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On the face of it, bitcoin also appears be a useful diversifying asset for investors, as its performance appears so far relatively uncorrelated to most traditional asset classes. However, correlations should always be treated with caution, given how unstable they can be.
There are plenty of risks from treating bitcoin as a mainstream asset, and, in our view, these far outweigh its potential benefits. This huge volatility makes bitcoin virtually useless as a credible store of value, and means only the extremely risk tolerant may want to consider significant holdings. Remember that all investments can go up as well as down, and we might expect bitcoin to be more volatile still. You could get back less than you put in. The main appeal of bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more generally, is that its supply, like that of gold but unlike paper money, is independent of any other authority.
That means quantitative easing QE whereby a central bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets like government or corporate bonds, will never reduce its value. Supporters of bitcoin therefore argue that if the economy crumbles due to QE creating hyperinflation - where price increases spiral out of control - the world could eventually be forced to adopt a new monetary system, with all currencies backed by bitcoin.
For example, imagine the UK economy is in recession and the Bank of England wants to lower interest rates to stimulate the economy. As currencies are fixed against one another, investors could potentially borrow bitcoin in the UK and then shift it to another higher-yielding country, therefore exploiting the price difference between the two.
Every central bank that tethers its currency to an external quantity would be affected in the same way. To make things worse, as the total amount of bitcoin is limited to 21m, this finite supply would be perpetually chasing after an increasing amount of goods, leading to deflation.
Deflation occurs when prices drop because the supply of goods is higher than the demand for these goods. Although this might seem appealing, as your money will go further and the real value of your savings will increase, a sustained period of deflation can be very damaging. Companies are often forced to cut their costs and therefore may need to make redundancies, and when people expect falling prices, they become less willing to spend and borrow, pushing the economy further into deflation.
Even if payments are fully digitised in future, in our view, they would likely be dominated by non-physical conventional currencies rather than cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Although investment fads like bitcoin might appear tempting, especially given previous impressive returns, remember that past performance should never be considered a guide to future performance. Given its uncertain future and volatility, bitcoin should be treated with extreme caution. Given its inflexibility, a monetary system based on bitcoin is unlikely to be a desirable one.
The value of investments can fall as well as rise. You may get back less than you invest. Tax rules can change and their effects on you will depend on your individual circumstances. Historically there have been two types of fund available to investors - active and passive — and for decades it has been debated which is the superior strategy.
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Tax rules can change in future and their effects on you will depend on your individual circumstances. As legendary investor Warren Buffett turns 90 we look at the attraction of fund managers that stick to an investment strategy. Many investors question whether active or passive investing delivers better returns. Here, we explain the difference between the two approaches and whether a blended approach may offer the best outcome for investors.
As the UK government issues bonds with a negative interest rate for the first time in recent history, we explore why this has happened and ask why anyone would want to pay for the privilege of lending money. In uncertain and turbulent times such as these, it can be increasingly difficult to stick with investment plans and avoid taking unnecessary action.
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