What’s that “August 28 ICO” pitch from Martin Hutchinson about?

Checking out the introductory "will be bigger than bitcoin and ethereum" ad for Crypto Alert from Agora Financial

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, August 15, 2017

“An entirely new digital currency will hit the net on August 28

“It will rapidly replace ALL current “crypto-currencies”… and then ring the funeral bell for the mighty U.S. dollar

“Profits on this new currency are completely uncapped (unlike Bitcoin)… and based on past modeling, I predict they’ll be 1,000 times higher than we’ve ever seen before

“Making this your ONE LAST chance to get in on the ground floor of the hottest market trend in more than 2,300 years… RIGHT NOW”

That’s the attention-getting promise from Martin Hutchinson’s pitch for his new Crypto Alert service with Louis Basenese, which is a fairly pricey ($3,000 one time fee, $199/yr maintenance fee) newsletter published by Agora Financial.

And I’ll warn you up front, I don’t know for sure which coin it is that Hutchinson is hinting at — though I’ll share a low-conviction guess with you after we roll through the clues.

The time is ripe for these kinds of pitches, of course, because we’ve seen cryptocurrencies skyrocket over the past year, even big ones like bitcoin and ethereum, and we’ve also gone from fewer than 100 cryptocurrencies a year ago to more than 1,000 now, with dozens more being launched each month as new developers try to get in on the frenzy or add something to the blockchain/altcurrency/cryptocurrency marketplace.

Hutchinson also claims credit as an expert on cryptocurrencies, partly as a result of the article he coauthored for the Cato Journal a couple years ago. He says that he “won’t bore you with all the technical details” of that article, perhaps partly because the article was entitled “Bitcoin Will Bite the Dust,” but I thought it was worth reading (and he has backtracked some from that assertion of late).

That article did wisely point out one of the problems of Bitcoin, the reliance on that network of miners to validate Bitcoin transactions, and the extent to which economies of scale (and an arms race in computing power) would pressure the system:

“Despite its success, the Bitcoin system is unsustainable due to a design flaw at the very heart of the system. The problem is that Bitcoin requires competition on the part of “bitcoin miners” who validate transactions blocks, but this competition is unsustainable in the long run because of economies of scale in the mining industry. Indeed, these economies of scale are so large that the bitcoin mining industry is a natural monopoly. Furthermore, there are signs that competition in this industry is already breaking down. Once that happens, the system will no longer be able to function as it hitherto has. Its key attractions (decentralization, absence of a single point of failure, and anonymity) will disappear; there will no longer be any reason for users to stay with it; and the system will collapse.”

And there’s some interesting info in the conclusions as well, here’s part of the sum-up about bitcoin:

“Even in the unlikely event that it survives into the medium run, we would still rate its longer-term chance of survival as zero. First, we should remember that a recurring theme in the history of innovation is that the pioneers rarely, if ever, survive. This is because early models are always flawed and later entrants are able to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. There is no reason why Bitcoin should be an exception to this historical rule. The second reason is that in the very long run bitcoin would be uncompetitive against efficient closed-wall systems such as PayPal or COEPTIS, the successor to e-gold. Once the production of bitcoins becomes insignificant, then the Bitcoin system will entirely depend on transaction fees to cover its operational costs, and its fee levels would be higher than those of more traditional payment systems because of the need to maintain excess hashing and excess capacity to deter new entrants into the transaction validation business. Put differently, Bitcoin can never achieve the technical economic efficiency of competitors that can operate with a very small number of servers, or even just one. In the very long term, when there are no new bitcoins being produced to subsidize the validation process, the Bitcoin system will no longer be able to compete.20 Last but not least, there is still the problem that Bitcoin is not backed by anything.”

That doesn’t mean anything about the near-term value of an asset that is traded based almost entirely on sentiment and momentum, of course, and it doesn’t really give great insight into the immediate prognosis for any of the other cryptocurrencies — bitcoin was trading between $200-$250 at the time that article was published, during the doldrums following the first real run in bitcoin prices in the years previous (and many of the first wave of “me too” cryptocurrencies had already lost 99% of their value), and it recovered sharply over the following year and, as we now know, went almost parabolic in 2017 as the bitcoin price surged from $1,000 to $4,000.

Let’s get back to the ad…

“When you see teenage hackers with backward baseball caps start getting clued into the same exact tipping point as gray-beard economists with silk ties… and Silicon Valley venture capitalists… and Wall Street investment bankers…

“Even ordinary Americans like Jared Kenna (a beer brewer who made more than $30 million trading Bitcoin). Or Charlie Noble (who revealed to CNBC that a fellow Ethereum trader made a 300,000% gain in less than a minute).

“That’s when know that something must be about to happen.”

That scares the heck out of me, mostly because it’s the same thing that drove sentiment during the internet bubble in 1999 — and, frankly, that drives most bubbles: “We’re all making money because we’re all making money!” When a cab driver gives you stock tips about the next internet sensation in 1999, that’s scary… when the waitress talks up the twelve houses she bought with no money down in 2005, that’s frightening… and when the high school kid who mows your lawn tries to convince you to buy the latest initial coin offering for a new cryptocurrency in 2017, I can’t help but feel that same twinge of fear.

Sometimes, as we know, the “something” that “must be about to happen” is a big old slap in the face as reality hits all at once.

Reality might not hit, of course, or it it might not hit anytime soon, I don’t know — many of the pundits persist in predicting that the next debt ceiling showdown will drive the prices of cryptocurrencies higher, as arguably happened during the first bitcoin surge a few years back, but that’s clutching at a rational reason for things that have already increased by thousands of percent, in some cases, for no real reason. Maybe it will happen — the cryptocurrencies do tend to react to crises like gold does, at least recently (as in, they rose during North Korea fear last week, and fell during the return of North Korea complacency this week), so you can place your bets where you like regarding the next possible dollar crisis this Fall (or whatever the next crisis du jour might be).

What Hutchinson seems excited about here is the potential for this alt-currency market to become a “winner take all” arena… where, naturally, he’ll have chosen the winner:

“You’re talking about a toll-booth for every single transaction that happens, every single second, all around the world. And it’s all no sweat, because there are NO physical barriers whatsoever to one currency dominating ALL of it. And FAST….

“… the whole point of a currency is that it becomes the standard that all other transactions are measured by.

“Again, winner takes all.

“That’s why your grandchildren won’t use ‘dollars’ to describe a big score.

“No, they’ll use the name of the coin being issued in this historic ICO…

“How do you make the best investment opportunity of the 21st century 1,000 times better? Just add a few more zeroes…”

The big pitch is that bitcoin and ethereum have been huge winners, but that this next coin offering will supplant both of those and the US dollar and become a ridiculous profit-maker… more from Hutchinson:

“… what’s even more amazing here…

“Is that there are still so many more zeroes on the table, by getting in on this next big ICO.

“Remember, if I’m correct that this ultimate digital currency will replace not only Bitcoin and Ethereum, but also the U.S. dollar itself.”

He even includes a chart that indicates the total potential for this initial coin offering is the “total value of all physical currencies” … so we can’t fault him for a lack of ambition.

And, yes, he does include the stipulation that this probably won’t happen:

“So let’s be real – turning a few hundred bucks today into the sum of all the money in the world is not going to happen for you. You are not going to literally make a trillion dollars from this ICO trade.

“Obviously you’ll need to set your sights lower than that.

“All I’m trying to demonstrate is how BIG this revolution in the world’s currency use could become… because this theoretically could all happen over the long run.”

The big sum-up:

“Because in the long run, only ONE NEW CURRENCY will become the STANDARD. (Just like the dollar did in the 20th century.)

“My research convinces me it will be THIS one. And the thing is, when I say ‘long run’ here, I don’t mean a century.

“I’m talking months, or even weeks.

“I know, that’s extremely unlikely.

“But we’re talking about history here. And the one lesson we’ve learned from history, across thousands of years, is that things do not stay the same. And when they do change – it always happens much, much faster than conventional wisdom says it should.”

So what is the actual ICO that Hutchinson is talking about here? I can’t claim to be much of an expert on the intricacies of all the different cryptocurrencies (though I do own small chunks of bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin), but let’s see if he drops enough clues for us to throw some guesses on the table for you:

“In an uncapped ICO, the early investors buy as much as they want. And then in the weeks, months, and years after the ICO, further production of the coin is sensibly limited to avoid inflation.

“Which means if the coin is in high demand, its price will then go through the roof!

“That’s why I’ve been searching carefully over these past few years for an ICO with totally uncapped profits….”

OK, I guess that makes some sense. You want the ICO price to be low enough and the future coin generation to be low enough that you stand a better chance of making money. That’s just logic, though, and there isn’t any one rule about how you price an ICO (since, for most cryptocurrencies, there’s no “there” there — there’s nothing on which to base a valuation).

“Since Bitcoin hit the scene in 2009, digital currencies have been something like a Catch-22 for investors:

“The MORE reliable coins tended to have capped profits

“And the LESS reliable coins tended to have uncapped profits

“There just wasn’t a great choice for traders.

“Until now.

“… that all ends on August 28, when this new uncapped ICO takes off.

“Why I’m staking my entire career on this ONE digital coin… predicting that it will RAPIDLY replace both Bitcoin and the U.S. Dollar… and digging into my own wallet to make this effectively FREE for the first 199 readers who take me up on it today….

“I’m putting all of my chips down on ONE new coin, and declaring it the swift & final WINNER of the digital currency wars.”

OK, so that’s certainly a bold statement. Which is what you have to make if you’re trying to get someone to pony up $3,000 when they don’t know you from Adam. Any other clues?

“I don’t want to bore you with the specifics, but the way this entirely new kind of currency works is that it puts a tiny fragment of code on millions of computers all around the world.

“And each of those computers has a different fragment of the code.

“Put them all together, and the amount of computer muscle devoted to securing this system equates to more electric power than the entire states of Nebraska, Delaware, and New Hampshire use.

“More than 19.23 terawatt-hours in total.”

OK, as a non-expert that pretty much sounds like most of the other clues in the ad — like it could apply to almost any cryptocurrency, all of which (as far as I’ve seen) rely to some degree on a distributed network of computers verifying transactions and monitoring the security of the blockchain. That is, after all, the point of the blockchain, that you have a distributed system where security rests on so many people’s shoulders that it’s almost guaranteed.

More from Hutchinson:

“The strongest mathematical models in the world imply that it would be impossible for this new type of security algorithm to be broken.

“This makes the new digital currency in this Aug. 28 ICO more stable than the dollars in your pocket – where we’re one Janet Yellen ‘taper’ or Donald Trump ‘tweet’ away from total mayhem.”

And one more clue:

“… the technology behind this new ICO even allows for the creation of ‘smart contracts,’ so that free people can make business deals without any lawyers, or brokers, or bankers, or regulators involved whatsoever.”

That was a big part of the selling point of ethereum, that it was effectively more of a programming language than just a transactional blockchain-controlled currency and could incorporate smart contracts and all kinds of other useful tools… and lots of other coins or tokens or cryptocurrencies or whatever you want to call them offer this kind of function as well.

So does that get us any closer to our answer? Not really. The clues are all generic and could apply to pretty much any cryptocurrency, particularly since so many of the new ICOs are based on ethereum and have that blockchain’s access to smart contracts… and the limitation of time could be pointing to one of the dozen or so ICOs that have been announced or are underway as of the end of August, or to the need to inspire immediate action for possible newsletter subscribers in an artificial deadline, or a coin offering that is underway and might end as early as August 28 if there’s a lot of demand.

There are dozens of possible ICOs that could match these clues that are now open or will be open soon, you can browse them at places like ICO Alert or TokenMarket or CoinSchedule, though there are plenty of others that have slightly different data.

And I don’t see any sign of one that stands out in those lists, frankly. So… I’ll throw out a guess based on what I’ve read of Martin Hutchinson’s work over the years… my guess is that he’s pitching what he has often talked about wanting: a secure, possibly anonymous cryptocurrency that’s backed by gold, and there is one such service that’s currently in the “ICO” phase and has a fixed token price so won’t inflate away the gains with ICO overbidding, (though they don’t use the term ICO): OneGram.

OneGram could easily not be the one he’s actually recommending, of course, this is very much a guess — and this one is a bit atypical in the cryptocurrency world, partly because it has its own blockchain instead of being built on bitcoin or ethereum’s blockchain (most new coins are based on ethereum), but they do say that their blockchain is based on successful parts of bitcoin and other systems.

OneGram is essentially a way to buy expensive gold and get an uncertain cryptocurrency for your trouble — they indicate that each coin is backed by a gram of gold, and that you buy the coin with gold (using their own brokerage only, GoldGuard, and after adding a premium/fee of something like 10%). They say that they will finish the token sales when they hit their limit or in about 38 days, but at this point they’ve sold about 2/3 of the available tokens so they may well hit the limit around August 28, I have no idea.

I also don’t know anything about GoldGuard, or what other fees they might charge. The appeal here, as I understand it, is that they will try to turn this into a real cryptocurrency that is used for transactions, and that the transaction fee they charge (2% or so, presumably) will be rolled back into the asset base, adding marginally more gold to the value of each OneGram token over time. Assuming, of course, that there are a meaningful number of transactions.

And the promise, which is appealing, is that the downside is limited because of that gold backing — since they actually have the gold in a vault somewhere, the coins are not likely to trade for a lot less than the value of the gold they represent… so perhaps if gold goes up in value and a gram is worth twice as much in a year as it is today, your token will rise in value as well.

I can see the appeal of that, but I have no idea how the market will take it. The only real point in trading in these wild west cryptocurrencies, unless you want to make it your life’s work to really become an expert on all the underlying technology and pick winners and losers (I’m not qualified for that, perhaps you are), is that they might surge by 1,000% and reward you amply for the risk you’re taking… so will this seemingly lower-risk gold-backed currency end up rising less because the price of gold acts more as an anchor than a foundation… or will crazy cryptocoin traders bid it up regardless of the underlying gold value? You’d need a couple PhD’s in psychology to predict how it will play out, I expect, and even then you’re guessing.

OneGram is also, by the way, a project based in the Middle East and backed by some big investors there, with the focus of their launch as a transactional currency likely to be the various Gulf emirates… and the currency is designed to be Sharia compliant as a gold-backed investment, though I don’t really know whether all Muslim cryptocurrency investors are likely to draw the line at the same place OneGram has. I don’t know if that will make a difference or not in their effort to launch and gain some traction. OneGram’s website is here, should you wish to research it further, and it includes a typical (though quite short and detail-light) “whitepaper” descriptive commentary as well as a link to token sales, which go through Gold Guard.

So… that’s all the guesses I have for you on that front, I don’t see an obvious candidate for an ICO that’s currently being offered that has the potential to unseat bitcoin or ethereum, which are the established brands, (and the currencies by which many of those new currencies are valued), but I’m also pretty skeptical about the whole idea… I love the idea of the blockchain, it has the potential to be as powerful as the world wide web or email in terms of transformative technologies for the Internet, but I don’t see a way in which any current cryptocurrency holders really “own” that technology in a meaningful way, and it’s really a wild west R&D project — the only real world business that’s important in the world of cryptocurrencies right now is the business of creating and selling new cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrencies matter, and maybe they’ll be part of the solution of our constantly depreciating national currencies or the inflation explosions that destroy economies from time to time, but that doesn’t mean I can come up with a reasonable logical answer to the question “what should bitcoin (or ethereum, or any of the others) be worth today?”

And if I can’t at least guess at an answer to that question using a sharpie and a bar napkin, I’ve got no business putting much money at risk in it. Perhaps if you trust the OneGram folks and wade through the fees and think it will be worthwhile there’s some “value” underlying that token thanks the gold backing, but, well, on that front I’m just as happy owning an actual gold coin. I’ve held some cryptocurrencies for a few years, in relatively small amounts even after they’ve surged by 1,000% or so (they would make up about 3% of my equity portfolio if they were stocks), so I don’t think they’re pointless and I do think they’re worth following… I just can’t get past the fact that I can’t put a reasonable price on them, so that keeps me from getting my feet any wetter than they already are. I won’t be buying any OneGram, but perhaps I’ll pick up another gold coin.

Curmudgeonly? Dimwitted? Missing the boat? I’ve had much worse yelled at me across the cyberseas… what do you think about the cryptocurrencies? have a favorite new one that you think other folks should get excited about, or that you think Martin Hutchinson is peddling? Think they’re all junk? Love or hate your bitcoin or ethereum or ripple or steem or whatever? Let us know with a comment below.

P.S. Things have gotten crazy enough with the deluge of ICO’s that the SEC stepped in with a warning letter… and also clarified that these coins are generally classified as securities and shouldn’t be sold willy-nilly without regulation or oversight or licensing (OK, they used different words than that) — you might want to check out their letter here, beyond putting some worthwhile fright into the mind of potential speculators, which is healthy, it also gives a decent overview of the ICO world and explains some of the terms pretty well.


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mrabinof
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