So last Thursday, while waiting for a flight to Nashville, I pulled up a popular application called Coinbase that can be used to buy and sell bitcoin. The virtual currency had hit $10,000 for the first time a couple days earlier, before retreating somewhat. News of bitcoin’s rapid rise was everywhere, including on CNN.
For 15 minutes at the airport, I refreshed the price of bitcoin over and over, watching as it gained and lost hundreds of dollars in a matter of minutes. I called out the price fluctuations breathlessly to my wife, who gently encouraged me not to be an idiot, before returning to her magazine.
She was in good company. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recently called bitcoin a “fraud” and suggested people who buy it are “stupid.” Warren Buffett called bitcoin a “mirage” in 2014 and warned investors to “stay away.”
And yet bitcoin has climbed more than tenfold since Buffett’s warning. Earlier this month, one college friend casually told me over drinks he’d made tens of thousands of dollars investing in another cryptocurrency. He said he hoped it would be worth enough one day to buy a house.
When I saw the price of bitcoin fall to $9,500, I pressed buy, defying the wisdom of two finance titans and my wife. One hundred dollars, or 0.0101 bitcoins. (A few days later, I bought another $150.) By the time we got to our hotel, my stake had already gone up 10%. One week later, it was (briefly) up 100%. My wife’s opinion of me has reportedly decreased by the same amount.
It’s an investing frenzy, plain and simple.
Bitcoin cracked $1,000 on the first day of 2017. By this week, it was up to $12,000, and then it really took off: The price topped $17,000 on some exchanges Thursday, and $18,000 on at least one. Other cryptocurrencies have seen similar spikes, though they trade for much less than bitcoin.
There’s a long list of factors people may point to in an attempt to explain this. Regulators have taken a hands-off approach to bitcoin in certain markets. Dozens of new hedge funds have launched this year to trade cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. The Nasdaq and Chicago Mercantile Exchange plan to let investors trade bitcoin futures, which may attract more professional investors.
Yet a key reason the price of bitcoin keeps going up is, well, because it keeps going up. Small investors like yours truly have a fear of missing out on a chance to get rich quick. And when the value of your bitcoin doubles in a week, as it did for me, it’s easy to think you’re a genius. But you can get burned assuming it will keep skyrocketing…