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Bitcoin: The Herd is here!

For at least 3 years I have been talking about the fact that the herd is coming. What I meant with that, is that I have been observing for years that institutional investors were getting ready to get into Bitcoin and that the cryptocurrency would shoot through the roof once they would enter the market. And this year it finally happened! The herd is here, the professional investors are now entering the market and the price has started to climb up fast.

In early February this year I wrote a blog post when Bitcoin broke through $10,000 and why I thought that this could be the beginning of a new bull market. I touched upon COVID-19 in this post as well (long before most people paid any attention to the virus), but I did not realize that COVID would slow down the bull market by about 6 months.

Right after global lockdowns started in March Bitcoin actually crashed hard (together with the stock market), but it also recovered quickly. By early October the real new bull run really started and since then the Bitcoin price went up almost 3 times. I think this is the beginning of an epic bull run that could lead to Bitcoin prices that hardly anybody can imagine right now. If you are not in Bitcoin yet because you thought it was too risky, now may be a good time to get in (not investment advice though!). In my opinion Bitcoin is de-risked with professional investors buying up all the newly mined coins and Bitcoin at $28,000 might be a safer investment long term than Bitcoin at $6000 at the beginning of the year.

What changed? I believe the most important factor is that some well known investors paved the way for others to invest and make it less risky to do so. At the beginning of the year investing in Bitcoin may have cost a professional investor his or her job, right now not investing in Bitcoin may get you fired. It’s a completely different investment environment. Over the past couple of weeks there was another announcement of a new large fund investing in Bitcoin almost every day.

It all started in the spring of this year with Paul Tudor Jones announcing that he put a small percentage of his net worth into Bitcoin. That opened people’s eyes, because PTD is highly regarded. Not long after that Microstrategy’s Michael Saylor announced that his firm had invested $450 million of its reserve assets into Bitcoin. This was huge news, MicroStrategy was the first publicly listed company that did this and the public markets liked it: its stock price almost tripled in 4 months time after the announcement. Not only that, MicroStrategy doubled its reserves during that time because the Bitcoin price doubled. They basically made in 6 months what the company would have normally made in 10 years. Michael Saylor became a hero in the Bitcoin world and started doing almost daily podcasts and video interviews, in which he convinced a lof others that having Bitcoin as a reserve asset is less risky than keeping it in dollars.

Then in October all of a sudden the announcements started. Just a few examples of financial news headlines since then:
– Billionaire Hedge Fund Investor Druckenmiller Says He Owns Bitcoin
JP Morgan saying that investors are selling gold for BTC
PayPal Enables Users to Buy, Hold and Sell Cryptocurrency
Citibank Analyst Says Bitcoin Could Pass $300K by December 2021
BlackRock’s Chief Investment Officer Says Bitcoin Could Replace Gold
Guggenheim Fund Reserves Right to Put Up to 10% in Bitcoin Trust
MassMutual announces a $100 Million Purchase
Ruffer investing $740M in BTC – and selling Gold for that
Jim Cramer buying BTC and talking about it on TV
Fidelity CEO saying that there is a pipeline of institutional investors looking to get into Bitcoin custody
An avalanche of positive news for Bitcoin is coming from some of the top financial institutions in the world. I personally think the MassMutual purchase of $100 million of Bitcoin may turn out to be the most important one. Not because of the amount, that is actually quite modest, but because this is the first life insurance company getting into this new asset class. They would have to get SEC approval for this, which is quite an effort in itself, and now others will follow. Moreover, once you invest $100 million and that investment is going up 50% in 3 weeks you will likely start to invest more.

The herd is here and these investors won’t go away anymore. Right now Bitcoin is at about $530 billion in market cap, it just flipped Visa and is now the same size as Berkshire Hathaway. It still about 20 times smaller than Gold, but I believe that within 5 years (=after the next Bitcoin halving) Bitcoin might flip Gold as well. The higher Bitcoin goes, the more institutions will invest. Look at BlackRock for example, their Chief Investment Officer publicly said that Bitcoin could replace Gold, but the firm does not buy Bitcoin yet for its funds. Why? Simply because Bitcoin is still too small for them. But not long anymore!

I am happy that my predictions are coming true. I spent years studying Bitcoin on a daily basis and saw the writing on the wall for years, but it was hard to predict exactly when it would happen. In 2017 I predicted that Bitcoin would hit $150,000 in 2021 and I still stand by that prediction. It could be a few months later of course, but it could also happen by next summer already. It all depends on the speed at which new investors enter the market. The nice thing about having the Bitcoin blockchain is that you can calculate how long it might take to get to this price (because all transactions are visible on the blockchain).

At this moment the market cap of BTC goes up by about $3.50 for every $1 that is invested in the market (and this ratio is going up). At a $150K Bitcoin price the market cap would be around $2.2 trillion, so assuming that the ratio remains stable we would need about $500 billion in new money inflows. Last week about $10 billion of new money was invested into Bitcoin, so you can do the math: even at this speed we’ll hit $150,000 at the latest by December 2021. If the speed increases we could be above $200,000 by this time next year. Not many liquid assets will give you a 6-8X return in 12 months.

And after that? Looking at what is happening in the markets now I am extremely bullish and think we’ll likely see $400-500,000 prices when more institutional investors come in, simply because there is so much demand and very limited supply. In case Central Banks would put part of their reserves into Bitcoin we will even get much higher prices (in the millions of dollar per coin), but for now that is not happening yet. I am glad that after the 2017 retail rally this new bull market is led by institutions. They won’t panic sell like retail investors did in 2017-18, so likely the dips will be smaller as well. Don’t get me wrong, we will still see a lot of volatility with the price going down 20-30% every now and then. But likely not the 50%+ drawdowns like we saw in the last bear market, where BTC was actually down more than 80% at one point. The sky is the limit right now!

Disclaimer: As always, do not take this as investment advice and never put more in than you are willing to lose. Do your own research!

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Psychedelics stocks are outperforming Bitcoin!

It may seem like just another clickbait headline, but it’s actually true: over the past couple of weeks Bitcoin has done extremely well, but publicly listed shares in psychedelics companies are doing even better. I am not really surprised, because that expectation is the exact reason that earlier this year we started a psychedelics venture fund, Synaptic Ventures. I wrote a post in July about this, with my expectations for the sector and with a description of the companies we planned to invest in. You can find the post here: https://www.marc.cn/2020/07/psychedelics-the-next-big-thing.html

Just now I sent out an email to our limited partners (=the investors in the fund) with an update on our investments and our returns. Because it gives a good overview of what is happening in the sector I decided to share it here as well (slightly redacted). As you can see over the past 8 months we made an average 120% return on our investments that are publicly listed. I don’t see this ending any time soon and we have some interesting new investments in the pipeline. It’s great to be part of this sector, to help advise some of the leading companies in the space and of course to also make nice returns for our investors.

Dear Synaptic Ventures investors,

I would like to give you an update on the investments we did with Synaptic Ventures this year and the performance of our portfolio companies. It’s been quite a year for psychedelics and the financial markets: the first psychedelics company only went public in March this year and since then many have followed. We looked at many different companies this year and only invested in the ones that we feel have the best long term potential. Our thesis is that we only want to invest in high quality companies, not in potential pump and dumps.

 

Since we started investing in June this year we have made a number of investments:

 

– Entheon Biomedical 

Entheon Biomedical is a biotech company focussed on the development of psychedelic medicines for addiction disorders. The Company’s research and development pipeline revolves around DMT. The company went public in November 2020. We bought the shares at $0.40, the current share price is $1.03 (+157%)

– Sansero Life Sciences
Sansero Life Sciences is a Canadian-based bioscience company developing novel medications based on psilocybin.
The company merged with Cannaglobal and Rise this summer, and is now called Cannaglobal Wellness. The valuation of Sansero in the merger was double the valuation from when we invested, so on paper we made a 100% profit.

 

– Cannaglobal Canada
We invested in Cannaglobal Canada right before their merger with Sansero. They are now called Cannaglobal Wellness. They are a global psychedelics leader focused on psilocybin and other natural compounds to promote emotional, mental, and physical wellness. The company is still private.

 

– Field Trip
is a mental wellness company that focuses on psychedelics and psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy. 
The company listed in October 2020. We bought our shares at $2.00 and sold them at $2.64 shortly after the listing (+32%)

 

– Eleusis
Eleusis is one of the early movers in the psychedelic medicine space (the company started in 2013 already), they are looking at using psychedelics for both anti-inflammatory and mental health applications. The company is still private.

 

– Cybin
Cybin’s aim is to become the first life sciences company to bring a psilocybin drug to market targeting Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). They raised a $45 million round in October 2020 (a record for a Canadian psychedelics company) and listed a month later. We invested at a $0.75 share price, the current price is $2.25 (+200%).
 
– Psybio Therapeutics
Our latest investment is Psybio Therapeutics, we completed this investment earlier this month. PsyBio Therapeutics is developing biosynthetic psychoactive compounds which offer a new paradigm of treatment to reverse the course of mental health issues.

As always, if you have any questions or remarks feel free to get in touch any time. Easiest is to email me or to add me on WhatsApp or WeChat.

 

Happy holidays!
Marc

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China: Life After COVID Is Back To Normal

Beijing 2nd Ring Road Oct 2020

 

A  few months ago I was lucky to get a visa to China so I could visit the country during the middle of the global pandemic. After 2 weeks in quarantine in Xiamen in late September and a total of 5 COVID tests I was finally allowed to fly to Beijing. When I landed there I had literally arrived in a different world, a world without COVID.

Of course I knew that there is no COVID in China anymore, but seeing it for yourself is different. Everything is open again, even bars and clubs. Social distancing is a thing of the past, but when I arrived in Beijing most people still wore face masks, even outside. When I visited Xiamen again last week a lot less people wore them, but maybe that was also because of the much higher temperatures there. Everybody needs to have a health app installed on their phones, without it you can’t enter many public places (the app proves you have no COVID or have not been in contact with COVID-positive people) and you can’t fly without a green QR code on your app (not even if you just want to leave China).

Beijing in early Oct 2020

Beijing in mid-October, everyone still wears face masks outside

Life is back to normal in China. Interesting is that people work from their offices again: The work-from-home phase did not last here, maybe because people only worked from home for a few weeks instead of a few months. I wonder if that will also happen in the Western world or if people will keep working remotely. Everything is open and there are hardly any restrictions left, although you still need to wear face masks in among others taxis and in school.

What dit China do to get here? It’s actually quite simple, they had a complete lockdown of the whole country for a couple of weeks, and for some hotspots like Wuhan for a few months. After that they opened up again, but they did that with ubiquitous testing and obligatory face masks everywhere. Each time a new outbreak occurred they would lock (part of) a city down and test everybody. In that way China got the virus completely under control.

Xiamen Nov 2020 - less face masks

It may be hard to believe if you live in Europe or the US, but it is really not that hard to do. The partial lockdown in many other countries is simply not enough. It turns out that it is much better to have a shorter but very strict lockdown than to have a much longer partial lockdown that just tries to ‘flatten the curve’. I think Europe and the US are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to remain open for business. The long term effect in the Western world will simply be much worse than the short term effect in China.

I am actually flabbergasted that the Western economies don’t see this and don’t copy the China playbook. I have argued for a short but full lockdown on Twitter since March, but most people did not take it serious. Of course it’s not the full story, China also had face masks from day one, while many other countries still don’t seem to ‘believe’ in them (although that finally started to change after the summer). The science is clear, but politicians are clearly no scientists.

And of course you need testing capacity, something that seems impossible to scale up in many Western countries. The virus started in January and soon after that it became clear to me that this could be a global danger. As I noted on Twitter, face masks were sold out in Vancouver on January 25 already, simply because most Chinese in Vancouver also saw the risk and started buying them. But governments took a full 6-7 weeks before they started to take it more serious. They lost so much precious time, instead of getting face masks ready and prepare test facilities they downplayed the risk. It was hard to believe for me, but I realized (once again…) that you should never rely on politicians for information but do your own research. If they had invested in testing equipment instead of telling the population that it was not a big danger, they could have avoided almost all of the current problems.

Xiamen Nov 2020 - less face masks

Not many face masks anymore in Xiamen in early November

So what now? I believe the only way for Western countries to get out of this social and economic disaster is by doing a complete lockdown for at least 3-4 weeks, followed by testing for everyone. If you are negative you can go back to your old life. If you test positive you have to stay in quarantine for another 3 weeks when you will get tested again. Once you have had COVID you will get new tests every month to make sure the virus did not come back. Each time there is a new outbreak you will have to quarantine cities or parts of cities and test everybody.

And of course there will be quarantines and COVID test for any travelers from countries that don’t follow these rules. It is really not that hard, and if countries would follow these guidelines COVID will be gone by Christmas in the Western world as well. Will it happen? I am afraid not, politics are too polarized, so countries will likely go deeper into a death spiral until an effective and globally available vaccine will be available. That will be at least 6-9 months from now (there will be vaccines much earlier than this, but there won’t be enough supply and setting up a distribution system will be another hurdle), and by then it will be too late for both many businesses and many people.

It was great to spend some time in China during this pandemic and I wish I would have been able to stay longer. I am now back in Canada and I’m doing a 2-week quarantine at home. Of course that doesn’t really make sense coming from a COVID-free country, but I knew that in advance so I just play along. To me it’s another example of governments having no clue what they are doing. Anyway, I make the best of it and being at home certainly beats a hotel quarantine like in China!

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Quarantine in China

IMG_4325
I am sitting behind my laptop in a hotel room in Xiamen (southern China) looking out over a construction site and the suburbs of this city of almost 4 million people. The room is not bad, but I have been locked up in here for the past 2 weeks, so I am starting to look forward to leaving it. I am not allowed to even open my door and walk into the corridor, and I have not seen any other people except twice a day doctors in full hazmat personal protection equipment. It is a bit surreal but it’s my own decision to be here and I don’t regret it.

China is one of the very few countries in the world that have COVID-19 completely under control. There have been no new domestic cases since mid-August, the only cases are from people traveling to China. China has achieved that with very strict lock downs early on in the pandemic, followed by quick and widely available testing combined with contact tracing for every person who was infected. That is great when you live here, but the downside is that if you travel to China you have to undergo extensive quarantine measures just to enter the country.

I was aware of that when I decided to travel here, but until I experienced it myself I did not realize how strict the rules were. You first need to apply for a visa to China. Chinese passport holders can travel without restrictions, but anybody else needs to get a newly issued visa. Even my current Chinese residence permit was not valid to travel anymore. Then you need to book a flight, which is not easy because instead of many flights per day there are now only a few flights per week between Vancouver and China. My final destination was Beijing, but I had to fly to a different city for my quarantine and I managed to get a flight to Xiamen. Prices are still very high (around $8000 for a one way business class flight), but they have come down a lot already since this summer.

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Before boarding a plane to China you have to show a negative COVID test issued within 72 hours of flying. Because Canada can’t handle the number of COVID tests it actually took me 3 days to get the results and I almost missed my flight because of that.

Vancouver airport

Before even going to the airport I had to download 2 apps on my phone, both mini-programs inside WeChat. One for customs and one that would be used as my electronic medical records for all my COVID and antibody tests in Xiamen. Not sure how people do that who can’t read any Chinese, even I had trouble figuring it out and filling out all the forms inside the apps.

Arriving at the airport I had to fill out a paper form about my health in Chinese (no English version was available), show my test results and then my temperature was taken before checking in. It was all pretty efficient and within 10 minutes I was at security already, where another temperature check was performed. The airport was virtually deserted, on the screens I saw that there were only 3 international flights in the next 12 hours.

I decided to have a drink in the lounge, but it turned out that they did not serve alcohol because of COVID (not sure what the reasoning behind that was actually). So I just had a bottle of water and left the lounge to take a one hour walk through the terminal before boarding. I thought boarding might be a hassle but because of the apps it was pretty efficient as well. On board I took my seat and hoped to get a drink before departure, but it turned out that there would be no food and beverage service on the almost 13-hour flight. Even in business class the only thing we got was a plastic bag with 2 pieces of bread,  some cookies, an apple and 2 bottles of water!

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The flight

I put on my N95 mask before entering the airport and on the plane everybody had to wear masks as well. Most people had N95 masks as well and many were  wearing plastic face covers and gloves as well. I felt pretty safe on the plane, simply because everybody had been tested in the days before the flight. When I boarded the plane in Vancouver I realized it was probably one of the safest places in Canada, the chance of catching it on the plane would be virtually zero. Looking around I also realized that I was probably the only non-ethnic Chinese on the plane, even though the plane was completely full. I guess that explained the Chinese-only forms.

The flight attendants were extremely well protected and there were even special regulations for going to the toilet. A flight attendant would open the door for you and you would have to wear plastic gloves inside the bathroom. After leaving the bathroom you had to throw the plastic gloves away and clean your hands and arms with alcoholic wipes that the flight attendant would give to you. No touching of anything with your hands was allowed.

Quarantine plane

Arrival in Xiamen

I was tired and slept about 7 hours (with my face mask on) during the flight. We landed around 5 AM in Xiamen and then the long arrival procedures started. I was prepared for that and knew it could take hours to just get off the airport, but it went quicker than I thought. After the quarantine police came in and checked everybody’s temperature I could leave the plane after about 45 minutes (luckily I was in the front of the plane) and we were taken in buses to the quarantine arrivals hall. There we had to show a form that we had to fill out on the plane (again only in Chinese) and QR codes generated by the apps. My temperature was taken again and then it was time for 2 different COVID tests: one with a long needle that seems to go from your nose into your brain (in reality it goes from your nose into your throat I read later, but it did not feel like that) and another one where they take a sample from inside your throat. Both were not fun, especially not after a long flight, but you have no choice of course.

Immigration took a bit longer, simply because the border agents did not speak a word of English and did not seem to understand any of my Chinese (that happens more often, the assumption seems to be that I must be speaking English them so they don’t even try to understand what I am saying). Complicating matters even further was that they did not seem to understand why I came to China. In that kind of situation being patient and smiling a lot always helps and indeed after about 5 minutes they stamped my passport and let me through. We were now about 2 hours after landing.

IMG_4313

I picked up my suitcase, which was a challenge because I had broken my hand 8 days earlier (I had a nasty fall on the Grouse Grind), so my arm is in a cast and the rest of my body was still very bruised. Luckily there were porters who helped me and I even managed to send my suitcase directly to my hotel. Of course at that point I did not know which hotel I would be sent to, because there was another step in the process: the distribution center.

IMG_4310

The hotel

Each time 15 people were through the testing and immigration process they were put on a bus and driven to a conference center where authorities would decide which hotel you would have to stay in for your quarantine. That took another hour and then I was finally taken by another bus to my destination. The hotel looked decent, but it was not as nice as the Xiamen hotel where Grace and the kids had quarantined 2 months ago. The quarantine hotels are not open to the public and security is pretty tight. Everybody in the hotel was wearing full PPE, so you could only see their eyes behind a plastic screen.

Upon check in I managed to upgrade to a suite, which was a huge relief for me. I got some Chinese forms, paid the room with WeChat pay and then went up to my room in the elevator. I walked through the corridor, took a final picture (the tables are for food that you order, the chairs are for your COVID and antibody tests) and then entered my room. The room looked pretty good, but after the door closed behind me it suddenly hit me that I would be locked up in here for 14 days. I did not know how to feel about that, but I was happy that the long journey was over and that everything had gone well.

IMG_4321

The first thing I did was to order some room service. The (Chinese) food came after about an hour and was not bad, so that was a good start. After a shower my suitcase arrived and I decided to measure a walking route in my hotel room. Because the suite had 2 doors I could walk a 25-step circle in the room, which was better than I had expected. Over the past 14 days I averaged about 20,000 steps per day and my record was over 30,000 steps (25 km) in my hotel room. It was the only way to stay in shape and I enjoyed it. I walked the circle 1000s of times and can now do it while reading a book without hitting anything.

As usual, I was very well prepared for the stay. I had downloaded tons of movies, documentaries and TV shows on my iPad. I had many audio books and podcasts on my phone, and my Kindle had many books that I wanted to read. I had planned to use the quarantine efficiently and looking back that was the right decision. Believe it or not, but I have not been bored once during this quarantine.

Hotel suite

I made a schedule that I adhered to pretty strictly: I decided to get up between 3-4 AM every morning so I would be awake during the afternoon hours in Vancouver, meaning that I could do calls and Zoom meetings with North America. After 10 AM I normally would spend at least 2 hours doing university lectures, I finished one 34 lecture course about Chinese history and an 8 lecture course about composer Franz Liszt in the past 2 weeks. During that time I would normally get my first temperature check of the day as well. After lunch (served between 11:30-1 PM) I would take a nap, study Chinese for an hour and then I would read a book or listen to podcasts while walking around my room.

I ordered a lot of good wines and it was very tempting to start drinking at lunch already, but after one day I decided not to open a bottle before at least 5 PM. After another temperature check and an early dinner I normally spent the evening listening to podcasts and audiobooks and I watched an occasional movie. I was normally in bed between 8-9 PM, so I would get enough sleep.

Today is my last day and looking back I have to say that I enjoyed the quarantine. I got so much work done and I finally managed to read books and do courses that had been on my to do list for years. It’s nice that you don’t have to go grocery shopping or have to cook, it saves you so much time. I think I might actually miss the quarantine. However, I can also understand that it is depressing for many people. Not being able to leave is psychologically not always easy, especially when it’s nice weather outside and you see many people walking around. Having a strict schedule really helped me and I would probably do the same again if I need to travel to China another time before the rest of the world gets the pandemic under control.

I very much look forward to going outside for the first time in 2 weeks in a couple of hours. I can’t wait to feel the sun and the wind again. And I can’t wait to see other people, especially my kids who I have not seen for almost 2.5 months. I did 5 COVID tests and 2 antibody tests over the past 2 weeks and the QR code on the app on my phone reflects that, so I will be able to go to bars and restaurants again.

The 2 weeks of quarantine was worth the wait for me and I really look forward to being in a COVID-free world for a while as a reward, a world that has gone back to normal while the rest of the world still does not seem to understand how to stop the virus. To me it is clear that China is doing this right: it may seem draconian to lock people up in hotel rooms, to do constant COVID tests and to have contact tracing apps on your phone, but it works!

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Inflation or deflation?

For a long time I thought that the unlimited printing of money would lead to high inflation rates in the US, but over the past weeks I have changed my mind completely on this topic. Yesterday’s speech by FED chairman Jerome Powell, in which he said that the FED would aim for a higher inflation to keep the economy going, reinforced my vision that the US keeps heading for deflation in goods and services, but that we will still see ongoing (and increasing) asset inflation.

Asset inflation means the increase in price of mainly financial assets, including among others equity (stock prices), real estate (house prices will keep going up), commodities (gold), but also Bitcoin. The prices for goods and services will go down, however. I totally dismissed this for a long time, because I did not take the effect of exponential technological progress on prices into account. Almost every sector is switching to technology solutions, meaning that products improve while keeping the same price (e.g. new iPhones get better every year but prices remain similar), or products remain the same at a lower price (older model iPhones are reduced in price).

Staying with the phone example: in 1988 when my dad bought his first ‘mobile’ phone this was probably several thousand dollars. It was huge and the battery would be better suited for weight lifting exercises than for a mobile device. You could call for 30-60 minutes before the battery was empty, and the price for calling was at least $1 per minute. Calling was all the device could do, it could not even do text messaging. Nowadays an iPhone can still make calls, but it can do so for free (WhatsApp, FaceTime), for a much longer period of time, and the phone can do almost anything you can imagine (it’s also a computer, a camera, a voice recorder, a TV, a video recorder, a wallet to pay with, etc. etc.). And that all for a fraction of the price of the original phone. That is real deflation, but most people don’t see it. This is the same for every electronic device. Even if prices are similar it can do a lot more than earlier versions.

You can see this for almost every product and the reason is that technology is improving fast, which leads to among others cheaper and faster chips, but also to improved production methods. This will only continue and might even accelerate because of COVID-19. Many companies are looking for shortcuts to save money and the easiest way to save money is by reducing or replacing labour with technology (meat plants will likely completely change to robots after the COVID-19 outbreaks , but also restaurants may start using robots as servers – as happens in some places in Asia already).

Artificial intelligence is becoming more ubiquitous and now already has the potential to replace many jobs (Google “GPT-3” and keep in mind that this will keep improving exponentially). Eventually labour cost in production costs will go to almost zero. Another big change is happening in the cost of energy: my prediction is that because the cost of renewable energy (esp. solar) is falling so much that energy will eventually be almost free. I can give many more examples, but they are all more of the same: new technologies lead to lower costs, which in turn will lead to lower prices.

The only reason many products are still going up in price (mainly food and other daily products) is because the government is pumping money into the economy. This leads more and cheaper credit (government money goes to banks, that have to lend it out to make money) which leads to more demand, and more demand leads to increasing prices. This actually also happens to some of the products mentioned above (such as mobile phones), but because their production gets exponentially cheaper these consumer prices still go down, but not as much as without credit. I think we are just in the early stages of deflation, especially after COVID many industries will start looking at ways to replace humans. So unless governments stop printing money things will start to get cheaper.

Asset inflation is what happens because money has to go somewhere. There is simply too much money in the economy and it does not end up with the average Joe. The money is mainly injected into financial institutions instead of distributed directly to people and this leads to the so-called Cantillon effect, whereby financial assets go up in price but other prices remain stable or go down. My prediction is that the stock market, gold and Bitcoin will keep on going up, most likely at an even faster pace than now. Stock markets might still crash temporarily once markets realize what has happened to the economy (the effects are not visible yet and economic effects will be MUCH worse than people realize), but they will recover. Some stocks may go down of course (traditional companies that do not innovate enough may not survive for much longer), but if you are invested in companies with network effects and technology (Facebook, Amazon, Tencent, Alibaba) you can make a killing. Also BTC and gold will do very well in my opinion, especially Bitcoin still can go up at least 25 times over the next couple of years.

Jerome Powell’s speech made clear to me that the FED has lost control. They simply don’t know what to do it seems. They don’t have an unemployment target anymore, maybe because they realize that unemployment will keep on going up? An economic target of full employment that I studied in Keynesian economics in university might never happen again. The FED’s inflation target will be hard to reach if prices keep on going down, so they have to print even more money. That will lead to even larger inequality. I worry that the higher inflation target will be devastating for the economy and especially for the lower & middle classes, because their incomes won’t rise but their daily expenses will. This will lead to even more social unrest, and that combined with continuous new records in the stock market could potentially lead to a French Revolution 2.0. I don’t think this will end well.

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Psychedelics: the next big thing?

I am always looking for the next big thing. Sometimes I am way too early, but by spending time on it before others do so I have been able to start ‘first-to-market’ companies and/or make very interesting investment returns over the years. For example podcasting (I was looking at this in the summer of 2004 already and it gave me the initial idea for Tudou.com, what turned into the first online video company), e-books (I used e-ink readers before Amazon even launched the Kindle), and of course Bitcoin and blockchain technology.

For a couple of months I have been looking at a completely new category, psychedelics. These are a kind of psychoactive drugs that can change your perception of the world, your mood or your creative abilities. You don’t get addicted to them and often one or two treatments can have life changing effects.

My interest in psychedelics started after reading Michael Pollan’s book “How To Change Your Mind”. It describes his journey to learn more about the history of psychedelics and the current status of these hallucinogens. Michael Pollan also tried several psychedelics himself and described the effect they had on him. The book opened my mind: I now understand why psychedelics can make a the world a better place for many people and that despite what governments tend to make us believe, they are not dangerous at all. I see them as a kind of medicine, but one that big pharma does not like because it will eat into its margins.

Some of the more well know psychedelics are LSD, psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’), ketamine and MDMA. When administered in clinical settings they can have profound effects on people. Michael Pollan’s book gives numerous examples, such as terminal cancer patients suddenly feeling at ease with the fact that they will die (one of them called himself the happiest person in the world a few days after his session). He also describes a study in which 80% of people who tried to quit smoking successfully stopped after just one session, and he gives examples of many people with severe depression or anxiety who managed to live a normal happy life again after a psychedelics treatment. The big difference with traditional pharma is that normally one or two sessions with a relatively large dose are enough to get this result, instead of taking pills on a daily basis for a long period of time. Another way of taking these drugs is by micro dosing them, meaning you take a very small amount that does not make you high but that lets you focus more or makes you more creative.

Many clinical trials for several kinds of psychedelics are happening at the moment and showing promising results. In Canada some psychedelics are legal already when administered in a clinical setting. In the USA the FDA has called psilocybin a breakthrough therapy last year for severe depression, which will help speed up the process of approving this psychedelic. Because of this I believe we will observe a come-back of psychedelics in the near future (many of them were legal until the late 1960s).

Based on these developments I see a very bright future for psychedelics in a clinical setting or by micro dosing them. I am not sure yet about the effect on the recreational use of psychedelics, but my assumption is that it will follow the same path as cannabis (CBD and THC). Therefore I started looking at which companies are operating in the sector and I teamed up with my regular business partner Sean Clark and with Ben Samaroo (who was also involved in several of my other ventures). We decided to set up a small venture capital fund (Synaptic Ventures) earlier this year and started investing in the best private companies in the space.

We strongly believe the Canadian capital markets are open to good private companies in the psychedelics field, so we try to find the best ones and invest in them before they go public. We looked at many different companies over the past months and found some real gems, but (as usual in fast growing sectors) also some real pump and dumps. We try to stay away from the lower quality companies and so far invested in five companies that we believe have great founders and good business strategies, and that most likely will do well. It seems we made some good decisions (or maybe it was just luck), because two of these companies will go public over the next couple of weeks and a third one will likely be taken over by another psychedelics company.

If you are interested in this space and learning more about our venture fund feel free to get in touch with me. If you come across companies that you believe have good potential feel free to reach out as well. Our investment focus is on private companies in North America that are interested to go public, but we also recently started looking at some companies in Europe and Australia.

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The world after COVID-19

While the fight against the virus is far from over, my thinking over the past days has been mainly focused on what the world after COVID-19 will look like. Although it’s certainly not guaranteed, my assumption is that we will eventually find a vaccine that will work for most people, but that until then we can’t go back to normal. That will be a period of constant testing, wearing face masks while outdoors, social distancing and likely more temporary lock downs.

But even after we have a vaccine the world will be a very different one from just 3 months ago. In this post I will focus on things that are visible to everyone. I won’t go into issues such as less globalization and onshoring (disrupted supply chain issues, higher prices for many products), the possible collapse of the financial system (because of unlimited printing of money), or the effects on the real estate market.

Work and education
One thing that has become clear over the past couple of weeks is that many jobs can be performed from home. You don’t necessarily need to drive to an office anymore to do all your work, many things you can also do from a remote location. My feeling is that this will have a big impact on the world after COVID-19: rent is expensive in many locations, so there is a real incentive for companies to start looking at letting people work 2-3 days a week from home. Some jobs may only require people to come in once every 1-2 weeks for a few hours. This means that office space requirements will be a lot less than before 2020. The result: a lot of empty office space that can be used for other purposes. But also the demand for more dedicated spaces at home to work and to take video meetings from. As a positive side effect, I think dress codes will be more relaxed as well. Ties already disappeared almost everywhere, but after working from home for many weeks the next thing to go will be the suit. I have been wearing jeans and a jacket for years at work, that might be the new normal as well (the sweatpants will hopefully remain at home).

The same is true for education. Within a few weeks all schools and universities had to change to a completely online curriculum. And surprisingly most of them managed! Sure, the solutions are not perfect, but it suddenly becomes clear that there may be different methods than teaching 20-30 students in a class room with a dedicated teacher, or teaching hundreds of students in a university auditorium. I believe new schools will be developed that rely less on in-person interaction, and more on distance learning with very good teachers and with the help of AI and (eventually) virtual reality. Traditional schools won’t disappear, but I believe that the majority of the classes can be taught in a different, more scalable way.

For example, an extremely good teacher can develop an online course for several schools and have 1-2 hours per week per school to meet with the students in a group setting or for one-on-one meetings. She can work with (less qualified) teaching assistants who can help students with questions and who can do the examinations. Schools can save a lot of money on teachers, students only get taught by the best teachers, and schools may actually need less physical real estate because students can do most of the courses from home. Something similar will be the case for universities, where you can literally enroll in a course with the best professors in your field. This will take time to develop, but I believe it will be unstoppable now that educational institutions have seen that online education can replace in-person teaching.

Entertainment
A sector that has been hit very hard by the virus is the entertainment sector: restaurants, bars, cinemas, sports facilities, and concert halls. What they have in common is that they are currently all closed and therefore most of them may be bankrupt before we have found a vaccine for the virus. That means that even if we can go back to a new normal, most of your favourite hangouts may not be there anymore. Some may start over again with different owners, but because of social distancing they can’t fully operate until a vaccine has been found or until most people have antibodies.

Restaurants will likely have less tables and these tables will be further away from the others. There might be limits to the number of diners, which will make dining a less intimate affair. Waiters may not come to the table anymore to take your order and food will be put close to, but not on, the table. Likely the delivery of meals will remain an important part of their future business. Bars will possibly have to ask patrons to keep a distance from others, which makes it unlikely that many people would want to go there anymore. Cinemas might not sell all chairs, but leave empty chairs between customers, which will make the business unprofitable. So they need to come up with new business models in order to stay alive. Maybe we’ll see more private screenings or even screening of movies at home that are still in the cinemas, for much higher prices (maybe people might pay a few hundred dollars to watch the latest James Bond in the first week after its release at home). And the good old drive-in cinemas might see a come back because of COVID-19.

Sports events with live audiences will likely not be back until we will have a vaccine. Large groups of people are the perfect breeding ground for the virus. So either sports competitions will have to be stopped for a year or they will be played without public. Formula One is already more of a TV sport than one to watch live, but the same may happen to other sports as well. This might mean that all players in a league would have to stay quarantined during the whole season, simply because one player could infect not only his own team but also other teams.

Shopping
Going shopping in a mall may be a thing of the past. Some will still be there, but many will lose a large number of their tenants during the lockdown. Even after the quarantine phase is over most people won’t have as much to spend as before, so they will not buy new shoes, clothes, or electronics, leading to the closure of even more shops. Maybe flagship stores will remain, places where you can see the products before ordering them online.

I believe people will continue to shop online, also after the virus has been contained. It’s just so much easier: I had never ordered groceries online before the virus hit, but after just a few week I already prefer it over going to a supermarket. Amazon is not able to handle all its orders right now, but in the world of shopping they will be the big winner of the virus.

Travel (business and pleasure)
I used to travel a lot and although I cut down travel by at least 50% last year (partly because of climate change), I am now for the first time in 25 years experiencing a business life without air travel. I have not taken any flights yet this year and I actually like it. No more wasting time in airports or on delayed flights, and especially no more constant jet lags. Zoom has replaced all of my in-person meetings and it works surprisingly well. I think a lot of companies will realize that you can get a lot of business done through online tools as well, so I believe business travel will not be the same anymore. The same is true for conferences, many are more a perk to keep employees happy than a place where you learn something new. Of course it’s good to meet people face to face, but seeing the same people at every conference (as was the case in the Bitcoin world) does not add much value either. So I believe that even after COVID-19 there may be less conferences and many of them will be at least partially virtual.

Tourism will change even more in my opinion. Until there is a vaccine I think we may see either 14-day quarantines after every international flight or there will be COVID-19 tests both before boarding and after landing. People with antibodies may be able to travel more freely, but for now that will be a very small minority of the people. Just for that reason, I believe international recreational travel as we know it won’t be back for until the summer of 2022. I think the era of cheap tickets and package deals me be over as well: many low cost airlines will likely not survive the current lock down and the period until there will be a vaccine. So there will be less competition, the national airlines (saved by governments) will suddenly have many of the tourist routes to themselves and they will not offer $99 flights anymore. I think even the regular flight tickets will be a lot higher, partly because airlines that are saved by governments might have to pay loans back so they have to be more profitable, and partly because there is simply less competition. Because demand will be down (there will be a lot less people that have money available for international holidays) I believe there will be a lot less flights as well. No longer will there be 10+ flights per day from Vancouver to China but maybe just 2 or 3. I think that’s a good thing and I hope this might help to solve the climate crisis as well.

Unemployment
The biggest effect of COVID-19 will be that many companies will not be able to survive the crisis. In many countries 20-30% of the working population may be unemployed a few months from now. That is unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes. I believe people are completely underestimating these numbers and their consequences. I am very worried about social unrest, especially in countries without good social security. I have been a big fan of Universal Basic Income, maybe this is the time that governments will finally give it a try. My view on this is that if they do start with UBI it won’t go away anymore.

Because so many people are laid off, many will not be able to pay their mortgage or other debts and will have a hard time surviving. They will only buy products they really need (mainly food), but won’t be spending anything on other products. No more new cars, no more holidays, no more new iPhones, but also no more nights out in bars or restaurants once they reopen. The indirect effects of this will be huge and will likely lead to a lot more bankruptcies and additional unemployment. I think we may not just see a recession but a real depression, similar to what happened in the 1930s. People will be forced to sell their boats, their second houses or even their cars just to survive, so there will be some real bargains for people with access to cash.

The new normal: better or worse?
The new normal won’t be as normal as some politicians make you believe. I think we will be facing a very different but also very difficult future. Most people will get through it and there will be many new opportunities, but it will get harder before it gets easier. Hopefully some good things will come from this as well. For example, after spending more time at home people may realize that spending time with family is more important than just work. Community and helping each other may suddenly become more important as well. Maybe it could even be the first step to realize that climate change is real and that we can fight it if we completely change our lifestyles. At least we now know that it is possible to change our consumption patterns, even if just for a short period of time. I am not optimistic about the next 12 months, but I do believe that as a society it could be a wake up call to change our lives.

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Scam alert: Fake First Block Capital website and fake job offers

Last week we received an email from someone checking if a job offer he received from us for a remote job position was real. We found it a bit strange because we are not hiring for remote positions and we don’t even have any open positions. Then shortly after that we received another one, this time with a full contract signed by someone not working for First Block Capital and with a company chop (Canadian companies normally don’t use company chops, this is typical Chinese).

We then looked a bit closer at the email address the job offer had been sent from and it turned out that they had bought the domain firstblocks(dot)capital – I am not going to link to it here, I don’t want Google to index it higher than it should be – instead of firstblock.capital. They had copied our complete website and it seemed they are now recruiting fake staff.

Among others the recruited staff have to provide copies of their IDs and and address proofs, so likely they are just trying to steal people’s identities.

First Block Capital only hires people after in-person interviews in our office and we do not offer any remote positions (at least not a position where you will work remote from day one onwards). So if you receive such an offer this is not from us. Please check the email and the website, if they are from First Blocks Capital that is not us.

We put a notice on the contact page of our website, so we hope people will see it if they do some research on the company that hires them. The reason I write this post is also so that people will hopefully Google their job offer and find this article.

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Is this the beginning of a global financial meltdown?

Three weeks ago I wrote a post titled ‘The Perfect Storm’, about why I am extremely bullish about Bitcoin. Since then the Bitcoin price has been very volatile and it’s down about 10 percent since I wrote the piece, but I still stand 100% behind my message that Bitcoin is ready to break out. This post is related, although it’s less about Bitcoin and more about the more traditional financial markets: I think we are at the beginning of a global financial meltdown.

Since I wrote my last blog post the Coronavirus turned from a local epidemic into a global pandemic. It is now spreading all over the world and many countries seem to be failing to contain it. It will have a huge economic impact and I believe this has not yet been priced in, simply because markets underestimate the global effects. One of the biggest economies in the world has come to a virtual stand still and this has been the case for over a month already. People in China are slowing going back to work, but it can take months before the country is back to it its pre-January levels. That means products and parts are not shipping, and factories all over the world can’t deliver their products on time.

Now the same is happening in other countries as well: South Korea and Japan are leading the pack by closing schools and factories, Iran’s leadership seems to be infected (10% has the virus already), and now Europe will be the next victim. In N-America Seattle could be the next Wuhan, simply because the government neglected to contain the virus in time and they are still not doing much. Don’t be surprised if in a few weeks the whole US economy comes to a stand still as well.

The day before I wrote my last blog post the Dow reached an all time high of 29,551 points. Since then there has been huge volatility and the index is now down about 12%. This may seem like a lot, but it’s not: the index first reached this level in January 2018, so basically 2 years worth of returns have been wiped out. What’s happening now because of the Coronavirus is just the tip of the iceberg.

From the outside it may look like things are fine, but when you look under the hood you will realize we are in for some major trouble. First of all, the FED tried to stop the fall in stock prices by doing a 50 bp rate cut. That is a major event that only happened a few times during the past 20 years (among others after 9/11 and during the 2008 financial crisis). There are some differences though: because interest rates are so low now, a 50 bp rate cut basically means cutting interest rate levels by 30%. That is huge. But worse, this time the 50 bp cut had no effect at all! The markets kept on falling after the rate cut. Huge overnight repo operations (basically printing $100 billion or more per day) also did not help anymore. I believe the FED is helpless unless it will start printing even more money (which could lead to hyperinflation) and that means the markets will be on their own. Likely interest rates will go to zero and we’ll probably even see negative interest rates, but it won’t help. It’s too little too late.

With powerless Central Banks equity markets will start falling heavily. In 1987 the market dropped 23% on Black Monday. If that would happen now it means the Dow would close below 20,000 points. I think it will happen, but it may take a few weeks to get there. Most people simply don’t seem to grasp the effects of the virus and what the secondary effects will be. If this becomes a depression you could see the Dow in 15,000 territory and possibly even lower. Maybe that’s good, because the markets were in a huge bubble caused by quantitative easing, but keep in mind it might wipe out most of the pensions of baby boomers. You don’t want to imagine the effect of that…

Most of the bubble in stock markets was caused by companies buying back their own shares. Because money was incredibly cheap they issued tons of debt (bonds) and used that to buy back their shares, causing their share price to go up. Because of stock options managers were strongly  incentivized to do this (their stock options go up in value when the share price goes up), instead of investing the money in the business.

The money mainly came from pension funds that lent it to corporates. So what will happen now? When the economy gets into a downward spiral these companies will be less profitable or even start to lose money. That means they won’t be able to borrow anymore or it will be more expensive for them to borrow. So they will be forced to stop buying their own stock, meaning that share prices will start falling. They may even have to sell their own stock again in order to pay back their debt, which means stock prices will go down even more. At that point baby boomers will likely start selling as well: their retirement is for a large part in equity so if markets go down 20-30% they might start to panic.

We are pretty close to that in my opinion. Unless the money printing press goes into overdrive there just won’t be buyers anymore and that’s when things really get scary. Pension funds are much more diversified than many individual investors, but their equity investments will also be hit hard and they may not be able to fulfill their financial obligations. It gets even worse, because a lot of baby boomers are now at their retirement age, so pension funds will be net sellers to pay for their pensions. Without corporates buying share prices might drop even more. Some pension funds may actually blow up because of this.

It’s not a coincidence that over the past weeks a lot of corporate CEOs resigned, January 2020 actually set a record for the most CEO departing their jobs in the US. They saw this coming and did not want to end their careers with their companies in big trouble. It’s almost a perfect storm and unless the Coronavirus would be contained there is no real way out anymore.

The best way to play this is in my opinion to get out of equity if you are still in there and switch to cash, bonds, gold and bitcoin. Although gold and bitcoin both did not show a lot of strength when the markets started crashing, I believe both are great stores of value during a recession or even a depression. Cash is good so you can get back into the equity markets at much lower valuations. Of course shorting the market is a great idea as well, but because of volatility it’s a lot more expensive than a few weeks ago. Because markets may go down for a longer period of time you would need expiration dates that are at least 6-8 weeks from now (and possible much longer).

We will be in for a wild ride with many people losing their jobs, their investments, and even their pensions. It could change society completely, and not for the better. Just like most people in North America the markets still don’t see how bad the situation is, so at least there might still be time to position yourself well. Be prepared for the worst. Good luck.

Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion and not meant as investment advice.