During the past year of COVID-induced market mania, cryptocurrencies have gone up so much — bitcoin is up about fivefold, while many other crypto projects are up far, far more — that even reluctant Wall Street institutions have begun to tiptoe into the arena. A blazing rally that began this month has helped bitcoin shoot up nearly 50 percent in two weeks. It was driven by various pieces of news — for instance, George Soros’s family office disclosed that it holds some — but the biggest force was the increasingly certain expectation that the federal government will approve the first bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund, which will allow retail investors to buy in more easily, including for 401(k) accounts. (The ETF could begin trading as early as Monday.)
But doubters remain — and their ranks just happen to include many of the same prominent investors who saw the financial crisis of 2008 coming.
Hedge-fund mogul John Paulson, who was behind the “the greatest trade ever” — in 2007, he personally made $4 billion on his short of subprime mortgages — thinks cryptocurrencies are a bubble that will prove to be “worthless.” Michael Burry, the quirky hedge-fund manager made famous in The Big Short movie (played by Christian Bale), complains that no one is paying attention to crypto’s leverage. For months, he has been suggesting that bitcoin is on the precipice of collapse. And NYU professor Nassim Taleb, whose now-canonical book The Black Swan warned about the dangers of unpredictable events just ahead of the subprime crash, argues that bitcoin is functionally a Ponzi scheme.
Other famous critics include economist Nouriel Roubini, one of the few in his profession to predict the financial crisis, and hedge-fund billionaire and hard-money acolyte Paul Singer, whose speech at a prestigious investment conference in 2006 described the eventual “wipeout” of mortgage securities.
Singer, the founder of the $48 billion investment firm Elliott Management, thinks cryptocurrencies are a fraud, but is apparently tired of complaining about them. “Pulling out your hair is an option, though only if you have hair to spare,” the balding 77-year-old Singer wrote in his first-quarter letter to investors this year. “We continue to press on for the day when we can say, ‘We told you so.’”
You can read the rest of my New York magazine Intelligencer article here: