A Bit Expensive
Bitcoin’s record price looks like a bubble
NOT MANY fund-managers have heard of Bitcoin, let alone put any of their clients’ money in it. But over the past few months, the world’s first “crypto-currency” has become one of the world’s hottest investments. Since September, when The Economist last wrote about it, the price of a unit of Bitcoin as recorded by Mt Gox, a popular Bitcoin exchange, has soared. Unlike other online currencies—such as the new Amazon Coins—the supply of Bitcoin is not determined by any central issuing authority. Instead, new coins are generated according to a predetermined formula by thousands of computers solving complex mathematical problems. As more coins are generated, these problems get ever more complex, increasing the cost of computing power necessary to generate them, and so setting a floor underneath the price. Mimicking gold, the currency is designed to be deflationary. However, there is every reason to think that the current Bitcoin boom will shortly bust. As the chart shows, online interest in the currency has spiked in recent months. Though an increasing number of legitimate businesses are adopting the currency—one Finnish software developer has offered to pay its employees in Bitcoin—it still has relatively few users. Its primary commercial use is probably to buy drugs from Silk Road, a sort of pirate eBay hidden in the “deep web”. This suggests that the new users are buying Bitcoin as an investment, not as a means of exchange. For any currency to thrive it needs users, not just speculators.