Bitcoins – not yet a new safe haven

Not just the business press, but also several major financial institutions are currently supporting the hypothesis that Bitcoins will soon emerge as a new safe haven or have already achieved such a status. These speculations were prompted by events in Zimbabwe and Venezuela that led to local investors and even savers piling into the cryptocurrency. Yet even if this indisputably happened, Bitcoins are by no means therefore to be considered a safe haven. The latter, and it also goes by the name of a hard currency, is by definition “a currency with an exchange rate that is stable or rises against other currencies in the medium and long term; hard currencies typically are also characterised by low inflation, and by full convertibility and fungibility (easy comparability and exchangeability).” Hardly any of that applies to Bitcoins: Their exchange rate has not been stable either in the medium or long term, neither has it been stably on the rise. Inflation may indeed not be a problem (to date), but the same can hardly be said about convertibility and fungibility. Bitcoins are characterised above all by their extremely high volatility – a clear knock-out criterion for safe havens. Bitcoins are most certainly interesting, as the high volatility has to date gone hand in hand with extremely high yields. The risk-adjusted return last year amounted to 4.0% – by comparison, an index consisting of emerging market currencies achieved “only” 2.8%. The cryptocurrency is no doubt interesting for investors willing to take risks and able to ride out the extreme volatility to which Bitcoins are susceptible. However, for all other investors Bitcoins remain extremely risky. And this is certainly also the case for savers in Zimbabwe or Venezuela. Because however tempting an investment in Bitcoins may seem given their desperate situation, with a fluctuation band of +75% to -20% per month, this investment also entails massive risks.

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