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By Kerry Close
January 5, 2017
Should you invest in the widely fluctuating bitcoin?
Should you invest in the widely fluctuating bitcoin?
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

As bitcoin prices dominate headlines, you might be wondering whether you should invest in the popular cryptocurrency.

Probably not: It’s just too volatile. The virtual currency is known for wild fluctuations in price. The value of one bitcoin—which was created in 2008 by an anonymous programmer or group of programmers—reached its all-time high of $1,165.89 in November 2013 before taking a major dive, according to CoinDesk data.

Since then, prices have more or less inched up, and at the turn of the year, they started to approach record highs. On Thursday, the value of a bitcoin reached $1,153.02. However, later Thursday morning, prices suddenly fell by about $200.

“Liquidity dried up—no shorts, no sellers, which means a volatile little bubble formed quickly,” Peter Smith, chief executive of bitcoin wallet Blockchain, told CNBC.

Those sudden ups and downs would be bad news for your portfolio. Although bitcoin had a more than 100% return on investment in 2016, it’s also five times more volatile than the S&P 500, said Campbell Harvey, a professor of finance at Duke University, who described bitcoin as “an extremely risky investment.”

Even if you were to buy bitcoin low and sell high, you still might not see the big payday you’re hoping for. “You try to sell it, and by the time the order goes through, the price may have dropped,” said Matthew Elbeck, a professor of marketing at Troy University. “It’s really, really not worth it for the ordinary consumer.”

If you do choose to take the plunge and buy a bitcoin, make sure it’s a very small part of your diversified portfolio—and that you can afford to lose your investment. “I would never recommend this on a stand-alone basis,” Harvey said.

Still, for some people living internationally—like Venezuelans plagued with a shortage of cash and those in China, where the government has restricted movement of capital outside of the country—bitcoin presents an attractive option to get ahold of cash, Harvey said. Its rising popularity in these countries are part of the reason behind bitcoin’s recent surge.

Regardless of bitcoin’s ups and downs, the technology behind it—particularly the blockchain, the common ledger that the virtual currency uses—could have a long-lasting impact as a medium of exchange. As Harvey told Money’s Taylor Tepper in 2015:

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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