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Should Cryptocurrency Be in Your Investment Profile and, if so, How Much?

Cryptocurrency isn’t going anywhere. You can ignore it – or embrace it as part of a balanced investment portfolio.

Last Updated: 12/1/2022
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To help investors make informed decisions about how much cryptocurrency belongs in their portfolio, MoneyGeek constructed its own value-weighted cryptocurrency index and analyzed the last seven years of cryptocurrency returns. We compared these returns to the well-known S&P 500 stock index, as well as a bond index.

Our analysis found that both stocks and cryptocurrencies have the potential for significant returns and losses in portfolio value. If your investment horizon and risk tolerance are suitable for these investments, our analysis pointed to the benefits of investing more in stocks than cryptocurrency. However, it also found that holding a small proportion of cryptocurrency investments can also be useful.

Key Findings:
  • $1,000 invested in cryptocurrency grew to $27,000 over five years. From 2016 to 2021, that's a compound annual growth rate of 94%.
  • The S&P 500 outperformed the cryptocurrency index in 2021. From 2013 to 2022, cryptocurrency was four times more volatile than the S&P 500 over the same period and 26 times more volatile than bonds.
  • After an initial period of lower correlation between assets, cryptocurrency and stocks have become more correlated through 2021 into the start of 2022, suggesting that cryptocurrencies may not be viable as a store of value.
  • Incorporating cryptocurrency as a small percentage (3%) into a moderately aggressive long-term portfolio of 70/30 stocks/bonds from 2017 to 2021 would have led to 42% higher investment returns. This comes at the price of 18% higher portfolio volatility.
Graph displaying that the variability of cryptocurrency returns is 4x larger than stocks

Does Cryptocurrency Belong in My Portfolio?

Whether investing in cryptocurrency is a good idea or a bad one depends on your risk tolerance. However, the consensus at MoneyGeek is that cryptocurrency will be around for the long run, and it’s an important new asset class.

The massive volatility of cryptocurrency assets indicates that it’s advisable not to make it a significant portion of your portfolio. That is, aim for 5% or less, not your entire retirement portfolio.

Incorporating a small proportion of cryptocurrency into your portfolio would have increased overall returns at a smaller increase in overall risk over the past five years. In our analysis of historical returns over the past five years for the hypothetical 70/30 stock/bond portfolio, we found that investing 3% of your portfolio in cryptocurrency instead of stocks for a 3/67/30 portfolio saw overall returns increase by 42%.

However, keep in mind that cryptocurrency does increase a portfolio's overall volatility; with our 3/67/30 approach, overall portfolio volatility rises by 18%. It’s also important to consider that cryptocurrency's long-term return and behavior are relatively unknown compared to bonds and stocks, which have been around for hundreds of years. Arguably, as more assets flow into cryptocurrency, rates of return should decline at the benefit of lower volatility.

Illustration of woman looking at investments on six computer monitors

Cryptocurrency: Big Gains for Significant Risk

While cryptocurrency has been around since 2009 — longer than it has been well-known in the public consciousness — it’s still in its infancy compared to other investment vehicles. For a while, no financial advisor who wanted to be taken seriously would recommend putting any money into cryptocurrencies. The $1.9 trillion cryptocurrency market has made many reconsider its place in a balanced investment profile in recent years.

Ever since investors began putting their money into cryptocurrency, they’ve reported dizzying gains and losses. In the five years from 2017 to the end of 2021, MoneyGeek’s cryptocurrency value-weighted index of coins increased 27 times for a 94% annual return.

Along with breathless climbs, there have been harrowing drops in value. The worst week of cryptocurrency returns from 2017 to the end of 2021 was a stomach-churning loss of 39.5%. Most recently, Cryptocurrencies lost 14% of their value in early 2022.

Cryptocurrencies Had Weekly Volatility Four Times Larger than Stocks

A standard measure of risk is volatility, or how much returns fluctuate over time. High volatility measurements mean higher highs and lower lows, while lower volatility means more level returns. Typically, steady returns have a lower potential for significant gains as investors are often willing to give up high potential returns for increased stability. Since 2013, cryptocurrencies have had weekly volatility four times higher than stocks and 26 times higher than bonds.

For assets as volatile as cryptocurrency, it’s essential to limit your overall exposure. This way, a gain in the asset improves your portfolio, and a catastrophic loss doesn’t jeopardize it.

Generally, it’s also advisable to limit volatile investments to situations where you are investing for the long term. The logic here is that if there’s a sudden loss in portfolio value that you’ll need in the near future (think five years or less, some say 10 years), your portfolio might not ever recover from the loss.

Cryptocurrency vs. Stocks

Cryptocurrencies first came about in 2009 with the advent of Bitcoin. Comparatively, the first stock exchange was formed in 1611 in Amsterdam; in the U.S., the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was founded in 1790. With stock exchanges in the U.S. almost as old as the nation itself, there’s been plenty of time to build up systems and regulations to protect investors and put in safeguards to ensure a well-functioning market.

Splashy headlines of illegal activity, such as hackers making off with $320 million of assets, contribute to cryptocurrency risks. Aside from defrauding individuals, these events can damage investor confidence, causing other investors to curtail further investment in the assets. A famous early hack in 2011 dropped the value of Bitcoin by 94%.

However, fraud as a percentage of total transactions has decreased over time and is estimated to be 0.15% of total crypto value transacted, a small overall percentage. The same authorities regulate cryptocurrencies and the stock market. Today, cryptocurrencies are already worth a massive $1.9 trillion, indicating investor acceptance and comfort with the space. Arguably, some of the most significant asset gains are behind cryptocurrency from its earliest days, with the trade-off being more legitimacy, investor confidence and safeguards.

View the comparison chart below to explore differences between cryptocurrency and stock returns, market size, risk measures and regulation.

Stock vs. Cryptocurrency: Key Differences
  • Cryptocurrency
    Stocks
  • 5-Year Annualized
    Return

    94.4%

    15.7%

  • Market Cap

    $1.9 trillion

    $40 Trillion

  • Weekly Volatility

    12.3%

    2.0%

  • Biggest Single
    Week Loss from
    2013 to Jan. 2022

    -39.50%

    -14.98%

  • Regulation

    • Investigated by the Securities and
      Exchange Commission (SEC)
    • Often regulated under “money transmitter”
      laws, which vary from state to state
    • SEC oversees the stock exchanges,
      options markets and options exchanges
      as well as all other electronic exchanges
      and electronic securities markets
    • More institutional oversight and controls
      because exchanges are based in the U.S.
  • Taxation

    If you make money after selling
    cryptocurrency, the gain is taxed based
    on your income bracket and how long
    you held the asset.

    Stocks are taxed just like cryptocurrency.

Analysis Shows Increasing Correlation Between Cryptocurrency & Stocks

In 2018, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper, "Risks and Returns of Cryptocurrency." The authors concluded that the risk-return dynamics of cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum) were distinct from those of stocks, currencies, and precious metals. Essentially, they found that the change in the value of an asset like stocks didn’t mirror the changes of value of cryptocurrencies and vice versa.

“Cryptocurrencies,” the authors added, “have no exposure to most common stock market and macroeconomic factors.”

This is an important statement for investors as they think about their overall investment portfolio strategy. If an asset’s changes in value are moving with another investment, these two assets don’t offer investors protection in the event of a downturn. Instead, you’d prefer your assets not to be correlated so that if one of them falls, the other one isn’t necessarily falling, too. This statement indicates that, at the time, cryptocurrencies weren’t correlated to stocks and other assets, making them a way to buffer stock market losses or for the stock market to buffer cryptocurrency losses.

However, much has changed in the fast-moving world of cryptocurrencies, including their correlation with the stock market. MoneyGeek’s analysis of cryptocurrency and stock returns found that the correlation between stocks and cryptocurrency has been increasing since 2020.

Increasing correlation to stocks would mean cryptocurrencies writ large are viewed as investment and speculation assets, rather than a traditional currency such as the U.S. dollar or even a traditional store of value, like gold. This shift has implications for how people view and utilize cryptocurrencies in their daily lives and investment portfolios. However, it’s still unclear how the relationship between cryptocurrencies and stocks will evolve over time.

Line graph demonstrating an increasing correlation between cryptocurrency and stocks

Expert Insights

MoneyGeek consulted financial experts to see how they felt about cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle, as well as its place in a retirement savings plan.

  1. For a person saving for retirement, what is the most you think they should be investing in cryptocurrency?
  2. Is cryptocurrency an investment vehicle, or is it something else? How should investors view cryptocurrencies?
Josh Simpson
Josh Simpson

Investment and Financial Advisor at Lake Advisory Group

Troy Wiipongwii
Troy Wiipongwii

Affiliated Faculty, William & Mary Global Research Institute/ Governor, Harmony Sustainable Development DAO

Will Delavan
Will Delavan

Associate Professor of Economics

Anurag Wakhlu
Anurag Wakhlu

Adjunct Finance Professor at Bentley University

Siyu Wang
Siyu Wang

Behavioral Economist

Moshe Bellows
Moshe Bellows

Managing Principal of Maccabee Ventures

Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

CFP®, CSLP®, Founder of Pulse Financial Planning

Jesse Hurst
Jesse Hurst

CFP®, AIF®, Founder of Impel Wealth Management

Scott Deacle
Scott Deacle

Associate Professor of Business and Economics and Department Chair at Ursinus College

Anthony Saffer
Anthony Saffer

Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at One Degree Advisors

Jack Riashi, Jr.
Jack Riashi, Jr.

CFP®, Financial Advisor at Bloom Advisors

William Rice
William Rice

Founder of CryptoBuxx

Greg Welborn
Greg Welborn

Founding Principal at First Financial Consulting

J. J. Wenrich, CFP®
J. J. Wenrich, CFP®

President and Founder of Wenrich Wealth

Melanie Musson
Melanie Musson

Home Insurance Expert with USInsuranceAgents.com

Methodology

MoneyGeek’s cryptocurrency index was constructed using a market cap weighting of weekly cryptocurrency from April 28, 2013, through February 6, 2022, as reported by CoinMarketCap. Each week, the index is reconstructed to reflect changes in the relative weights of the coins in the index.

We utilized weekly returns of the S&P 500 to reflect stocks; to reflect the return on bonds, the S&P US Aggregate Bond Index was used.


Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is only for educational purposes. MoneyGeek doesn’t recommend that investors buy or sell any particular investments, nor does it offer any financial advisory services.

About the Author


expert-profile

Geoff Williams has been a personal finance journalist since around the time of the Great Recession of 2008. He's been writing professionally since the 1990s about a variety of topics, including personal finance, credit cards and loans.

Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America."

Born in Columbus, Williams now lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters.


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