Bitcoin’s time to shine is fast approaching

As fears of inflation rise, people are debating Bitcoin's validity as "digital gold," a kind of inflation hedge.

“Inflation” is the word is on everyone’s tongues.

A recent analysis by Bank of America found mentions of the purchasing power plunger spiked on earnings calls this quarter. Citations are up more than triple year-over-year per company, the biggest rise since 2004. In other words, Wall Street finally seems to be heeding the shrill warnings of Bitcoiners.

People are more and more worried that the Fed’s frenetic money-printing is going to cause price hikes for goods across the board. Commodities are already surging—lumber, anyone?—and as businesses raise the prices of products to account for the increased costs of raw materials, consumers’ wallets are likely to take a hit. Living could suddenly become a more expensive proposition.

The real problem will be what comes next. While the Fed has signaled that it is willing to let inflation rates run up higher than the usual comfort level of 2%, inflation could arrive fast and furious. If inflation outstrips wage growth—that’s the key—then the Fed could be forced to crank its monetary policy levers sooner and more aggressively than expected. That could court a recession.

That undesirable scenario is a cause for much hand-wringing. And the way markets work, when people get spooked, self-fulfilling prophecies can happen. As Bank of America’s analysts point out, rising inflation mentions on earnings calls is a leading indicator of economic decline; the two are tied together with a relatively strong correlation of 52%. It’s as though people speak a downturn into being.

The Fed isn’t yet concerned. The central bank said Wednesday that it would keep interest rates unchanged. But if the money-printing priesthood encounters any surprises, it may need to change its tune in the coming months.

If everyone agrees inflation could pose a threat, they disagree over what to do about it. Bitcoin boosters have long touted their precious cryptocurrency as a kind of “digital gold,” a hedge against inflation. As the value of the U.S. dollar declines, they say, Bitcoin will provide a refuge for people’s wealth.

Big banks and others disagree. In another research note last month, Bank of America warned investors that Bitcoin “has not been particularly compelling as an inflation hedge.” Goldman Sachs piled on—despite seeking to offer Bitcoin to its wealthiest clients—warning that Bitcoin’s energy use and increasing competition from other cryptocurrencies (like Ether, and, I guess, Doge) dent its aspirations.

The doubters are many. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan, recently told CNBC that Bitcoin is an “open Ponzi scheme,” a “gimmick,” and a “game.” He added, “There is no connection between inflation and Bitcoin—none.”

The fact remains that, in the U.S., inflation rates have mostly stayed in check since Bitcoin came on the scene in 2009. The cryptocurrency hasn’t really had a chance to prove itself in an inflationary environment. But that could change—and if it does, everyone will be watching to see whether Bitcoin holds up, or whether it crashes, like it did a little over a year ago.

So-called digital gold’s time to shine is fast approaching.

Robert H. Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

Credits 🚀

Bitcoin faces a make-or-break price barrier … The European Investment Bank plans to issue “digital bonds” using Ethereum … Which caused Ether to rocket to an all-time high near $2,800 … JPMorgan is taking noticeVisa CEO says the company is moving into crypto “in a big way” … Mastercard is teaming up with Gemini on a rewards cardHasbro’s CEO says Magic: The Gathering could issue NFTs … Maybe they’ll be minted on Binance’s upcoming NFT marketplace? … People love virtual coffee points … Pittsburgh Pirates are working on a crypto-related fan rewards app … Microsoft is using Intel tech to block cryptojacking … The U.S. keeps on mailing stimmy checks. Mark Cuban defends dogecoin’s infinite supplyNYT: “We’re all crypto people now.”

Debits 🐻

SEC is delaying its VanEck Bitcoin ETF decision until June … Maybe we don’t need one? Schwab needs more clarity on cryptoGoldman questions Bitcoin’s long-term potential as a gold replacement … Two Turkish crypto exchanges collapseSnowden calls out Ponzi schemer at his own investment conference … Big banks, like UBS and Japan’s Nomura, have lost $10 billion on the Archegos debacle … Is the dollar set to weaken? … There’s a spike in cyberattacks against banks and insurersRansomware coalition calls for more crypto regulationFeds arrest alleged $336 million Bitcoin-laundering kingpin. Jamie Dimon’s Insta account outed? … NY Post: “I took hallucinogenic mushrooms and made billions off Bitcoin.

BALANCING THE LEDGER

On the latest episode of Fortune’s Balancing The Ledger, we’re joined by electro-DJ Steve Aoki and Tom Bilyeu, his business partner (a cofounder of the protein bar-maker Quest Nutrition). We chatted about the duo’s passion for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, blockchain-based collectibles tied to digital art. Aoki also opined about the evolution of the creative web. “How we identify ourselves to the world, it’s gonna be not just your Instagram profile—that’s what it is now, that’s 2021—but in the future it will be your [crypto] wallet,” he says.

You can watch the show here.

FOMO NO MO

AS AN ARCHIVIST, I’m excited about what disruptive innovations like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and artificial intelligence may mean for archives. But I’m also worried. These developments pose existential threats to our field, and by extension, to the survival of human history and culture.

Rick Prelenger poses tough questions about the impact non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, may have on humanity’s collective record-keeping and memory-preservation efforts. The digital media professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, fears that NFT-logging blockchains, which are supposed to faithfully record transactions, could become “tainted or even bogus” as fraudster bots and A.I. programs run roughshod over them.

“Nothing could be a greater cultural and ethical shock to archives than NFTs,” Prelenger writes for Wired, adding that NFTs make history “more fragile.” Who will maintain the registries that assert a work’s authenticity? Will these be set up as public resources or built as proprietary businesses? How will disputes over authenticity be settled? Do archival institutions have enough funding to handle all of this? The answers are unclear.

BUBBLE-O-METER

-$87 million

How much money automaker Tesla lost in the first quarter of the year, excluding super-profitable sales of Bitcoin ($101 million in returns) and regulatory credits ($519 million in revenue). If you include those two non-core businesses, then the battery-and-car-seller brought in $438 million in net income—boosting bottom line into the black.

The problem: Everyone is expecting Tesla’s revenue from regulatory credits to fade in the next few years as rival automakers, like Ford and GM, ramp up their electric vehicle efforts. In other words, Tesla is going to have to get better at selling cars, or it’s going to have to hope the 38,200-or-so Bitcoins that likely remain on its balance sheet will keep accruing in value.

THE LEDGER’S LATEST

Bitcoin, Tesla, Ethereum: When should you take profits on your biggest investing winners? by Ben Carlson

We just learned a lot about Tesla’s Bitcoin bet by Shawn Tully

The overlooked report from the U.S. Treasury you should know about by Geoff Colvin

From fintech breakthroughs to copycat startups, here’s what mattered to CFOs this week by Sheryl Estrada

Bitcoin investors, rest in peace: Digital bank adds crypto estate planning by Robert Hackett

The great American growth engine is slowing, U.S. census numbers reveal by Nicholas Riccardi and Mike Schneider

The battle for your corporate cards heats up by Lucinda Shen

Here’s how much the big banks have lost so far from the Archegos collapse by Christiaan Hetzner

Investors ding Tesla after disappointing results—not even its bitcoin stake can save it by Bernhard Warner

The hybrid office will create great opportunities—for companies and cybercriminals by Jesper Andersen

What Apple’s big privacy changes to iOS mean to you by Danielle Abril

Bitcoin has no uses. That could be its downfall by Shawn Tully

Kraken, Blockchain, Gemini—Coinbase listing paves way for crypto IPOs by Anne Sraders

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

MEMES AND MUMBLES

Interested in joining Fortune‘s The Ledger as a writer? We could use another pair of (diamond) hands. Contact robert.hackett@fortune.com.