Markets

Christopher Langner is a markets columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered corporate finance for Bloomberg News, and has written for Reuters/IFR, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and Mergermarket.

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

Bitcoin is still mainly a gimmick favored by geeks who want to revolutionize the world and do away with central banks -- or by people in China wishing to take money out of the country.

But of late, its appreciation suggests more investors may be seeing the unit as a store of value, one of the requirements for economists to start calling it a real currency. While that's interesting, it's important to bear in mind that at the end of the day, Bitcoin is just a piece of code.

This month, as Brexit fears sent stock markets into a tailspin, the digital currency has moved almost in lockstep with gold. It reached the highest in more than two years on June 16, one day before the precious metal touched its most since January 2015. Now that polls are showing a reduced chance of the U.K. leaving the European Union, both gold and Bitcoin have dropped.

Tracking Trend
While Bitcoin remains more volatile, it's been moving largely in the same direction as gold since late May
Source: Bloomberg

There may be some idiosyncratic issues behind Bitcoin's rise, such as an impending reduction in coding fees that could slow down supply of the cryptocurrency. Yet until now, it hasn't reflected global risk aversion except among computer nerds and people obsessed with the end of the world.

Pied Piper
As the number of stories about Brexit climbed, so too did Bitcoin
Source: Bloomberg
* Chart shows the rate at which there are changes in either the number of stories, or Bitcoin prices.

Perhaps the clearest indication of that is the fact that both gold and Bitcoin have fallen since the assassination of British MP Jo Cox, an advocate of Britain remaining in the EU whose death was viewed as strengthening the stay camp. If the only reason Bitcoin was rising was because of the mining issue, it wouldn't have dropped so sharply as investor confidence swelled. 

It will take a few more bouts of global fear to confirm Bitcoin can be considered an option to hedge against uncertainty. But to those who are already using it that way, remember, digital currencies can't be taken home and stored in a vault.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the authors of this story:
Christopher Langner in Singapore at clangner@bloomberg.net
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net