Chief economist at ABC Bullion, Jordan Eliseo told Nest Egg that while the story of bitcoin’s rise can be largely explained by the appeal of blockchain and bitcoin’s exponential increase in value, bitcoin’s rise can also be told as a story of trust or lack of it.
“I think one of the reasons that people are so willing to ignore the warnings of financial market commentators, including myself, who have said, ‘Look, people need to be cautious about chasing bitcoin and putting all their money in cryptocurrency,’ is that it's just a fact that all across the western world, people’s trust in institutions, in government, in financial markets, commentators, mainstream economists, you name it, has declined substantially.
“And that's more or less a 10-year story that goes back to the start of the global financial crisis and has continued ever since.”
He said this mistrust is also playing out in politics, as populist policies like Brexit and politicians like Donald Trump gain favour.
Continuing, the economist argued that there’s “no conceivable way” those political developments would have happened 10 years ago.
Additionally: “With the onset of the GFC, [and] with everything that's happened since, there is no surprise that there is a greater element of distrust.
“If you look at wealth and equality now, it is back to the levels that we last saw prior to the onset of the great depression.”
Bearing in mind the argument that bitcoin was fuelled by mistrust for mainstream institutions, Mr Eliseo warned that chasing Bitcoin is “incredibly risky”. The same goes for any other cryptocurrency, he added.
However, he conceded that bitcoin is an attractive proposition.
“If you look all around the world, half of them [interest rates around the world] are near zero in real terms; money has been printed religiously in the last 10 years.
“So more and more people every day are saying, "Well, look, I don't trust the RBA or the Federal Reserve,” or, “I'm not comfortable leaving my money in a regular bank account,” or, “I'm not comfortable leaving all of my money in a regular bank account," so bitcoin looks like it could be an answer.”
Then, once the price reaches the heights it has, “it ends up becoming self-reinforcing” and even more attractive as potential buyers hear stories of someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Whether the activity constitutes a bubble is another question. Mr Eliseo contends that even if it is a bubble, bitcoin is “in very good company”.
Noting that less than 1 per cent of Australians own bitcoin, and as such the impacts of a crash would be localised, Mr Eliseo warned that the impact of a housing or stock market crash – both possibilities, in his opinion – would have much wider ramifications.
“These things are going to cause much bigger damage and it should be of far greater concern to actual market commentators, to everyday investors, you name it.”