to be wary of. Unlike many other investment vehicles, it’s highly liquid.

Once exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on direct ownership of BTC are widely available, this opens the door wider to both institutional and mom-and-pop investors.

All of this puts pressure on institutional money managers to buy some bitcoin so they don’t look like they missed the investment vehicle of the decade. Never mind when you bought it, or at what price; better to get in now before the price jumps even higher. Going forward, it will be this simple: either you own bitcoin or you’re out of a job.

This is the same reason virtually every institutional money fund owns Apple (AAPL) — if you don’t own Apple, then you missed out on the decade’s greatest investment story. So if your fund lags index funds, and has no ownership of Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and Tesla — here’s your pink slip, buddy — you blew it.

But wait — I bought bitcoin at $3,000, and added at $4,000! Hmm. Smart move. Maybe there’s hope for you yet.

The point is institutional ownership of bitcoin is in the very early stages. As bitcoin continues to advance, institutional money managers will be forced to buy in, just to avoid the fate of those who failed to buy Apple.

Money managers buying now at $4,500 will look like geniuses when it hits $10,000. And everybody who dismissed BTC as a bubble at $5,000 will face a bleak choice — either get some bitcoin in the portfolio or prepare for a pink slip.

When the institutional herd starts running, it’s best not to get trampled.

So back to Jamie Dimon: if you want us to listen to your incoherent ranting about bitcoin as “financial genius,” first predict the timing of the crash that takes down your parasitic bank.

If you pull that off with amazing accuracy, then maybe we’ll pay attention to your “prediction” about bitcoin.