Bitcoin enthusiasts are in the middle of an existential crisis. But a few other investments require even greater leaps of faith. There are more mysterious, opaque and worse assets out there.
Bitcoin enthusiasts are in the middle of an existential crisis. Since its mid-April high, the price of Bitcoin has tumbled by as much as 47%. Meanwhile, China — where up to three-quarters of the world’s supply comes from — is curtailing mining and trading. And how solid a rock is the world’s largest cryptocurrency when a few cryptic tweets from Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk can send it wobbling? Institutional investors have been heading for the exit — for gold. But true believers take heart! Other investments require even greater leaps of faith. You can do a lot worse than Bitcoin.
Bitcoin has a simple concept: It is a digital token with a finite supply that’s been around for 14 years. By comparison, in the traditional world of stocks and bonds, you’ll be hard pressed to find assets that have such investor enthusiasm and such a clear story to sell.
Consider the electric vehicle craze. QuantumScape Corp, a $12.3 billion market cap EV battery maker that counts Volkswagen AG and Qatar Investment Authority among its major shareholders, went public via a reverse merger with a SPAC last November. This stock has done worse than Bitcoin, losing almost two-thirds of its value this year. The reason? It’s too mysterious.
QuantumScape made some bold claims: That it could extend the range of electric cars by as much as 50% while substantially reducing charge time for a long drive to just 15 minutes. So far, the breakthrough promised is backed only by limited preliminary data. Secrecy is standard practice in battery development: The company would not even name its scientists in an interview with Bloomberg for fear of poaching by rivals. Chief Executive Officer Jagdeep Singh said he “never understood why [getting a third-party lab to test our cells] is considered more objective.” Mass production is nowhere in sight for this zero-revenue start-up, whose operating losses have been on the rise.
The opaqueness and hype have not only stirred doubt but attracted short sellers. The activist firm Scorpion Capital has called the company a “scam.” In response, Singh said, “the reason for secrecy is it takes a lot of time and energy to work on these new materials.” Perhaps to avoid all the controversy, QuantumScape should have remained a unicorn a bit longer and not taken advantage of the SPAC craze to come to the public eye.
Bitcoin’s biggest selling point is finite supply. The same can’t be said of stocks: Companies can issue new shares for various reasons — and it’s an art to guide retail investors toward interpreting share sales in a positive way. Most people don’t do it well at all. Consider the experience of China Evergrande Group’s $43 billion market cap electric-vehicle unit, whose shares have seen more volatility than Bitcoin this year. Just like QuantumScape, the EV maker has not started mass production yet. Only this month did it hold the “initiation ceremony of the summer calibration testing” of five models of its Hengchi vehicles, according to the company.
In January, shares of China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group soared after the unit raised HK$26 billion from its billionaire founder Hui Ka Yan’s usual group of investors: his tycoon friends. Back then, retail investors saw this placement as a vote of confidence from the bigwigs. But in May, they changed their mind when the parent raised about HK$10.6 billion selling its shares, at a steep 20% discount. Evergrande explained that the transaction would reduce the ratio of the top 20 shareholders to below 90%, paving the way for an inclusion in the Hong Kong Stock Connect, a trading link that allows mainland Chinese investors to buy Hong Kong-listed shares.
The stock market disagreed, with many interpreting the move as a way for the Evergrande New Energy Vehicle’s parent — Hui’s indebted real estate development company — to cash out. In an early April investor call, according to Debtwire, the developer said it planned to raise 50 billion yuan equity capital each year, including spinning off non-property businesses. The Evergrande parent and its associates have 67.6% stake in the EV unit. On Monday, the New Energy Vehicle Group stock closed 16.3% lower than its mid-May placement price.
Bitcoin lovers should take consolation in the fact that their cherished token has the astonishing asset of a seductively simple story of supply and demand. And that it is the rare example of the Tinker Bell effect. If you remember, Peter Pan brings his dying pixie-dusted friend back to life by begging the audience to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. They did and so she continued to exist. So it is for Bitcoin and its faithful. We live in a world of many unicorns but a real Tinker Bell is hard to come by.
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