Saturday, January 17, 2015

Amid Bitcoin's Bloodbath, Silence From Silicon Valley Press

By Andy Kessler

As I'm sure you're aware, oil prices have cratered, from $85 a year ago to just $46 today. That's nothing. The value of Bitcoin, which peaked in November of 2013 at $1242, has dropped from $847 in January of 2014 to all of $201 today. Heck, it dropped 32% in two days this week! Bitcoin has since bounced, up 19% to $210 yesterday.

Now granted, most people could not care less about Bitcoin. I'm not even sure I care - a fool and his money, blah blah blah. I think the technology used to implement the Bitcoin payment system is fascinating - public ledgers and crypto and block chains will all be game changers. Bitcoins themselves? More of a necessary component to creating a new financial system. Their value was always in Fantasyland and subject to
decline every time the compute power to "mine" the Bitcoins got cheaper, which it does every day.

But in Silicon Valley, it's a big deal. Tons of money has been thrown at Bitcoin companies - wallets and exchanges and payment systems. Some of them may even work. Bitcoin is trying to go legit after the messy headlines of the Mt. Gox exchange collapse and the arrest of Ross Ulbricht on charges of dealing drugs via the Silk Road website using Bitcoins as payment. The FBI seized some 144,000 Bitcoins from Silk Road in the raid. Ulbricht's trial is actually going on right now. It's topical!
So anyway, here's where it gets interesting. On Tuesday, the price of one Bitcoin dropped 16% and then another 22% on Wednesday. This is a big deal. Why? Because barely six months ago, in July of 2014, the Feds auctioned off 29,656 of these seized Bitcoins. The winner, beating out 44 other bidders? Silicon Valley icon Tim Draper - he of the venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and the Six Californias initiative and the Draper University of Heroes. The amount of the winning bid was private, but the Bitcoin price was $570 before the auction started and $650 right after. This was covered extensively by the Silicon Valley digerati, Pando Daily, Techcrunch, Re/Code, etc. And in the mainstream media as well.

Let's give Draper the benefit of the doubt and assume he bid $570, which means he forked over to the Feds about $17 million (it's probably higher as he beat 44 other bidders, remember.)

There was another auction of 50,000 Bitcoins in December of 2014 and this time, Draper won only 2,000 Bitcoin, paying, I'd guess, around $370. Barry Silbert, the former CEO of New York firm Second Market and now manager of the Bitcoin Investment Trust, together with a syndicate he put together, "won" the other 48,000 Bitcoin for about $18 million. Congrats.

So Tim Draper invests some $18 million in about 32,000 Bitcoin and today (wait for it...) they're worth a whopping $6.7 million, losing 63% in six months. Don't get me wrong. I like Tim Draper. He's a bit quirky and has an awful taste in ties. Silbert's stake is now worth $10 million - down 43% in a rotation of the moon. My point is less about the epic FAIL of their at the time hyped Bitcoin investing prowess. Jeez, we all make mistakes. No, my beef is more about the coverage.

Sure, Draper lost $11 something million in six months. But my problem is that you wouldn't know any of this from reading the Silicon Valley press, websites or blogs. Nothing. Pando Daily has run 14 stories on Bitcoin in the last month. But type "Tim Draper" into the search box in Pando. Nothing about the price drop. Try it at Techcrunch. Bupkis about the shellacking. My friend Kara Swisher at Re/Code? Zippo. Well, a pointer to an article in the New Statesman. Any mention of Draper or Second Market in that article? Nope. The new Valleywag? Surely old "Fake Steve Jobs" Dan Lyons is all over this? Oops. Not a peep. Venture Beat? Nah.

In fact, the only thing I could find was on Reddit, from five months ago!

Look, this is not some obscure market. Microsoft, Dell, Overstock all take Bitcoin. Expedia and DISH Network will soon take Bitcoin. It's going mainstream or trying hard to. For venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, after investing in the "Ubers of Everything," Bitcoin is one of the top areas of interest. Over $300 million has been invested. Dozens of startups have been funded. Everyone's got one. Some may even work. I hope they do. But after a one third drop in value over two days and a spectacular and quick bloodbath from winning a U.S. Government sponsored auction of Bitcoins, we hear crickets.

Hey, maybe Bitcoin's price is going to $1 million. Maybe not. But when it collapses six months, let alone one month, after a highly visible government auction, you'd think its newsworthy.
Every good journalist knows the mantra: If it bleeds, it ledes. Yet, the silence is deafening.

The above originally appeared at RealClearMarkets. A former hedge fund manager, Andy Kessler is the author of numerous books on venture capital and finance, including, most recently,  Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs.

(ht JR)

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