European Central Bank says bitcoin is on the ‘road to irrelevance’



The bitcoin logo displayed on a smartphone with euro banknotes in the backgrouund.

Andrea Ronchini | NurPhoto via Getty Images

The European Central Bank gave a strong critique of bitcoin on Wednesday, saying the cryptocurrency is on a “road to irrelevance.”

In a blogpost titled “Bitcoin’s last stand,” ECB Director General Ulrich Bindseil and analyst Jürgen Schaff said that, for bitcoin’s proponents, the apparent stabilization in its price this week “signals a breather on the way to new heights.”

“More likely, however, it is an artificially induced last gasp before the road to irrelevance — and this was already foreseeable before FTX went bust and sent the bitcoin price to well below USD16,000,” they wrote.

Bitcoin topped $17,000 on Wednesday, marking a two-week high for the world’s largest digital coin. However, it struggled to maintain that level, falling slightly to $16,875. Vijay Ayyar, vice president of corporate development and international at crypto exchange Luno, warned that the bounce is likely just a bear market rally and would not be sustained. “This is just a bearish retest,” he told CNBC.

The remarks from the ECB officials are timely, with the crypto industry reeling from one of its most catastrophic failures in recent history — the downfall of FTX, an exchange once valued at $32 billion. And the market has been largely down in the dumps this year amid higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve.

Bindseil and Schaff said that bitcoin didn’t fit the mold of an investment and wasn’t suitable as a means of payment, either.

“Bitcoin’s conceptual design and technological shortcomings make it questionable as a means of payment: real Bitcoin transactions are cumbersome, slow and expensive,” they wrote. “Bitcoin has never been used to any significant extent for legal real-world transactions.”

“Bitcoin is also not suitable as an investment. It does not generate cash flow (like real estate) or dividends (like equities), cannot be used productively (like commodities) or provide social benefits (like gold). The market valuation of Bitcoin is therefore based purely on speculation,” they added.

Analysts say that FTX’s insolvency is likely to hasten regulation of digital currencies. In the European Union, a new law called Markets in Crypto Assets, or MiCA, is expected to harmonize regulation of digital assets across the bloc.

Bindseil and Schaff said it was important not to mistake regulation as a sign of approval.

“The belief that space must be given to innovation at all costs stubbornly persists,” they said.

“Firstly, these technologies have so far created limited value for society — no matter how great the expectations for the future. Secondly, the use of a promising technology is not a sufficient condition for an added value of a product based on it.”

They also raised concerns with bitcoin’s poor environmental credentials. The cryptocurrency’s technical underpinnings are such that it requires a massive amount of computing power in order to verify and approve new transactions. Ethereum, the network behind bitcoin rival ether, recently transitioned to a new framework that backers say would cut its energy consumption by more than 99%.

“This inefficiency of the system is not a flaw but a feature,” Bindseil and Schaff said. “It is one of the peculiarities to guarantee the integrity of the completely decentralised system.”

It’s not the first time the ECB has raised doubts about digital currencies. ECB President Christine Lagarde in May said she thinks cryptocurrencies are “worth nothing.” Her comments came on the back of a separate scandal for the industry — the multibillion-dollar implosion of so-called stablecoin terraUSD.

CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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