ETF Securities Research Blog

Bitcoin mining infrastructure doubled in Q4 2017

In the last quarter of 2017, many miners’ margins expanded due to the 226% rise in Bitcoin prices, making further investment into mining infrastructure more profitable. Consequently, there was a 111% increase in mining hash power.

Miners managed to double their mining infrastructure power in one quarter, which was well above the average hash power increase of 40% per quarter over the last 3 years. Although it is worth noting during the previous bubble in Bitcoin in 2013 similar rises in hash power occurred.

The increase in mining power has important ramifications for the marginal cost of mining bitcoin, because all it requires significant expenditure to purchase new mining rigs, arrange more warehouse space and negotiate electricity contracts.

In previous publications, we spent considerable time in understanding the marginal cost of Bitcoin. There are varied ways to value Bitcoin, but given it has some similarities to commodities we felt it would be worthwhile calculating the marginal cost of production.

While marginal cost varies for commodities as supply and demand changes, it is an effective way in understanding the long-term equilibrium price. Bitcoin is exceptional in that the supply is predictable, being determined by the structure of its underlying algorithm. The hash rate growth of the Bitcoin network, a measure of the speed at which Bitcoin blocks are mined, coupled with the known power consumption can be used to estimate the electricity consumption costs, the equivalent of the marginal cost of production that is often used to value commodities.

Using global power costs we estimate the electricity consumption has risen from 1.3GW/hr at the end of Q3 2017 to 2.3GW/hr, which equates to US$3,000 spent in electricity for every coin. Due to the rise in mining infrastructure, including rig costs and assuming a 1 year lifespan of the rigs pushes the marginal cost up to US$9,300. We have included a matrix which assumes a 50% per quarter rise in hash power and the phased introduction of the new, more efficient Dragonmint mining rigs. The lifetime of a rig is debatable so we have included varied rig lifetimes.

Bitcoin Marg cost 2

Our analysis highlights that Bitcoin continues to trade above the marginal cost of production, although as the hash power of the network rises, the marginal cost rises sharply too.

Although Bitcoin is not a commodity, it is trading well above its marginal cost as it remains a very young digital asset, heavily influenced by regulatory risk, investor hype and the prospect that conceptually it is a compelling idea.

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