Bitcoin Dreams Are Coming True in Argentina and Turkey

It’s no surprise a BTC-backing candidate just won a primary election in Argentina.

AccessTimeIconAug 23, 2023 at 3:45 p.m. UTC
Updated Aug 23, 2023 at 9:35 p.m. UTC
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Right before the volatility in digital assets late last week and the breakout of bitcoin (BTC) to the downside due to rising interest rates and low market liquidity, Javier Milei made global news by unexpectedly winning the Argentinean primary election.

A libertarian candidate and member of the "La Libertad Avanza" party, Milei is a Bitcoin advocate, saying it “represents the return of money to its original creator, the private sector.” He also calls for the abolition of the country’s central bank, which, he says, "is a scam, a mechanism by which politicians cheat the good people with inflationary tax.” While it’s unsurprising that a candidate in a country infamous for inflation (currently estimated above about 100% annualized) would have a critical view of the central bank, it does raise questions more broadly about the global experience for cryptocurrency holders.

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When we hear that “Bitcoin is too risky,” as citizens of the U.S. and as holders of dollars we must remember that this simple statement comes from a position of substantial privilege, specifically “exorbitant privilege.” First termed by French Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the 1960s, exorbitant privilege refers to the unique benefits that the U.S. enjoys due to the widespread use of the dollar in international trade, finance and as a global reserve currency. Some of the benefits from the global ubiquity and near-insatiable demand for dollars are the U.S. government’s ability to print dollars with minimal consequence and to borrow at lower interest rates than other countries, many with checkered financial pasts (like Argentina). Global reserve status also simplifies monetary policy decisions for the U.S., as the Federal Reserve is the de facto global central bank, setting the tone for other central banks to follow similar rate policies to defend their exchange rates. Or, as John Connally, President Richard Nixon's Treasury Secretary, bluntly put it to a group of European finance ministers: “The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem.”

So, how has the bitcoin investment experience been for global holders outside of the local dollar system? Over the past five years, most bitcoin holders outside of the U.S. experienced greater gains in bitcoin (see Figure 1 below), due to the depreciation of their local currencies relative to the dollar as a consequence of the U.S. interest rates going up in addition to the 31% return of bitcoin relative to the dollar (see orange bar for bitcoin vs. USD return for comparison). Bitcoin over the past five-year period has been stronger than a stronger dollar.

5 year average return of bitcoin

Figure 1: Average five-year return of bitcoin holders by foreign currency. Source: CoinDesk Indices Research, FactSet.

Notable outliers over the period include Argentina (providing context for Milei’s primary election success) and Turkey (whose leader recently came around to reinstating traditional economic theories after a foray into “Erdoyanomics” in pursuit of the stimulative effects of lower interest rates). With five-year realized inflation for Argentina and Turkey at 60% and 33%, respectively, BTC holders in Argentina and Turkey have been able to preserve their purchasing power and mostly weather the political and economic conditions within their countries by leveraging a decentralized and digital store of value.

Pretty neat, huh?

Takeaways

From CoinDesk Deputy Editor-in-Chief Nick Baker, here is some news worth reading:

  • BUFFETT RULE: Berkshire Hathaway Chair Warren Buffett, describing his firm’s investment objective, said nearly four decades ago: “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” With the obvious caveat that this is not investment advice: There sure is a lot of fear out there in crypto. Bitcoin (BTC) just somewhat mysteriously (no, it probably wasn’t Elon Musk’s doing) plunged the other day. It’s left the market in the most oversold condition since the Covid Crash in early 2020. A buying opportunity? You tell me!
  • COINCIRCLE: While PayPal is no Mastercard or Visa, it’s also no slouch in payments. A major potential use case for stablecoins is paying for stuff. So, PayPal’s experience in the paying-for-stuff business is highly relevant as the company enters the stablecoins game, creating a real risk for the big incumbents USDT (from Tether) and USDC (which has been overseen by both Circle Internet Financial and Coinbase – until now). News broke this week via CoinDesk that Circle and Coinbase are dissolving the partnership that had governed USDC; Circle is bringing USDC fully in-house, with Coinbase remaining associated by getting (apparently by paying no cash, per the CoinDesk story) a minority equity stake in Circle. Coinbase downplayed any fears of PayPal. “I really do believe PayPal grows the pie for us,” a Coinbase executive told CoinDesk’s Ian Allison, who broke the news. I guess we should watch the stablecoin market cap leaderboard.
  • HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: Despite the massive gains this year in bitcoin and other digital assets, it’s hard to argue these are wonderful, comfortable times for crypto. The blow-ups of last year continue to weigh on the space, regulators are on the prowl, etc. Nevertheless, there is a pretty clear sign of optimism: People keep launching new blockchains. What this actually means or will amount to is really hard to say. One of them – Sei – is built for low-latency applications such as trading … just like Solana, Sui and Aptos before it. None of those have exactly upended how Wall Street works.

Edited by Nick Baker.

Disclosure

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Todd Groth, CFA

Todd Groth was the Head of Index Research at CoinDesk Indices. He has over 10 years of experience involving systematic multi-asset risk premia and alternative investment strategies.


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