Bitcoin offers an efficient means of transferring money over the internet and is controlled by a decentralized network with a transparent set of rules, thus presenting an alternative to central bank controlled fiat money. There has been a lot of talk about how to price bitcoin and we set out here to explore what bitcoin's price might look like in the event it achieves some level of widespread adoption.
Bitcoin's origin story sounds like something out of science fiction: It was launched in 2008 on the heels of a white paper published by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, whose real identity – and country of origin – are unknown. Nakamoto conceived of Bitcoin as a currency that was 1) encrypted; 2) decentralized, i.e. it was ungoverned and did not belong to any nation; and 3) a digital "distributed ledger," such that everyone can verify online the legitimacy of transactions.
M3 (which includes all the other buckets) minus M1 is worth about 45 trillion US dollars. We will include this as a store of value that is comparable to bitcoin. To this, we will also add an estimate for the worldwide value of gold held as a store of value. While some may use jewelry as a store of value, for our model we will only consider gold bullion. The US Geological Survey estimated that at the end of 1999, there were about 122,000 metric tons of available above-ground gold. Of this, 48%, or 58,560 metric tons, was in the form of private and official bullion stocks. At an estimated current price of $1200 per troy ounce, that amount of gold is today worth upwards of 2.1 trillion US dollars. Since there has recently been a deficit in the supply of silver and governments have been selling significant amounts of their silver bullion, we reason that most silver is being used in industry and not as a store of value, and will not include silver in our model. Neither will we treat other precious metals or gemstones. In aggregate, our estimate for the global value of stores of value comparable to bitcoin, including savings accounts, small and large time deposits, money market funds, and gold bullion, come to 47.1 trillion US dollars.
The very first major jump in Bitcoin price took place in July 2010. At this point, the value of Bitcoin went from about $0.0008 all the way up to $0.08, a truly dramatic increase in price. At this point and in the following year, very few exchanges supported trading of Bitcoin. There was also extremely limited liquidity at this time due to cryptocurrency still being relatively unknown. That meant that when the price started an increase in June 2011 from about $0.95, the approach was among the steepest recorded. Unfortunately, the drop also followed suit. By mid-June of that year, Bitcoin was up to $320, an all-time high. By November, it had declined 94 percent all the way to $20.
In 2014 prices started at $770 and fell to $314 for the year. In February 2014 the Mt. Gox exchange, the largest bitcoin exchange at the time, said that 850,000 bitcoins had been stolen from its customers, amounting to almost $500 million. Bitcoin's price fell by almost half, from $867 to $439 (a 49% drop). Prices remained low until late 2016.
Though it is tempting to believe the media's spin that Satoshi Nakamoto is a lone, quixotic genius who created Bitcoin out of thin air, such innovations do not happen in a vacuum. All major scientific discoveries, no matter how original-seeming, were built on previously existing research. There are precursors to Bitcoin: Adam Back’s Hashcash, invented in 1997, and subsequently Wei Dai’s b-money, Nick Szabo’s bit-gold and Hal Finney’s Reusable Proof of Work. The Bitcoin white paper itself cites Hashcash and b-money, as well as various other works spanning several research fields.
Speculation drives numbers. Many Bitcoin users are holding onto their bitcoins in hopes of selling them off for an enormous profit one day. With news articles portraying Bitcoin millionaires as lucky kids who got in early, you can’t really blame them. For example, if you had spent your $5 latte money on 2,000 bitcoins one morning in 2010, they would be worth about $5.4 million today. Makes you really wish you’d managed your Starbucks budget better, doesn’t it?