大西洋月刊:比特币是有史以来最明显的泡沫吗?

12-11 71 10548 飞雪似炀花
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The cryptocurrency is almost certainly due for a major correction. But its long-term value remains a mystery.

这种加密货币几乎可以肯定要进行一次大的调整。但它的长期价值仍然是个未知数。



To call Bitcoin the biggest and most obvious bubble in modern history may be a disservice to its surreality.

把比特币称为现代历史上规模最大、最明显的泡沫,可能是对其超现实性的一种伤害。

The price of bitcoin has doubled four times this year. In early January, one bitcoin was worth about $1,000. By May, it hit $2,000. In June, it breached $4,000. By Thanksgiving, it was $8,000. Two weeks later, it was $16,000.

比特币的价格今年已经四次翻番。1月初,1比特币的价值约为1000美元。到5月份,它的价格达到了2000美元。今年6月,1比特币的价格突破了4000美元。到感恩节时,这个数字是8000美元。两周后,它的价格是16000美元。

This astronomical trajectory might make sense for a new public company with accelerating profits. Bitcoin, however, has no profits. It’s not even a company. It is a digital encrypted currency running on a decentralized network of computers around the world. Ordinary currencies, like the U.S. dollar, don’t double in value by the month, unless there’s a historic deflationary crisis, like the Panic of 1837. Instead, bitcoin’s behavior more resembles that of a collectible frenzy, like Beanie Babies in the late 1990s.

对于一家利润不断增长的新上市公司来说,这一天文轨迹或许是合理的。然而,比特币却没有利润。它甚至不是一家公司。它是一种数字加密的货币,运行在世界各地的分散式计算机网络上。像美元这样的普通货币在一个月时间里不会升值一倍,除非出现像1837年恐慌那样的历史性的通货紧缩危机。与之相反,比特币的表现更像是一种集体狂热,就像20世纪90年代末的豆豆娃一样。

But defining and identifying bubbles is harder than it seems (kind of like defining bitcoin). The term technically refers to an asset whose price dramatically exceeds its intrinsic value. But who determines price and value, anyway? Those aren’t scientific concepts with formulas, like gravity or the length of a hypotenuse. They are the co-creation of buyers and sellers whose needs and attitudes are constantly changing.

但是,定义和识别泡沫要比看上去的困难得多(有点像定义比特币)。从技术上来说,这一术语指的是一种价格大大超过其内在价值的资产。但究竟是由谁来决定价格和价值呢?它们不是带有公式的科学概念,比如重力或者斜边的长度,而是买家和卖家的共同创造物,而这些买家和卖家的需求和态度是在不断变化的。

Sometimes, spotting a bubble is very easy. Imagine three public companies that make shoe leather—Derek Leather, Inc., Joe Leather, Inc., and Becca Leather, Inc.—with the exact same revenue, expenses, talent pool, and customer demographic. Let’s say the market caps for all three companies start the year at $1 billion and Derek Leather and Joe Leather don’t appreciate; meanwhile, the public valuation of Becca Leather climbs to $2 billion, then doubles to $4 billion in a month, and then doubles again to $8 billion in the following week. It would be pretty clear that Becca Lather’s valuation makes no sense with an apples-to-apples comparison to Derek and Joe.

有时候,发现泡沫很容易。想象一下,有三家生产鞋皮的上市公司——Derek Leather、Joe Leather和 Becca Leather,它们的营收、开支、人才储备和客户数量都是一样的。让我们假设这三家公司在年初的估值是10亿美元,但是Derek Leather和Joe Leather不被看好;与此同时,Becca Leather的估值攀升到了20亿美元,随后又在一个月内翻了一番,达到40亿美元,接下来的一周又翻了一番,达到80亿美元。很明显,拿Becca Lather的估值与Derek Leather和Joe Leather一一比较是没有意义的。

But what happens when an entire industry is a bubble? It becomes harder to make an apples-to-apples comparison, since the entire sector is an incomparable fruit. A good example would be early Internet companies whose valuations soared in the late 1990s and crashed in the dot-com bubble. For years, Internet bulls defended the stock prices of companies like Pets.com by arguing that, due to the rising digitization of the economy and the global nature of the Internet, user growth was a more significant proof of value than old-fangled metrics like profit or revenue. Eventually, a combination of factors—the failure of some large Internet companies, changes to the tax code, rising interest rates, and venture capital exhaustion—contributed to the big pop.

但如果整个行业都处于泡沫当中,那会发生什么呢?整个行业都是变得难以一一进行比较,因此它完全处于一种不可比较的水平上。一个很好的例子就是早期的互联网公司,它们的估值在90年代后期开始飙升,然后在互联网泡沫中崩溃。多年来,互联网多头为Pets.com等公司的股价进行了辩护。他们认为,由于经济的数字化和互联网的全球性质,用户的增长比传统的利润或收入等传统指标更能证明价值。最终,一些大型互联网公司的倒闭、税法的改变、利率的上升以及风投资本的耗尽,都推动了大泡沫的产生。

In a way, the emergence of cryptocurrencies is akin the dot-com era, because there is no perfect comparison to illuminate the “real” value of something like bitcoin. It’s a currency (like the dollar), whose owners consider it a long-term store of value (like silver), which is appreciating as if it were a faddish collectible (like a Beanie Baby), and is running on a blockchain platform, which some insist could change the future of everything from legal titles to daily payments (like Internet). How can one be so sure bitcoin is a bubble if we don’t even know what the proper comparison is—dollars, silver, Beanie Babies, or the Internet?

在某种程度上,加密货币的出现类似于互联网时代,因为没有完美的对比物可以用来解释比特币这类东西的“真实”价值。它是一种货币(像美元一样),它的持有者认为它有长期存储的价值(像白银一样),它具有风行一时的收藏性(像豆豆娃一样),并且是在一个区块链平台上运行,一些人坚持认为它可以改变从法律到日常支付的所有一切的未来 (像互联网一样)。如果我们甚至不知道什么是“美元”、“白银”、“豆豆娃”或“互联网”,那么人们怎么能确定比特币是一个泡沫呢?

In their great 1982 paper "Bubbles, Rational Expectations, and Financial Markets," the economists Olivier Blanchard and Mark Watson explain why gold is susceptible to bubbles. It’s an explanation that sheds light on the bitcoin frenzy, too. Gold, like bitcoin, is not a company. There are no financial reports, and its investors will never receive dividends. Instead, there are at least two big reasons to invest in gold. First, goldbugs want a hedge against an economic catastrophe or inflation. Second, some people invest in gold simply because they see the price of gold going up. Such an investor “bases his choice of whether or not to hold the asset on the basis of past actual returns rather than on the basis of market fundamentals,” Blanchard and Watson write. In other words, the investor’s story is: The price will go up, because … well, it just went up!

在他们1982年发表的伟大论文《泡沫、理性预期和金融市场》中,经济学家Olivier Blanchard和Mark Watson解释了为什么黄金容易受到泡沫的影响。它也能够解释比特币的狂热。和比特币一样,黄金也不是一家公司。它没有财务报告,它的投资者永远也不会得到分红。相反,投资黄金至少有两大原因。首先,黄金投资者希望对冲经济灾难或通货膨胀的风险。第二,一些人投资黄金仅仅是因为他们看到黄金价格上涨。Blanchard和Watson写道:这样的投资者“做出是否持有这种资产的选择是基于过去的实际回报,而不是基于市场的基本面。”换句话说,投资者的想法是:价格会上涨,因为……嗯,它刚刚上涨过了!

These investors buy gold, not because of any fundamental economic insight or any analysis of value, but rather because they want to catch the train. They see the price rising and they assume they can buy gold, hold onto it as it appreciates, and then offload it to some greater fool before its value declines. In fact, the economic term for this sort of irrational belief is called “greater fool theory.”

这些投资者购买黄金,不是因为任何基本的经济见解或对价值的分析,而是因为他们想要赶上这趟火车。他们看到价格上涨,他们认为自己可以买到黄金,在升值的时候持有黄金,然后在价值下跌前把它卖给更大的傻瓜。事实上,这种非理性信念的经济术语被称为“博傻理论”。

Bitcoin is turning into a gaggle of greater fools. Retail investors are jumping into the market to buy bitcoin, in the expectation that they will be able to sell their investments for cash to some other sucker later on. In November, Bloomberg reported that “buy bitcoin” had overtaken “buy gold” as an online search phrase. In December, bitcoin platforms soared up the app charts. Coinbase, an online broker where people can buy cryptocurrencies, is now the top trending app in the Apple App Store. Two similar platforms to oversee cryptocurrency accounts, Gdax and Bitcoin Wallet, are now fifth and eighth on the trending charts.

比特币正在转入一群更大的傻瓜手中。散户投资者正纷纷涌向市场购买比特币,并且预期他们将能够在稍后让自己的投资变现。在11月份,彭博社报道称“购买比特币”已经取代“购买黄金”成为新的在线搜索热词。在12月份,比特币平台在应用排行榜上一路飙升。Coinbase是一家在线经纪商,人们可以在这里购买加密货币,现在它已经成为苹果应用商店的热门应用。Gdax和Bitcoin Wallet是两个类似的平台,它们目前在趋势图表上排名第五和第八。

For the people downloading these apps, bitcoin probably isn’t a philosophical bet on the future of money and society’s relationship to the government, says Christian Catalini, a professor of technology at MIT Sloan School of Management, whom I have spoken to often about bitcoin. “There is a speculative frenzy among retail investors who just want to make a quick buck and the App Store is pretty clear evidence of that,” he said.

麻省理工学院斯隆商学院的教授Christian Catalini——他经常与我讨论比特币——说,对于那些下载这些应用程序的人来说,比特币可能不是对金钱和社会与政府之间关系的哲学押注。他说:“散户投资者中有一种投机狂潮,他们只想快速赚钱,而App Store就是一个很明显的证据。”

There is another important feature of the bitcoin market that could both explain its high valuation and suggest an imminent correction. The crypto market is insanely concentrated. Approximately 1,000 people own 40 percent of all bitcoin in circulation, according to Bloomberg. Just 100 accounts control 17 percent of the market. Many of these accounts have held bitcoin for years because they believe fervently in its value. But if a handful of them sell even a small portion of their shares, it could dramatically move bitcoin’s price, potentially triggering a massive correction, as retail investors (who only bought in because the price was going up) try to sell en masse to avoid losing all of their money. There is an upside to this concentration, however, which is minimal contagion effects. If the bitcoin bubble crashes, it likely won’t spill out into the general economy, like the subprime mortgage crisis did one decade ago.

比特币市场还有一个既可以解释它的高估值,也可以表明即将进行的调整的重要特点。加密市场极度集中。根据彭博社的报道,全球大约有1000人掌握了流通中的40%的比特币。有100个账户控制了17%的市场份额。许多这样的账户持有比特币多年,因为他们坚信比特币的价值。但是,如果他们中的少数人甚至只是卖出一小部分比特币,那么比特币的价格就可能会大幅变动,从而可能引发大规模的调整,因为散户投资者(他们只是因为价格上涨而买入)试图大规模抛售,以避免损失掉所有的钱。不过,这种集中程度有一个好处,那就是最小范围内的传染效应。如果比特币泡沫破裂,它很可能不会像十年前的次贷危机那样蔓延到整个经济领域。

Smaller bitcoin bubbles have inflated and deflated before, without any macroeconomic effect. In 2011, the price rose from $1 to $30 and then crashed back to $2 all within the same year. “I wouldn’t be surprised with another crash, followed by another growth in line with transactions,” Catalini said. Indeed, the dot-com bubble was an unambiguous frenzy of speculation and financial malpractice. But 15 years later, many of the business propositions that flamed out spectacularly were reincarnated as successful companies. Chewy.com, essentially a modern incarnation of Pets.com, sold for $3 billion earlier this year.

规模较小的比特币泡沫曾经膨胀和缩水,但没有对宏观经济产生任何影响。2011年,比特币的价格从1美元涨到了30美元,然后在同年又跌回了2美元。Catalini说:“我不会对增长之后的另一次崩溃感到惊讶。”的确,互联网泡沫是一种毫无争议的投机狂潮和金融违规行为。但15年过去了,许多成功的商业构想都变身成为了成功的公司。Chewy.com本质上是Pets.com的现代化身,它在今年早些时候以30亿美元的价格被出售。

Fifteen years from now, the blockchain, too, might be an integral infrastructure for the digital world. In this hypothetical world of 2033, bitcoin at $16,000 might be an absolute steal. But we don’t live in “hypothetical-world 2033.” This is still real-world 2017. And bitcoin’s last few weeks are the real-world definition of a speculative bubble.

15年后,区块链也可能会成为数字世界不可或缺的基础设施。在这个假想的2033年的世界里,比特币的价格可能是1.6万美元。但我们并不是生活在“假设的2033年世界”里。这仍然是2017年的现实世界。而比特币在过去几周的表现便是对投机性泡沫的真实定义。

 
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