The bitcoin battle has divided Wall Street recently, with seemingly bright people having differing opinions.
Understand that when many bankers talk about bitcoin, they are generally referring to the blockchain technology that is underlying bitcoin transactions.
With bitcoin, there is no centralized clearing, settlement or oversight. Nor is there the ability to unmask the movers or holders of bitcoin, a code-based currency. That is all by design, and numerous people have gone to prison for drug-running and related money-laundering using the cryptocurrency.
A few weeks ago, JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon referred to bitcoin as a mere “fraud.”
In September Dimon said, “My daughter bought bitcoin, it went up, now she thinks she is a genius” (and now the dumb money is flooding in, as the cryptocurrency hit a high for the day of $5,855 on Friday).
On Thursday he changed his tune during the bank’s conference call, when he said, “I wouldn’t put this high on the category of important things in the world. But I’m not going to talk about bitcoin anymore,” later adding, “I was reminded that we move trillions of dollars a day digitally. It’s not cash.”
Then on Friday, he reneged and said, “If you’re stupid enough to buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one day.”
What Dimon probably will be talking about in the future is the blockchain technology as a benefit to the bank for transferring the trillions of dollars a day digitally.
The blockchain could turn out to be something great, like PayPal or Visa and MasterCard. It may also be just one of those cool “hip” technology investments that never pans out into something viable.
There are some smart people from Silicon Valley investing in the transaction technology, as well.
In the meantime, most Americans aren’t buying into bitcoin, but lots of mysterious foreigners — from far-away locations like Malaysia, Indonesia and other places where people go to disappear — are investing in it.
I believe the play on bitcoin is its potential as a payment technology, if there is any at all.