Bitcoin isn't as volatile as you think

Rick Newman

Bitcoin has joined the mainstream financial universe. Its value soared by 1,400% in 2017, drawing the attention of banks, hedge funds and ordinary Joes hoping to make a quick buck.

Analysts are astounded by bitcoin’s volatility, with routine price gyrations of $1,000 or more in a single day. But anybody exclaiming bitcoin’s volatility isn’t familiar with its history. Bitcoin has actually been less volatile during the last year than it has for much of its seven-and-a-half-year history. If anything, bitcoin is becoming more stable, not more volatile.

Yahoo Finance examined bitcoin price changes going back to 2010, when public trading in the cryptocurrency began. This chart shows bitcoin price changes, in percentage terms, over a rolling 30-day period, through the end of 2017:

Source: Yahoo Finance

Bitcoin’s most volatile days (so far) weren’t in 2017, but in 2011, when the price rose by 720% during one 30-day period. There was another bout of extreme price swings in 2013. A period of relative calm followed that, with more jumpiness in 2017. Still, price swings during the past year have been subdued compared to the standards of bitcoin’s wild early days.

What’s different now, of course, is that the stakes are much higher. During bitcoin’s most manic month, in 2011, the price of one bitcoin soared from 93 cents to $8.20. That’s a huge gain in percentage terms, but one bitcoin would only buy a couple cups of coffee. If bitcoin rose 720% from current levels, the gain on one coin would top $100,000. Bitcoin now represents life-changing money. Here’s the dizzying price chart going back to bitcoin’s inception in 2010:

Source: Yahoo Finance

There have been gigantic declines in bitcoin’s price, as well. The biggest 30-day drop in bitcoin came in 2014, when it fell 88% between January and February. The price plunged from $962 to $112, for a loss of $850 on one coin. That’s not nothing, but if the price fell 88% today, you’d be out more than $12,000 per coin. And bitcoin speculators should know: if it fell 88% before, it could happen again.

Bitcoin is very volatile, of course, compared with stocks, bonds, gold, oil and most other things investors buy and sell. The real reason bitcoin’s volatility is so startling is that nothing else ordinary investors are familiar with behaves quite like it.

That’s also why bitcoin is fascinating: It’s a new type of asset investors and regulators haven’t completely figured out yet. Those huge price swings reveal an experiment underway. Study them. Enjoy them, even. But don’t fear them.

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Rick Newman, who owns a small amount of bitcoin, is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman