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Cryptocurrencies, led by Bitcoin, are this year's hot ticket. Should investors get in on the act or run for the hills?
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1. Faster than Western Union: As analysts note, Skype calls happen in real-time, but transferring money, essentially a series of ones and zeros, traditionally costs five percent and takes days. Using Blockchain, an instantaneous digital ledger, Bitcoin, created in 2010, requires hardly any intermediaries, meaning transfers cost less and are instant, which is why it is disrupting the currency market
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2. Cryptoconfusion: Bitcoin was created as a currency, like the dollar, with its value based on ease of transaction regardless of location or medium. However, scarcity of Bitcoin – only 21m coins is all there will ever be – has led to it being seen as a store of value, similar to an asset class like gold. Its surge in value begs the question: how will it retain its promise of being a transactional good?
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3. Bubble prone: Bitcoin might be the world’s most volatile asset/currency. It achieved dollar parity in 2011, rose to $1,200 in 2013, then lost half its value in six hours, plunging below $200, and has registered at least three bubbles in its seven year history. Still, a $100 investment in 2010 is worth $28.3m today, with a current value of almost $18,000 per coin
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4. Alternatives abound: Bitcoin is the posterchild of cryptocurrencies, but makes for roughly two-thirds of a market worth half a trillion dollars. Newer alternatives include Ethereum and Litecoin, which have registered even bigger rallies this year, surging over 8,000 and 6,000 percent. Ripple, designed for banks and global money transfers, saw its market cap double last week to $18.1bn
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5. Future beckons: Warren Buffet warns against Bitcoin. JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon calls it a “fraud”. But Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Wamda CEO Fadi Ghandour (pictured) say it works. Consensus is hard to find but a new futures market should help, by letting investors decide whether Bitcoin will go up or down. Futures placed so far show a slowing pace of growth, but few are willing to bet big against it. Yet.