Citywire AA-rated James Sym has branded Bitcoin ‘ludicrous’ and the type of mass hysteria all seasoned fund managers should avoid, but said even calm heads are struggling to ignore it.
Speaking to Citywire Selector before the most recent massive moves in Bitcoin’s pricing, Sym, who runs three European equity funds at Schroders, was asked about his views on the ubiquitous cryptocurrency and did not hold back.
‘Bitcoin is one of the most ludicrous constructs of this QE liquidity-driven cycle, and far from finding a way to play the theme it is exactly the sort of bubble we try to avoid.
‘Bitcoin is held up as an "un-manipulated" currency by its fan club, but in a true inflationary currency crisis its utility to bitcoin holders is likely to be about zero, far lower than holding US dollars, Swiss francs or the traditional physical gold. It is nothing short of a pointless waste of money.’
Sym added that a younger member of his team had sold £1,200 (€1,350) worth of the currency in 2013, which would be worth £260,000 (€293,000) today if he had ridden the rise. ‘He had his head in his hands, but I comforted him with the message I thought his sale will look very shrewd on a five-year view.’
Sym said Bitcoin has the classic characteristics of a bubble, which investors seem to be gleefully ignoring.
‘For one, the price chart is exponential. Second, the total value doesn’t pass the common sense test – there are $120 billion of bitcoin in circulation, more than the value of Europe’s largest bank, IT company, industrial conglomerate, chemical company, car company or consumer brand company. Third, there is no sensible valuation metric that can be ascribed to it.’
Perhaps most worryingly, Sym said, more experienced managers are starting to be drawn to its appeal. ‘True bubbles have to suck perfectly sensible people in to be truly classed as such.
'Behind me sits an experienced, credible fund manager with a very good and consistent long-term track record. He is "interested" in bitcoins and suggested I should "really think about them".
‘A final personal note. Last month I visited a good friend in New York. Very generously and somewhat out of character he paid for dinner with a particular attention to the wine list. When I enquired about his new-found munificence he conspiratorially whispered "bitcoins". No amount of imploring, or red wine, could shift his opinion. I drank up and left.’
More insights into the future – or folly – of Bitcoin will feature in the Global Perspectives section of the next copy of Citywire Selector magazine.