Bitcoin may have reached a tipping point, if ‘Downtown’ Josh Brown just invested
Early adopter he isn’t. So, when prominent financial blogger “Downtown” Josh Brown announces that he has made an entree into the realm of digital currencies, it may be worth taking notice.
On Wednesday, Brown, a regular contributor on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” and chief executive of New York investment advisory firm Ritholtz Wealth Management, said via Twitter that he made an investment in bitcoin BTCUSD, +2.81% (and he told MarketWatch he’s also looking into bitcoin rival Ethereum too):
I bought my first Bitcoin https://t.co/QION1crgW5
— Downtown Josh Brown (@ReformedBroker) July 18, 2017
Brown’s purchase is part FOMO, fear of missing out, and a recognition that the recent ascent (and subsequent stumble) of so-called cryptocurrencies demand Wall Street’s attention, and should’t be summarily dismissed as newfangled, buzzy, millennial-driven hokum.
“I don’t think crypto is something you can understand fully by reading a book, so I’m getting my hands in. If it turns out to be a bust, I will probably still come away with something valuable.”
Here’s how Brown described his investment to MarketWatch:
“I would add that I view it is as my responsibility as a money manager to try to understand trends that are happening and how they may someday affect markets and the economy. I don’t think crypto is something you can understand fully by reading a book, so I’m getting my hands in. If it turns out to be a bust, I will probably still come away with something valuable.”
Brown’s bitcoin dalliance comes as digital currencies broadly are drawing a wave of mainstream attention from average Janes and Joshes to heavy hitters like Abigail Johnson, the chief executive officer of Fidelity Investments. Johnson told attendees at a digital-currency and blockchain (the digital ledger underpinning most cryptocurrencies) conference in New York in May that “huge new markets and products will be built on these platforms.” She said the big barrier to more rampant adoption is better regulation.
The compelling aspect of bitcoin and other so-called decentralized money systems is that they threaten to knock fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar DXY, +0.07%BUXX, +0.08% the euro EURUSD, +0.0347% and the British pound,GBPUSD, -0.0768% for example, on their rear.
One bull argument for cryptos is that central bankers around the world have been printing money at an unprecedented clip to support global economies rocked in the aftermath of the 2008-’09 financial crisis, with fears of asset values inflated from this central-bank policy helping in part to lift currencies like bitcoin higher. Also, because bitcoin and the blockchain ledger, which can computerize and record individual transactions without an intermediary, threaten to disrupt financial markets in the same way the internet upended media and communications and every other industry.
A number of others heavyweights have thrown money at digital currencies, including former Legg Mason Capital Management investor Bill Miller, who told Forbes in a recent interview that he invested 1% of his net worth in bitcoin in 2014. Assuming that Miller bought at the beginning of 2014 when a single bitcoin was worth $770.44, bitcoin has rallied more than 200% to $2,345 as of late-morning Wednesday, according to popular digital-currency site Coindesk.com. And had Miller invested even earlier his gains would be truly winning, with a $1,000 invested in 2010 reaping more than $35 million today (not adjusting for inflation).
The digital currency Ether, which runs on the Ethereum network and wasn’t even around two years ago, has climbed more than 2,800%. (It is worth noting that bitcoin has been around for less than a decade).
By comparison, the broad-market equity benchmark S&P 500 index SPX, +0.54% has climbed 18.72% on a total return basis since the start of 2014, and nearly 100% over the past five years, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.31% has rallied 13.11% since 2014 and 46.5% in the past five years, according to FactSet data.
Digital currencies more broadly , however, have come off their best levels over the past month, following the brisk run-up, which had been supported by the aforementioned Wall Street enthusiasm and hints that non-fiat based currencies would receive the imprimatur of regulators to trade as the underpinning for exchange-traded products.
Some of the bullish bets on the outlook for bitcoin seem absurd on their face. John McAfee, the outspoken founder of the namesake antivirus software company, is betting that single bitcoin will be worth $500,000 in about three years.
To be sure, there is a palpable degree of mania around cybercurrencies. And caution is merited for those who have forgotten the debacle that was Mt. Gox.
Mt. Gox, which at one point handled more than 80% of bitcoin transactions, ceased operating suddenly back in 2014, due to a massive hack. Many individual investors complained that hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost or stranded. In the end, the losses tied to that security breach have been pegged at nearly a half-billion dollars.
Meanwhile, another digital-currency trend is raising eyebrows: so-called initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The term used to describe crowdfunding for blockchain-related startups using new digital currencies rather than existing cryptos, has been described as a “ticking time bomb” by one the founders of Ethereum, Charles Hoskinson in an interview with Bloomberg.
For Brown’s part, digital currencies are worth a look. And it is perhaps the approach average investors should take.
“I think at this stage in the game, it is important to be open-minded and not afraid to lose money or look foolish. I’ve invested into way dumber things in my life. And as far as what the future holds—if the disruption hippies turn out to be right, and the 21 million BTC that will eventually be the limit are out there in public hands, it is hard to imagine them not appreciating in price.” he said.