3,000-baggers don't come around every day. I'm not talking about the thinly traded penny stock of some development-stage company that promises to cure cancer, commercialize nuclear fusion, or rejuvenate the libido of every aging male. Instead, I refer to the parabolic appreciation of the Bitcoin -- a potentially revolutionary alternative to global fiat currencies.
Since dollar-denominated trading of the Bitcoin began in April 2010, the currency's ascent has dwarfed the respective gains of about 30% and 100% for SPDR Gold Shares (NYSE: GLD ) and iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV ) , proxies for traditionally favored currency alternatives gold and silver. Even more remarkably, Bitcoin isn't backed by any physical commodity; it's an entirely digital currency.
I'm no techie, and our space here is limited, but the Bitcoin is essentially a cryptography-based peer-to-peer currency that functions independent of any central bank. The creation of cryptographer Satoshi Nakamoto, and currently administered by Gavin Andresen, the Bitcoin system is designed to function as a genuine alternative to the dollar and other modern-day currencies. The value of these currencies are increasingly linked to the decisions of individual human personalities -- think a certain bearded, balding former Princeton professor.
The Bitcoin system attempts to improve upon its paper peers by using a distributed network to generate new Bitcoins, and doing so at a predictable rate that slows over time. So far, however, those controls have led to anything but stable currency value. Instead, the Bitcoin has rocketed from $0.003 in April 2010 to around $9 to $10 recently, with the monster move above $1 coming only in the last couple of months.
Clearly, such wild appreciation -- not to mention the daily up and down volatility -- creates a pricing challenge for participating merchants, which, in case you were wondering, include purveyors of Alpaca socks and blue canary nightlights. Theoretically, though, volatility should lessen as the Bitcoin economy expands.
So am I saying that you should give up on stocks and precious metals, download the necessary software, and start "mining" Bitcoins? Well, no, although the latter move couldn't hurt (aside from the cost of electricity and your hardware resources). Instead, along with the appreciation of gold and silver in recent years, the simple existence of Bitcoin is yet another wheezing canary in the coal mine regarding the fate of many paper currencies.
Bitcoin's large-scale success, should it materialize, would indicate a whole new level of public distrust for gaping government deficits and central bank tactics that seemingly bounce us from one bubble to another.
Meanwhile, I recommend that all investors have at least some exposure to hard assets. In the precious metals space, Fools should heed the advice of my colleague Christopher Barker and get physical with one or all of Central Fund of Canada (AMEX: CEF ) , Sprott Physical Gold Trust ETV (NYSE: PHYS ) , or Sprott Physical Silver Trust ETV (NYSE: PSLV ) . In terms of natural resources, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) has made smart moves to boost operating efficiency, while Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR ) has been busily growing its production and geographical footprint.
Whether you're a self-described goldbug, or just casually concerned about the value of the dollar, you can monitor relevant macro trends by adding tickers in this article to My Watchlist. Just don't expect them to trade in Bitcoin denominations … at least, not yet.