Don’t believe the hype about the tremendous returns on “initial coin offerings”

All that glitters is not gold.
All that glitters is not gold.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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“Initial coin offerings” (ICOs), a new funding mechanism based on cryptocurrencies, have raised hundreds of millions in minutes this year, outpacing traditional funding mechanisms like venture capital for new technology projects. According to a new report from trade publication CoinDesk, ICOs raised $797 million in the second quarter of this year for blockchain businesses, compared to the $235 million that blockchain projects have raised from venture funding.

ICOs have been touted as a way for individual investors to get rich quick. The CoinDesk report highlights several offerings that have generated returns as high as 39 times the capital invested when the ICO closed, when measured in dollars. Here they are:

However, many of these offerings were priced in ether, the cryptocurrency used by the ethereum network, which has risen 45-fold since the start of the year. An ICO has to outperform ether to generate a return for an investor—which isn’t the case for the tokens highlighted above. The Golem token, which is meant to be used in a new, decentralized prediction market, has risen 29 times in US dollar terms, but it incurs a loss when priced in either, according to the data provider ICO Stats. Here’s the table above updated with returns priced in ether:

Not all ICOs have underperformed ether. Data from ICO Stats shows a ranking of tokens that are outperforming ether or bitcoin. About two dozen tokens are currently beating ether’s performance, with the greatest gain being the Populous token, used for an invoice financing platform, with a 41-fold gain over ether.

Before shelling out for the chance to be an early investor in the next great crypto token, understand that you may be better off simply holding good old-fashioned bitcoin or ether.