With the price of bitcoin skyrocketing by more than 1,000 percent since January, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange and CME Group giving a vote of confidence by offering bitcoin futures, many are scrambling to get in on the action. But just how much are they willing to risk?
There’s plenty of signs the surge is real. The app for Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based bitcoin exchange, was the most downloaded on Apple’s charts last Thursday. It was installed more than 575,000 times in the beginning of December, and the record-high influx of new users has caused issues with logins and other functions of the service. CNBC also noted that the Google search term “buy bitcoin with a credit card” is around its historic peak. Given all the news coverage lately—and bitcoin’s crazy run last week—it’s not surprising.
According to Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, the growth has reached the point that people are taking out equity lines and mortgages to buy the volatile cryptocurrency.
Regulators are trying to discourage people from making such a risky move with their personal finances. As Borg told CNBC, “This is not something a guy who's making $100,000 a year, who's got a mortgage and two kids in college ought to be invested in.”
Other prominent figures in the cryptocurrency and financial advice fields are offering similar warnings. Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a piece on Monday entitled “Should you invest in bitcoins for retirement? Only if you think riding a roller coaster without a safety harness is a good idea.” She further made the point that trading bitcoin is “more akin to gambling than investing” and recommended that people only engage in the cryptocurrency markets with money they can afford to lose.
Erik Voorhees, CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange called ShapeShift, also tweeted, “If you have a lot of crypto, and also significant debt, strongly consider selling some crypto at these all-time highs and paying down debt (completely if possible). Corollary: don't go into debt to buy crypto at these prices.” And Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, also issued a warning to investors last week in a Medium post that read, in part, “We also wanted to remind customers of some of the risks associated with trading digital currency. Digital currencies are volatile and the prices can go up and down.”
For all the news of its rise, bitcoin is no stranger to precipitous drops—the price fell on multiple occasions by thousands of dollars last week. Predictions that the rapidly rising prices are indicative of a bubble that will soon burst, and the possibility of calamitous hacks, are all concerns to keep an eye on before heavily investing in the cryptocurrency.