If the crypto-asset market is in a bubble at $700 billion or so — a level it reached in the past 24 hours — then what should we call a $10 trillion crypto market? A Double Bubble?
Wacky as it might sound, $10 trillion is the future value a new report from RCB Capital Markets predicts for the asset class, its associated technologies and the companies built on them.
Public blockchains such as bitcoin's and Ethereum's, and their attendant cryptocurrencies, rely for their value on a combination of decentralized computing, open-source software and social consensus. So powerful is this combination that Mitch Steves, an RBC Capital Markets analyst focused on information technology, believes it will allow the digital-asset market to gobble up chunks of the existing markets for gold, offshore bank accounts, international remittance payments and more.
This bull case makes more sense when you step back from the hype and consider the profound implications of cryptocurrencies and blockchains.
Bitcoin is often called "programmable money" for its ability to serve as a medium of exchange that improves with each software upgrade. And Ethereum, which offers the ability to create and run automated functions known as smart contracts, has been called a "world computer" potentially capable of powering a new, decentralized internet.
While bitcoin is nowhere close to matching Visa's ability to process several thousand transactions per second, that feature may be just a matter of time. An upgrade now in development, known as the Lightning Network, could enable bitcoin and its younger cousin litecoin to process more than a million transactions per second, according to Steves. That would make cryptocurrency the no-brainer choice for cross-border payments.
Similarly, a blockchain-powered project called Filecoin could be an improvement over current cloud-storage solutions, such as Box, argues Steves. With Box, a user's data is controlled by a third party, which can access it at any time and may turn it over to the government upon request. With Filecoin, a user's storage is distributed and decentralized, says Steves, and the data can't be accessed without the user's own private keys. The same concept could be applied to a wide variety of other applications, many of them relevant to financial services.
But even the most aggressive bulls acknowledge that major risks remain. Not only is the digital-asset market hypervolatile, prone to spikes and dips of 20% or more in a single day, but the likely prospect of a regulatory crackdown on initial coin offerings, the method by which many new blockchain projects have raised funds, is looming.
And then, too, cybercriminals have increasingly focused their dark arts on digital currency, repeatedly stealing funds from exchanges and individual investors. In another type of attack, victims' computing power is stolen to mine digital currency for the hacker. The next major security risk, according to Steves, is the hacking of smartphone wallets.