Bitcoin bull Tom Lee wants Wall Street to know he didn’t cut his year-end forecast

Key Points
  • Any return exceeding $20,000 for bitcoin by the end of 2018 would be up about 200 percent, the Fundstrat co-founder argues.
  • Since its most recent top around $9,800 in May, bitcoin has lost about 30 percent.
  • However, Lee remains undeterred, citing the rising cost of mining bitcoin that could restrain supply and push prices higher.
Tom Lee: I want to be clear, bitcoin is going to $25,000 by year end

Tom Lee, the only major Wall Street strategist to issue bitcoin price targets, told CNBC on Thursday morning he sees the world's largest cryptocurrency by the end of the year at more than $20,000 per unit.

That's 20 percent less than his $25,000 target.

However, Lee later clarified his position on “Fast Money,” saying Thursday evening he "may have misspoke a little bit” and still stands by his $25,000 forecast.

It all started when the Fundstrat Global Advisors co-founder said on "Squawk Box" that "bitcoin has historically traded at 2.5 times its mining costs."

"The reason bitcoin looks really good here is the cost of mining around $7,000 fully loaded. And the difficulty is rising. So by the end of the year, it's going to be $9,000," he said Thursday morning.

Crypto miners use high powered computers that use a lot of electricity to complete a series of complex calculations to create a bitcoin. The protocol calls for a finite number of bitcoins of 21 million, of which about 80 percent have already been made.

In the afternoon on CNBC, Lee said those mining costs estimates "imply fair value over $20,000, roughly $22,000.” But he added, “We still think bitcoin can reach $25,000 by the end of the year or something like that.”

Lee stressed that investors should not quibble over a few thousand dollars because any return exceeding $20,000 would be about 200 percent higher than current levels around $6,600 in early Friday trading.

Bitcoin at $6,600 brings prices back to the lows in April, which marked the halt of a slide from nearly $20,000 in late 2017. Since its most recent top around $9,800 in May, bitcoin has lost about 30 percent.

Lee, chief equity strategist J.P. Morgan from 2007 to 2014, said he believes bitcoin and blockchain, the technology underlying it, is a "multidecade story" that's in the "early stages" of transformation.

"I did wireless [research] in the 1990s. I saw 20 years of mobile and internet convergence. To me, this is not that different" in terms of how an industry has change over time, he said.

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