Early bitcoin investors count winnings after volatile decade

Market participants said Bitcoin’s technology has not always been an efficient means of processing payments. (AFP)
Updated 31 October 2018

Early bitcoin investors count winnings after volatile decade

  • Bitcoin relies on so-called “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions by competing to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes
  • Some investors, however, have become disillusioned, arguing that bitcoin has been held back and not reached its expected potential by taking off in the real world

NEW YORK/LONDON: Seven years ago, Marshall Hayner gave his grandfather one bitcoin, worth about $30. On the paper wallet he fashioned to commemorate the gift, the US entrepreneur and software developer wrote: “Do not open until $100,000.”
It made Hayner’s grandparents laugh, and indeed bitcoin has not come anywhere near that level. But it is worth more than 200 times what it was in 2011 when Hayner made the gift.
Investors who took a chance on the fledgling currency and stuck with it have been on a rollercoaster ride — but are optimistic that they are still onto a winner.
“I have seen these run-ups and drops in bitcoin and I did not even flinch,” said 34-year old Hayner, who started mining bitcoins in 2009 when the granddaddy of all cryptocurrencies was worth nothing. He also founded payments company Metal Pay.
“I believe in this technology. I really believe that bitcoin is the next digital gold,” he said in an interview this week.
Bitcoin on Wednesday celebrates ten years since Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin’s mysterious founder, released a whitepaper outlining the need for an Internet currency that could be used as payment without going through a third party like a bank.
One bitcoin is now worth around $6,200. That is a steep 70 percent fall from its all-time high of near $20,000 in December last year, hurt by a more intense regulatory scrutiny around the world, as well as the rise of cryptocurrency crime including hacking, but a substantial boost for any early investors who bet on it.
“If the price goes down, I am happy because I was able to sell some,” said Israeli entrepreneur Daniel Peled, who has bought since late 2013 and believes another record peak is a few years away. “And if it goes up, I am happy too because I am still holding some.”
Peled’s optimism is partly based on his waiting for bitcoin’s next “halving,” which has constrained its supply and has caused its spike as demand increased.
Bitcoin relies on so-called “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions by competing to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. In return, the first to solve the puzzle and clear the transaction is rewarded new bitcoins. Bitcoin technology was designed in such a way that it cut the reward for miners in half every four years, a move that was meant to keep a lid on inflation.
The next halving is scheduled in 2020 and the following year should be a good year for bitcoin, Peled said.
The same optimism has prompted London-based investor Nicholas Gregory to keep his bitcoins, which he bought heavily in early 2014.
Distrustful of exchanges, Gregory, currently chief executive of blockchain firm CommerceBlock, made his first purchase through a website that matched him to a man selling bitcoins on a memory stick in a New York cafe.
Since then, he has not sold any bitcoins, citing the potential of the digital currency to safely store value and transfer money across the Internet.
Lost potential?
Some investors, however, have become disillusioned, arguing that bitcoin has been held back and not reached its expected potential by taking off in the real world.
Vaughn Blake, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager at private equity firm Echo Tree Capital, liquidated his cryptocurrency quantitative fund in January this year when bitcoin was at $13,000. He started investing in bitcoin in 2013 when it was around $120 but said he has been a victim of hacks and phishing attempts.
Bitcoin’s technology has also not always been an efficient means of processing payments. It can be slow, sometimes incurring higher fees than regular transactions, market participants said.
London-based entrepreneur Jez San, CEO of blockchain firm Funfair Technologies, started buying bitcoin in 2013, at around $50, but sold most of it well before the peak in December 2017. He invested in Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency that runs on another public blockchain network, instead.
“We all expected people would be buying coffees with it and they would use it instead of PayPal,” said San. “Bitcoin is way too hard to use — it’s so user unfriendly that the man in the street just can’t use it.”


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.