To date, there are more than 1,500 cryptocurrencies with a market value of more than $750 billion and counting, according to CoinMarketCap. Despite this, many wealth managers caution against investing in Bitcoin or any of its ilk.
These concerns center on the fact that although there may be a finite number of Bitcoins in circulation — set by an algorithm that measures how economical it is to “mine” the cryptocurrency (the cost of electricity and computing power) — the number of other cryptocurrencies seems infinite.
The veracity of some cryptocurrencies is mocked by Dogecoin (pronounced “doggie coin”), a cryptocurrency based on the parody of an Internet meme. It broke $2 billion in market value in early January, and its creators, who have said they haven’t updated the software in two years, show this is an example of irrational investing.
Many cryptocurrencies have gained market value largely because they are cheaper than Bitcoin. For example, on Jan. 8, 2018, one leaderboard showed Bitcoin (BTC) priced at $14,179 with 104,639 shares traded. Ethereum (ETH) was priced at $1,001 with a volume of 1.2 million, and Ripple (XRP) was priced at $2 with a volume of 281.4 million. Tron (TRX) was priced at 13 cents and had a volume of 1.8 billion. It’s apparent that traders are moving to cheaper cryptocurrencies in hopes they have a Bitcoin-like price surge.
But how do cryptocurrencies differ? Most are general tokens like Bitcoin, which was launched around 2009 on the hope that it would become a global currency. Many, though, are based on different “ecosystems” or underlying technologies. Several large global banks reportedly are testing Ripple’s blockchain technology — a digital payment system, remittance network and currency exchange. While payment confirmation using Bitcoin now takes 10 minutes, Ripple aims to take just seconds, according to some sources.
Some cryptocurrencies are more attractive to the dark web set. Monero (which was priced at $358 and had a volume of 306,551 in early January) encrypts the recipient’s address (which in Bitcoin is recorded by blockchain) and generates a fake address to obscure the real sender, as well as the amount of the transaction, a Bloomberg news report explained. Another token that encrypts addresses is Zcash. While encryption is attractive to criminals, it is growing in importance for many legitimate businesses as well.
Several cryptocurrencies are tokens designed for specific reasons. For example, some gaming companies have their own cryptocurrencies in which users can buy or sell applications for games, such as more ammunition, more gold bars, etc.
Further, it’s not unusual for companies to utilize their own cryptocurrency beyond gaming. Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne — who has been an advocate of the blockchain technology for years and whose company accepts Bitcoin — launched its own blockchain-based initial coin offering trading platform, tZERO, in December 2017 and raised $100 million in its first few days of trading.
The company hopes to raise $250 million, and Byrne has said he is interested in selling off the retail company, focusing on the blockchain side of the business and developing tZERO as an alternative security lending exchange.
Initial coin offerings are being looked at closely by Wall Street and elsewhere as a new way to raise money. ICOs and token sales have “huge implications for investment and capital formation, for democratizing access of retail investors to new and innovative businesses, and opportunities to incentivize and monetize ideas at an early stage of development, through funding of so-called “utility tokens,” Jeff Bandman, a former acting director of the Clearing & Risk Division of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now head of Bandman Advisors, told HuffPost earlier this year.
More than 235 ICOs raised $3.7 billion in 2017, according to the Coinschedule.com.
Time will tell how many of these cryptocurrencies survive. One thing is sure: Blockchain technology is changing how business works.
“What you’re seeing is a whole series of other cryptocurrencies being created that have different characteristics to them,” explained Foliofn CEO Steve Wallman. “Some are intended to be more scalable, lighter weight, can do particular things and therefore can do more processing of transactions.”