Crypto investors face more uncertainty after rocky start to 2022

Published February 14, 2022
A representation of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin is seen in this picture illustration taken October 19, 2021. — Reuters
A representation of the virtual cryptocurrency Bitcoin is seen in this picture illustration taken October 19, 2021. — Reuters

Investors are bracing for more gyrations in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as worries over a hawkish Federal Reserve threaten to squelch risk appetite across markets.

The volatility traditionally associated with cryptocurrencies has been on full display in recent weeks. Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency, is up by around 33 per cent since Jan 24 and recently traded at $43,850, rebounding from a tumble that cut its price in half from November’s record high. Its main rival, ether, is up around 45pc since Jan 24 at around $3,200, following a nearly 56pc nosedive from its record high of $4,868, also in November.

While proponents of cryptocurrencies once touted their lack of correlation to other assets, bitcoin and its peers saw huge gains over the last two years, rallying along with stocks as the Fed and other central banks pumped unprecedented levels of stimulus into the global economy.

Bitcoin is up 1,039pc since March 2020 and ether has risen 2,940pc

Bitcoin is up 1,039pc since March 2020 and ether has risen 2,940pc, though the rallies in both cryptocurrencies have been interrupted by numerous-stomach churning selloffs.

Their recent volatility has come amid a broader market selloff driven by investors recalibrating their portfolios to account for a more aggressive Fed, which is now expected to raise rates as many as seven times this year as it fights surging inflation. The benchmark S&P 500 index is down 5.5pc year-to-date, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq has lost 9.3pc.

Worries that an aggressive central bank tightening cycle going forward will hamstring risky assets has made it difficult for some traders to maintain their bullish outlook on bitcoin and other cryptos, an asset class already identified with intense volatility.

Bitcoin has “really become the ultimate momentum trade and there are so many risks that can trigger a 40pc drop out of nowhere,” said Ed Moya, senior analyst at Oanda.

Bitcoin’s volatility hasn’t stopped some analysts from trying to gauge the currency’s fair value or point out potentially important price levels.

Analysts at JPMorgan estimate bitcoins current fair value at around $38,000 some 15pc below its recent price based on its volatility in comparison with that of gold, another asset investors often use to hedge their portfolios against inflation and economic uncertainty.

Vanda Research, meanwhile, said in a recent note that most of the bearish bets on a weaker bitcoin price were entered at around $47,000, and “there could be a large short-squeeze if the aforementioned threshold is crossed, and retail investors return to crypto-trading.” Meanwhile, correlations between bitcoin and the S&P 500 reached an all-time high on Jan 31, according to data from BofA Global Research, undercutting the case for those hoping to use the cryptocurrency as a hedge against market turbulence.

Investors this week are expecting minutes from the Feds most recent monetary policy meeting, due out Wednesday. Walmart and chipmaker Nvidia Corp will be among the companies reporting results, as corporate earnings season rolls on.

Some investors are steeling themselves to ride out the volatility in bitcoin, betting that the long-term value proposition of blockchain technology, the built in supply limit, and the network effect it produces, will endure despite frequent price swings.

Jurrien Timmer, director of global macro at Fidelity, likened the current speculation in cryptocurrencies to the turbulence tech stocks experienced during the dot-com era more than two decades ago, a boom-and-bust period that saw a comparatively small group of companies left standing.

“Amazon is still around and Apple is still around and they’re bigger than ever and the thinking is that for bitcoin that will be the same,” he said. “But it’s not immune to those waves of speculation and sentiment.” Bitcoin could reach $100,000 as soon as 2023, Mr Timmer has said, based on his supply/demand models.

Others believe mature cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether are unlikely to deliver the kind of eye-watering gains they have notched since their founding.

Instead, they are looking to the universe of new, alternative coins that are being created to take advantage of the money pouring into the crypto space, including the metaverse and NFTs, which saw $30 billion worth of venture capital investment last year, according to PitchBook.

Some altcoins include cosmos, Terra Luna, and Polkadot, which are down around 20.5pc, 38pc and 25.5pc year-to-date, respectively, according to coinmarketcap.com. Understanding the risks linked to them and decentralized finance is going to be one of the main challenges for investors in 2022, said Lily Francus, director of quantitative research strategy at Moody’s Analytics.

Cryptocurrencies “are going to remain very volatile going forward, but there are significant players on both the institutional side and the retail side that are still growing, so the interest is still growing,” said Oanda’s Moya.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 14th, 2022

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