What a year – a global pandemic, a wavering stock market, rising numbers of unemployed people and continued uncertainty in global markets. Yet, we saw the bitcoin price recover from $5,300 in March to almost $18,000 at time of writing. That’s almost a 240% return within nine months.
For regular investors, the burning question is whether is becoming overpriced. Is it too late to buy bitcoin?
If we put aside short-term volatility and take a long-term perspective, there is a reasonable path for the price of bitcoin to reach over $500,000 in the next decade. To go even further, I think BTC is likely to hit $100,000 in the next 12 months. Significant upside has yet to play out for bitcoin.
When we talk about the valuation of an asset, the first step is to understand the fundamental economics. Equities, bonds and real estate, for example, often derive their value from generating cash flows; therefore, valuation of these assets involves projecting future cash flows. Commodities, on the other hand, are more utility based and therefore their prices are anchored by industrial supply and demand. Before taking any action on bitcoin, I suggest asking yourself, “What is bitcoin for?” Use this as a baseline to form your own view of the value of bitcoin and its fair price range in a given time horizon.
Here’s my take as a HODLer:
Between its inception in 2009 and 2018, bitcoin was in its “collectible” phase. Only a small cluster of cypherpunks believed in bitcoin as “future sound money.” It was hard to come up with a valuation scheme for bitcoin that matched its fundamentals. It was also too early to tell whether bitcoin could succeed in building consensus around its “store of value” superiority.
Bitcoin is built as a basic utility and doesn’t generate cash flow, so there is no way to forecast its price based on cash flows. Its circulating supply was easy to calculate, but it was really hard to estimate demand given the fickle nature of speculative trading. When speculative demand surged and drained out of the system, particularly around the initial coin offering (ICO) boom in 2017, we saw bitcoin’s price explode from $900 in early 2017 to $19,000 by the end of 2017, and then down to $3,700 by the end of 2018.
Bitcoin’s opponents usually attack bitcoin’s price volatility as a bug, but I believe that bitcoin’s price volatility is a unique and smart self-marketing feature. It was key to its survival in the early days. Bitcoin operates as a decentralized global network. There is no coordinated marketing team out there promoting bitcoin’s utility to the world. It is the dramatic price volatility that has continued to attract attention from non-followers, some of whom were later converted into believers, thus driving the continued momentum of bitcoin adoption.
Bitcoin went through an identity crisis as “sound money” before it graduated into the second stage as an investment vehicle. Starting with the scalability debate in 2017, when the network became congested with historical high volume and transaction costs surged, its community had (some called it “civil war”) involving the future path of bitcoin.