Bitcoin pension

Bitcoin pension

Published on: 15 April 2021

Early retirement thanks to the Bitcoin. Someone in my circle managed to do just that. In particular the price explosion as of last summer was a major contributor. Would this be an idea for pension funds? APG has received some media questions on the topic over the past few weeks. This resulted in articles, concluding that major investors still hesitate.

 

Please pay attention to the word ‘still’. Is it just a matter of time? I will get back to you on that one. Let's first take a look at the investment approach of pension funds. The goal is to provide participants with a good pension. An important question is the amount of investment risk you are willing to take. Avoiding all risks leads to a pension that's quite certain, but also quite low. Accepting more risk leads to higher pensions on average, but also to a greater 'variety’ surrounding it. The ultimate investment policy has to match the needs of the participants.

 

Are Bitcoins a good fit? The price movements are rather substantial. This has very likely disturbed the night's rest of the friend of a friend mentioned above. The price decreased by 70% or more three times in the past ten years. It eventually worked out well for her in euros and she can now catch some extra hours of sleep. My point is that you have to relate the phenomenal price increase to the huge volatility of the prices. When risk-adjusted, the reward over the past ten years is similar to the reward you get from a (50/50) portfolio composed of global shares and bonds (for the wonks: the Sharpe ratio is the same).

 

But it's all about the future. Do Bitcoins provide added value to a portfolio? In order to establish that, it is important to first determine the return expectations in several ‘weather conditions'. What is the so-called ‘investment case’? Where does the return come from? Just take shares or real estate for instance. Those sectors have recurring revenues - dividends and rental income - that move along with the economy or inflation. That's something you can count on.

To what extent the price is still able to rise is very hard to say

That doesn't apply to Bitcoins. There is no cash flow. It is therefore impossible to determine ‘fair value’ or expected returns. The return is determined entirely by the price trend of the Bitcoin. And as the supply barely increases, the price is primarily driven by demand. And what is it that drives the demand? Probably not buyers who are looking to use the Bitcoin as a means of payment, as that process is slow and expensive. That leaves us with: buyers who speculate on (further) price appreciation. But what is it that would trigger an increase of the price? Simple: it just does. That mechanism really exists. Increasing prices often trigger new demands and drive further price appreciation.

 

To what extent the price is still able to rise is very hard to say. Another 20%? A doubling? A tenfold increase? I don't rule out any of these possibilities. I can be a bit more precise on the timing of the peak. That will be once the bottom of the maximum width of the pyramid has been reached. As soon as the inflow of new groups of buyers comes to a standstill, the price cannot increase any more. If ‘Bitcoin-pensionados’ then want to pull out, the process may very well reverse (decreasing prices, increasing sales, etc.). Try to explain that as a pension provider to your constituencies and the regulatory body.

 

The Bitcoin will probably already tumble prior to the investment case, as it doesn't fit within the investment convictions. You cannot call the Bitcoin sustainable when you look at its considerable energy consumption. It is a bit pointless to have the energy provided by the new wind and solar parks immediately absorbed by the Bitcoin.

 

Returning to the word ‘still’, I think it will still take a while before the pension investors have overcome their hesitations. How long? Longer than it takes to build a pyramid.

 

 

Charles Kalshoven is Senior Strategist at APG