Why Bitcoin Is a Better Risk Bet Than a Stack of Penny Stocks

Volatility is a measure of risk, and that's often measured in relation to returns. By that measure bitcoin is a beast so far this year.

AccessTimeIconMar 26, 2021 at 7:11 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:32 p.m. UTC

Bitcoin is getting boring at a time when annualized 30-day volatility as of Thursday's close has seen a sharp downward dip, in a March with its own type of (weather) volatility.


To emphasize the point, have a look at the chart above, which shows the volatility of bitcoin daily returns for the past month. To be fair, I'm employing a little chart crime here, starting the y axis at 40% in order to accentuate the drop between March 24-25, as all but the last days of February have disappeared from the 30-day look-back on the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index.

The boredom engendered by a tame month sparked a mild disagreement with "First Mover" show host Lawrence Lewitinn about penny stocks versus bitcoin. We were discussing the benefits of using indexes weighted either by price or by market cap. Price-weighted indexes can be more volatile because smaller-cap components can have a greater impact. I said a crypto index doesn't need more volatility because crypto assets already have the volatility of penny stocks.

Naturally, I had to go look up penny stocks and compare them to bitcoin's volatility. A penny stock refers to the stock of a small company that trades for less than $5 per share, sometimes on big exchanges but more often through over the counter (OTC) exchanges.

CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, Barchart, Yahoo Finance
CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, Barchart, Yahoo Finance

It turns out I may have been wrong, at least as far as bitcoin is concerned. On Wednesday, I grabbed a handful of penny stocks off the top of a list of "hot penny stocks," ranked by 24-hour volume, provided by Barchart. These five stocks represent micro-cap companies, all in multimedia content or internet industries, all traded on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. As you can see, when bitcoin is stacked against this grab bag of penny stocks, it tends to be less volatile than all of them except one.

Cinedigm Corp. (CIDM), a multimedia production company based in Los Angeles, is the only stock out of these five that's consistently less volatile than BTC. (You know it's a good investment when a web search of the ticker yields a page of penny-stock roundups that outrank the company's website itself.)


Volatility is a measure of risk, and that's often measured in relation to returns. And by that measure bitcoin is a beast so far this year. How does bitcoin compare with penny stocks on returns? The honey badger is running about the middle of this pack, it turns out, with some of these pennies outpacing it, including Cinedigm and Genius Brands International (GNUS), an L.A.-based multimedia producer.

As the chart above shows, if you'd bought these penny stocks at the close on Dec. 31 and held through Tuesday of this week, you'd be doing better than bitcoin holders over the same time period. But let's look at bitcoin against penny stocks over a longer term, using a measure that incorporates both returns and volatility.


This chart shows the monthly Sharpe ratio, annualized, for bitcoin against these penny stocks going back to July 2020. The Sharpe ratio is intended to capture returns relative to risk as measured by volatility. Specifically, excess daily log returns over the risk-free rate are averaged across the month, then divided by the standard deviation of daily log returns. That monthly figure is then annualized.

As you can see, despite lagging some of these penny stocks in year-to-date returns, and outpacing at least one of them in 30-day volatility of daily returns, bitcoin is in another category of risk-return over each month. And, with bitcoin volatility lower in the second half of 2020 than it has been so far in 2021, and the price running from around $10,000 to where it was today, you can imagine how much stronger that Sharpe ratio case is for the orange coin over the long term.

Penny stocks are always a hot topic – more so than ever these days as mainstream media chronicle the efforts of COVID-bound day traders to find and build a bandwagon for the next GameStop. But for investors who aren't yet convinced of their own brilliance at picking investments and playing momentum, bitcoin may be a better place to look for risk. 


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