Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Bitcoin ‘will come to a bad end’

BILLIONAIRE investor Warren Buffett has taken aim at cryptocurrencies, warning the recent mania that has seen bitcoin and its cousins skyrocket in value will not end well.

"In terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say with almost certainty that they will come to a bad ending," the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. "When it happens or how or anything else, I don't know."

Mr Buffett, the world's third richest man behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with an estimated net worth of $US87.2 billion ($111 billion), has previously made comments critical of bitcoin.

"It's a mirage, basically," he said in 2014. "I mean it's a method of transmitting money, the idea that it has some huge instrinic value is just a joke, in my view."

And at a conference in October last year, Mr Buffett described bitcoin as a "real bubble". "People get excited from big price movements, and Wall Street accommodates," he was reported as telling attendees. "You can't value bitcoin because it's not a value-producing asset."

Asked this week whether he would bet against bitcoin by taking short positions in recently launched bitcoin futures markets, Mr Buffett said if he could bet on cryptocurrencies declining over the next five years he would, but didn't see the point in futures.

"If I could buy a five-year put on every one of the cryptocurrencies, I'd be glad to do it but I would never short a dime's worth," he said. "We don't own any, we're not short any, we'll never have a position in them.

"There is no reason. I get into enough trouble with things I think I know something about, why in the world should I take a long or short position in something I don't know anything about?"

Last month, the "bitcoin billionaire" twins and Gemini Exchange founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who worked with the Chicago Board Options Exchange for its futures product, challenged naysayers to "put their money where their mouth is".

They called out JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon, who caused controversy last year when he described bitcoin as a "fraud" at a banking conference in September - comments which he this week said he regretted making.

"The blockchain is real, you can have crypto dollars and stuff like that, ICOs [initial coin offerings] you've got to look at every one individually," he said in an interview with Fox Business.

"The bitcoin to me was always what the governments are gonna feel about bitcoin as it gets really big, and I just have a different opinion than other people. I'm not interested that much in the subject at all."

It came as a popular bitcoin conference to be held in Miami next week announced it had stopped accepting payments in bitcoin.

"Due to network congestion and manual processing, we have closed ticket payments using cryptocurrencies," the North American Bitcoin Conference said on its ticketing page. "Hopefully, next year there will be more unity in the community about scaling and global adoption becomes reality."

Skyrocketing transaction fees and wait times, coinciding with bitcoin's rise in popularity, have made the network nearly unusable for day-to-day commerce in recent months.

In an interview with Bitcoin.com - the controversial website founded by Roger Ver, the key promoter of bitcoin offshoot bitcoin cash - event organiser Moe Levin said his company was "scrambling" to get bitcoin cash or another cryptocurrency with cheaper fees integrated into the ticketing system.

"We have and will always accept cryptocurrencies," Mr Levin told the website. "Up until 14 days before the event, we accepted cryptocurrencies and manually processed all transactions which became labour intensive."

On Wednesday, Microsoft said it has resumed accepting bitcoin payments after temporarily suspending the service, following a similar move by online game distribution platform Steam in December.

Bitcoin skyrocketed in value last year, from under $US1000 to touch the $US20,000 mark, with rival cryptocurrencies including bitcoin cash, ethereum, ripple and litecoin being swept up in the mania.

The market capitalisation of the entire cryptocurrency market has increased by more than 4000 per cent over the past 12 months, from $US17.2 billion to nearly $US720 billion, according to Coinmarketcap.

At the time of writing, bitcoin was trading flat at $US14,643, while bitcoin cash was up more than 20 per cent on the previous day at $US2879.

Earlier this week, the entire cryptocurrency market plunged after Coinmarketcap removed average price data from a number of South Korean exchanges without warning, causing confusion and partly triggering a wave of panic selling.

This week, shares in US camera company Kodak soared on the announcement it was creating its own "photo-centric" cryptocurrency dubbed KodakCoin to "empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management".

frank.chung@news.com.au



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