Cryptocurrencies – Too early or too late? | Wells Fargo Investment Institute

Understanding Cryptocurrency

by Global Investment Strategy Team
Key takeaways

  • Cryptocurrency users are growing globally and rapidly off a low base.
  • Cryptocurrencies appear to be near a hyper-adoption phase, similar to that of the internet during the mid-to-late 1990s.

What it may mean for investors

  • We believe that cryptocurrencies are viable investments today, even though they remain in the early stages of their investment evolution. We recommend professionally managed private placements for now, as the investment landscape is still maturing.

“ Envy and arrogance are the two opposite sides of the lapp black crystal. ” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1903 Labor Day Speech.

Over the by few months, we have written about cryptocurrencies and the unique technologies that underpin them. today ’ sulfur publication is not about the engineering, but a common point of confusion regarding the future of cryptocurrencies as investments. That confusion is – some investors think that it is besides early on to invest, while others think that it may be excessively late. Our conviction is that cryptocurrencies are viable investments today but that it is placid early in the cryptocurrency investment development, as we will explain .
The “too late to invest” argument
Cryptocurrencies, turning in some of the best performances over the past decade ( versus other major asset classes ) have newfangled investors fearing that they may be besides late. Bitcoin ’ sulfur monetary value, as an example, has compounded at a 216 % annual rate since its beginning recorded transaction in 2010 ( Chart 1 ). By comparison, the sum return of the S & P 500 Index over the lapp time period has compounded annually at 16 %. such cryptocurrency gains have led to increased media care and enviable stories of newfound wealth. A blue-ribbon few individuals, holding since the earliest of days, flush became billionaires. Twelve of the 2,755 individuals on the Forbes 2021 World ’ sulfur Billionaires List emerged from the universe of crypto .
Chart 1. Bitcoin price history
Chart 1. Bitcoin price history
Sources : Bloomberg and Wells Fargo Investment Institute. Daily data : July 19, 2010 – January 6, 2022. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
We understand the “ besides late to invest ” argument but do not subscribe to it. We believe that focusing besides much on past performance, specially with cryptocurrencies, can be misleading to new investors. First, operation numbers are skewed because most cryptocurrencies evolved from virtually zero. The earliest years were highly notional, and it was common to see individual cryptocurrencies launched at prices less than $ 1. Using bitcoin as an exercise again, its inaugural real-world transaction did not occur until May 2010, 16 months after its initiation, and it valued 1 bitcoin at roughly $ 0.004. Bitcoin did not cross $ 1 until February 2011 .
second, cryptocurrencies are still a relatively young investing outer space. The huge majority are, in fact, less than five years old. even the oldest cryptocurrencies have much senesce to do. For example, bitcoin is the oldest and arguably one of the least volatile cryptocurrencies, but it is still roughly four times more volatile than gold ( Chart 2, dashed orange line ) and a basket of ball-shaped equities ( Chart 2, dotted purple line ) .
Chart 2. 90-day volatility: gold, stocks, Bitcoin, U.S. dollar
Chart 2. 90-day volatility: gold, stocks, Bitcoin, U.S. dollar
Sources : Bloomberg and Wells Fargo Investment Institute. Daily data : January 3, 2011 – January 6, 2022. The 90-day price excitability equals the annualized standard deviation of the relative price change for the 90 most holocene trade day ’ s close price, expressed as a percentage. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
last, cryptocurrencies are a different kind of investing, which has made them hard to understand and invest in. A big part of this stems from the complexity of the technology. Another reason is that cryptocurrencies originate outside the traditional fiscal system, which has made it hard to attract investing flows and research coverage. In the traditional fiscal organization, companies spend their early development years in the hands of private investors, with the ultimate aim of attracting public investors besides. If successful, the company much receives broad inquiry coverage and access to bombastic pools of investors. Cryptocurrencies have not followed this path, as they launch from personal computers with limited management structure, if any .
Why we believe it is early, but not too early
We see cryptocurrencies in the “ early, but not excessively early ” investment stage, which is why we have emphasized investor education. The throw of our watch comes from global cryptocurrency adoption rates, which have quickly accelerated from a low al-qaeda. Cryptocurrencies have been following an borrowing blueprint like to early new advance technologies, such as the internet. For the remainder of this piece, we will discuss how progress technologies have typically been adopted, and why we believe that cryptocurrencies may be near an adoption prosody point, like to the internet in the mid-to-late 1990s .
Early technology adoption
It frequently takes many years for consumers to widely adopt newfangled advanced technologies. Chart 3 highlights the borrowing paths of blue-ribbon technologies — new for their time — by U.S. households. Rising lines indicate a growing percentage of U.S. households using these technologies. Adoption typically started slowly, hit an modulation point, and then steeply accelerated. It is significant to note that in some cases decades passed between the actual inventions and surging adoption rates. As an model, the internet was invented in 1983, so far by 1995, only 14 % of Americans ( and less than 1 % of the world ) were using it. interestingly, these adoption percentages are similar to what we are seeing today with cryptocurrencies. Thirteen percentage of Americans purchased or trade cryptocurrencies in the by 12 months ( Chart 3, blue sky star ), according to a holocene view by the University of Chicago. And roughly 3 % of the global uses cryptocurrencies, according to ( Chart 4 ) .
In the early borrowing years, drug user experiences with fresh technologies have often been clunky and frustrating as the ecosystem and infrastructure lento matured. In the event of the internet, many readers may remember the days before the first vane browser in 1993, when accessing the internet required type at a prompt on a park screen. Talk about gawky .
besides coarse to the early adoption years is that when the first-use cases emerged, consumers still needed time to figure out what the engineering is, what it can do, and how it can benefit them. Conversations throughout 2021 revealed to us that many investors and consumers, newfangled to the distance, believe that cryptocurrencies remain in this early borrowing stage, as they find the engineering daunting and use cases unclear .
Chart 3. Technology S curves

Chart 3. Technology S curves
Sources : Our World in Data ( ), National Opinion Research Center ( NORC ), and Wells Fargo Investment Institute. Yearly data : 1900-2020. * Crypto share figure based on results from review conducted by NORC June 24-28, 2021 at the University of Chicago .
Our view: Cryptocurrency adoption today looks similar to the 1990s internet
While the engineering behind cryptocurrencies is complex, and function cases can be heavily to visualize for those new to the quad, datum shows that the world is beginning to embrace the technology — and cursorily. According to, the number of ball-shaped cryptocurrency users reached 221 million in June 2021, or good under 3 % of the universe ’ sulfur population. Most impressively, it took only four months to double the ball-shaped cryptocurrency population from 100 million to 200 million .
Cryptocurrency adoption rates look to be following the way of early earlier promote technologies, particularly the internet. If this vogue continues, cryptocurrencies could soon exit the early borrowing phase and enroll an modulation point of hyper-adoption, exchangeable to early technologies seen in Chart 3. Notice in Chart 3 that there is a point where adoption rates begin to rise and do not look rear. For the internet, that point was the mid-to-late 1990s. After a slow start in the early 1990s, internet use surged from 77 million in 1996 to 412 million in 2000. By 2010, worldwide internet use had grown to 1.98 billion, and nowadays it sits at 4.9 billion .
Another significant retainer is that internet borrowing, once it hit its prosody point in the mid-to-late 1990s, rose at a faster rate than the other advance technologies seen in Chart 3. We have noticed exchangeable accelerated trends in more holocene digital inventions, such as smart phones and WiFi. The reason is that each raw digital invention rides the coattails of the digital infrastructure already built. We expect that cryptocurrencies finally will follow an accelerated adoption path similar to recent digital inventions .
Chart 4 helps visualize why we believe that cryptocurrencies may have reached an adoption prosody steer similar to where the internet was in the mid-to-late 1990s. Chart 4 compares ball-shaped user growth between the internet, starting in 1993 ( Chart 4, solid red line ), and cryptocurrency users, starting in 2014 ( Chart 4, dashed imperial tune ). Based on this comparison alone, it appears that cryptocurrency use today may even be a little ahead of the mid-to-late 1990s internet. precise numbers aside, there is no doubt that ball-shaped cryptocurrency borrowing is rising, and could soon hit a hyper-inflection point .
Chart 4. Internet usage history versus crypto users
Chart 4. Internet usage history versus crypto users
Sources : International Telecommunication Union, Our World in Data,, Statista, Bloomberg, and Wells Fargo Investment Institute .
Another documentation for cryptocurrency adoption to accelerate is holocene regulative progress. As we have discussed in early publications, cryptocurrencies have matured to the decimal point where legal and oversight frameworks are being drawn to solidify cryptocurrencies as investable assets. lack of a regulative structure is an crucial barrier to be removed, as it was cited as the numeral one reason in a 2020 Bloomberg survey why high net worth investors were unwilling to invest in cryptocurrencies .
What to Do Now
Be patient. There is no indigence to rush, as most of the opportunity lies before us, not behind us. The graphic on the follow page highlights that the entire marketplace capitalization of cryptocurrencies is still less than that of the engineering company Apple Inc .
Be prudent. Adoption rates are rising, but investment options are a bit behind and calm maturing. As a refresher course, there are generally three ways to gain exposure today ; 1 ) buy cryptocurrencies directly from an substitution, 2 ) reciprocal funds, exchange-traded funds ( ETFs ) and grantor trusts, and 3 ) private placements. option 1, buying immediately from an change, we do not advise. The engineering is complex, and the notional investing risks are high. choice 2 is not advised either, as current U.S. common funds and ETF options are backed by futures, not the digital assets themselves, and grantor trusts are much dogged by high fees and volatile net asset values. We are hopeful that regulators may soon approve reciprocal funds and ETFs backed by the digital assets themselves – possibly american samoa soon as 2022. Until that day comes, though, we prefer that qualified investors turn to Option 3, professional management through a private placement .
Be careful. Some investors have expressed frustration with such circumscribed investment options. We empathize and would prefer to have more high gear quality options to offer. This is, unfortunately, not the investment product state of matter we see nowadays. For those unwilling to wait for better investing products, and feel compelled to try Option 1, we say be careful and keep the 1990s in perspective .
Early-stage invest is much fraught with violent boom and broke cycles, as many a dot-com company and investor can attest from 20 years ago. More than 16,000 cryptocurrencies exist today, and if history is any steer, many will fail ( or at least fail to scale ). Cryptocurrencies already succumbed to one shakeout event in 2017, when more than 1,700, about 40 % of all cryptocurrencies at the meter, went tear. We believe odds are high gear that cryptocurrencies will see future shakeout events .
last, picking long-run technology winners is no walk in the park. Investors must routinely evaluate the current winners and losers against the ever-rising set of yet-to-be-created companies. We will use 1996-1997 as an case again. The most visit web sites of that time, no matter their line of business, did not stay relevant much beyond the class 2000. Anyone want to guess the most traffic web site in 1996 ? hint : “ You ’ ve Got Mail. ” An interesting flex to the floor, though, is that the largest company in the S & P 500 ( by market capitalization ) today was a beaten-down hardware company that was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1997 .
Special Report: Cryptocurrencies – Too early or too late?
Sources : Bloomberg, SIFMA, Bank of International Settlements,, Prices by Warren and Pearson, U.S. Geological Survey, Metal Focus Data, and Wells Fargo Investment Institute. Crypto, stock grocery store, and largest market company in the S & P 500 Index size as of January 11, 2022. adhere market size as of December 31, 2020. amber market size calculated by multiplying estimate measure of troy ounces of gold ever mined as of December 31, 2020 data by the price of gold as of January 11, 2022.

For nowadays ’ sulfur investor trying to figure out if we are early on or late to cryptocurrency invest, looking at technology investing in the mid-to-late 1990s seems reasonable. At that time, the internet hit a hyper-adoption phase and never looked back. Cryptocurrencies appear to be at a alike stage today. Cryptocurrency investing options today, however, are distillery maturing and we advise solitaire. For now, we suggest the circumstance of only professionally managed private placements. We do not recommend any of the other stream investment options, such as common funds, ETFs, grantor trusts, and individual cryptocurrency speculation. We are bright that greater regulative clarity in 2022 brings higher quality investment options .
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