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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Should You Invest in Bitcoin?, Bitcoin Black Friday, Canada's View On Bitcoin, Dentist Accepts Bitcoin And The Mysterious 194,993 BTC Transaction

Should You Invest in Bitcoin?, Bitcoin Black Friday, Canada's View On Bitcoin, Dentist Accepts Bitcoin And The Mysterious 194,993 BTC Transaction

Should You Invest in Bitcoin?

What Is A Bitcoin Worth?

For the growing band of people who follow the virtual currency, the answer is self-evident: The price of a bitcoin this week surpassed $780, a record.

On Jan. 1, you could have bought a bitcoin for merely $13.50. At Friday afternoon's price of about $730, that bet would have grown about 54-fold.

The bitcoin phenomenon, and the technological innovation that made it possible, is interesting—but for investors large and small, the more pertinent question is whether they should buy the virtual currency or avoid it.

Unlike traditional money, bitcoin exists only online. To create, or "mine," the currency, computers guess solutions to complex math problems and send them to other computers on the bitcoin network. (More on that below.)

As time goes on and more coins are mined, it becomes more difficult to create bitcoins. Right now, about 12 million bitcoins have been found, with about 9 million yet to be discovered.

Once created, bitcoins can be traded on currency exchanges or used as money to purchase goods and services from merchants that accept it.

Its limited supply has made bitcoin attractive to people worried about inflation, while its anonymous nature makes it a favorite among those making illegal transactions.

On Monday and Tuesday, bitcoin's strengths and weaknesses were discussed in Congress, with U.S. Senate committees hearing testimony from federal officials who attempted to explain how bitcoin worked, what its legitimate uses are and why it has been attractive to criminals.

Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke weighed in, writing in a letter to a Senate committee that bitcoin and other virtual currencies "may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure and more efficient payment system."

Yet some economic historians are already comparing bitcoin fever to legendary manias of the past.

Larry Neal, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Illinois, is in the midst of writing a textbook on the history of international finance. He says he's thinking of including a passage on bitcoin and how it embodies investors' struggle for returns.

"Where's the backing that would persuade random strangers to accept this?" says Mr. Neal, who in his book "I Am Not Master of Events" wrote about a currency bubble in 18th-century France that ended with investors losing most of their money.

But on the flip side of the coin are investors such as Raoul Pal, a former hedge-fund manager and founder of the Global Macro Investor, a macroeconomic research service. This month, Mr. Pal issued a research report to his subscribers that concluded with the words: "Trade Recommendation: Buy Bitcoin."

Mr. Pal admits there's a likelihood that bitcoin ends up being worthless. But there's also a chance, he says, that it ends up taking over at least part of gold's traditional role as a store of value.

Other bitcoin proponents believe it could become an integral part of the remittance market, since bitcoins can be sent to relatives abroad with lower fees and less hassle than traditional money-transfer services.

If it replaces some or all of gold's role, given the limited supply of bitcoins relative to that of gold, the potential upside for bitcoin is huge, possibly hundreds of times the current price, Mr. Pal says.

In other words, a small amount of bitcoin is a kind of lottery ticket. It will probably be worth nothing, but if it's worth something, it could be worth a lot.

That gives individual investors two legitimate choices. The safest, and least expensive, route: "Just ignore the whole thing," says Mr. Neal.

But for the more daring: Buy one or a fraction of one, or a handful of bitcoins, with money that's set aside for speculation and can be lost, says Mr. Pal.

Here's a guide to how bitcoin works, how it's performed as a speculation so far and why it might not be a terrible idea to buy a tiny stake.

The Bitcoin Network

An anonymous cryptography expert or group going by the name " Satoshi Nakamoto " released bitcoin on the Internet in 2009.

Unlike traditional currency, which is issued in digital and physical form by governments, bitcoin exists only online and is maintained by a decentralized network of computers, called "miners," which create new bitcoins and verify transactions. Anyone can become a miner using his home computer, though now miners tend to use specialized computing systems that can cost thousands of dollars.

The miners attempt to guess solutions to increasingly difficult math problems, while recording bitcoin transfers in the process, for which they're awarded bitcoins. As more miners enter the network, competition to find solutions also increases, and as more bitcoins are created, the potential payoff falls. The system is designed so that the total number of bitcoins won't exceed 21 million.

Once a bitcoin is created, it can be sent between users using digital addresses and stored in virtual "wallets," which have passwords that guard access to the bitcoins. If the passwords are lost or stolen, the bitcoins are lost forever.

Investors can also purchase bitcoins online through websites such as Slovenia-based Bitstamp.net, San Francisco-based Coinbase.com and Tokyo-based Mt. Gox. In addition, a number of alternative digital currencies have sprung up, with names such as litecoin and peercoin, though none is remotely as popular as bitcoin.

For now, relatively few mainstream merchants—including dating site OkCupid and blogging platform WordPress.com—take bitcoins for goods or services, though the number is growing. Many merchants use services that, for a fee, immediately convert bitcoins into dollars.

Some merchants say they like bitcoin because they don't have to pay hefty credit-card transaction fees. Investors worried about inflation like the fact that the supply of bitcoins can't be manipulated by a central authority. Criminals like that transactions happen anonymously.

Lately, speculators have liked it because, well, bitcoin's price in U.S. dollars has grown exponentially in less than a year.

The whole thing reminds some observers of the tulip-bulb mania that struck the Netherlands in the 1600s.

Reliable data for tulip prices is scarce, but in 1637, a speculator bought a "Semper Augustus" variety of tulip bulb for 5,500 guilders, according to data provided by Peter Garber, a strategist at Deutsche Bank who has studied the period.

At the time, the same amount of money could have bought about 45 oxen, according to Mr. Garber.

In the same way, bitcoins are only worth something as long as other investors or merchants say they are. That's led some to compare bitcoins to gold as a "store of value."

"It's as if there was an effort to create gold that wasn't gold," says Peter Rodriguez, an economist at the University of Virginia. "The longer they persist, the more that people will have faith in them as a legitimate store of value."

Others Are Less Optimistic

With gold, there are also uses in jewelry and industry, says Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University who has researched gold's role in a portfolio.

"Gold's value can be overstated at times, but it has a use," he says. "Bitcoin is nothing like that."

Bitcoin as an Investment

So what does bitcoin look like as an asset class right now, and how should investors treat it?

If it's an asset class, it's an incredibly volatile one.

According to an analysis of bitcoin prices performed for The Wall Street Journal by Mr. Harvey, between late 2010 and Wednesday, bitcoin's return in U.S. dollars had an annualized "standard deviation" of about 139%. That means it was roughly 7½ times as volatile as gold and more than eight times as volatile as the S&P 500.

Since last Friday, when bitcoin cost $411, the price of a bitcoin has fallen as low as $387 and risen as high as $782, according to CoinDesk.com, which averages bitcoin prices across multiple exchanges.

Marie Brière, an associate professor at Université Paris Dauphine in France, calculated that between July 2010 and July 2013, bitcoin had an annualized return of more than 370% with 175% volatility. She found that its returns had a weak but significant correlation with gold and inflation-linked bonds, supporting the notion that some investors see bitcoin as an inflation fighter.

Her paper, which was co-authored by Kim Oosterlinck and Ariane Szafarz of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, concluded that a small allocation to bitcoin—perhaps 3% of a well-diversified portfolio—could improve one's risk-return trade-off.

But that study was conducted when bitcoin was merely four years old, and even Ms. Brière says investors will have to wait and see which, if any, of bitcoin's characteristics persist.

"I'd be very cautious. Is this a bubble or not? That's very hard to determine at this point," she says.

And yet some firms are already trying to make it easier for investors to get involved.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, of Facebook fame, have filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to launch an exchange-traded fund, called the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, that holds bitcoins. In an email from their lawyer, the Winklevosses said they are working with the SEC to finalize the proposal and hope to launch next year.

SecondMarket, a platform for investing in private assets, has already launched a private fund called the Bitcoin Investment Trust, which holds bitcoins. It charges 2% yearly in management fees and is open only to accredited investors, which for a single person means more than $200,000 in income or $1 million in assets, excluding a primary home.

SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert says the trust, which is available in certain self-directed individual retirement accounts, has gathered $36 million in assets as of Thursday.

He says that some family offices have made investments and seem to treat it as a small part of their gold allocation or their "risky alternatives" allocation, which includes investments such as hedge funds.

Bitcoin "has a binary outcome," says Mr. Silbert. "There will either be a total loss of principal or a very, very high return."

What To Do

Bitcoin's all-or-nothing nature probably means that investors shouldn't treat it as they would a normal asset class at all and instead think of it as they would a "tail-risk option"—one that pays off only if an extremely unlikely event occurs, says Mr. Pal, the former hedge-fund manager.

Again, in layman's terms, that essentially means that bitcoin is like a lottery ticket. Taking a tiny risk won't damage a portfolio if bitcoin goes bust, but will have a sizable impact if it takes off.

What could that payoff be? And what's the chance of success?

Unfortunately, there's no way to know either answer. Mr. Pal believes that if investors do tie bitcoin's price to that of gold, one bitcoin could be worth $1 million. He says that even using a "conservative" estimate of $200,000, the price of bitcoin, at under $1,000, seems to factor in only a slight chance of the coins being equated to gold.

Mr. Pal says he thinks the probability is much higher. As a result, he's put a small slice of his portfolio—between 1% and 2%—into the coins.

"There's no basis to be sure what bitcoin's value will be or if it will even have a value," says Lawrence H. White, an economist at George Mason University, adding that he thinks its value is probably more closely tied to its role in the remittance market than as a gold substitute.

Take note: Bitcoins aren't useful as a way to avoid taxes—legally, at least. This summer, the Government Accountability Office said that income earned through virtual currencies is taxable. Some issues remain to be clarified, such as whether gains should be taxed in the same way as those from commodities or a collectibles.

There are many places where an investor can buy a bitcoin—or even a fraction of one, including Bitstamp and Coinbase. The minimum purchase at Coinbase is 10 cents.

Investors should think of bitcoins as a long-term speculation rather than a short-term trade or a long-term investment, says Mr. Pal. If you decide to take the risk, you shouldn't base your buying and selling on the gyrations of the market or invest more than the tiniest fraction of a portfolio that can be completely lost.

As bitcoin mania unfolds, the currency might turn out to be merely a speculative bubble that bursts as investors lose interest, akin to tulips in the 1600s. But by risking very little, at the very least, an investor might be part of a story that's still told nearly 400 years later.

Bitcoin Black Friday

Bitcoin Black Friday On November 29, Bitcoin takes holiday shopping by storm, with the best deals for Bitcoin users, and easy ways to buy all your presents and give to charity with the new, world-changing digital cash!

BitGive Foundation Partners with Bitcoin Black Friday

What do most Americans and for that matter, individuals around the world do the day after Thanksgiving? SHOP. Well, this year, The BitGive Foundation is partnering with Bitcoin Black Friday to provide you an opportunity to give back  through a donation drive. Bitcoin Magazine encourages you to look into giving back with the best way to give: through Bitcoin!

BitGive Issued The Following Press Release:


A Charitable Giving Organization of the Bitcoin Community

(Sacramento, CA – November 22, 2013) – The BitGive Foundation is partnering with Bitcoin Black Friday to promote charitable giving through a donation drive as part of a Bitcoin alternative to Black Friday.

The BitGive Foundation is collecting donations around the clock in Bitcoin, but on November 29th, 2013 (Bitcoin Black Friday) all donations received by BitGive will be sent to Save the Children for their Typhoon Haiyan Children’s Relief Fund. BitGive has also worked to involve other charities in the Bitcoin Black Friday event. The Foundation’s hope is that as people are drawn to alternatives to the traditional Black Friday commercial frenzy, turning to online deals and Bitcoin transactions, that they will also be reminded of the Season of Giving and donate to charities doing good work around the world.

Madeline Finch, Board Member and Secretary of the Foundation says, “We are excited to be a part of Bitcoin Black Friday and to bring a charitable aspect to this already alternative event. And Save the Children and their relief efforts in the Philippines is exactly where we want to see our donation drive make a big difference.”

To share their vision and continue to educate audiences about Bitcoin, Connie Gallippi, Founder and Executive Director of BitGive, will be presenting on the “Positive Social Impact of Bitcoin” alongside Elizabeth Ploshay of the Bitcoin Foundation Board at the upcoming Latin American Bitcoin Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 7-8, 2013.

The BitGive Foundation, launched earlier this year, is a charitable giving organization of the Bitcoin community, whose mission is to provide gifts to environmental and public health causes worldwide. BitGive has received several significant donations from Bitcoin mining companies KnCMiner and Butterfly Labs, as well as in-kind donations and services from Perkins Coie, LLP and BitPay, Inc., who also processes Bitcoin donations to charities at no cost.

More donations in Bitcoin have come in through the easy two-step donation process on their website. The Foundation has a multi-million dollar long-term goal for global giving and is confident that the Bitcoin community can support that bold vision.

About The Day

Bitcoin Black Friday is a holiday shopping extravaganza just for Bitcoin users. On November 29th, hundreds of merchants selling everything from web hosting to organic beer will offer special deals to anyone paying in Bitcoin. Interested? Sign up!

Who We Are

Last year, Jon Holmquist founded "Bitcoin Friday", a celebration of Bitcoin with special deals for Bitcoin users. This year will be bigger than ever, with help from Internet freedom activists Fight for the Future and a solid circle of Bitcoin believers.

Virtual Currency Meets Healthcare as Polish Dentist Accepts Bitcoin

Bitcoins can buy you everything from lunch and international flights to alleged hits on other human beings, if you’re that way inclined.

Now, in Poland, they can also be used for healthcare.

A dentist in Kielce in central Poland is offering a 10% discount for customers who pay with bitcoin. Profident, which also makes dental equipment, says it is Poland’s and possibly Europe’s first dental clinic to accept bitcoin payments.

As with other bitcoin-accepting businesses in other parts of the world, the company cited bank transaction fees as a reason to move towards bitcoin payments.

“I have 60% of payments via debit or credit cards, and it is growing. In my country fees are very high, around 2% of transaction value. Because of this fact I lose lot of money. Bitcoin will change this situation,” said Profident’s Tomasz Zbożeń.

A string of Polish organisations have begun to embrace bitcoin, including social media agencies, web design companies and a free market think-tank. The government is yet to issue coherent guidance on the use of bitcoin, but a policy document released in July said bitcoin is not currency under Polish Law.

Just this week, Polish bitcoin exchange Bidextreme.pl was compromised, with hackers emptying the bitcoin and litecoin wallets of the exchange’s users. The amount stolen has not yet been made public.

Healthcare is one area that is yet to have been properly penetrated by bitcoin, but a few people around the world have had a crack at combining bitcoin with online healthcare.


The Virtual Doctor Project, which uses teleconferencing to connect doctors with patients in remote areas of Africa, is one, while a 2012 bitcointalk.org thread named ‘Medical Consult for Bitcoins’ is another, perhaps on the other end of the credibility spectrum from the Virtual Doctor Project.

However, not everyone’s impressed. A more recent example, CoinMD, was called “the absolute worst place on Earth to spend your bitcoins” by Wired.com.

Profident began accepting bitcoins on 18th November and do not use a payments service, instead operating their own wallet directly. Zbożeń says he isn’t fazed by the technology and would only consider using a payment company if a lot of customers start paying with bitcoin.

“Outside of the dental business, I mine bitcoins and keep them as an investment diversification. I use BTC also for payments (but I prefer to save and keep bitcoins rather than to spend them),” he said. “[So] I don’t consider bitcoin payments a hassle.”

So far, the dentist hasn’t had any patients paying with bitcoin, but Zbożeń is confident about the rising popularity of bitcoin in Poland.

“Right now, [accepting bitcoin payments] is more a marketing issue, but I believe that cryptocurrency will get much more popular in next decade,” he says. “The growth [in Poland] is exponential.”

 Does Canada View Bitcoin as Currency?

Does Canada consider bitcoin to be a real sovereign “currency” or simply a commodity? This question is particularly relevant given various bitcoin related news stories that have involved Canadian companies in recent weeks.

First, as most have no doubt heard, there is at least one bitcoin ATM operating in a Vancouver coffee shop, and according to a Vancouver Sun article dated 9th November, $100,000 of Canadian currency was traded through the machine in a single week.

Bitcoiniacs, the operators of the ATM, have publicly stated that several other Canadian cities can expect to host to similar types of bitcoin ATMs in the coming months.

Alix Resources Corp a Canadian mining company, also confirmed that it will be paying the accounts of at least one of its contractors, Ridge Resources Ltd, in bitcoin.

I would imagine the question of whether the Canadian government considers bitcoin to be a currency or commodity has at least touched the corporate minds of Bitcoiniacs, Alix Resources and Ridge Resources and the minds of their legal and tax advisors.

The Canadian government has finally come out with some official guidance on bitcoin.

According to a fact sheet published in early November 2013 by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Canada’s equivalent to the IRS in the United States and the HMRC in the UK , bitcoin is referred to as “virtual money” and an example of “digital currency”.

However, in the same paper the CRA distinguished bitcoin from “traditional currency” and so we can infer that at least one branch of the Canadian government does not view bitcoin as currency in the traditional sense but instead views it as a barter good and should be taxed as such.

A Competitor

In a piece entitled Working Paper 2013-38 – Some Economics of Private Digital Currency published in mid-November, which does not appear to be targeted at a general audience, given the reference to numerous complex math derivative-type equations which don’t even relate to bitcoin, the Bank of Canada proclaimed that bitcoin is a “fully convertible, pure digital currency [that] is explicitly designed to compete with state currencies”.

I would disagree with the latter statement that bitcoin is designed to compete with state currencies; while bitcoin is disruptive, I would not categorize it as deliberately competitive.

Rather, I see statements such as these to be further evidence that certain governments view bitcoin as a form of barter good as opposed to legitimate form of currency.

Is this a good thing? In my view it may not demonstrate to the world that Canada is being as progressive towards bitcoin as some other countries have been.

In the writer’s respectful opinion, the Canadian publications referenced above unfortunately do not give Canadian companies, or the general public for that matter, any guidance on Canada’s position on bitcoin, legal or otherwise (except for the friendly reminder from the CRA that our bitcoins will be taxed).

It would be beneficial for Canadian businesses and the general public to get some kind of readable, clear and ‘user friendly’ direction from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), Canada’s bitcoin ‘police force’ as to their official position on bitcoin.

I assume that FINTRAC is monitoring the situation surrounding bitcoin closely and the lack, as of the date of this publication, of the production of a broad based public statement could mean two things:

(1) that FINTRAC is “taking in” all of the recent developments in bitcoin and are thoughtfully considering both the good and the bad; and

(2) that FINTAC will ultimately come out with a reasoned, well thought out approach (similar to the position Germany has taken, for example) rather than a issue a ‘knee jerk’ response. Time will only tell.

194,993 BTC Transaction Worth $147m Sparks Mystery And Speculation

Bitcoin internet hangouts were buzzing today after noticing someone had shifted 194,993 BTC (over $147m on CoinDesk’s BPI) in one transaction.

The transaction, tagged “Shit Load of Money!” by its mystery originator*, appeared on Blockchain.info early in the evening of 22nd November. It is one of the largest transactions in bitcoin’s history, by far the largest under bitcoin’s recent high prices, and represents 1.6% of all bitcoins now in circulation. (*Correction: as pointed out in the comments below, the tag was attached to the receiving address and not by the originator.)

Bitcoin’s distributed nature ensures all transactions are visible on the public record, though users are identified only by 30+ character addresses (and any tags they choose to add). If the address is not already known and the user does not identify themselves in an obvious way, they remain anonymous without analysis or detective work.

Unsurprisingly, a transaction of that size has prompted the bitcoin community to do some analysis and detective work. The transaction involved a large number of sending addresses, with some of them from blocks mined in February 2010 or even earlier, prompting excited speculation they might be from Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s absent (and likely pseudonymous) founder.

Or was it Richard Branson, who caused his own digital currency frenzy today by announcing his company Virgin Galactic would accept payment in bitcoin?

Satoshi Nakamoto is unlikely to reveal him/herself in such an ostentatious manner, and early coins may have changed hands several times. More possibly the lucky owner is a miner from bitcoin’s early days, or a business moving the amount to a more secure form of physical storage. The Washington Post’s detective work, done by a researcher into how much blockchain information may reveal about users, speculated the transaction might be exchange Bitstamp moving its own funds between addresses.

While 194,993 BTC was moved, it’s important to note it has not been exchanged for any fiat currency… that we know of. ‘Dumping’ such a large amount at once would probably have a negative impact on bitcoin’s value.

On the bitcointalk forums, some users were less interested in the owners’ identity and more impressed by the infrastructure that allowed such an amount to be transferred without any regulatory hindrance, lawyers, or fees (the user paid no transaction fee at all). Even handing over that amount in hard cash would be a logistical challenge.

“Beautiful, so effortless to move so much money… I’m sometimes involved with very large cross-border transactions and the logistics of making payments of this size are, more often that not, a complete PITA, with timezones and banking hours getting in the way,” wrote user runam0k.

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