“Should we buy some bitcoin?”
Those five words from my wife in April sparked one of the wackiest financial rollercoaster rides of my life.
I’d been writing about investing for more than two decades and interviewed many financial specialists who warned bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were a silly fad. But now I was considering buying some.
Back in 2017 when bitcoin’s price jumped from $1000 to $25,000 I was part of the anti-crypto crowd, and felt vindicated when it lost more than 80 per cent of its value during 2018.
Bitcoin boomed again between March 2020 and April 2021, rising from $8300 to $83,000. It attracted growing interest from global investment fund managers and was supported by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the world’s third-richest person.
Bitcoin is by far the biggest cryptocurrency, but hundreds now exist and many enjoyed steeper climbs.
Number two crypto Ethereum went from $200 to $5300 in the same 13-month period. Dogecoin – which started as a joke meme and seemed to be a pet project of Mr Musk before he called it “a hustle” on US television last month – surged from one-fifth of a cent to 83c.
Faithful followers believe cryptocurrencies are the future of money because they enable transactions without any government’s involvement. However, their use as a currency remains small and the huge surge reflected investors seeing it as an alternative asset class and perhaps suffering from fear of missing out (FOMO).
WHY I INVESTED
For me, it was less about FOMO and more about the “I told you so” I worried about getting if it doubled or trebled again and I’d ignored my wife’s crypto query.
Also, it’s good to invest in things I write about to help understand the process, and a fun experiment to see how far global greed and FOMO could take it.
Crypto is created on computers and does not produce income, goods or services like traditional assets.
I knew that well over a million Aussies had bought crypto, and millions more globally, but that left even greater numbers who hadn’t yet and some would suffer FOMO.
My plan was simple: Invest only what I was prepared to lose, sell the original $3500 once it doubled, and then enjoy the ride.
I expected sharp drops – wise cryptocurrency minds say bitcoin moves in four-year cycles with 80 per cent falls during its “bitcoin winters”. I knew winter was coming, but would it be this year or next year, and how much further would it climb first?
WHAT I BOUGHT
Following a traditional investment rule to diversify, and deciding that $3500 was an amount I was OK to lose, I bought eight different digital currencies through Australia’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinspot. The sign-up process took me half an hour.
First, $1000 went into bitcoin, $1000 into Ethereum and $1000 into dogecoin.
Then, after an email from a reader berating traditional news media for not giving crypto enough attention, I followed his suggestion to “put $100 on each and thank me later” on five small cryptocurrencies I’d never heard about: Chiliz, Theta, Verasity, VeChain Thor and Zilliqa.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
The rollercoaster fired up. Within three weeks my $3500 had surged to $5000. Wow, that was easy money. But then that $5000 plunged to $2500.
Ethereum and dogecoin both almost doubled, then dropped. Bitcoin has lost about 40 per cent, and the five small investments have effectively halved.
Late last week the portfolio was climbing back towards my original starting price, before more volatility struck.
My grand crypto plan would have worked wonderfully well if only I’d started a month earlier. In March, dogecoin alone would have cost me 7c rather than 42c and turned my $1000 into more than $5000. However, it’s pointless dwelling on the past.
I’m glad I stuck with a small investment. Many other crypto owners have lost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past month.
I’ve also discovered my investment timing is pretty crappy, but plan to hold onto my crypto – even if it takes another five years to boom again.
And I’ve found it’s fun to dabble beyond traditional investments of property, shares and superannuation.
I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid cryptocurrencies – that’s just asking for potential abuse.
But only risk what you can afford to lose.
And expect a stomach-churning rollercoaster ride.
WHAT IS IT?
Cryptocurrency is digital money that has no physical form and uses a technology called blockchain, which stores an encrypted ledger of transactions without a central authority such as a government.
HOW MANY ARE THERE?
It’s estimated there are now more than 4500 different cryptocurrencies, up from 66 in 2013. Bitcoin is the biggest and its market value eclipsed $1 trillion before its recent fall.
WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Bitcoin was originally outlined in 2008 as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system that bypasses banks and governments. Acceptance by businesses as a currency has been slow but it has boomed as a speculative investment – often labelled a digital alternative to gold.
CAN I SPEND IT AT THE SUPERMARKET?
Not yet. Some bars, cafes and other businesses accept payment for goods and services in cryptocurrency, but big retailers currently don’t. However, Mastercard and PayPal are starting to accept crypto. Coinmap.org has an interactive map showing cryptocurrency dealers and merchants.
HOW DO YOU BUY IT?
One bitcoin costs tens of thousands of dollars, but Australians can buy fractions of it – and many other cryptocurrencies – using online exchanges including Coinspot, Binance Australia, Cointree and Independent Reserve.
They claim it takes five minutes to establish an account. Good exchanges take online security seriously and recommend two-factor authentication.
CAN I CONVERT CRYPTO BACK TO CASH?
Yes, using the cryptocurrency exchanges you can sell back into Australian dollars then transfer the money to your traditional bank account. Check the fees.
WHY IS CRYPTO SO VOLATILE?
One word: speculation. It has captured the imagination of the online community and a growing number of older, traditional investors too.
Critics say crypto’s volatility makes it hard to use as a stable currency, while central banks around the world are considering creating their own digital currencies.
ELON MUSK’S ROLE
The world’s most famous billionaire is busy building electric cars and solar systems, and sending astronauts into space, but still finds time to stoke the crypto craze.
His tweets have sent digital currencies surging and slumping, and his description of cryptocurrency dogecoin as “a hustle” on US TV last month send its price plunging 30 per cent.
INVESTOR TAKES A LONG-TERM VIEW
Tania Nohra, 40 started investing in bitcoin before its first huge surge in 2017.
She held onto it during its 2018 collapse, and since then has built a cryptocurrency portfolio comprising about 40 different digital currencies.
Ms Nohra benefited from the bitcoin boom in 2020 and early 2021, and has no plans to sell amid the latest bout of weakness, despite her crypto assets dropping thousands of dollars in recent weeks.
“I don’t stress too much about it because it’s happened multiple times,” she said of the latest fall.
“I prefer to hold on and see where it goes in a few years – for me it’s a long-term thing,” she said.
Ms Nohra said bitcoin moved in four-year cycles and she believed the next big rise was due in 2024.
The value of her crypto assets has halved since April, but she doesn’t see it as losing money.
“Never say lost – you only lose when you convert it to Australian dollars, you only lose when you sell,” Ms Nohra said.