Bitcoin – The Bull that refuses to back into its cage

Bitcoin is now trading above the ceiling predicted to be its cap – it is the bull that remains uncontrollably volatile but unashamedly confident.

bitcoin-2643159__340  In a previous post, I explored how Bitcoin worked and explained the functionality of the centralized ledger. This week I have a new question. Why do people have faith in a currency that has no tangible resource backing it? Traditional currencies use gold, what does Bitcoin have? Hope? I will supply two reasons I find particularly compelling that may explain sudden interest for Bitcoin, however bear in mind that there a multitude of factors, and there is no monocausal reason for the sudden growth of Bitcoin.

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Firstly, financial commentators have commented on the magnitude of growth Bitcoin would experience if it were to be backed by a finite resource like gold. Bitcoin is a currency that has no tangible resource dictating its value. Its value is based precisely in what people think it is worth (or will be worth). Currently, Bitcoin is not backed by gold, or any other finite resource, but what if it were?

Standpoint Research’s Ronnie Moas reported that there is $200 T tied to cash, stocks and bonds. He stated:

“I am not excited about putting my money into any of those – If 1% of that $200 trillion finds its way into crypto in the next 10 years, you will be looking at a 2 trillion-dollar valuation – 10 times what it is today”

A theme common with cryptocurrencies. People are investing on the whim that it “could be” massive.

Secondly, trading Bitcoin may become safer – and hence attract attention from more conservative hedge fund managers. The more investors, the more Bitcoin will grow. Last week, the world’s largest exchange operator by market value (CME Group) has announced it is readying plans to offer futures on Bitcoin.

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This will give momentum to cryptocurrencies’ move away from the fringes of finance. But more importantly, the Chicago–based trading venue said it intended to add Bitcoin to its stable of futures on interest rates, stock indices, commodities, and currencies by the end of the year.

If hedge fund managers can long and short different prices, they can hedge against volatility. Currently, Bitcoin does not allow this. If it were to, which the CME have suggested, then Bitcoin becomes more attractive to less risky investors – once again increasing the amount of investment, and the “normativity” of the currency.

These two points share something. Both signpost to us that Bitcoin is doing well because people think it will do even better in the future. The potentiality for the currency is very high. And, although now there is little tangibility to Bitcoin besides hope and (somewhat) empty prediction, it seems that in the near future Bitcoin could become a global phenomenon.

Does the currency of the future have a future?

Bitcoin’s success has been remarkable. Its most important characteristic, and what makes it different from money (USD or GBP for example), is that it is decentralized. No single institution controls the Bitcoin network. This puts some people at ease – as it means banks and government have no control over their money. Bitcoin is the Rocky Balboa of economics. During the start-up, one Bitcoin was valued around $35; now, it soars anywhere between $5000 to $6000 dollars. This being said, Bitcoin is incredibly volatile. Prices rise and dip considerably month to month, and sometimes day to day. In this week’s article, we will take a look at how bitcoin works, and see what experts predict of its future prosperity. Let’s see if Bitcoin can go the distance.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency monitored by a ledger. The ledger is available to be downloaded by anyone, and with it, you can see every account and every transaction ever made. If I want to buy a sofa from you and pay you 0.5 bitcoins, then the coins will go from my e-wallet to your e-wallet and this will be marked onto the ledger. This is available for everyone to see. Simple.

Although all records of transaction are in the public domain, each user remains anonymous. Transactions and accounts (E-wallets) are tracked by a number, and not a name. It would be impossible to trace an account to a person using the ledger alone. Although anyone can check the ledger, they cannot use it to link a transaction to an individual. But this anonymity comes at a price.

As all accounts on the ledger are mathematically coded, the ledger needs constant work to be kept up to date with pending transactions. When you pass money to someone, it creates a key which creates an e-signature from your personal wallet code and the recipients’. This mathematical key is unique and cannot be replicated.

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When you make a sale, everyone in the world’s ledger is updated with this new transaction, and everyone can match this transaction against the ledger. This keep Bitcoin secure.

Mathematicians will link pending transactions to past transactions, this way, everyone’s ledger agrees. Coincidentally, this is how Bitcoins are distributed to people. Someone links a transaction onto past transactions and is paid in Bitcoins. This allows for Bitcoin to be self-sufficient, and have no centralized authority, like the federal reserve to the dollar. This process is called data mining. In turn, no one can print money and Bitcoin is distributed by the system for updating the ledger. Bitcoin is safeguard by everyone, for everyone; and any person who owns a Bitcoin is a part of the Bank of Bitcoin.

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It sure is interesting to see how it works; and, even though it can be daunting understanding it at first – Bitcoin is a simple concept. The founder stated that once understood, it makes much more sense than centralized currency as it is maths. But how does it compare to hard currencies? And does it have a future in the way the world works?

Goldman Sachs made its position clear, they believe “gold wins out over cryptocurrencies in most of the key characteristics of money.” They compared the two in terms of durability, sustainability, intrinsic value, and unit of account. On the other hand, cryptocurrencies take up significantly less space – but new alternatives are being created every day. There is no competition when it comes to the value of gold, but there is to the bitcoin. Goldman rounds of their statement by pointing out that Bitcoin is dangerously volatile. The Bitcoin-to-U.S. dollar volatility on average was nearly 7 times that of gold this year (2017).

Frustratingly, there is not enough evidence to come to any conclusion as to how Bitcoin will do in the future. But the central question we need to bear in mind isn’t whether or not Bitcoin is a fad or has staying power, its whether Bitcoin has the potential to be the new gold. Whilst commentaries from Goldman’s state it does not, it is worth mentioning that they are in the process of building their own tech to help decrypt and data mine. This indicates that despite their comments, they still have some faith in the “currency of the future.”

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Henry James and James O’Leary do not hold any stake in Bitcoin.

 

 

 

Amazon’s hostile takeover

In my previous article we investigated the new strategy implemented by Starbucks in which they closed their online stores and force consumers to physically enter their stores to purchase something. This runs strictly against the business models of giants like Amazon who are happy to sell to consumers in the c omfort of their own home – epitomized by the launch of Amazon Prime – a same day delivery service on selected items bought on Amazon.

But what are Amazon (AMZN) doing in response to this apparent new culture of buying in store? In true Darwinian fashion, they strike back with their own vision of how consumers will be purchasing in the years to come through an appropriation of the semi-monopolized safeguarding market.

ffElectronic payments are a growing market. Traditionally, everyone had a bankcard that was linked to two providers – Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V). These two safeguard companies are well trusted by users and renowned worldwide as being safe, secure and trustworthy. Since the launch of the internet, new providers came along such as PayPal (PYPL) – who ensured a safeguarding through internet transactions. But the market seems to be shifting in another direction now, which will leave these companies in the rubbish-bin of history.

Moody’s Stephen Sohn and his team of analysts tell us that the electronic payments market is large, with plenty of new entrants. This poses a threat to current payment ecosystems of networks and cards. The potential interlopers include, but are not limited to: Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), and Apple Inc (AAPL). The new goal is to create a gateway system that bypasses Visa and MasterCard’s safeguarding by doing it in-house. Alongside this, we are seeing a myriad of new entrants into the market. If this happens, we could see an even more centralised power from online companies.

We can infer two things from this shift. Firstly, the fact that there are new entrants into the market means that there is a market to be tapped into. This must mean that consumers feel more comfortable doing in house deals with companies than in the past. If there is more competition for roles that were traditionally accomplished by Visa and Mastercard, then it means people are not as suspicious as they once were – which is understandable – consumers often have a lot of faith in companies like Amazon and Google.

Secondly, that online companies are themselves pushing for easier trading on the internet – which is directly opposed to Starbucks’ (SBUX) vision of the future. If this market were tapped by online retailers, they could cut out costs making it cheaper and quicker to purchase online.

This being said, Sohn reports “material displacement of traditional electronic payment providers remains unlikely.” As we have established, Visa and MasterCard have near universal acceptance in the USA which will make them very difficult to dislodge. This may make it difficult for online companies to fulfil their ambition of securing their place in this market.

As a generalisation, tech companies such as Alphabet and Amazon subscribe to the philosophy “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” So far, there have been collaborations between already existing safeguard mediums (Visa and Mastercard) and new-comers into the market (inc. GOOG and AAPL).

So, what can we make of all of this?

It seems that there is a heavy focus on consumer perception to predict the future of sales. Amazon are dependent on online sales to survive and cannot allow Starbucks, or any other competitor such as Nike, to create a social-trend where experience is crucial in the buying of goods. Their response to this is in creating better and easier ways to buy and sell online. Although Starbucks wish to create a new trend, online companies are building on an already existing one.

We will have to wait and see how consumers react to Amazon’s adaptation of buying online.

 

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in: Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX), Nike (NKE), or PayPal (PYPL). Henry James International Management does not currently own a position in: Amazon (AMZN), Starbucks (SBUX), Nike (NKE), or PayPal (PYPL).

(Please note: James O’Leary currently holds a position in: APPLE (AAPL), VISA (V), and MasterCard (MA. Henry James International Management currently owns a position in: APPLE (AAPL), VISA (V), and MasterCard (MA).

 

Decline of the Silver Screen Industry?

How consumers choose to view movies has been changing over the past few years with a move towards home viewing using companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. This viewing trend is beginning to take its toll on both film and television studios, as theatres are becoming a less popular option for viewings. Currently Americans spend around $11 billion on going to movie theatres every year and a further $12 billion on home video rental and purchase (both physical and digital). Home purchase, however, was down by 7% in 2016, compared with the previous year, while subscription streaming leapt up by 23% in the same time period to $6.23 billion.

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Film companies are beginning to tap into the financial benefits they could reap from employing more watch on demand options when it comes to new films. Premium video on demand (VOD) has the potential to be two to three times more valuable to studios that movie ticket sales, and, as a result, some Hollywood studios are looking into the benefits of in-home releases of new movies. These early-release films would be available to see at the same time as, or shortly after, theatre release and would cost home viewers around $30 to $50 in comparison to the $5 to $7 currently paid to view movies months after the release day.

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While this shift in focus to subscription streaming could benefit, and boost revenue, of Hollywood movie studios, the impact could be negative for movie theatre companies. In the past two months Imax China has seen share prices fall dramatically. Nomura analyst Richard Huang has said that four reasons were put forward for this drop, one being wide-spread concern that there is a drop in consumer interest for premium movie viewing experiences and that, as a result, Imax will begin to face structural market share loss. This, and the other three reasons – concern over dwindling popularity of Hollywood blockbusters, a belief by some that Imax is choosing the wrong movies to screen, and the suggestion that the majority of new Imax screens have been installed in lower-tier cities – has resulted in Imax stock values falling by 40%.

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As the movie industry moves into this state of transition, several companies within the sector have seen drops in stock price. Opening on the 5th of July Walt Disney shares were down 1.4% to $105.98, while Lions Gate Entertainment experienced a drop of 1.3% to $27.77, and Regal Entertainment Group declined to $20.07, down 1.5%. It remains to be seen if this downward trend will continue for movie companies or if the proposed, alternative audience viewing options will reverse the losses.

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in Netflix, Amazon Prime, Imax China, Walt Disney, Lions Gate Entertainment, or Regal Entertainment Group. Henry James International does not currently own a position in Netflix, Amazon Prime, Imax China, Walt Disney, Lions Gate Entertainment, or Regal Entertainment Group, for any client portfolios).

The Rise and Fall of the Metal Market

Many investors look at gold as a safe bet, an insurance policy for times when other stocks are less certain. In this year an ounce of gold has increased in value by almost 13%, to $1,296. There are two schools of thought about why the commodity has experienced such a high level of growth after having been uneasy in the first part of this year. The first is that this increase comes off the back of political unrest. As political tensions grow both in the US, with continuing problems among the Trump administration, and in the UK, with the recent attacks as well as the general election, some believe that these could begin to affect the economy, and upend corporate profit growth. Gold is a stable way for investors to hedge their bets against this possibility.

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Another idea is that, rather than gold prices being increased as a result of politics, the rise could be linked more to the state of the economy and monetary policy. The US dollar is currently near a seven-month low compared to other world currencies and it has been observed on several past occasions that as the dollar falters the price of gold rises. Others believe that recent rise and fall in gold price is seasonal, with Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of US Global Investors saying that there is a 60-70 % chance that the price of gold will experience a general upward trend between June 2017 and January of next year.

While gold may be a safe bet in its current state there are also other metal commodities worth following. As the demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, so will the demand for both lithium for batteries and copper for wiring, making these possible safe and lucrative investment options.

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The auto industry is also responsible for an upward trend in the price of palladium, a crucial component of catalytic converters. After having sunk to $657.50 per ounce in December 2016 the precious metal has risen by 24% in 2017 to a current price of $856.60. However, while it has regained its ground having been near a seven-year low since January, there are concerns that palladium may not be able to maintain this as there is a slowing in car sales in the US, Europe, and China. In the US car sales fell again in May, contributing to a consecutive five month decline, while in the EU, although sales rose by 4.7% in the first four months of 2017, they then dropped by 6.6% in April. Other countries have, however, experienced continued growth in auto sales, such as Canada whose sales increased by 11% in May. The result is divided opinion on the future of palladium, with some believing that it has reached its peak and others of the opinion that it will hold its ground and possibly even continue to appreciate in price.

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Positive Developments in the Biotechnology Market

*All content in this biotechnology blog represents the opinion of James O’Leary*

In recent weeks the biotechnology market has seen great changes, with the development of new medicines and medical software. The outcome has been an increase in interest in various companies and, by extension, an increase in the stock prices of these companies.

Incyte

A large market is developing for drugs that fight cancer through using the body’s own immune system. Incyte has developed a medicine, called Epacadostat, which does that and which has caused quite a stir among investors and some of the biggest drug makers in the world. The exciting development of this new drug has resulted in Incyte shares increasing in value by 76% in the last year, while revenue has jumped from just $1.1 billion to $28 billion in the same time period. In 2017 alone Incyte stock has increased 36% in value, making it one of the S&P 500 best performers of 2017 within the drug sector.

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(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in Incyte. Henry James International does not currently own a position in Incyte for any client portfolios).

Invitae

Also making recent waves in biotech news is Invitae who have announced that they are launching a platform on which patients will be able to anonymously upload their genetic information, initially focusing on the information of cancer-related patients. The idea behind the development of this database is that more readily available data will allow developers to make bigger advancements towards important medical discoveries. Following the announcement of this new platform, Invitae’s shares increased in price by 2.79%, closing on the 6th at $11.05, while year-to-date the company stock has experienced a gradual rise of 39.17%.

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(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in Invitae. Henry James International does not currently own a position in Invitae for any client portfolios).

Neurocrine Biosciences

The first product for treating the movement disorder Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) in adults has been developed by the company Neurocrine Biosciences. The announcement that the drug, Ingrezza, has been FDA approved was followed by a sudden 22% jump in Neurocrine stock prices, which closed at 24% on Wednesday 12th. At close on the same day Neurocrine’s shares were up 33% on a year-to-date basis.

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in Neurocrine Biosciences. Henry James International does not currently own a position in Neurocrine Biosciences for any client portfolios).

Other News in the Biotechnology Sector

Similar increases in other biotechnology companies have also been observed, according to Barrons, with iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology (IBB) shares having climbed 0.34%, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX) lifting 2.42% to $177, and Healthcare stocks increasing by 0.24%. Three companies in the biotech sector that investors should keep an eye on are Biogen (BIIB), Alexion (ALXN) and Gilead (GILD). Biotech Research Analyst Alethia Young from Credit Suisse has estimated that BIIB will report earnings per share (EPS) of $5.14 instead of the $5.02 that the consensus predicts, while revenue will be $2.79 billion rather than the average estimate of $2.75 billion. Likewise Young believes that EPS and revenue for GILD will be higher than consensus estimates, with $2.46 instead of $2.28, and $6.94 billion over $6.6 billion respectively. As for ALXN, it is predicted that it will meet expectations throughout the year, if not slightly exceed them.

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Several biotechnology companies have seen increases in stock value as they have announced new developments and, according to Christopher Raymond, Senior Biotech Analyst and Managing Director of Raymond James, the commercial outlook for biotechnology is on the whole positive for 2017.

(Please note: James O’Leary does not currently hold a position in any of the companies mentioned above. Henry James International does not currently own a position in any of the aforementioned companies for any client portfolios).