Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are highly speculative investments and come with greater risks than traditional investments like stocks, bonds, and real estate. Some of the major risks include:
Volatility Risk: The valuation of cryptocurrencies is not tied to any economic indicators and is only determined by market demand which tends to be highly volatile. This makes the value of holdings in crypto vulnerable to large swings on any given day or hour. Between 2017 and 2018, the total market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies fell from $830 billion to just $120 billion, a drop of over 85%. Such volatility means the value of holdings can crash significantly in a very short period.
Liquidity Risk: Compared to traditional assets, cryptocurrency markets lack liquidity. This means that during times of high volatility or low demand, it may be difficult to sell cryptocurrency holdings at reasonable prices. Low liquidity combined with high volatility can result in amplification of losses during downturns as sellers flood the markets looking to exit positions.
Bubble Risk: There is a persistent debate around whether the huge increases in cryptocurrency prices, particularly during 2017, represented an unsustainable bubble. Given the high speculation in the asset class and lack of economic fundamentals tied to valuation, there is a risk that cryptocurrency mania could repeat itself and result in another crash that wipes out significant value.
Fraud and Hack Risk: Cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets, which are needed to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency, have been frequent targets of hacks and theft. Millions of dollars in digital currencies have been stolen by hacking exchanges and exploiting technical loopholes. There have also been instances of exchanges and Initial Coin Offering (ICO) projects turning out to be fraudulent. Such operational and security risks translate to potential losses of holdings for investors.
Regulatory Risk: As global financial regulators are still assessing how to classify cryptocurrencies and what regulatory framework to apply, there is uncertainty around evolving rules. Tighter regulations could limit participation and ease of conversion between crypto and fiat currencies. Contradictory regulatory stances across countries could also undermine the fungibility of digital assets. Changes in rules can impact value and market viability of certain cryptocurrencies.
Acceptance Risk: For cryptocurrencies to be adopted as a long term store of value and medium of exchange, they need to gain significant merchant and consumer acceptance. Their usage for “real economy” transactions remains limited. If major corporations, merchants, and governments show lack of interest in accepting crypto payments over time, it brings into question the long term usability and valuation proposition of these digital assets.
Technology Risk: The algorithms, protocols and software governing cryptocurrencies have not been stress tested over long periods by large scale mainstream usage. Potential bugs, security holes or technical limitations that are discovered in the future could undermine confidence in networks and result in forks or other problems affecting value of holdings.
Tax Risk: Tax laws governing profits or losses from buying and selling cryptocurrencies continue to evolve in most jurisdictions. Depending on individual country rules and the investor’s local tax laws, any gains realized from crypto investments could be treated differently than traditional assets for tax purposes, which creates uncertainty. Tax compliance on crypto transactions also poses challenges for individuals and regulators.
Competing Crypto Risk: The cryptocurrency space remains innovative, with new digital currency projects emerging regularly that aim to improve upon earlier blockchains or offer different value propositions. Older cryptocurrencies run the risk of losing market share to newer entrants over time if they fail to develop or scale sufficiently. Investments in any single crypto hold the risk of superior technology making that particular asset obsolete or less competitive.
Lack of Intrinsic Value: Unlike stocks which hold claims on real assets of publicly traded companies, or fiats which are backstopped by governments, cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value of their own. Their worth depends entirely on self-fulfilling speculative demand without tangible assets or cash flows backing them up. This abstraction makes cryptos vulnerable if market sentiment shifts drastically away from them.
Cryptocurrencies represent highly speculative and volatile investments that carry unique and significant risks compared to traditional assets. Their long-term acceptance and viability remains uncertain due to technological, regulatory and competitive challenges. All these factors make cryptos risky proportionate bets that could result in complete loss of capital for investors. Only active traders with solid risk management and investors with strong risk tolerance should consider crypto exposure as part of a well-diversified portfolio.