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Please note: The Frank Talk articles listed below contain historical material. The data provided was current at the time of publication. For current information regarding any of the funds mentioned in these presentations, please visit the appropriate fund performance page.

My Conversation with Bitcoin Visionary Marco Streng
May 14, 2018

Marco Streng CEO and co-founder of Genesis MiningLast week I had the opportunity to sit down with Marco Streng, the wunderkind bitcoin visionary behind Genesis Mining. Genesis, as many of you reading this might know, is the world’s largest cloud bitcoin mining company, with over 2 million customers worldwide. It calls Iceland home, whose cool climate and affordable green energy are ideal for mining newly minted virgin cryptocurrencies. Last year, Genesis helped connect the blockchain sector and traditional capital markets by partnering with HIVE Blockchain Technologies, the first publicly traded digital currency mining firm.

This week, Marco will be one of the panelists at the Consensus 2018 blockchain technology summit in New York, which I will also be attending. Below are highlights from our conversation.

Tell us how you got started in this industry.

I’ve always had a passion for mathematics, science, physics. I wanted to understand how nature works. I used to spend days and nights in the library, and I was actually on my way to becoming a math professor.

But then blockchain and bitcoin came along, and that changed everything. At the time, the community was very small, but the ideas and visions were very big. No one fully realized then how fast it would all grow or just how revolutionary it could end up being. I watched as new marketplaces began to emerge, businesses began to bet on bitcoin and people started adopting it. More and more exchanges popped up. All of this happened within a year of me first reading about blockchain and bitcoin—it progressed that quickly.

It was clear that something big was happening. The world was changing, and I needed to be part of it.

How would you describe bitcoin to someone who knew nothing about it?

With bitcoin, you can send money anywhere in the world to anywhere else without worrying about boundaries or having the transaction controlled or stopped by a third party. It’s a completely independent, decentralized, peer-to-peer system. This is what makes it so revolutionary.

The conventional banking system really shows its limitations when we try to move money between developed and underdeveloped countries, particularly those in Africa. There are some serious inefficiencies that, frankly, many of the big banks just aren’t interested in fixing. But with bitcoin, you don’t have to worry about that. You can send money to, say, a coffee farmer in Africa, and he’ll receive it directly.

Money transfers are only one among a number of many other uses. Bitcoin is also a store of value. It’s one of the few assets that I would say are uncorrelated to the broader financial markets.

As for blockchain, it has innumerable world-changing applications across a wide range of industries. That’s why I believe it’s crucial that people have the right information about blockchain and understand it. If people don’t understand it, and it gets overhyped, I’m afraid it could start going in the wrong direction.

We recently mined the 17 millionth bitcoin, leaving only four million left. Explain why it becomes exponentially more difficult to mine coins the closer we get to that 21 million-coin ceiling.

It’s not that the mining itself becomes more difficult. To answer this, I think we have to look at two components.

One component is the daily supply of bitcoin. At the moment, only 1,800 bitcoins can be generated every day by the whole network, meaning all the miners worldwide. But it’s important to remember that after every 210,000 blocks that are mined, the rewards are halved. What this means is that after the next halving, which I believe is expected sometime in 2020, the number of bitcoins mined a day will fall from 1,800 to 900. And then after the next halving, it’ll be 450. This helps reduce the supply in a natural way.

only around 4 million bitcoin remain to be mined out of 21 million total
click to enlarge

The second component is a measure of how many miners and how much computing power is in the network. If more miners come online, then of course the competition becomes greater. Because the daily supply is already fixed, your market share shrinks.

bitcoin mining is now in highly concentrated range of the herfindahl-hirschman index
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Think of it like the California Gold Rush. Mining gold at first was relatively easy because the metal was plentiful and there were few miners. By the end, it became more difficult because the easy gold had already been claimed, and you were competing with far more miners. We’re seeing the same thing happen with bitcoin and other mineable digital currencies.

Speaking of computing power, HIVE Blockchain just announced that it expanded to 24.2 megawatts (MW), up from 2.4 MW in August. What’s next in the pipeline for HIVE?

Yes, the last expansion was a massive build-out in Sweden. It was done in three phases. I think this was a remarkable achievement for HIVE, that it could add so much computing power so quickly.

This is only the beginning. The year is still long and you can expect to see some bigger expansions on the way. In September, for example, we’re going to ramp up another bitcoin mining facility worth 20 MW, which is very exciting. And from there it goes even further.

a picture inside hive blockchain technologies cryptocurrency mining facility in inceland

G20 finance ministers are scheduled to share their plans for more uniform regulation of cryptocurrencies by July. What are your expectations?

I personally think that this is very good and that it will bring more professionalism into the market. The momentum and adoption has grown so much and so rapidly that there really needs to be some kind of strategy—the world’s economic leaders can’t just leave this space untouched. Anyone who believes otherwise isn’t facing reality.

Having said that, regulating this market will not be easy because it’s in a whole other dimension than anything that has come before it. As an analogy, imagine someone trying to regulate flying cars using the same measures that have been written for cars driving on the street. It wouldn’t make any sense. So there will certainly need to be some innovation to get it right. I think it’s also important that the regulators talk to the right people, the industry leaders. They have good input, and I think it could be a very fruitful dialogue.

Along those same lines, South Korea’s central bank just announced that it was looking seriously into how the Korean economy might use blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Specifically, there’s talk of the country going cashless by 2020. Do you think that’s where the global financial systems are headed?

I think there’s a natural incentive for governments to go in that direction because, of course, they want to have greater control over their economies. But as is the case with overregulation, too many controls—or going completely cashless—could be harmful to the economy. This is certainly part of a long and interesting debate, and I’m curious to see how it plays out, in South Korea and elsewhere.

Where do you see the best application of blockchain technology right now?

Blockchain’s greatest contribution is its ability to erase boundaries. It completely removes the element of trust—or distrust, I should say—and adds a stabilizing effect to nearly every industry because of decentralization.

Take the global banking industry, for example. You don’t need to look far to find some serious inefficiencies, as I mentioned earlier. We’re already seeing some very concrete instances where blockchain can be of help here. The banks recognize this and are getting together to make use of this technology to improve their services.

What’s been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far in your journey?

For me, the greatest challenge can usually be found in the moment that you’re currently in. I always compare this industry to the beginning of the internet—no one knew where it was headed or what it would eventually look like. Most people had a general idea that it was innovative and could benefit the world, but the full implications were unclear.

Similarly, no one knows where blockchain and cryptocurrencies might take us, and having to deal with this constant uncertainty is, I’ll admit, not trivial. You must always be prepared to act quickly in response to another bitcoin fork, a hack or some other unexpected event. These are things that keep you up at night.

But it’s exciting. I think what history has shown again and again is that it’s dangerous to be ignorant and to not have an open mind. Not everything was euphoric and wonderful when the internet first emerged. Problems still occur online, but I believe most people would agree that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

No industry is without its challenges, and as long as you’re willing to address them, it can be very rewarding. As for blockchain technology, I’m very happy and thrilled to be a part of it this early on.

Interested in learning more? Click here to watch the short film “Cryptocurrency Revolution,” featuring Marco Streng and Enigma, the world’s largest Ethereum mining facility.  

 

Frank Holmes has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors of HIVE Blockchain Technologies. Both Mr. Holmes and U.S. Global Investors own shares of HIVE, directly and indirectly.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

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How Long Till Bitcoin Replaces Cold Hard Cash?
April 30, 2018

$1 trillion worth of u.s. banknotes could disappear by 2028. will bitcoin replace it all?

Bitcoin is back in the news in a big way. The world’s largest cryptocurrency neared $10,000 last week, meeting strong 200-day moving average resistance of around $9,800. Also last week, the 17 millionth bitcoin was mined. Remember, the crypto was originally designed to have a limited supply of “only” 21 million, an attractive feature that should continue to burnish its value as we get ever closer to that ceiling.

It’s no coincidence that the rally we’re seeing right now began soon after Tax Day. Many bitcoin and altcoin investors likely liquidated some of their holdings ahead of the filing deadline to cover capital gains taxes from last year and are now getting back into the trade. Month-to-date as of April 27, bitcoin was up more than 33 percent.

tax season contributed to bitcoin sell-off
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Also moving prices is news that Goldman Sachs and Barclays are both rumored to be working on introducing cryptocurrency trading desks. Similarly, Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman told CNBC last week that Nasdaq “would consider becoming a crypto exchange over time,” and that “digital currencies will continue to persist.”

As I see it, these are huge steps for the crypto market to take on its path to full maturation and acceptance as an asset class. We’re still in the very early stages, and recent calls that “bitcoin is dead,” not to mention general negativity toward bitcoin in the media, are strikingly premature.

I’m bullish, but I don’t expect bitcoin to test $20,000 again in the short term, especially before July. That’s when G20 finance ministers are scheduled to present their recommendations on how cryptocurrencies should be regulated.

More and More Smart Money Flowing into Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Tech

As I’ve said before, I don’t necessarily see regulation as a major headwind to cryptocurrencies, so long as it’s fair and reasonable. Such rules might even spur some investors, who until now have been watching from the sidelines, to participate.

That includes hedge funds, financial firms and other large institutional investors. A recent Thomson Reuters survey found that one in five firms are planning to trade altcoins this year. Of those, about 70 percent said they would do so in the next three to six months. Clearly, an increasing number of big investors see cryptocurrencies as an opportunity too good to pass up.

More and more money from venture capital firms is also being plowed into startups focused on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. In the three months through February, the amount of capital flowing into blockchain businesses far exceeded the monthly average of $55 million for the three-year period. Momentum is building.

venture capital funding on blockchain startups picked up in recent months
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And it’s not just “dumb money” making these bets. Bloomberg reports that successful venture capital firm Venrock Associates is ready to start speculating in the space. Venrock, a compound of “Venture” and “Rockefeller,” was founded in 1969 by members of the wealthy Rockefeller family, and it has a stellar track record for investing early in wildly profitable companies, including Apple and Intel.

Bitcoin to Meet Growing Demand for Alternative Payment Systems

One of the most bullish crypto participants right now is venture capitalist Tim Draper, an early investor in Hotmail (since acquired by Microsoft and renamed Outlook), Skype (also purchased by Microsoft) and Tesla (not currently owned by Microsoft, as far as I know). At a recent Intelligence Squared debate in New York, Draper made the bold claim that bitcoin is bigger than those three ventures combined. “Bigger than the Industrial Revolution,” he said.

Further, he doubled down on his bullish call of $250,000 per coin in the next four years, and predicted that fiat currency will disappear much faster than expected.

“In five years, you are going to try to go buy coffee with fiat currency and they’re going to laugh at you because you’re not using crypto,” he said.

No doubt some of you reading this are laughing at Draper’s hyperbolic claims. But as I’ve written before (here and here), there’s already a global war on cash, incited by some central banks, economists and policymakers.

To try to prevent terrorism financing and drug trafficking, the eurozone has already scrapped the 500 euro note. India did the same with its 500 and 1,000 rupee notes to combat corruption. (See the dramatic dip in the chart below.) And Sweden, one of the first countries to experiment with paper currency, could soon become the first to eliminate it altogether and rely exclusively on electronic payment systems. (Again, notice Sweden’s steady slope toward 0 percent of GDP.)

banknotes in circulation as a percent of nominal GDP
click to enlarge

Here in the U.S., the $100 bill’s days might be numbered, which would affect not only America but also many countries where Benjamins are still in high demand. In fact, more than three quarters of all $100 bills in circulation today live outside the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

banknotes in circulation as a percent of nominal GDP

Banning large denomination banknotes might be well intended, but ultimately it debases people’s economic freedom. This becomes especially true when low to negative interest rates are also introduced, as they are in Japan. (Today, in fact, the Bank of Japan announced it would keep its short-term rate at minus 0.1 percent.)

The demand for other liquid assets and “alternative technologies for making payments,” as the Chicago Fed puts it, is therefore surging, and I expect digital currencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum to fill that need. Today, U.S. currency in circulation stands at $1.59 trillion. According to one estimate by the Chicago Fed, that figure could sink to as low as $501 billion within 10 years as altcoins become more widely used to make transactions.

In a report for the second quarter, the St. Louis Fed likewise predicts a rapid transition from cash to cryptos:

In the near future, a close cash substitute will be developed that will rapidly drive out cash as a means of payment. A contender is Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency. While cryptocurrencies still have many drawbacks… these issues could rapidly disappear with the emergence of large-scale off-chain payment networks (e.g., Bitcoin’s lightning networks) and other scaling solutions. 

Maybe Tim Draper is onto something!

Frank Talk Turns 11 Years Old!

banknotes in circulation as a percent of nominal GDP

On a final note, I’d like to give a huge thanks to all of my readers, new and old, who’ve made my Frank Talk blog such a pleasure to write these past 11 years. If you’re still not a subscriber, you can sign up here and join thousands of other curious investors from around the world.

I also invite you to subscribe to the U.S. Global YouTube page, where we regularly share the latest episodes of Frank Talk Live, Gold Game Film and much more.

Blockchain and Digital Currencies SWOT

Strengths

  • Of the cryptocurrencies tracked by CoinMarketCap, the best performing for the week ended April 27 was Daneel, which gained 769 percent. Last week during an interview, Adena Friedman CEO of Nasdaq, said that “Nasdaq would consider becoming a crypto exchange over time.” Although it is unlikely to launch a service anytime in the near future, this is very positive news for the cryptocurrency market in gaining widespread adoption, writes Coindesk. “I believe that digital currencies will continue to persist, it’s just a matter of how long it will take for that space to mature,” Friedman added.
  • Some of the world’s biggest cryptocurrencies rose again last week, reports Bloomberg. This extends their April rally deep into its fourth week, taking this month’s increase past 75 percent. According to Marc Ostwald, global strategist at ADM Investor Services in London, “The noise from regulators has been far less destructive in recent weeks than since the end of last year, and we haven’t had a big theft from an exchange recently.”

Top 10 Digital Coins Head Past 75 Percent Gain in April Rebound
click to enlarge

  • Walmart Inc. is getting suppliers to put food on the blockchain, according to Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety and health. As Bloomberg reports, the move would help reduce waste, better manage contamination cases and improve transparency. Another new use for blockchain technology is tracking jewels. From mines all the way to retail stores, four gold and diamond companies – Helzberg, Richline, LeachGarner and Asahi – are developing a network to do just that. These companies will use the TrustChainInitiative, running on IBM’s technology, to prove to consumers that their purchases don’t include blood diamonds or other conflict metals, writes Bloomberg.

Weaknesses

  • Of the cryptocurrencies tracked by CoinMarketCap, the worst performing for the week ended April 27 was Global Cryptocurrency, which lost 41 percent.
  • Bloomberg reports that some ERC20 tokens, which are based on the Ethereum network, could be susceptible to a bug in the system. These tokens encompass about 90 percent of the $53 billion token market, according to CoinMarketCap. On Wednesday, two exchanges suspended the ERC20 token, with one going back up the same day.
  • Central bankers still don’t seem to agree on cryptocurrencies and how to regulate them, but they do agree that tokens such as bitcoin and Ethereum won’t replace traditional currencies. The IMF wrote in a report this month that, “while they may serve as a store of value, their use as a medium of exchange has been limited and their elevated volatility has prevented them from becoming a reliable unit of account.” Different approaches around the world to regulating cryptocurrencies would mean that the effectiveness of regulation is limited, writes Bloomberg.

Opportunities

  • A litecoin trade is turning heads in the cryptocurrency community, writes Business Insider. In a single trade at the end of the week before last, $99 million-worth of litecoin was sent between two crypto wallets in a single trade. The trade cost only $0.40 and took around 2.5 minutes to complete. Users are pointing out that a similar transaction in traditional finance “would take days to clear, multiple parties to sign off and carry heft fees,” the article continues.
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has conducted a new study breaking down cryptocurrencies and asking some of the biggest questions in the space today, reports CCN.com. The study includes an analysis of the control structure of various currencies and also looks into whether or not central banks will adopt cryptocurrencies as a form of payment. As the article points out, the study shows the bank as stating “we welcome anonymous cryptocurrencies, but also disagree with the view that the government should provide one.”
  • Venrock Associates, a venture capital firm that grew out from the Rockefeller fortune, is setting its sights on investing in cryptocurrencies, specifically blockchain startups. Bloomberg reports that it is looking to invest some in tokens, but mostly in startups before issuing its own cryptocurrencies. David Pakman, a partner at Venrock Associates said that he thinks “this is one of the most transformative tech ecosystems and has the possibility of creating hundreds of companies worth billions of dollars each.”

Threats

  • According to the Mosaic Network, cryptocurrencies’ “number-one problem” is the massive void in reliable research. Of course, there are books, blogs and critical media coverage on the space, but there still remains very little in the way of timely and rigorous 1) fundamental analysis of project teams and track records, 2) quantitative analysis of adoption and community traction, and 3) technical road-map risk assessment, to name a few, the article continues.
  • Many large brokerage firms, such as Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo, are banning their financial advisors from recommending cryptocurrencies. However, Jack Tatar, who is the co-author of “Cryptoassets” and was a Merrill Lynch financial advisor for almost 10 years, says “these firms will back-track their policies” eventually. Furthermore, Forbes writes that even though brokers can’t trade cryptos for their clients, they’ll go against their employers’ policies and advise their clients to make a personal investment. 
  • According to Coindesk, Capital Group, a financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets under management has prohibited its associates from investing in initial coin offerings (ICOs) or initial public offerings (IPOs). The code of ethics says that there may be some exceptions to investing in IPOs, with no exceptions for ICOs. The ban could be positive with implications that the firm might invest in ICOs on behalf of their clients sometime in the future.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index is a modified market cap-weighted index which tracks the performance of the 10 largest and most liquid digital assets.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index is made up of 22 exchange-traded futures on physical commodities. The index represents 20 commodities, which are weighted to account for economic significance and market liquidity.

MSCI World Index is a capitalization weighted index that monitors the performance of stocks from around the world.

The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index is a flagship measure of global investment grade debt from twenty-four local currency markets.

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Looking Ahead to $20,000 Bitcoin
March 27, 2018

will bitcoin price follow its previous trajectory?

In last week’s Investor Alert, our investment team shared with you a report from Morgan Stanley that says bitcoin’s price decline since December mimics the Nasdaq tech bubble in the late 1990s. This isn’t earth-shattering news in and of itself. The main difference is that the bitcoin rout happened at 15 times the rate as the tech bubble.

Morgan Stanley has some good news for bitcoin bulls, however: The 70 percent decline is “nothing out of the ordinary,” and what’s more, such corrections “have historically preceded rallies.” Just as the Nasdaq gained back much of what it lost in the subsequent years—before the financial crisis pared losses even further—bitcoin could similarly be ready to stage a strong recovery.

Is Bitcoin pain almost finished
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One research firm, in fact, believes bitcoin and other digital coins, or “alt-coins,” have likely found a bottom. New York-based Fundstrat, headed by strategist Thomas Lee, issued a statement to investors last week saying that, though a cryptocurrency bull market isn’t necessarily underway, the worst of the pain could be “largely over.”

Fundstrat research shows that periods of cryptocurrency consolidation, or “purgation,” generally last 70 to 231 days. Bitcoin hit its all-time high in mid-December, almost 70 days ago as of March 26. Taking into consideration Fundstrat’s estimates, then, it’s possible the bear market could conclude sometime between now and early August.  

In the meantime, Lee writes, alt-coin investors should stick with larger-cap cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.

Take the Long-Term View

It’s helpful to compare bitcoin with Nasdaq, as Morgan Stanley did, but what about comparing the current cycle with one from the past?

In June 2011, bitcoin peaked at nearly $30 and found a bottom of $2.02 five months later, in November. It would be an additional 15 months before it returned to its former high. This might seem like a long time to some, but investors who managed to get in at the bottom would have seen their position grow more than 1,300 percent.

will bitcoin price follow its previous trajectory?
click to enlarge

So can bitcoin do the same today? Obviously no one can say for sure, but what I can say with certainty is that bitcoin, like all digital coins, is highly volatile. Plus, there’s not quite 10 years’ worth of data, meaning it’s been difficult to identify trends.

Cryptocurrencies are also currently facing tougher oversight from several world governments and central banks, not to mention Facebook and Twitter’s bans on ads promoting them—obstacles they didn’t have to contend with back in 2011 and 2012.

But I remain bullish. Cryptocurrencies are still in their very early stages. To return to the comparison with tech stocks, we don’t know at this point which digital coins will be tomorrow’s equivalent of Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. A long-term view is key.

Finally, I still believe in the power of Metcalfe’s law, which says that as more and more people adopt a new technology—cell phones, for instance, or Facebook—its value goes up geometrically. A poll conducted in February shows that just under 8 percent of American adults report ever owning or purchasing any cryptocurrencies. Market penetration, then, hasn’t been as pervasive as some might expect, but as people increasingly become more confident in dipping their toes in the space, demand could rise and, with it, prices.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The Nasdaq Composite Index is the market capitalization-weighted index of approximately 3,000 common equities listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2017.

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Bitcoin Is Just the Latest in the Trend Toward Decentralization (INFOGRAPHIC)
January 31, 2018

Something Interesting is Happening

It’s been called a number of things: The sharing economy, or “shareconomy.” Peer-to-peer economy. Collaborative consumption. What all of these terms have in common is the idea of decentralization—and blockchain applications, including bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, are just the latest in a trend toward this new economic paradigm.

If it’s unclear what decentralization means, consider the following visual. You might have seen one like it before. On the left is a representation of a centralized, top-down system. Think of a traditional corporation, one that has only one CEO and one head office.

Are we headed for a new economic paradigm?

Now compare that to the next two visuals depicting decentralized and distributed systems. Instead of being top-down, their infrastructures are more collaborative, helping to prevent systemic failure, collusion and more.

This is the “sharing economy” business model that’s growing in prominence thanks to the internet and practiced by companies such as Facebook, Airbnb, Uber and more. Although these firms have one CEO and headquarters like a more traditional company, their assets are decentralized and widely distributed: Facebook’s content is collaborative among 2 billion users worldwide. Airbnb and Uber’s hotels and cabs are privately owned. Jack Ma’s Alibaba has no inventory of its own, relying instead on a decentralized network of retailers and manufacturers.

Blockchain, and bitcoin specifically, is the logical conclusion to this trend. Bitcoin is completely open-source and peer-to-peer. No one owns it. Unlike fiat currencies, it’s not controlled or regulated by a central authority. This is possible only through the power of blockchain, the decentralized, unmodifiable electronic ledger that records all activity across the entire system.

We’re in the very early stages of this new paradigm, but already much is expected. Mastercard believes the sharing economy will inevitably graduate beyond social media and accommodations, spreading “into new sectors, including insurance, utilities, health and social care.” And UBS estimates that by 2027, blockchain could add between $300 and $400 billion of annual economic value to the global economy.

Indeed, something interesting is happening!

Curious to learn more? Watch my interview with SmallCapPower, where I explain the reasons for my decision to invest in HIVE Blockchain Technologies!

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

Frank Holmes has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors of HIVE Blockchain Technologies. Both Mr. Holmes and U.S. Global Investors own shares of HIVE, directly and indirectly. This interview should not be considered a solicitation or offering of any investment product.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2017.

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What Do Quincy Jones, Serena Williams and Blockchain Have in Common?
January 29, 2018

Frank Holmes Robert Friedland

Two big themes last week at Inside ETFs, the Comic-Con of exchange-traded funds attended by more than 2,300 advisors and investors, were innovation and disruption. Like all other industries, the investing world has seen its fair share of disruption in the past quarter-century—think indexing, passive investing, the rise of robo-allocation and now blockchain and cryptocurrencies. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first ever ETF, and today total ETF assets top $3 trillion. That’s a far cry from the estimated $40 trillion sitting in mutual funds worldwide, but exchange-traded funds are rapidly catching up as investors seek cheaper, more innovative and tax-efficient instruments.

Consider robo-advisors, which emerged only 10 years ago. Who would have thought in the mid-2000s that so many investors would be comfortable enough with the idea of a machine managing their money? And yet here we are. By 2020, Citi analysts predict, assets controlled by robo-advisors could reach close to $450 billion globally.

Robo advisor  platforms forecast to continue growing around the world
click to enlarge

Disruption was definitely top of mind during many of the presentations and interviews at Inside ETFs, including that of producer and composer Quincy Jones, who was at the conference to promote a new stock index that tracks music and entertainment companies. “Q” is the very definition of a legend, having been at the center of some of the most influential musicians, actors, and artists over the course of his long career. With a record 79 Grammy Award nominations to his name, he’s made an indelible impression on the music, television, and film we all consume and enjoy, whether we’re aware of it or not.

When CNBC’s Bob Pisani asked Jones if he was ready for the day when robots write and perform music, the 84-year-old Jones said, “You can’t stop the technology,” adding that he was among the earliest experimenters of synthesizers. (Anyone remember the synthy theme song to the old 1960s-1970s detective show, Ironside? That was composed by Quincy Jones.)

“You got to always stay curious. You got to be willing to take a chance,” he said.

Tennis star Serena Williams being interviewed by Barry Ritholtz at Inside ETFs 2018

A similar forward-thinking attitude was expressed by Serena Williams, who was also in attendance. The tennis virtuoso and four-time Olympic gold medal winner, who bagged her 23rd Grand Slam last year while pregnant, is a savvy businesswoman in her own right, sitting on the board of online survey firm SurveyMonkey and Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon that controls a number of media outlets such as HuffPost, Yahoo and Tumblr.

When asked why she was drawn to tech firms in particular—her husband Alexis Ohanian co-founded Reddit—Williams said, “This is a new time, and I don’t want to be left behind.”

I couldn’t agree more with Jones and Williams.

Embracing Disruption with HIVE Blockchain Technologies

Curiosity and a willingness to embrace change and innovation are what led me to invest in HIVE Blockchain Technologies and agree to become its chairman last year. As many of you know, HIVE is the first publicly-traded company engaged in the mining of virgin digital currencies, including bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Monero and many more.

I’m thrilled to be at the forefront of this new technology that’s already disrupting our industry and reshaping how transactions are made and companies raise funds across the globe. The year 2017 was the real catalyst, bringing cryptocurrencies into mainstream conversations as bitcoin hit an all-time high of nearly $20,000 apiece in mid-December.

Total crypto market cap briefly cracked $830 billion earlier this month yet has since receded to around $540 billion, with strong pressure being exerted by the global equities bull market. A record $33.2 billion flowed into stocks in the week ended January 24, according to investments data provider EPFR Global. U.S. stocks alone attracted $7 billion, while emerging markets saw inflows reach $8.1 billion, the second-highest amount recorded in a week.

Competition among digital currencies is also heating up. Although bitcoin remains the top dog, it faces tough competition from the likes of Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple and the other nearly-1,500 coins on the market today. It now accounts for about 40 percent of the entire market, down from almost 100 percent just a few years ago.

Bitcoin is facing gretaer competition from other cryptocurrencies
click to enlarge

What’s important to remember is that digital currencies are, at the moment, highly volatile and speculative. Unlike gold and other hard assets, they haven’t been tested in all economic backdrops. Bitcoin was created only in 2009, after the worst months of the financial crisis, and it’s existed mainly in an environment of rising equity prices and gradually improving economic conditions. How investors might use it in the next recession or major market correction is unknown at this point.

Coinbase Generated $1 Billion in Sales Last Year

Having said that, the crypto space is rapidly maturing in a number of different ways. Every day, more and more businesses accept the currency as a form of payment. Investors can now buy bitcoin futures. Fidelity and USAA both allow account holders to monitor their cryptocurrency holdings. Blockchain ETFs are appearing on the market—though a couple of proposed bitcoin ETFs have hit roadblocks getting approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And I overheard at the Canaccord Genuity Blockchain Conference in Toronto last week that as many as 10,000 millionaires have been created from Ethereum.

Last year, the cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase booked $1 billion in revenue, almost double what company executives had expected for 2017. Founded only six years ago and boasting more than 13.5 million accounts, Coinbase has recently closed the door on any additional venture capital, leaving investors to hope for an initial public offering (IPO) sometime in the near future.

Coinbase is about to face some serious competition, though, as smartphone-only trading app Robinhood will begin allowing customers to trade bitcoin and Ethereum next month—all commission-free.

World Gold Council: Cryptocurrencies Are No Substitute for Gold

Several attendees at Inside ETFs and the blockchain conference raised concerns that cryptocurrencies are on a path to replace gold as a safe haven investment. I’ve mentioned multiple times before that I do not see this to be the case, for a number of reasons. Unlike bitcoin, gold has thousands of years’ worth of history to justify its role as a currency and store of value. Central banks own gold, as do institutional and retail investors. It’s widely used not just as money but also as jewelry and in dentistry and electronics. The metal, in fact, can be found in the very computer hardware used to mine bitcoin.

Now, in a new report, the World Gold Council (WGC) takes the position that, while cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are attractive, they simply don’t and can’t usurp gold’s place in investors’ portfolios.

What’s more, “there isn’t any quantifiable evidence that gold holdings are directly suffering from competition from cryptocurrencies,” the WGC writes.

Tennis star Serena Williams being interviewed by Barry Ritholtz at Inside ETFs 2018

Need proof? According to the group, bitcoin currently trades around $2 billion a day on average. That’s less than 1 percent of the $250 billion in gold bullion that’s traded every day. Remember, gold is one of the most liquid currencies in the world, with a highly developed and accepted market structure.

There are several other important differences between the two asset classes, and I highly recommend you read the full report. You can do so by clicking here.

Investors Pile into Gold-Backed ETFs Ahead of Potential Jump in Inflation

Coming back full circle to ETFs, Bloomberg reported last week that holdings in gold bullion-backed funds rose to their highest level since 2013 on a weaker U.S. dollar, rising geopolitical risk and growing expectations that inflation could finally heat up in 2018.

Holdings climbed to 2,250 metric tons earlier last week, the highest amount since May 2013, when gold prices were still in the $1,400 to $1,500-an-ounce range.

Holdings in bullion backed ETFs are at their highest since 2013
click to enlarge

The U.S. dollar has plunged in value for the past several weeks, dipping more than 1 percent last Wednesday alone—the biggest one-day pullback in 10 months—following Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that a weaker buck “is good for us as it’s related to trade and opportunities.” The greenback similarly tanked back in April 2017 when President Donald Trump said the dollar is “getting too strong.” Soon after, it fell below its 200-day moving average.

US dollar has lost 12 percent since Trumps inaug
click to enlarge

Last Thursday, however, Trump walked back Mnuchin’s (and his own) comment, telling CNBC that the dollar “is going to get stronger and stronger, and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar.”

In any case, this has all been constructive for the price of gold, which Thomson Reuters GFMS now sees hitting $1,500 an ounce this year. If you remember, $1,500 was approximately my estimate after analyzing gold’s performance in the months following the December rate hikes in 2015 and 2016.

According to Thomson Reuters, the price appreciation could be driven by “concerns that the United States may pull out of NAFTA.”

Doing so, of course, would be highly inflationary—and inflation, as I point out in last week’s episode of Frank Talk Live, has historically been a tailwind for gold. The tax overhaul is already helping to boost wages at Walmart, Starbucks and elsewhere, and the U.S. recently slapped fresh tariffs on imported washing machines and solar cells. In response, South Korea opened two cases against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

And let’s not discount geopolitical noise. Last week, the “Doomsday Clock” was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight and now stands only two minutes away. That’s the closest to midnight the symbolic barometer has come since 1953, when both the U.S. and Russia first began testing thermonuclear weapons—among the most disruptive advancements of the past 100 years.

Curious to learn more about what’s driving gold? Click here!

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

Frank Holmes has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors of HIVE Blockchain Technologies. Both Mr. Holmes and U.S. Global Investors own shares of HIVE, directly and indirectly.

The U.S. Dollar Index (USDX, DXY) is an index (or measure) of the value of the United States dollar relative to a basket of foreign currencies, often referred to as a basket of U.S. trade partners' currencies.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2017.

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Net Asset Value
as of 05/18/2018

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $6.18 -0.06 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.59 No Change World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $4.17 No Change China Region Fund USCOX $11.60 -0.01 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $7.04 -0.05 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $25.44 -0.01 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $19.52 No Change Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.19 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $1.99 No Change