Bitcoin was supposed to hedge against inflation—here’s why it hasn’t worked that way


Bitcoin has plunged in value this year, weakening the argument often made by crypto enthusiasts that it can be an effective hedge against inflation during times of economic turmoil.

Bitcoin advocates have long argued that its scarcity would protect its value during times of rising inflation. Unlike central banks — which can increase the supply of money — there are a fixed number of coins, which keeps them scarce.

Even before the market crashed, there was debate about whether or not bitcoin would hold its value. Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones was bullish on bitcoin as an inflation hedge, while Dallas Mavericks owner and investor Mark Cuban dismissed the idea as a “marketing slogan.”

Another argument is that bitcoin, along with other similar cryptocurrencies, will have an intrinsic store of value over time as it becomes more accepted, like gold. Supporters believe it will be seen as an asset that won’t depreciate over time.

However, this has not been proven to be true, at least not yet. The value of the cryptocurrency market overall has plummeted alongside rising inflation, with bitcoin losing half of its value since January. As of Friday, the price of bitcoin is $21,833, according to Coin Metrics.

With crypto, “the extent of [price] volatility is so significant, it’s very hard for me to view it as a long-term store of value,” Anjali Jariwala, certified financial planner and founder of Fit Advisors, tells CNBC Make It.

Jariwala says that crypto in general is a new type of asset that doesn’t yet function either as a sought-after commodity like gold, or even as a currency, “because it’s not easily exchanged for a good or service.” Despite its scarcity, the price of a cryptocurrency like bitcoin is still based largely on consumer sentiment, she says.

“It’s tricky because it’s supposed to act like a currency, it’s taxed like property and some people compare it to a commodity. At the end of the day, it really is its own asset class that doesn’t have a pure definition.”

Another consideration is that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have only been around for just over a decade. Because of this, “there isn’t enough history there in terms of historical data to really understand what purpose it serves as an investment,” Jariwala says.

While cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are “not proven” to be a reliable, long-term store of value, they could still gain acceptance over time and become less volatile, Omid Malekan, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School specializing in crypto and blockchain technology, tells CNBC Make It.

“Once volatility smooths out, we will have a better picture of how it responds to macro developments, like the rate of inflation or what the Fed is doing,” he says, cautioning that current crypto prices could reflect all sorts of inputs aside from inflation, like too many overleveraged cryptocurrency lenders or a lack of regulation.

Either way, crypto as a whole remains a highly speculative investment. Jariwala recommends only investing with money you’re prepared to lose. She also says to think of crypto investing as a long-term strategy and “stick to that strategy even during times like this.”

Cryptocurrency might evolve into a more mature asset that can be a hedge against inflation. But “we just don’t know yet, until we see more of a track history with it,” says Jariwala.

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