Though it's been volatile of late, investors have probably never seen anything like what the cryptocurrency market has had to offer.
Since the beginning of 2017, the combined value of every digital currency has exploded higher from $17.7 billion to $746 billion as of Jan. 14. For you math-phobic people, this works out to an increase of over 4,100% in roughly 12.5 months. By comparison, it would take multiple decades for the stock market, the best source of long-term wealth creation, to generate similar returns.
This dumb bitcoin, blockchain, and crypto trend is unrelenting
However, the rapid ascent in digital currency valuations has also given rise to a really dumb trend. Companies, both big and small, have been changing their names, business focus, or products, to incorporate the terms "bitcoin," "crypto," or "blockchain" in order to garner attention from investors and consumers.
The term crypto pays homage to the more than 1,400 virtual currencies you can invest in at the moment. Meanwhile, bitcoin references the world's most popular and valuable cryptocurrency by market cap, and blockchain refers to the digital and decentralized technology underpinning virtual coins that's responsible for recording all transactions. Practically any company that announces their involvement with crypto-culture has seen its valuation soar.
Last week, Eastman Kodak (NYSE:KODK) and WENN Digital announced a licensing partnership whereby the duo would use the KODAKOne image rights management platform to launch a cryptocurrency known as KodakCoin. Effectively, it allows photographers to license their work through the KODAKOne platform to businesses and people who want to use them, and enables that licensing to occur via blockchain, with payment in the form of KodakCoin. Since this announcement, shares of Eastman Kodak have tripled in value.
But as my Foolish colleague Jordan Wathen explained last week, the move higher in Kodak's share price is questionable at best. The creation of a blockchain-based platform actually adds another step to the process of licensing an image, and it puts Kodak in direct competition with some brand-name image-licensing companies that have a similar non-blockchain-based model in place.
But "KodakCoin" was just the beginning of this ridiculous trend last week.
Say what? A Bitcoin Bucket?
KFC Canada (KFC is part of Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM)) announced on Thursday, Jan. 11, that it would be offering the "Bitcoin Bucket," which contains 10 chicken tenders, waffle fries, a medium side, a medium gravy, and two dips, for $20 Canadian dollars. The catch? Consumers can't pay for the Bucket in Canadian dollars. They have to order online and pay for it in the equivalent amount of bitcoin.
Yum Brands' KFC also made sure to poke fun at itself for the promotional offering through a series of tweets:
KFC Canada presents The #Bitcoin Bucket. Sure, we don't know exactly what Bitcoins are, or how they work, but that shouldn't come between you and some finger lickin' good chicken. https://t.co/2OKuCHk5Hb pic.twitter.com/UwaduB8toi— KFC Canada (@kfc_canada) January 11, 2018
Hodl some chickne. #BitcoinBucket— KFC Canada (@kfc_canada) January 12, 2018
Of course, KFC isn't the only fast-food chain to accept cryptocurrencies. In Aug. 2017, according to CoinTelegraph.com, Burger King Russia introduced its own virtual currency known as the WhopperCoin, which the chain is angling as part of a customer loyalty program.
And we're still not done.
A Venezuelan Petro coin?
Last week, we also witnessed the opposition party in the Venezuelan parliament denouncing the oil-backed cryptocurrency known as Petro Coin that President Nicolas Maduro recently introduced. Maduro announced in a TV address that 100 million Petros would be issued, with their value pegged to a barrel of oil. That would work out to a notional value of about $6.3 billion as of Jan. 14. Venezuela's economy has been ravaged by weaker crude prices and high inflation, and Maduro is hoping this Petro initial coin offering will reignite it.
However, the opposition rightly notes that the Petro acts more like a forward sale of Venezuelan oil than a cryptocurrency, opening the door for the possibility of corruption. It's also possible the Petro's launch is delayed given the political unrest present in Venezuela.
Investors need to look past the gimmick
The trend of trying to piggyback on the rapid rise of cryptocurrencies by incorporating a focus on blockchain technology, or developing a virtual coin, is unlikely to slow anytime soon. Investors, though, need to be smart enough to look past a likely gimmick when they see it.
Now don't get me wrong, cryptocurrencies may prove their worth at some point down the road, and blockchain technology could eventually be the financial service industry game-changer that a lot of people expect it to be. But as a relatively nascent technology with minimal understanding from consumers, any attempt to switch business focuses to anything related to the crypto market should be met with skepticism from investors.
For instance, there are absolutely no guarantees that KodakCoin is going to have any genuine impact on Eastman Kodak's sales, or that the KFC Bitcoin Bucket is going to do anything to drum up business in Canada (pun fully intended). And I personally doubt a Venezuelan-backed Petro coin is going to save that country's oil-dependent economy.
Until proven otherwise, a company suddenly pivoting to blockchain, bitcoin, or cryptocurrencies, is nothing more than a gimmick that can be overlooked by investors.