NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Is Bitcoin a Real Currency? An economic appraisal

David Yermack

NBER Working Paper No. 19747
Issued in December 2013
NBER Program(s):   LE   ME

A bona fide currency functions as a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account, but bitcoin largely fails to satisfy these criteria. Bitcoin has achieved only scant consumer transaction volume, with an average well below one daily transaction for the few merchants who accept it. Its volatility is greatly higher than the volatilities of widely used currencies, imposing large short-term risk upon users. Bitcoin's daily exchange rates exhibit virtually zero correlation with widely used currencies and with gold, making bitcoin useless for risk management and exceedingly difficult for its owners to hedge. Bitcoin prices of consumer goods require many decimal places with leading zeros, which is disconcerting to retail market participants. Bitcoin faces daily hacking and theft risks, lacks access to a banking system with deposit insurance, and it is not used to denominate consumer credit or loan contracts. Bitcoin appears to behave more like a speculative investment than a currency.

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This paper was revised on April 8, 2014

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19747

Published: “Is Bitcoin a Real Currency?” in David K.C. Lee ed., The Handbook of Digital Currency (Elsevier, 2015), 31-44.

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