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Bitcoin – The Ultimate Multiplayer Game?

By:

Chief Strategist at Interactive Brokers

Cryptocurrencies are in the news this morning, as many investors woke up to see Bitcoin plunging by over 20% since last Friday.  Actually, it would have only been news to those who watch cryptocurrencies during normal business hours, as the plunge began in earnest over the weekend.  And when I say “over the weekend”, I don’t mean Asian trading hours that begin on Sunday evening, I actually mean Sunday morning Eastern time.  Yes, for those of you who were previously unaware, Bitcoin trades 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.  Like a major casino, the Bitcoin market never closes.

It is just one of many ways that gambling, video gaming and trading have all become commingled.  We have often noted that many of the newest crop of investors were sports gamblers frustrated by the lack of opportunities during the lockdowns.  Markets gave them a nearly infinite supply of daily action, with technology stocks attracting the bulk of new money.  Then, many new traders discovered that options offered them a generally similar payoff to gambling but with much lower transaction costs.  Like a sports or casino wager, an options buyer risks an initial premium with the hope of receiving a multiple of that premium in return.  Traders became enamored with options — particularly short-term, out-of-the-money calls with the highest decay – pushing volumes and open interest to new records.  Although there is the greatest opportunity for action in stock and options markets, unlike casinos they have defined opening and closing times.

While online gambling may fill that void, it is only available in certain jurisdictions.  Besides, even though many investors approach the two activities the same way, gambling sounds so much more unseemly than investing.  That is where Bitcoin comes in. 

Bitcoin is an investment, despite its quirks and gut-wrenchingly high volatility, but it shares many key similarities with multiplayer video gaming.  It exists only in a virtual world, accessed only through an app or similar portal, and available during whichever hours the player/investor chooses.  Most importantly, I believe that a significant number of young Bitcoin investors spent some portion of their youth playing multiplayer online games that require in-game currency.  Think of the parallels between the “gold farming” industry that sprung up in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with the Bitcoin mining industry that exists today.  While Bitcoin mining is more sophisticated and less labor intensive than video game gold farming, in-game currencies often had real world values.  That made them analogous to today’s cryptocurrencies.  Either can be described as virtual currencies that could be utilized for real world purchases.  While this may be a new revelation to a (ahem) mature non-gamer, I can’t believe this similarity would be lost on the new generation of new cryptocurrency fans.

Today must be a sobering day for many Bitcoin fans.  A nearly 30% drop must be gut-wrenching, especially for those who have been sharing stories about their recent riches on social media.  As I wrote last week about Bitcoin and Tesla (TSLA), “Parabolic moves usually come to a nasty, unpredictable end.  But timing that result is nearly impossible, and the catalyst is often something trivial.”  Many experienced investors felt that there was a modicum of unsustainable euphoria in Bitcoin’s recent run, and the reason for today’s drop is murky at best.  That phrase fit uncannily.

Having said all this, there is still plenty of euphoria still present in today’s market.  While TSLA is down about 5% today, that is a small dip in light of its recent record 11 day upward streak.  TSLA’s chairman, Elon Musk, one of the most evangelical figures in investing, recently told his followers to use Signal for messaging, causing the unrelated Signal Advance (SIGL) to shoot from $0.60 on Wednesday to over $70 today (it is now about $29.50).  Read that again – it’s an unrelated stock with a similar name.  So, there is no shortage of speculative opportunities available to those who are willing to abandon conventional risk metrics, even with the jaw-dropping fall in Bitcoin.   I urge you never to abandon risk metrics though.

Disclosure: Interactive Brokers

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