I subscribe to Matt Levine’s “Money Stuff” newsletter from Bloomberg. I’m not a big investor, and much of what he talks about goes over my head; but finance is a big part of what drives global change, and he writes about it very entertainingly.
In Friday’s newsletter he highlighted a story about a man in Wales who mistakenly threw out a hard drive containing a bitcoin wallet that — by current valuation — is worth about £200 million. The dude has got financial backing from a hedge fund to gain access to the landfill where he thinks it’s buried to try and recover it. Levine writes:
Financial backing from a hedge fund! Imagine those pitch meetings, wandering around Mayfair trying to get hedge funds to agree to sift through acres of garbage to find some Bitcoins. “You’ll want our special situations team.” If anyone has a copy of his pitch deck for this trade, I need it desperately. I assume it would lay out the plan for digging up the garbage, and the sources and uses of funds. There’d be a financial model showing that, even accounting for paying off the local council and discounting for the possibility that the hard drive has rotted away, you’ll make at least a 30% expected return on your investment. There’d be a page on the capital structure and payment waterfall. You’d need a deep dive into the landfill’s record-keeping system, with aerial maps showing the grid and schematic diagrams of the cross-section. Then a technical section on how you put a rusted garbage-covered hard drive into a computer to get the Bitcoins off of it. At the back of the deck you’d have a page on “The Team,” with little pictures and bios of the guys who are going to dig up the garbage. If no one sends me this pitch book I might have to make it myself. It should be taught in business schools. If you took a class on “Blockchain and Crypto for Finance” and there was no case study on digging up landfills for hard drives, you should demand your tuition back.
I bought some cryptocurrency back in 2017 to see what was up, to try out wallets, and have a bit of skin in the game to help me understand it better. I made a little profit, sold it all, paid the appropriate taxes, and came to the conclusion that it’s all a bit bonkers.
Expecting everyone to be responsible enough to manage their own wallet security or else lose all their money is bananas, so people will delegate it to larger organizations, and the middle-men get rich again. With SEPA and the prevalence of modern mobile banking products, crypto offers nothing extra in the way of convenience, and the promise of anonymity breaks down as soon as you try to convert crypto into real-world currency and vice versa. But then every few years prices go up by factor of 10 in the space of a few months, and everyone gets excited again. It’s still bonkers.