Bitcoin is ‘more speculative’ than gold: ex-Deutsche Bank managing director

·3-min read

Soon after bitcoin (BTC-USD) startled investors with a rare drop below $30,000 last week, the cryptocurrency has rebounded dramatically in recent days, rising well above $40,000

The sudden bounce back has cheered bitcoin bulls but also underscored a concern among critics that the volatility of the most popular cryptocurrency makes it useless for the buying and selling of goods. 

Pavan Sukhdev, the president of environmental advocacy group WWF International and a former managing director at Deutsche Bank, in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance rejected the characterization of bitcoin as an alternative currency, noting that the digital asset's swerving price makes it nearly impossible for use in transactions.

Moreover, Sukhdev said the lack of use cases for bitcoin renders it a speculative asset even more so than gold, another asset primarily used to store value.

"Bitcoin is not a currency — it's an asset," says Sukhdev.

"When you have something that is as volatile as bitcoin, which goes down from 60,000, to whatever 30,000 and back up to 40,000 in the span of sharp areas," he says. "Imagine if you were buying and selling your daily shopping with $1 in your wallet, which went up and down in value 10%, 20%, 30% every day. I mean, how happy would you feel with that?"

Sukhdev is hardly alone in his fear over the speculative nature of bitcoin. 

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) CEO Warren Buffett in 2018 described bitcoin as "rat poison," and a survey conducted by JPMorgan Chase (JPM) last month found that one-third of mainstream investment firms agree with Buffett's characterization.

To be sure, many bitcoin supporters say the cryptocurrency can be used for transactions, and point to companies like Overstock.com (OSTK) and Starbucks (SBUX) that offer customers ways to pay in bitcoin. Speaking on a panel last week, Ark Invest CEO/CIO Cathie Wood said, "Right now high-value transactions take place over bitcoin and that is a very useful role."

Buffett held similar reservations about the speculative quality of gold, saying in a 1998 speech at Harvard University that the precious metal had "no utility." At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting two years later, he called gold "some piece of metal that people dig out of the ground in South Africa and then put back in the ground at Fort Knox." 

But in a turnabout last year, Berkshire Hathaway acquired more than 20 million shares of Barrick Gold Corp (GOLD). And some proponents of gold argue that it holds a variety of use cases, including jewelry, dentistry, and electronics.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Sukhdev said he believes bitcoin is more speculative than gold.

"I don't see bitcoin as an alternative currency. But I do see it as a speculative store of value, like gold or whatever," he adds. "In fact, even more speculative than that."

KRAKOW, POLAND - 2021/06/10: A bitcoin hotspot is pictured inside a shopping mall. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
KRAKOW, POLAND - 2021/06/10: A bitcoin hotspot is pictured inside a shopping mall. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Born in India and educated in Switzerland and England, Sukhdev worked as a banker for more than two decades before he turned to environmental advocacy. In 2017, he was named the president of WWF International, a leading environmental organization with more than 6 million donors worldwide. 

In recent months, concerns over bitcoin's environmental impact have risen to the fore. Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk announced in May that the company would no longer accept the cryptocurrency as payment over "the use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining and transactions." 

The decision came just over three months after the company announced it would begin accepting bitcoin. 

When asked about the company's decision to go back on its initial acceptance of the cryptocurrency out of environmental concern, Sukhdev said, "I would say I tend to agree with Elon Musk."

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