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Bitmain CEO Jihan Wu: ICO’s Constitute “Unsustainable Financial Bubble”

Cryptocurrency, Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)–Jihan Wu, founder and CEO of the world’s largest cryptocurrency mining firm, has come forth with a rather scathing opinion on the current model of investing in coin projects.

Speaking in an interview with CoinGeek, Wu had harsh words for Initial Coins Offerings (ICOs), giving his opinion that the model seemed largely unstable and reflected more of the financial bubble danger that is so commonly associated with Bitcoin. In addition, Wu expects the ICO market to implode at some point in the near future, stating that it is “just a matter of time,” before the model of funding new cryptocurrency development is gone entirely,

“I believe ICOs are kind of an unsustainable financial bubble. It will burst eventually. It’s just a matter of time. I believe it’s just one year or two. Either way, it will just disappear.”

The basis for Wu’s argument against ICOs is not in the fault of cryptocurrency or other coin projects, which he finds superior to the current Wall Street model. Indeed, Wu imagines a future where traditional trading assets, such as stocks and bonds, move to a tokenized platform a la many cryptocurrency exchanges. However, ICOs–in contrast to their quasi-relative with stock IPOs–offer zero protection to investors and are going to find it hard to survive coming government regulation. In addition, investors into ICOs are not paid in dividends, the right to share-voting, and may end up investing in currencies that are regulated as securities despite the initial lack of protection.

Wu blames the rampant price speculation that has come to characterize the entire industry of cryptocurrency as being at the heart of the ICO model. Rather than investing in projects and coin development that have real-world sustainability, the typical ICO investor is looking for a quick turnaround–a principle that was confirmed earlier in the year when economists found selling in the first two weeks of a token release provided the best ROI. The interest is in profit alone, rather than creating any form of sustainability in the market. The same greed-driven mindset has extended to several development leads, with more than one ICO closing as a scam after taking investor funds.

Rather than going the ICO route for funding the ongoing development of Bitmain, Wu and his team have decided to file for a traditional Initial Public Offering (IPO), a move that has come under some controversy when it was leaked that the company might be hemorrhaging cash via an over-extension into Bitcoin Cash. While the cryptocurrency mining conglomerate was able to raise $400 million in an earlier round of funding, this week has brought about somewhat bizarre news stories of previously-reported investors in to the company denying any association. Last week Softbank, who holds the distinction of being the largest investor into Uber, denied rumors that it had invested in the Bitmain IPO. Just yesterday DST Global made the same claim in an anonymous tip to Cointelegraph that was later confirmed, reneging on earlier reports that the company had decided to put money into the IPO. Chinese multinational investment holding Tencent also threw its hat into the ring of denials, releasing a statement to a Hong Kong news outlet that

“the company did not take part in the investment of Bitmain Technologies.”

While Wu may be echoing an industry concern over the unregulated, bubble-like nature of ICOs, initial coin offering-backed projects have been booming throughout 2018, already doubling in volume over last year.  

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ICO Market Doubled in a Year, Investing up Ten-Fold

Initial Coin Offering–Despite the sinking price of cryptocurrency across the market, initial coin offerings have managed to fair well in terms of growth through 2018. While the entire industry is embroiled in a bear cycle that has continued into the eighth month of the year, ICOs have doubled since 2017, while drastically increasing the amount of investment funds.

According to a report by ICORatings, a website that publishes independent research about upcoming and launched projects, the entire ICO market has doubled within the last year, with projects having already raised $11 billion throughout 2018. To put that figure in perspective, ICORatings reports that ICO investing through Q1 and Q2 in 2018 is ten times that over the same period last year, showing a substantial boom in investing in new coin projects. While the ICO market has drawn significant criticism over the last several months due to the propensity for scams, empty projects and unproductive profit seeking through cryptocurrency, the overall health of ICO investing appears to be thriving.

The report includes specific details about Q2 2018, stating that 827 new projects raised over $8 billion in funding, up from $3.3 billion in Q1. The 151 percent increase through the second quarter of the year is reflective to the interest generated by cryptocurrency, in particular the low barrier to entry for startups and developers that is afforded through the initial coin offering model. However EOS, currently the fifth largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, made up the largest share of the ICO pie,

“Funds raised by EOS project account for most of this increase, they have collected $4,197,956,135 for a year-long ICO.”

ICORating also highlights Europe as the leader for all ICO projects, launching 46 percent of new developments this year, with North American investors contributing the most capital. In addition, the report mentions that Asia has seen an increase in investment capital flowing into ICOs, despite a decrease in the overall number of projects launched.

While the current atmosphere surrounding cryptocurrency and Bitcoin hinges upon the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s ruling on the creation of a BTC ETF, ICOs have already started to incorporate larger amounts of institutional investors. The report shows that institutional capital in ICOs is on the rise, while retail investment continues to decline. ICORating finds this to be a favorable position for the growth of the ICO market and general well being of cryptocurrency, as greater institutional interest leads to higher standards in the development of the projects. In addition, the fundraising of ICOs will become more dependent upon “how well projects cooperate with investment funds,” thereby raising the standard across the industry.

Despite the positive news published by ICORating on the growth of the market, reports earlier in the year revealed the industry still has room to grow in terms of achieving higher quality. A study published by Statis Group found that 80 percent of ICOs in 2017 would fit into a category of “scam,” relaying the experience of investors who have found themselves duped by empty projects or teams that run off with investment funds. However, most have recognized that ICOs offer a high degree of innovation as a model for funding new projects and, despite the bad actors filling the space, are helping to grow the industry in terms of development. 

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Study Concludes 80 Percent of ICOs in 2017 Were “Scams”

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)–The bad news for ICOs continues to roll out this summer.

Last month, TechCrunch published a review of the crypto industry, concluding that over a thousand projects were already considered dead, despite some still having a presence on exchange and coin listings. The overwhelming majority of failed projects were in the form of short-lived ICO projects, which barely made it out of the fundraising period before dying in the interim following coin issues.

Research out of the Boston College Carroll School of Management supported this claim, when they found that over half of all ICOs die within the first four months of issuing their tokens. Only 44% of the projects were able to sustain any sort of growth or momentum past the four month mark, with the survival rates dipping even further thereafter. While they concluded that the profits for ICOs are still substantial relative to the traditional stock market (about 82% ROI in 2018), there is a significant drop-off in return from 2017, where some investors were collecting four-digit percentage gains on their investment. In addition, the risk of investing in ICOs has steeply increased despite the fall in return, which the researchers found antithetical to good investment practice. They also found that most of the profit surrounding ICOs occurred in the first week of token issues, with a steep drop off past the two week and two month-mark, thereby recommending that ICO investors sell their coins as quickly as possible to insure the greatest risk/reward return on investment.

All of this is troubling given the growing landscape of ICOs in 2018, already surpassing the total volume of projects issued in 2017 despite being only halfway through the year. As prices for established cryptocurrencies continue to plummet, more developers are drawn to the industry of cryptocurrency via the ICO format as an unregulated road to riches in the volatile market. However, a new study concludes that the majority of these “developers” are more akin to scam artists, and that the entire industry should be vigilant in promoting and reviewing ICO projects.

Issued by the ICO advisory firm Statis Group, the research concluded that 80% of ICOs in 2017 constituted a scam. The study cites the exponential growth of cryptocurrency projects as leading to the variability in quality, up from just 14 crypto assets in 2013 to over 1500 currencies at present. While the study examined the full breadth of ICO existence in 2017, from initial proposal of the project to when the coin was ultimately available for trading on exchanges, the evidence was damning: only 20% of initial coin offerings during the year passed the criteria for being a legitimate project; the rest were scams. Three percent of the total ICO volume was declared “dead” by the end of the year, which the researchers referred to as no longer being listed on exchanges for trading. Which means, in less than a year, some coins had managed a proposal, funding, and token issue only to be such a colossal failure that exchanges would no longer list them for trading.

On a positive note, the research concluded that the majority of  monetary value was being funded to projects that the analysts rated “higher-quality”, despite the total volume of projects skewing heavily towards being a scam,

Over 70% of ICO funding (by $ volume) to-date went to higher quality projects, although over 80% of projects (by # share) were identified as scams.

While ICOs represent the current avenue for innovation and new development in the space of cryptocurrency, the vast majority of projects being labeled scams in addition to the high rate of failure is likely to draw more attention to the need for regulation in the space of crypto fund-raising.

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ICO Volume in 2018 Already Double that of Previous Year

Cryptocurrency–According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational consulting firm based out of London, and the Swiss Crytpo Valley Association, the number of Initial Coin Offerings registered  in 2018 have already doubled that of the total for all of last year. Despite the plunging price of cryptocurrency, down nearly 70% in market capitalization from the beginning of the year, ICOs have continued to thrive in the space of crypto. While many of the major projects on the market today had their beginnings in an ICO, the practice has largely begun to become regarded by investors as a negative component of the industry. Regardless, the widespread method for funding cryptocurrency projects has managed to find even greater traction in 2018. According to the report:

“In total, 537 ICOs with a total volume of more than $13.7 billion have been registered since the beginning of the year. In comparison, in 2017 there were a total of 552 ICOs with a volume of just over $7.0 billion. Also, the average size of an ICO has almost doubled from $12.8 million to over $25.5 million since last year.”

ICOs are the current source of innovation and provide funding for new projects related to cryptocurrency. But for every one project that offers true potential, innovation and an outline for real world use, there are ninety-nine or more ICOs that amount to nothing more than a pump scheme. When Warren Buffett compares cryptocurrency to gambling, and continually labels the space as a bubble, he is largely looking at a landscape littered with the malpractice of negligent ICOs.

It is worth pointing out that cryptocurrency needs to have an avenue for new project creation and innovative development. The novelty spawned from ICOs is not the problem–in fact it drives the future of cryptocurrency and the steady progress of the industry. The real problem is the narrative and culture surrounding the ICO model. For the most part, ICO’s operate as empty pump schemes, with the entire focus on turning a quick profit. The end result is exploitation, money flowing into an essential ponzi scheme, and a myopic focus on development with the only real milestone being the one that allows a company to start fundraising. ICOs are beneficial to the industry when they can inspire novel ideas and allow for talented, intelligent developers a conduit into the space of cryptocurrency.

The real problem becomes creating a healthy balance between the two. Given the decentralized ethos of cryptocurrency, a feature necessary to both the industry and community, ICOs offer a free market approach that is available for anyone to contribute. Although this opens the door to charlatans and all but blatant criminals, it also allows for anyone to begin developing cryptocurrency without the hassle of gatekeepers.

While the investment base of cryptocurrency would like to see a level of responsibility imposed upon the process of ICOs, particularly one that shifts the incentive away from short-term profit and immediate cashouts to one that rewards the prospering of technology and currency adoption, it also requires a level of centralization and gatekeeping that could stymie innovation during a period when it is most vital to the growth of cryptocurrency. There is no way to create a regulatory or vetting body for ICOs that does not introduce the possibility of foul play in the form of third parties with ulterior motives. Current investors do not want to share market cap with projects that could kill their cash-cow currencies, and established developers have little incentive to promote their competition.

Promoting education, in addition to self-policing community efforts, might be the best option in handling the ICO epidemic. True decentralized communities allow for the market to dictate the growth of the industry, with individuals ultimately held responsible for their financial decisions–even if that means buying into a scam ICO. Cryptocurrency, at this stage in development, cannot afford to impose strict guidelines that stymie growth and the type of innovation that could lead to the next big breakthrough. While the ICO model might be unpalatable to the average investor, it is beginning to look more like a necessary evil to ensure the current trend in growth continues.

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