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Posts tagged with: "CBBTCUSD"

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Alternative money for transactions

What if gold or Bitcoin replaced the dollar?

What if U.S. retail prices were not denominated in U.S. dollars, but instead were denominated in gold or Bitcoin? Paying for a loaf of bread with gold wouldn’t be very practical, as you’d need a very small speck of the precious metal. But one can imagine a system of gold substitutes, such as notes giving you ownership of a fraction of an ounce of gold, thereby overcoming the small-change problem. With Bitcoin, it’d be much easier, as a virtual currency can be divided any way you want.

Now, let’s look at actual prices. FRED doesn’t have price data on just a loaf of bread, but it does have the consumer price index for cereals and bakery products, so let’s use that. The blue line shows the evolution of the U.S. dollar price of a basket of baked goods. The red line shows the price in gold, and the green line shows the price in Bitcoin. It’s apparent that the dollar price is much more stable and has slowly increased over time. The gold price has considerable fluctuations from month to month. While the gold price seems to have a tendency to decrease, this isn’t always true, which you can see if you enlarge the sample window. As for Bitcoin, the fluctuations are extreme, even when you restrict the sample period to the past year.

What’s behind the differences? The Fed’s mandate is to stabilize prices as expressed in U.S. dollars, and this is quite apparent in this graph. The Fed does this by adapting to changes in the demand for dollars. That isn’t possible with gold, as its supply is determined by worldwide mining success, which is outside of the control of any institution. The same applies to Bitcoin, with the additional constraint that mining success keeps dwindling.

How this graph was created: For line 1: Search for and select “cereal price cpi” and click on “Add to Graph.” (You can also paste the series ID, CUSR0000SAF111, directly in the search field.) From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” feature to again search for and select the same cereal price CPI series two more times. For line 2: Open the “Edit Line 2” tab, search for and add “Gold Fixing Price 10:30 a.m. (London Time)…” in the “Customize data” section or paste in the series ID (GOLDAMGBD228NLBM). Then apply formula a/b*1000. (Multiplying by 1000 helps place the line within a visible range.) Repeat this for line 3 by searching for and adding “Coinbase Bitcoin” (series ID CBBTCUSD). Finally, restrict the sample period to the past twenty years.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CBBTCUSD, CUSR0000SAF111, GOLDAMGBD228NLBM

Antebellum “free” banking and the era of Bitcoin

The past and present of unregulated currency

Smack in the middle of summer, you may find yourself with more free time, a freewheeling attitude, and maybe a wild inclination to pick up a new hobby, like spikeball… Or maybe even try out the hot new investment—cryptocurrency!

In short, cryptocurrency is a digital asset that is not regulated by a central authority, in the way money is regulated by the Federal Reserve System in the United States. No governing authority determines how much, by whom, or when crypto is produced or exchanged. Instead, the beauty of virtual currency is the “peer to peer network” and blockchain technology that makes it easier to transfer funds and more difficult to forge transactions.

The lack of collateral behind today’s cryptocurrencies is reminiscent of the pre-Civil War era of “free banking.” Back then, anyone with sufficient funds was able to open their own bank and issue their own notes, similar to the freedom available to a programmer who adds to the supply of crypto through mining. U.S. states that were successful at free banking used secure government bonds as backing. On the other hand, states that allowed low-security bonds and risky mortgages helped coin the term “wildcat banking”; these cases involved defaulted loans and bank notes that declined up to 60% in worth.

Bitcoin, one of the many types of cryptocurrency on the market today, is revered for its lack of regulation; however, this “freedom” also contributes to its notoriously volatile reputation. The above graph depicts Bitcoin’s price fluctuations (for example, from $20,000 in December 2017 to around $7,300 in mid-July 2018). In fact, a logarithmic scale is needed to best capture these fluctuations. (That is, the units are in U.S. dollars, but the distances between the lines can be interpreted as percentage differences; see an earlier post for more on logarithmic scale.)

At the CoinDesk Consensus, President James Bullard of the St. Louis Fed stated that “cryptocurrencies are creating drift toward a non-uniform currency in the U.S., a state of affairs that has existed historically but was disliked and eventually replaced.” Historically, investing in non-government-backed, non-uniform forms of currency has been risky. That said, blockchain technology also didn’t exist in pre-Civil War America.

How this graph was made: Search for “Coinbase,” select “Coinbase Bitcoin,” and click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, choose the “Format” tab and select the checkbox for “Log scale.” For graphs depicting rapid growth, consider using the log feature, available in every series on FRED: This helps to highlight small fluctuations in data points, linearizing the output.

Suggested by Elizabeth Tong and Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CBBTCUSD


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