Think the 75% plunge in BitCoin values in two days has crushed all former supporters of the virtual currency (which truth be told is only back to levels from a month ago)? Wrong. As the NYT reports, a very unexpected supporting genepool (split into two identical halves) has emerged in the shape of two names previously linked to yet another pre-bubble frenzy name, FaceBook: Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (collectively, the “Winklevii”). Following stints as Olympic rowers, Simpsons characters, and antagonistic Facebook litigants, the two 31 year-old identical twins are now indirect investors in the latest “currency” craze, whose heyday may well have come and gone, courtesy of owning a whopping 1% stake in all of the entire outstanding supply of BitCoin which at last count was worth $1.3 billion (if maybe a little less now).
An array of speculators have now bid up the price of the bitcoin to the point where the outstanding supply of the digital money was worth $1.3 billion at last count. The Winklevii — as they are popularly known — say they own nearly 1 percent of that, or some $11 million.
The decision by the brothers to go public with their position signals a new stage for what has been an experimental alternative to national currencies. Created in 2009 by a programmer or programmers known only by a pseudonym, the bitcoin world has been dominated by anonymous programmers and traders.
The 6-foot-5 Winklevii were unfazed by the latest tumult. Indeed, the brothers said they used the low prices to buy more. They argue that bitcoin will have much further to soar once a broader audience sees its virtues: a unit of exchange that can be moved around the world at the click of a button without requiring any payments to Western Union or American Express.
“People say it’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s a bubble,” said Cameron Winklevoss. “People really don’t want to take it seriously. At some point that narrative will shift to ‘virtual currencies are here to stay.’ We’re in the early days.”
The brothers began dabbling in bitcoin last summer when the dollar value of a single coin was still in the single digits. In addition to the purchase of bitcoins, they also say they have invested in a bitcoin-related company, but declined to disclose which one. The currency itself exists as a string of letters and numbers. In order to keep their holdings secure from hackers, they have taken those codes off networked computers and saved them on small flash drives. They said they have put the drives in safe deposit boxes at banks in three different cities.
Nothing like having a string of letters and numbers in safes in flash drives in three cities as a store of value…
To some more cynically inclined observers, for the two brothers who lately have been desperate to get back into the public arena, this latest “investment” is nothing but a rather expensive PR campaign, and one which depending on their cost basis, may have already proven to be a huge loss. However, that will not step them. Or many others desperate to ride on the coattails of the next parabolic bubble:
Other Silicon Valley venture firms, while not holding bitcoins, are starting to show interest in the technology. Tim Draper of the firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson put money into CoinLab, which is doing bitcoin-related projects. Tribeca Venture Partners announced this week that it was putting money into Coinsetter, a start-up trading platform for the currency.
Sadly, a somewhat notable problem with BitCoin, the currency and not the bubblicious asset, is that one can’t really use it for much other than to buy more bitcoin, or convert it into fiat currencies: the same fiat currencies that BitCoin is trying to replace:
So far, few real companies accept bitcoins as payment, and the primary place they can be used is an online bazaar, known as Silk Road, where narcotics are the main wares for sale. But the currency’s believers see a future in which Starbucks and Amazon take bitcoins. For their part, the Winklevoss twins have used some of their bitcoin to pay for the services of a Ukrainian computer programmer who has worked on the site of their venture capital firm.
But the drop dead punchline:
“We have elected to put our money and faith in a mathematical framework that is free of politics and human error,” Tyler Winklevoss said.
That’s funny – it is more or less what the heads of the Federal Reserve and all other central banks have said for the past 100 years.
As for the future of BitCoin? Well, if its credibility can survive a collapse like this…
… maybe it just does have staying power. Unless, of course, the other sizable “investors” are none other than the central banks the currency hopes to supplant, just biding their time until they launch the next avalanche selloff…