The biggest story going in financial markets right now is the explosion in the price of cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin (BTC-USD), the largest cryptocurrency by market cap, has gained over 1,500% this year with its price quadrupling in just the last four month. On Tuesday morning, bitcoin was trading just below $17,000 per coin.
And while stocks have also enjoyed a stellar run in 2017, strategist Rich Bernstein sees equity markets as still being out-of-favor among investors who continue to fear the stock market crash that happened during the financial crisis. And yet investors don’t appear wary of the boom in cryptocurrencies.
“It is ironic that [investors] fear traditional equities, but they do not fear cryptocurrencies,” Bernstein writes in a note to clients published Tuesday. “One must remember that risk typically lies in what you’re invested in, and not in what you fearfully avoid.”
Bernstein, formerly the chief investment strategist at Merrill Lynch and now the CEO and CIO of Richard Bernstein Advisors, argues that right now the crypto market is currently exhibiting the five characteristics he argues are common to all financial bubbles — ample liquidity, leverage, democratization (widespread investment among individuals), new issues, and high turnover in an asset.
And the crypto market, which now has futures, thousands of currencies to trade, soaring trading volumes and a surge in accounts opening — all while interest rates around the world remain low and central banks maintain easy policy stances — looks to Bernstein like a classic bubble.
“The sad reality is that many more investors will likely get sucked into this bubble too,” Bernstein writes. “The key question is whether investors in 2018 will finally regain their confidence in the equity markets.”
But the “irony” of investor enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies that Bernstein references is, to our mind, perhaps the defining feature of the current crypto bubble.
For years after the financial crisis, both the professional and public investor class were braced for another downturn in the stock market and the economy. And recall that it isn’t just the financial crisis bust that looms large in the memory of many investors today, but also the tech bubble bursting, which for many may have been even more painful.
This year, however, has shown that while investor greed may have been dormant through the early part of this decade, it has not been eradicated from financial markets.
“It is our guess that the crypto-bubble will continue until the Fed and other central banks remove too much liquidity from the economy, the availability of ‘greater fools’ decreases, and the bubble deflates,” Bernstein writes. “One would have thought that investors would have learned their lesson from the deflation of the technology and housing bubbles, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”
Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland
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