Despite being a cryptocurrency, most people aren't actually buying bitcoins to spend them on goods. No, most bitcoin owners seem content to buy and hold onto them. Bitcoin isn't about a new form of currency that could one day take over the dollar; it's an investment, and they're hoping it pays off.
Bitcoin has forced itself to become an investment; the severe volatility its value goes through on a daily and even hourly basis makes it much harder to use as currency. By the time a bitcoin transaction is complete, it could be worth less than it was when you first tried to use it. That has made it seem more viable as an investment than as a currency to many, but investment analysts remain wary of bitcoin still.
The volatility allows bitcoin to reach a value of nearly $20,000, as it did at the end of 2017; it's also what causes the tremendous crash in price it has spent all of 2018 doing.
If you're looking for the perfect time to invest in bitcoin, you're just not going to find it. There are professional analysts who haven't been able to pin down where bitcoin will go. That unpredictability can certainly make it tempting, though. Mark Cuban's thoughts on bitcoin have gone back and forth, but his approach to investing in it is sound: only if you can spare some cash, and don't go overboard. The bitcoin market is the ultimate in high risk, high reward.
If you're looking to "invest" in bitcoin, however, you'll also need to know what that can mean.
None of the examples mentioned below are recommendations of investments, just examples of bitcoin-related investments. Each of these comes with unique sets of risks and should be seen as risks; make sure to do your due diligence with research before making a risky investment.
Is There Such Thing as a Bitcoin Stock?
In case you forgot what bitcoin is, it's not a physical form of currency, nor is it a company or corporation that can go public. So there isn't exactly a stock for it, per se. However, you can treat the bitcoins you have as an asset that can be bought and sold, and its value as the bitcoin stock price. The fluctuation in price can be tracked in the same way you can track any other stock in your portfolio.
There are other ways you can incorporate "bitcoin stock" into your portfolio as well. The Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC) is one notable option that operates similarly to an exchange-traded fund. It is a trust that owns bitcoins it is holding, and by buying shares of it, you can essentially bet on bitcoin value without actually owning any of your own (their bitcoins are secured using Xapo, Inc. as storage).
This can be an interesting way to gauge the bitcoin market without all the work of getting bitcoins, but it comes at a price. Literally, you'll be paying very high premiums. The stock recently split to make things more affordable, but the premium remains steep. As of this writing, one share from GBTC is worth 0.00100396 BTC, or $6.77. Yet shares are going for $10.70. You'll also need to factor in management fees as well. As a result, some think it's more worth it to just own the bitcoins yourself.
Another possible attempt at investing in bitcoin's value without buying bitcoins is with bitcoin futures. Bitcoin futures allow you to essentially bet on the cryptocurrency's value in the future; if you think the price of bitcoin will go up in the future, you could buy a futures contract. Should your instinct be right, and the price goes up when the contract expires, you're owed an equal amount to the gains. Notable places that offer bitcoin futures contract are the Chicago Board Options Exchange, or CBOE, and financial market CME Group.
Bitcoin futures have fairly extreme pros and cons to them. Contracts are leveraged in that you're paying a fraction of bitcoin's actual price when you buy futures, giving you a chance to profit off them. However, the contract has an expiration date in the near future. If the price is down when it expires, you can't simply hold and wait to see if it bounces back; you just lose.
What Industries Are Impacted by the Cryptocurrency Market?
There are other, somewhat more tangential ways of approaching bitcoin investments. Look at industries impacted by bitcoin, how the industry works and how bitcoins are discovered. Adding stocks from relevant, related companies is one possible way to invest in the future of bitcoin, from a distance.
Investing in Blockchain
Since there is a prevailing thought that the most valuable aspect of bitcoin is the blockchain technology behind it, investing in blockchain is another way of tangentially investing in bitcoin without the worrisome volatility. There are many large companies that have been developing their own blockchain networks for a variety of purposes that may be worth looking into.
That doesn't mean it's risk-free, though. Blockchain technology is an intriguing development that could disrupt a number of huge industries, but at the moment, it's also a fashionable word to throw around. Long Island Iced Tea, a beverage company, renamed itself Long Blockchain in late 2017, seemingly knowing that the word itself could cause a jump in stock. And for a brief moment, the stock actually did jump just because of that. Don't fall for tricks like that, stay vigilant and avoid cryptocurrency scams like these.
Some of the larger companies that have begun incorporating blockchain into their industries include:
- Overstock.com (OSTK) , once a retail company, has become one of the biggest blockchain options on the stock market. The company has developed tZERO, a cryptocurrency and blockchain-based registry that complies with the regulations of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.
- IBM (IBM) has developed blockchain technology that they are using with a large variety of partners in a large variety of industries. One example is their partnership with food retailers, most notably Walmart, to help quickly, efficiently, and securely track the supply chain to help ensure ideal food safety. They have also partnered with Maersk to work on a blockchain platform for global trade.
- Hitachi (HTHIF) , the Japanese conglomerate that has worked on social infrastructure and IT systems, among other industries, has begun dabbling in blockchain. It has released reports about how it believes the technology can positively impact the financial sector, and how it could potentially be used to create new services for businesses.
There are also ETFs that one can invest in that hold a number of stocks related to blockchain. For example, the Reality Shares Nasdaq NextGen Economy ETF (BLCN) holds stocks in all of the examples above, as well as Intel (INTC) and Cisco Systems (CSCO) .
Investing in Mining Technology
The growth of bitcoin mining as an industry has grown rapidly ever since the first bitcoin was mined nearly a decade ago. More powerful computers and hardware are required to give miners a better chance of successfully mining, and some companies have inadvertently become involved as a result.
Nvidia (NVDA) , a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio, and AMD (AMD) are companies that make several types of technology; AMD makes processors for desktop and laptop computers, while Nvidia's products range from automotive use to cloud servers. Where the two most successfully intersect, though, are their graphics processing units. Even in the age of ASIC miners, a strong GPU has proven to be a competitive (and much more affordable) way to mine bitcoins.
This has meant there's been a larger demand than ever for GPUs, especially in the wake of bitcoin's sudden and massive rise in 2017. With the explosion of mining and the steady need for GPUs amongst gamers, Nvidia has been an investment worth looking into in 2018. AMD, meanwhile, has been a bit more volatile. They have proven to be two of the top manufacturers of GPUs in the wake of the bitcoin craze.
What Are the Other Largest Cryptocurrencies?
Bitcoin hasn't just affected other industries; it has essentially created its own. In the wake of bitcoin, hundreds of other cryptocurrencies have popped up and attempted to either dethrone it or provide other uses for it. Many have failed, but some have survived and may have a future.
But here, more than anywhere else, is where you need to proceed with caution. Bitcoin is already incredibly risky, imagine what risks smaller and lesser-known crypto brings. Rounding out a portfolio with other cryptocurrencies may be able to help you evaluate the state and perhaps the future of that market, but many of them can quickly prove to be a flash in the pan. The sudden rise of initial coin offerings -- a method of crowdfunding new cryptocurrencies in a way that avoids venture capital entirely -- has many people excited for the future, but also has many wondering if it's going to create an even more dangerous bitcoin bubble.
Some of the more notable cryptocurrencies, though, offer some things that bitcoin does not, making it harder to definitively call them a bitcoin copy. It's natural to be interested in them. Do your proper research, discuss with your financial advisor, and use your common sense -- don't put more of your money into these than you can afford. They're riskier than usual.
A few of bitcoin's more notable cryptocurrency rivals include:
- Well, the token is technically an ether, but ethereum is the platform. What sets it apart from bitcoin is that ethereum's blockchain can be used to develop apps, which would then be stored on the blockchain. Using this, one can create their own cryptocurrency.
- Ripple (XRP) is a more recently popular cryptocurrency, although some argue that it can't really be called a cryptocurrency at all. It does, however, have a market cap of $19.2 billion as of this writing, 3rd largest amongst cryptocurrencies. Ripple is meant to act as something of a payment processing system that could allow for instant international money transfers. It has partnered with several notable companies, including American Express.
- Litecoin was developed in 2011. While it has faltered of late in value with the other cryptocurrencies, if it gains back that value, it will be because of its strengths in comparison to bitcoin: Significantly faster transaction time (one major complaint when bitcoin exploded was that the increase in users slowed down transactions tremendously) and a larger number of crypto tokens.
You may find that investing in bitcoin (and cryptocurrencies in general) aren't worth the risks that could potentially bring. That's alright, sometimes it's better to be safe than sorry.
Those who do decide to make an investment out of bitcoin are now free to decide how their investment should go. Some are content to hold onto them as long-term investments. Other more aggressive people may seek to take up trading.