Are ICOs Replacing IPOs? Background image created by Dragana_Gordic - Freepik.com

This week I was in Barcelona speaking at the LBMA/LPPM Precious Metals Conference, which was attended by approximately 700 metals and mining firms from all over the globe. I found the event energizing and stimulating, full of contrary views on topics ranging from macroeconomics to physical investment markets to cryptocurrencies.

My keynote address on Tuesday focused on quant investing in gold mining and the booming initial coin offering (ICO) market. I’m thrilled to share with you that the presentation was voted the best, for which I was awarded an ounce of gold. I want to thank the London Bullion Market Association, its members and conference attendees for this honor.

Speaking of gold and cryptocurrencies, the LBMA conducted several interesting polls on which of the two assets would benefit the most in certain scenarios. In one such poll, attendees overwhelmingly said the gold price would skyrocket in the event of a conflict involving nuclear weapons. Bitcoin, meanwhile, would plummet, according to participants—which makes some sense. As I pointed out before, trading bitcoin and other cryptos is dependent on electricity and WiFi, both of which could easily be knocked out by a nuclear strike. Gold, however, would still be available to convert into cash.

It’s a horrific thought, but the poll results show that the investment case for gold as a store of value remains favorable. Goldman Sachs echoed the idea this week, writing in a note to investors that “precious metals remain a relevant asset class in modern portfolios, despite their lack of yield.” The investment bank added that precious metals “are still the best long-term store of value out of the known elements.”

Metcalfe’s Law Suggests Crypto Prices Could Keep Rising

This isn’t meant to knock bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Because they’re decentralized and therefore less prone to manipulation by governments and banks—unlike paper money and even gold—I think they could also have a place in portfolios.

Even those who criticize cryptocurrencies the loudest seem to agree. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon, if you remember, called bitcoin “stupid” and a “fraud,” and yet his firm is a member of the pro-blockchain Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA). Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly said cryptocurrencies had “serious risks,” and yet he just called for the development of a new digital currency, the “cryptoruble,” which will be used as legal tender throughout the federation.

Follow the money.

Metcalfe’s law states that the bigger the network of users, the greater that network’s value becomes. Robert Metcalfe, distinguished electrical engineer, was speaking specifically about Ethernet, but it also applies to cryptos. Bitcoin might look like a bubble on a simple price chart, but when we place it on a logarithmic scale, we see that a peak has not been reached yet.

Bitcoin still has room to run
click to enlarge

Bitcoin adoption could multiply the more people become aware of how much of their wealth is controlled by governments and the big banks. This was among the hallway chatter I overheard at the Precious Metals Conference, with one person commenting that what’s said in private during International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings is far more important than what’s said officially.

I have a similar view of the G20, whose mission was once to keep global trade strong. Since at least 2008, though, the G20 has been all about synchronized taxation to grow not the economy but the role government plays in our lives. Trading virtual currencies is one significant way to get around that.

The Incredible Shrinking IPO Market

Just as water takes the path of least resistance, money flows where it’s respected most.

You need only look at the mountain of cash U.S. multinationals have stashed overseas, currently standing at an estimated $2.6 trillion. The steep 39 percent U.S. corporate tax rate—the highest among any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)— discourages companies from bringing their profits back home and reinvesting them in new equipment and employees.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only type of friction money can run up against. More and more stringent financial rules and regulations have been one of the top destroyers of capital and business growth over the past 20 to 30 years. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, signed in 2002, is widely blamed for limiting the number of initial public offerings (IPOs) that occur in the U.S. The legislation has made it prohibitively expensive for many smaller firms to get listed on an exchange. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of investable U.S. companies was cut in half, falling from 7,322 to 3,671.

Number of listed US companies continues to drop
click to enlarge

This has ultimately hurt everyday retail investors who not only have fewer stocks to invest in now but also lack access to many of the same potentially profitable opportunities enjoyed by angel investors, venture capitalists and other institutional investors. Private equity and venture capital can be much higher-yielding investments than common asset classes such as Treasuries and equities, but for the most part, only accredited investors can participate.