With the amount of fiat currency that has entered society over the past few years, inflation has been running rampant. This has led to everyday essentials being more expensive than ever, and tightened budgets for just about everyone.
Digital assets, being deflationary, have often been seen as a hedge against fiat currencies due to the fact that their supply is known in advance and generally can’t change (more on this later). But what cryptocurrencies are the most scarce, and is that the most important factor when investing in digital assets? Let’s jump in.
Maximum, Total, and Circulating Supply
When looking at scarcity in digital assets there are three different terms to pay attention to: maximum, total, and circulating supply.
Circulating supply is the amount of that particular crypto asset that is currently in circulation. Much like fiat currencies, digital currencies have a circulating supply. The circulating supply number won’t include any of that asset that is yet to be mined, has been burned or destroyed through a particular mechanism of that asset, or is still to be emitted.
For example, Bitcoin currently has a circulating supply of about 19.4 million Bitcoins, meaning that of the total Bitcoin that can exist (max supply), 19.4 million are currently circulating. It should be noted that for Bitcoin’s circulating supply, there are instances of wallet holders losing access to their accounts, meaning that the actual circulating supply is always going to be lower than the max supply, barring those individuals somehow regaining access.
Max supply is the maximum amount of a particular crypto asset that can be mined or exists in circulation. It is sometimes interchangeably referred to as total supply. The max/total supply cannot be changed, and once the max supply is reached there is no more of the asset to be distributed through any avenue other than purchase from another holder. Max supply may never be reached or was solely the max supply to start with.
For example, Binance Coin (BNB), has a max supply that was immediately all in circulation. Part of Binance’s consensus mechanism is to buy back and burn their tokens each quarter as a way to keep demand for the asset up and reduce supply. So, while BNB has a max supply of about 174 million, its circulating supply is currently only about 142 million, and will only continue to go down.
Do All Assets Have a Max Supply?
No, not all assets have a max supply. This can be for a variety of reasons. Stablecoins, such as Tether (USDT), tend to have a circulating supply but no max supply. This is because stablecoins are simply pegged to the United States Dollar (or another fiat) at a one to one ratio, meaning that it can be created by people endlessly as long as they have the funds to convert into the stablecoin.
Where to Find Supply Information
It’s very easy to find the information regarding a digital asset’s supply by using sites such as CoinGecko or CoinMarketCap. Both these sites keep track of assets and their supplies. Alternatively, you can always read an asset’s whitepaper or technical documents to find information such as the supply, the emission schedule (how much of an asset is released and how frequently), and more.
The Most Scarce Digital Assets
Below we’ll note some of the most scarce digital assets, their supply, and their pricing. They won’t be in scarcity order, rather in order of market cap, highest to lowest. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
The number one asset by market cap, with almost half the volume of all digital asset trades on a daily basis, Bitcoin has a maximum supply of 21 million BTC, with over 19 million circulating. It trades around $30k USD and had an all time high price of just under $70k USD.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
A fork of Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash is the 14th largest asset by market cap, with the same max supply as BTC, and an almost identical circulating supply. There are no stories of BCH holders losing access to their holdings like with BTC so it’s likely that BCH will actually have all 21 million coins circulating one day. It trades around $250 USD a piece.
Infamous for its privacy and therefore potential use in illicit activities, Monero is the 26th largest digital asset by market cap. It has a maximum supply of 18.4 million XMR, which it reached in May 2022. It trades around $150 USD a piece.
MKR is the governance token for MakerDAO and the Maker Protocol which is the protocol which is used to create and circulate Multi-Collateral Dai (DAI), a stablecoin. MKR has a max supply of just over 1 million, with a circulating supply of around 980k MKR. It trades around $1.1k USD a piece and is the 41st largest digital asset by market cap.
Aave is the 42nd largest asset by market cap and is the governance token of the AAVE Protocol, which is a lending/borrowing platform. It has a max supply of 16 million, which are already in circulation. AAVE’s protocol actually burns AAVE tokens as it collects fees, much like how Binance Coin works. Because of this AAVE actually only has a circulating supply of 14.4 million, which will only drop further. It trades around $70 USD a piece.
Is Scarcity the Most Important Factor?
No, though it can certainly be a catalyst for an asset jumping in price. Meaning, if the supply is small, and there’s a lot of interest, the demand will quickly outweigh the supply and force the price up. However, just because an asset has a small supply doesn’t make it worth investing in, you need to do due diligence into the asset and its use cases in order to make an investment decision.
It doesn’t matter if an asset is a one of one if there’s no use for it or demand by society. While MKR is certainly far more scarce than BTC, its price is about 1/30th of a BTC. This is because BTC has a more wide ranging use case than MKR.