Stocks are the best investment game in town. But they haven’t always been that way.
When the idea of selling off an ownership stake in a company was first created, it attracted tremendous interest. After all, owning a business sounds like a great opportunity depending on the company.
It’s no surprise that some of the first stocks saw huge investor interest from both the wealthy and the poor alike. Some stocks, like the Mississippi Company, saw such an influx of capital—in a completely new and unregulated market—that investors couldn’t get in at any price. By the time the mania started to stall, prices ended up dropping.
In England, the South Sea Company led to such a bubble that scientist Isaac Newton—an early investor at £200 who cashed out at £400—went back in to shares around £700. When the price ended up collapsing after briefly breaking over £900 before collapsing back to where its price started around £100, he stated “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”
The point is, as a new asset class, stocks attracted a lot of speculative capital. It was only after they went through this original mania phase that markets evolved. That included things like government regulations, but also exchange rules themselves to govern stock trading and to provide the most accurate pricing information possible.
Any new asset class will likely go through this phase, as early investors start getting rewarded, attracting less knowledgeable speculative investors in the first place.
That seems to be the case today with cryptocurrencies.
With all eyes on bitcoin’s big surge year-to-date, the entire crypto space has seen a dearth of ICO’s—initial coin offerings. As with the IPO of a stock, some people get a new crypto offering at a fixed price, and are then able to cash out as the price heads higher. Unlike an IPO, however, there’s no lockout period. That’s allowed ICO insiders to reap a fortune as the price of anything crypto has surged in recent months.
That’s also why China announced a lockdown on ICOs earlier this week. China has banned a lot of investments over the years, and has often reversed course. A few years back, for example, they re-allowed their citizens to buy precious metals. Individual buyers in China started buying that asset in droves.
What’s more the crypto space, in terms of market capitalization, has exploded ten-fold year-to-date. While the overall size of the market is still less than half of that of tech giant Apple (AAPL), chances are the space will increase both in size and in terms of investor interest. As with the initial stock mania when it was a new asset class, early speculations shake out weak capital and set up price action for investors over the longer term.
What makes cryptocurrencies an asset class? To some extent, it isn’t. As a medium of exchange and store of value, it’s a bit like gold, or more like a modern fiat currency. However, by their nature, crypto currencies have a maximum quantity.
While government can run physical and digital printing presses indefinitely, any crypto will hit its limit. That sounds appealing, especially given how governments tend to respond to economic disasters by hitting the print button. Even gold can increase in quantity—plenty is still being mined around the world, and during the heyday of the gold standard, gold supply increased by about 3 percent per year.
This appeals to me more than the privacy angle that most crypto enthusiasts go for. I don’t care if the government knows I’m buying groceries. Everyone does. For some people looking to buy more questionable items, however, there’s a privacy concern.
A government that knows how often you hit up your local bar, for instance, might get the idea that you’re irresponsible with your booze buying. And with government increasingly involved in the healthcare space, a government that knows about your cigarette habit might be someday tempted to adjust your level of care of costs accordingly. That’s none of their business, but using traditional payment methods like check or credit card (even some cash), it could easily become their business.
We’re still at a point where folks are laughing off the crypto space. Sure, it can be used to buy illegal drugs. So can anything else, depending on how the transaction is concealed. But it’s a lot harder to laugh at the move in the space when the demand –and investment options in the space—continue to rise.
Bottom line: we may be witnessing the birth of an asset class. It’s gone through one round of growing pains already, and likely will again soon given the parabolic growth in the space. But over time, increasing investment options and a broader base of support will likely sustain the growth and maturity of the cryptocurrency market.
Remember, stocks have now been around for hundreds of years. And in the United States, the global posterchild for capitalism and the free market, less than half of citizens directly own shares of our growing economy. They’ve missed out.
Crypto currencies could be the new stock market. It will take time to play out. But it could be worthwhile. Consider building a watchlist of cryptocurrencies to buy—both now and after a drop for high-flyers like bitcoin. And start to add some to your net worth. Cryptocurrencies, like precious metals, have never gone to zero. But they have had some big drops along the way. But putting even 5 percent of your net worth now into the space could be a true gamechanger in the years ahead.
Look at the biggest tech companies today: your Apples, Googles, and Facebooks. They’re digital, with very little physicality to them. Cryptocurrencies are just another way the digital age is evolving. Invest accordingly.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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