People tend to flock to gold as a safe-haven investment during a crisis. So, why not in the case of Greece?
There is no reason for gold to get any love now because this is a political crisis, not a currency crisis. The primary reason you buy the "barbarous relic" that is gold is fear of a global currency crisis.
In Greece, citizens and investors are not concerned about having a currency to use; the only unknown is which currency they will adopt or create. Currently, the Greek citizens have a currency, the euro, but using it is next to impossible with the banks closed.
Nonetheless, the restricted use of euros is far superior than gold. Just imagine walking into a Greek merchant with a bar of gold and trying to purchase something! Seriously, if you have some gold coins lying around for just such a bunker-busting moment — would a merchant accept those? If, by some miracle the merchant agreed to accept your gold coins, either you or the merchant would need a highly accurate scale to measure the gold flakes necessary just to buy something small like a pack of gum. If they didn't, you'd have to hunt around for another merchant who accepted gold and sold scales…
Gold is only useful in a complete currency collapse, as long as there is a viable alternative that is integrated with a banking system then gold will remain unloved. If you are worried that all currencies will be debased, you buy gold. This is not to say that gold cannot be used as a store of value — in fact, gold has a 5,000-year history of doing just that. Gold is both useful and valuable — just not in a political crisis.
Finally, if this crisis does get out of control, it will lead to deflation and as a global price barometer, gold typically falls in a deflationary environment. Of course, if the central bank of the world's reserve currency, the Federal Reserve, determines that the crisis warrants another round of quantitative easing, then you definitely buy gold.
What about bitcoin?
I have checked with every one of my contacts in the bitcoin-exchange world and not one has seen an uptick in buying of bitcoin coming from Greece.
That is not to say that Greece is not the reason for the recent rise in bitcoin — it is. Speculators have been buying up bitcoin as a safe-haven alternative asset — more specifically an asset that trades 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is out of reach of government decrees on bank closures or bail-ins.
One exchange I spoke with reported a doubling of volume over the last few days … but all of the volume was from speculators outside of Greece. This makes intuitive sense — with the banks closed, it is near impossible to transfer money from your Greek bank account to an exchange to buy bitcoin.
An asset unencumbered by political crisis that can be used as a medium of exchange at over 100,000 merchants is just ONE of the many use cases for bitcoin and block-chain technology.
I have written and opined that, to see the future of finance, we must look beyond the currency use case for bitcoin and block-chain technology. It is encouraging to see that this relatively small crisis has not only highlighted one of bitcoin's use cases and has caused the price to rise. Imagine what bitcoin would be worth when all the use cases are realized.
The Holy Grail of safe-haven assets would be a digital currency that is backed by gold, but this does not exist … yet. The bottom line is that when it comes to safe-haven assets, gold is for currency crises and bitcoin is for political crises.
Commentary by Brian Kelly, founder and managing member of Brian Kelly Capital, a global macro investment firm catering to high net worth individuals, family offices and institutions. He is also the creator of the BKCM Indexes, benchmarks for multi-asset money managers. He's also the author of the book, "The Bitcoin Big Bang: How Alternative Currencies Are About to Change the World." Kelly, a CNBC contributor, often appears on "Fast Money." Follow him on Twitter @BKBrianKelly.