Investors Bet on Altcoins by Buying Hash Power

  • Philip Ryan
  • February 1, 2017
  • 1

© Can Stock Photo / ihorgaBitcoin is notoriously volatile, making it dangerous to use it as a currency. That fraction of a coin that buys you a pizza this week might bring two the next (though you would starve if you waited that long.) Bitcoin’s value began 2017 around $430 and is now around $960.

This volatility also makes it tremendously risky, which means great rewards sometimes, and dizzying drops at others. But what about the many altcoins like Litecoin, Dogecoin, Zcash? They’re also risky, but an investment that spanned many cryptocurrencies might hedge against some of that risk. So argues Marco Streng, CEO of the cryptocurrency mining company Genesis Mining.

Such a bet is possible when the investor purchases not coins but hash power — the raw computing power, or energy, used to mine coins. Miners use software to solve math problems and are issued coins in return. This amount decreases over time, but the value of bitcoins has risen over time to compensate. Miners also approve transactions that take place on the network, and receive fees when coins they mine are exchanged.

Genesis Mining is one such company, based in Hong Kong but performing some of its mining operations in Iceland, using green power, such as hydrothermal or wind. The cost of electricity is essential. A tremendous amount of power is needed to run mining rigs, which use special chips developed specifically for bitcoin mining, as well as to cool the facility, since mining generates tremendous heat.

The idea of “green coins” vs. coins minted with coal power is not yet widespread in the industry, but when it is, Genesis stands to benefit. Genesis launched a fund called Logos in March 2016 to allow investors to buy computing or hash power to mine bitcoins, and later expanded that to all coins. Rates are generally for MHz of power per day.

“Buying hash power is diversified,” said Genesis’ Streng. This is because some coins will succeed while others will fail, and even modest success in one of the long tail of altcoins could mean significant payoffs. Litecoin value surged 400% over 3 days in Nov. 2013, for example.

As for what determines the success or failure of an altcoin, it is partly luck, partly marketing, but also about the idea.

“A lot of ideas are tested all the time with altcoins,” Streng said. “There is a huge amount of experimenting and learning.” Much of this involves privacy and security, or other ways of accommodating particular use cases. A sign of success for coins is when a wallet adopts usage of it. Streng pointed to Dash, Litecoin, Monero, and Zcash as notably successful altcoins. Other sites that facilitate the buying of hash power include NiceHash, GigaHash, and many others. Not all are miners — some are brokers helping minors sell or rent their power.

Futures markets for cryptocurrency are in their infancy, and rather than looking 5 or 10 years out, look ahead one week or so, Streng said.

Investing in hash power is relatively specialized for now, but Genesis Mining had over 1 million individual investors sin 2016, double the year previous. The crypto-curious can check out Poloniex, Coinwarz, and CoinMarketCap to get a glimpse of this growing world.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at pryan@royalmedia.com.

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