XRP Valuation

UPDATE -  November 11, 2017:
I have updated my thoughts and valuation in the following note:

I am leaving this note here, but please take this warning and review my new piece.

XRP/RIPPLE VALUATION – By Ihsotas Otomakan (IzzyOtto)

I hope you find my thought processes interesting and helpful in your exploration of cryptos.

Please be aware that I’m neither giving investment advice nor suggesting anyone buy or sell anything. I’m simply sharing my personal assessment process for determining value.

The main difficulty in arriving at a valuation is dealing with uncertainty. I have striven to be clear about my assumptions and estimates, but I have no doubt that even if I am proven largely correct over the course of time, many of the details to my analysis will be changed and refined. If you have a particular question or response to my methodology, I invite you to contact me at izzyotomakan@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to respond, and if appropriate, may post edits/updates to this analysis.

I also have additional thoughts on cryptos that I plan on sharing. If you'd like to be kept up on these, please either follow this blog or just let me know via email. Thanks.


On Cryptocurrency Valuation Methodologies
The exercise of applying traditional asset valuation metrics to a cryptocurrency is considered by many as lying somewhere between unwieldy and impossible. Modern financial and portfolio theories generally view asset valuation as being an exercise in determining the present value of cash flow streams which may be generated in the future. As cryptocurrencies have no innate cash-flow generating ability, this approach quickly hits a dead end.
Trying to approach cryptocurrencies from the perspective of traditional currencies (ie, USD, GBP, EUR) similarly falls short. All extant global currencies are intimately tied to the economic, political and legal structures of a sponsoring country (or group of countries). Cryptocurrencies, existing independently of nation-state sponsors, lack any of the metrics that would be appropriate for such an exercise.
As a consequence of the inapplicability of these traditional approaches, any sound and reasoned cryptocurrency valuation must employ novel methodologies and perspectives. My endeavor in this analysis is to provide just such a different framework, which if successful will appear both rational and perhaps even obvious in hindsight.[1] In any case, though I will provide data where both relevant and available, I will largely rely upon a series of logical steps which if followed to conclusion will yield what I believe to be a valuation floor for Ripple. Please note that this analysis is only meant to describe a valuation floor, that is a minimum functional value according to a singular approach. It is my opinion that when other approaches are applied to cryptocurrency valuation (including, but not limited to Ripple), the ultimate valuation may be substantially higher than that which we will arrive at in this report. Nevertheless, while I save that fuller approach for a future analysis to be shared, I am pleased to be able to represent that the (more limited) valuation approach which I present here still demonstrates substantial upside versus the current trading levels of Ripple coins.

What makes Ripple a unique candidate for this valuation analysis?
To answer this question we must first consider the proposition that most crypto-coins lack significant value outside of their use as money. This may sound like an obvious or even foolish statement at first glance, but it’s a necessary starting point. When we realize that even this value is dependent on the size of the economic community which agrees that ‘it is money’ (both in theory and practice), we quickly realize that in this regard most crypto-coins are currently at a significant disadvantage relative to state-sponsored currencies.
A state-sponsored currency almost definitionally has a significant economic community that agrees ‘it is money’. This occurs by virtue of the fact that the state sponsor declares their currency to be ‘legal tender’ – viewed in the eyes of their courts (and tax authorities) as an acceptable means to satisfy economic obligations[2]. So long as individuals accept the government’s rule of law in a country, they also implicitly become members of the economic community which accepts that currency as money.
Many proponents of Bitcoin (and cryptocurrencies in general) argue that in time, the size of the community which accepts cryptos ‘as money’ will grow, irrespective of legal tender recognition. This may ultimately be so, but for current valuation purposes yields ill-defined parameters for assessment. As such, we may ask another question: Is there a basis outside of use ‘as money’ which may be used to establish a valuation framework for a cryptocurrency? The short answer to this question is yes – and it lies in what I refer to as functional utility (a fancy way of saying its used for some purpose).[3]
Many cryptocurrencies do exhibit some functional utility outside of their use as traditional money. For example, they may serve as means and methods of crowd-funding investment projects, rewarding social community behavior, or facilitating complex contractual arrangements (more on this shortly). However, while some of these uses may ultimately result in significant functional-utility value, the vast majority of cryptos currently lack a clear pathway to realize this value – much less point to a valuation that exceeds current trading levels. And this, is where Ripple is different.
Ripple is relatively unique amongst cryptocurrencies in that it:
a)     Has a clearly quantifiable functional-utility value apart from any wider general acceptance as ‘money’, AND
b)     That functional-utility valuation appears to be significantly higher than current trading values.

Ripple and The Cross Border Payments Market
In order to understand Ripples functional utility value, we must examine the cross-border payments market, and how Ripple can and will be used as a means to serve that market.
Cryptocurrencies are an efficient means to move money between countries and bypass governmental regulation and red-tape. This is probably best illustrated by example – and so we begin by discussing the case of Bitcoin and Chinese Capital controls.
In the past several years, there has been a growing fear amongst many that the native Chinese currency, the Renminbi (also referred to as Yuan), is overvalued and due for a significant move lower versus other world currencies (the US dollar in particular). For various reasons, the Chinese government doesn’t want this to happen (at least not abruptly) and so has taken multiple steps to prevent it from happening. One of these steps is the institution of ‘capital controls’ – rules and regulations that make it difficult for Chinese citizens to move their Yuan denominated wealth out of the country and into other currencies. This has put both individual Chinese citizens and the Chinese government at odds with each other.
While the Chinese government can prevent citizens from transferring money abroad through the official banking system (no Chinese bank would dare defy an order from the government), they have been relatively powerless to prevent citizens from moving money out of China through Bitcoin. A simple example might be a Chinese local purchasing Bitcoin in China and paying for it with Yuan. That Chinese citizen then boards a flight from Beijing to New York, carrying their Bitcoin wallet private key on a slip of paper in their pocket. Once they land in New York, they might arrange to meet a Bitcoin buyer in a coffee shop, whereby in exchange for US dollars, they transfer their Bitcoin.
There are however, problems and costs with this. First and foremost, the Chinese citizen in our example may be (in the eyes of the Chinese government) breaking the law – potentially exposing himself to liability should he be caught. Furthermore, until the Chinese citizen in our example sells his Bitcoin for US $, he is exposed to the volatility of BTC. Depending on how he transacts, he also may be paying significant fees.
Nevertheless, the example demonstrates how crypto-currencies (in this case Bitcoin) can be used as an ‘intermediary-currency’ to move money around the world. Note that in this situation, Bitcoin is not being used as ‘money’ in a traditional sense, but as a specific tool for transferring money and bypassing regulation. This is an example of the functional-utility to which I earlier referred. Bitcoin (and all cryptocurrencies to an extent) may have a functional-utility in the form of money transfers – but is this the best way they may be used for that purpose? And just how do we value this functional utility?
And so, without further ado, we come to Ripple and the (legitimate and legal) Cross-Border payments market.
According to McKinsey & Company’s 2015 report, the 2014 size of the annual (legal) B2B cross-border payments market was $155 Trillion.[4] Assuming a modest 5% CAGR, we may estimate the 2020 B2B cross-border payments market at $207 Trillion. Regardless of what your personal opinion is of ‘banks’ in general, it’s worth noting that all of these transfers were presumably done through banks. Philosophical and moral imperatives aside, from a purely practical perspective, it’s where the money is. Unfortunately, as even a short google search will demonstrate, transferring money cross-borders is currently very complex, time-consuming (it can take several days to clear), and expensive.
But like in our example with Cryptocurrencies, it should be easy. All you would need to do to move money from Country-1/Currency-A to Country-2/Currency-B would be to buy a cryptocurrency in Country-1 using Currency-A, and then turn around and sell that same crypto-currency in Country-2 for Currency B! As long as you have bank accounts on both sides set up and agreeing to the legitimacy and legality of the transactions, you could do this relatively quickly and easily.
So what would you need to do this?
Well, first and foremost, you need the banks to sign on to it and invest their own resources to adopt it. Since all of that $200+ trillion moves through business bank accounts, the banks will need to have the regulatory, legal, and logistical systems set-up before they can adopt the system. This is no small thing to get the banks to do, but of course the payoff for them to get it right is huge. Once the system is working, the participating banks can do away with their current slow and expensive cross-border-payments protocols and generate significant operational savings as well as market new, better services to their clients.
The fact that Ripple appears to have demonstrated such significant early success in signing up banks bodes well for their continued success, as first mover advantage in getting banks to adopt such a system is likely to be key. This is because:
a)     The more banks you have on board (as part of your cross-border money transfer community), the easier it is to convince other banks to sign up. Not only does it become an ‘easier sell’ internally at banks to adopt something new (if other reputable banks have already done so), but the very fact that other banks are already signed up means you (as a new member) will have all of those other banks as potential counterparties to engage in your future transactions.

b)     Switching costs are likely to be relatively high. Even if a ‘newer, better, faster’ crypto-currency solution comes out tomorrow, it is unlikely that any of the banks who signed up for Ripple will be keen to scrap all their legal, operational, and system integration work in favor of trying again with someone else and starting over.[5]

The Numbers
We start with our 2020 estimate of global B2B cross-border money transfers of $207 trillion.
Let’s assume (just to begin with) that Ripple accounts for 100% of this volume. Let’s further assume that this volume of transfers is evenly distributed amongst the days of the year, so daily transactions are valued at $207 trillion / 365 days = $567 billion… or for the sake of round numbers - $600 billion.
Now if $600 billion of money value is transferred through Ripple each day, some significant portion of that total must exist in the form of Ripple dedicated to effecting these foreign exchange transactions. To demonstrate this, let’s assume that this dollar amount is done in one, single transaction (and then we’ll adjust to come closer to a more realistic viewpoint).
In this theoretical example, we assume American Bank A wants to send $US 600 billion to Chinese Bank B, where it should ultimately ‘arrive’ as the Remnibi equivalent value of 4 trillion Yuan[6]. In such a case, American Bank A must buy $600 billion worth of Ripple, which it then sends over the Chinese Bank B who then sells this quantity of Ripple in exchange for 4 trillion Yuan. We can see that in order for this to work, there has to be an existing pool of Ripple (and Ripple/currency traders) worth at least $600 billion.
Now of course our $600 billion of daily transactions wouldn’t be done in one single transaction. It wound instead be done in many thousands of transactions. But the minimum value of the Ripple needed ‘to exist’ in order to effect these transactions though isn’t so much dependent on the quantity of transactions, but rather:
a)     the frequency of transactions and how long they ‘live within the ripple for’
b)     how many Ripple/Currency pairs are traded (in this case, Ripple vs USD, and Ripple vs Yuan)
c)     how many independent dealers are involved in the Ripple-related foreign exchange market
When taking into consideration the prospective details of all these transactions and my own personal experience dealing with trading markets and ‘dealer inventories’, I believe it’s a reasonable assumption that 35% of the ‘average daily volume’ calculated above would be held in the form of ‘working capital/trading inventory’ by all market-making parties. This takes into account an average ‘inventory turn’ of 3+x a day, as well as a recognition of the need for many disparate individual dealers to hold excess inventory to account for intraday demand spikes.
In such a case then, the average ‘inventory hold’ of all Ripple dealers (those facilitating foreign exchange transactions with the banks) would be 35% x $600 billion or $210 billion.
Said another way, under this circumstance a mere $210 billion of inventory would be enough to support annual transactions of $207 trillion – a mere 1/1000th of the gross annual volumes.
But this is assuming that Ripple accounts for 100% of all B2B cross-border transactions which is unrealistic. Let’s instead assume that Ripple has garnered a 35% market share by 2020[7]. This would mean that the ‘dealer inventory value’ of all Ripple would need to be no less than 35% x $210 billion or $73.5 billion.
But we must now adjust for the fact that dealers are not going to be holding all of the Ripple in circulation[8]. Given the presence of investors, speculators and consumer users of this technology, we might expect the dealers to only account for 80% of the extant Ripple coins in circulation. But the fact that the dealers don’t own 100% of the coins in circulation does not change the fact that the total amount of their inventory must be no less than $73.5 billion to effect their transactions.  Therefore, we can estimate the total value of Ripple in circulation (when taking into account the 20% held by investors, speculators and consumers) to be $73.5 billion / 80% = $91.9 billion. This is then our solution as to what the functional utility floor value is for total circulating Ripple in 2020, if our assumptions prove correct. The only thing left to be determined then is how many XRP will be outstanding for this value to distributing over?
Considering that:
a)     there are currently less than 40 billion XRP outstanding
b)     it is neither in Ripple’s self-interest nor is it consistent with the lockups that have been announced for a substantial amount of XRP to ‘flood’ the market,
I believe a reasonable estimate for XRP outstanding in 2020 to be no more than 65 billion. Therefore, the value of each single XRP would be $91.9 billion divided by 65 billion or $1.43 per XRP or approximately 7x current trading values. From a present value perspective, If we assume a 20% discount rate for 3 years, we arrive at ~$0.83/XRP, or a nearly 4x multiple to where it is currently trading.[9]
If Ripple is successful in establishing itself as the dominant leader in B2B international money transfers, and/or the distribution of XRP/Foreign-Currency traders requires higher ‘dealer inventory holds’, then the value would of course be significantly higher. For example, if Ripple garners 70% of the market (as opposed to our 35%) and the total dealer hold is 50% of forecast daily transactions, then the valuation yields a result nearly triple what we’ve calculated so far.
Furthermore, remember though that this exercise is simply about demonstrating the functional-utility floor value of XRP. If/as the usefulness of XRP in the cross-border payments market is demonstrated, it stands to reason that a significant portion of the investing/speculating population will see XRP as potentially worthy of being considered ‘money’ in its own right. That XRP requires no mining resources as Proof-Of-Work coins do, is likely to have a leg-up in becoming integrated with the ‘everyman’s bank account’, and offers transaction processing speeds of 5-10 seconds argues for potentially significant and widespread adoption (and subsequent value appreciation).

[1] In my experience, the frequent mark of a good idea is that it quickly becomes part of conventional wisdom – so much so that people wonder how it could be that ‘no one thought of it before’.
[2] The currency is typically also accepted as the exclusive means with which to discharge economic obligations. If you don’t believe this to be so, try paying your US taxes in Euros.
[3] I recognize that a currency’s use ‘as money’ is technically its own form of functional utility. For the sake of this paper though, I define the term functional utility as excluding traditional money-uses such as being a generalized medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value.
[4]“Global payments 2015: A healthy industry confronts disruption” – by McKinsey and Co.
[5] It’s for these reasons that I am skeptical of Stellar’s competing platform. They appear to be at a disadvantage relative to Ripple in signing up banks, who are the largest near-intermediate term users of the service. That there is quite a bit of ‘soap-opera’ drama behind the founding of Stellar doesn’t help in that regard. Banks generally would prefer to choose a known and stable quantity over a brilliant but potentially volatile option. And while Stellar seems to be trying to market itself more as a libertarian option ‘away from the banks’, I question both the authenticity of their approach as well as the ultimate efficacy of adoption.
[6] We assume a CNY/USD exchange rate of approximately 7:1.
[7] Depending on your perspective, this may seem aggressive (considering the newness of the technology) or conservative (considering the cost and process advantages of the system, as well as potentially exponential adoption rates).
[8] Note also that for this exercise the ultimate ‘diluted’ total amount of XRP in the system is not relevant, but rather the outstanding float, as it is only the outstanding float that may be used for the functional purpose of these transactions.
[9] Why a 20% discount rate? Considering both the speculative enthusiasm of the crypto-market, exceedingly low nominal interest rates (thanks central banks), and the real-progress the Ripple organization has made, 20% seems like a reasonable level at which the market may settle.

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