(Veteran tech columnist Jon D. Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a lively guide to investing in the digital transformation of business and society. Click here for a trial.)
Bitcoin is on a tear again, rising above $46,000. Investors are scrambling to buy stocks with even tangential connections. The best bet is this recent public company.
The latest bitcoin price surge came hours after Tesla ( (TSLA) - Get Report) revealed a $1.5 billion acquisition, according to a SEC filing. The electric car company will also begin accepting bitcoin as payment.
Investors should consider buying VPC Impact Acquisition Corp. (VIH), a new special purpose acquisition corporation from the parent of the New York Stock Exchange.
By now most investors are familiar with the reasons to be skeptical of cryptocurrency. Only three years ago digital coins of all sorts hit the mainstream. Hype swelled to mania. Within a matter of months hundreds of coins sprang up, many actively promoted by celebrities as get rich quick schemes. They were not. All but a handful went to zero.
Bitcoin had a rough ride, too. The value plummeted all the way from $19,650 to only $3,185 in December 2019. It was a dark time for investors and fervent crypto bulls.
What investors may not know about bitcoin is there is an extremely limited supply. By design, only 212,000,000 coins will ever be created. That scarcity will keep a natural upward pressure on prices. The other aspect to keep in mind is that the entire world is creating money supply to get out of the COVID-19 crisis. In theory, all of those greenbacks, euros and pound sterling notes sloshing around should lead to paper currency devaluation.
It’s the very cataclysm for which bitcoin was invented.
Bitcoin was born in the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis. It was a response to the worldwide failure of governments and central bankers to protect the value of money. By design, the cryptocurrency was decentralized. The powers-that-be have no governing authority.
Now large financial institutions are buying bitcoin and there is simply not enough to go around.
Bloomberg reported in December that executives at Massachusetts Mutual, the giant life insurance company, put $100 million worth of bitcoin into its general fund. While this is an extremely small amount of the insurer’s available assets, it sets a precedent. Mass Mutual is a regulated business. Buying bitcoin, even in small amounts, is a dramatic diversion from business as normal.
The attraction to bitcoin for financial firms is protection against low returns on bonds and treasury bills; fear of currency devaluation; and the shocking reality that the cryptocurrency turns out to have extremely low correlation to other financial assets.
In short, bitcoin is a legitimate decentralized hedge against financial assets.
Some corporations caught on early. Managers at MicroStrategy ( (MSTR) - Get Report) revealed in December that the firm held 70,470 bitcoin. Square ( (SQ) - Get Report) and PayPal ( (PYPL) - Get Report) have also made sizeable investments.
Tesla’s SEC filing notes that the EV company invested $1.5 billion in bitcoin during January. Managers clearly state the goal of the acquisition is to diversify financial assets and maximize the return on cash that is not required to maintain liquidity.
Bakkt operates a digital wallet for cryptocurrencies and digital rewards points. The Atlanta, Ga.-based company will soon make its public debut when it merges with VPC Impact Acquisition Holdings.
Apart from its funny name, Bakkt is the creator of the first federally regulated cryptocurrency futures exchange. This occurred in September when managers were developing a framework for institutions to trade bitcoin on the Intercontinental Stock Exchange ( (ICE) - Get Report), the holding company that owns the New York Stock Exchange, among other financial assets.
It’s also noteworthy that Bakkt is a spinout from ICE, and a pet project its founder Jeffrey Sprecher, a prolific wealth creator.
Sprecher is positioning Bakkt as a 24-7 digital marketplace where account holders can transform all of their digital currencies, including merchant rewards from vendors like Starbucks (SBUX), into real world things. That bit is important. Bakkt is an exchange.
Longer-term investors should look past Bakkt as a digital wallet and focus on the company as a facilitator for financial institutions to safely trade and accumulate bitcoin. This is likely to be a huge business.