Bitcoin

Bitcoin Losses Spotlight Bear Case For Cryptos

A more than 30 percent drop in bitcoin prices last week ranks up there in terms of worst-ever one-week declines. There are signs, though, that the price drop for the marquee name in cryptos speaks to more than just speculative panic. Use cases remain limited, and as pricing proves ever more volatile, here’s why the picture may not get any brighter.

In investing, marquee names — the ones that sport the biggest market capitalizations, grab the bulk of headlines and are usually among the most widely held by individuals and speculators — can be shorthand for entire sectors.

So it is with bitcoin, the leader of cryptocurrency by market cap. Bitcoin is the name dropped at parties (the Apple, perhaps, of digital currency — to draw a parallel), and where the pricing slid by more than 30 percent last week from $5,553 to $3,824, headed into Monday (Nov. 19). The intra-week swing was even lower and represented a decline of more than 44 percent.

Various news sources pointed out that bitcoin has now experienced its worst weekly loss in five years, coming within spitting distance of the 44 percent loss that marked the second week of April 2013, sliding to $91 from $165, as noted by CoinDesk. Some analyses point to moving averages, or the fact that at least some holders, as reported by CNBC, may have stop-loss orders in place, which partially seek to limit trading losses.

However, shifting from the technical discussions, fundamentals are worthy of examination. In this case, the marquee name seems to offer scant comfort to those who seek a global currency.

Some bulls have said the fundamentals are still there, though expectations of price gains from recent levels have become a bit muted, perhaps. Thomas Lee, managing director and head of research of Fundstrat, took his year-end price target down to $15,000 from $25,000, which still represents hundreds of percentage points in gains over recent levels.

Just this month, Ron Paul, a former U.S. congressman and current crypto advocate, released a poll of 58,000 respondents, with as many as 49 percent saying they would choose bitcoin over gold (at 39 percent) and U.S. Treasury bonds (10 percent) as investments to hold for 10 years. U.S. dollars (the cash kind) got just 2 percent of the vote.

Beyond price targets and decades-out projections, one might wonder, then, what the crypto world will look like in 10 years — OK, make that six months, for that matter. There are scattered headlines that show some incremental uptake of cryptos, at least in Europe, or that some things, at minimum, are getting codified.

In Poland, President Andrzej Duda signed and introduced legislation that will impose a 19 percent cryptocurrency tax on related income that comes from conducting commerce for goods and services. Might we assume that a heavy tax on such commerce might curtail that activity?

Here’s some other evidence that cold water is being thrown on the idea of bitcoin having an easy road toward becoming a widely held store-of-value or payments settlement. In Paris, the Financial Action Task Force, the regulatory agency that oversees anti-money laundering (AML), has said that international standards for cryptos are coming, courtesy of rules that will debut in June of 2019. This means that crypto exchanges will be more heavily regulated, and so will firms that provide encrypted wallets and financial services for initial coin offerings (ICOs).

The drumbeat is both quickening and getting louder for the wider-use-case adoption of bitcoin, and others are a bit dimmer.

Isolated headlines — such as the recent announcement that Switzerland has launched an exchange-traded offering based on a basket of cryptocurrencies do not underpin any stability for prices in the crypto realm. Taxes and regulatory scrutiny do not help prices, either, at least in the short term.

The lower the prices go (as is the case for any investment, speculative or otherwise), the less excited individuals will likely be to, well, hold them. The less inclined people are to hold what is volatile, the less likely there will be a transformation in how we interact and transact, at least as far as cryptocurrencies are concerned. Stability is key, and no one wants to go to sleep on a Monday only to find on Tuesday that the purchasing power of their (digital) wallet is 10 percent less.

Wild price swings and illiquidity are the enemies of trust.

There’s proof that people are gun-shy of bitcoin’s initial hope to be a mainstay of commerce. Reports came this past week that bitcoin usage in commercial payments has actually been on the downswing, as estimated by Chainalysis, declining to $97 million this past September from the $427 million seen in December of last year.

Beyond the decline in the bitcoin-as-currency scenario, there are implications for cryptos in ICOs, too. Data released mid-month from ICORating, which analyzes ICOs, found that about 597 ICOs raised $1.8 billion in the third quarter of this year quite a bit lower than the $8.3 billion raised in the second quarter. ICORating also stated that 57 percent of ICOs were unable to raise more than $100,000.

Capital, the oxygen of innovation, is proving scarce. Speculation is clouding price stability. Lack of price stability clouds the use of bitcoin, or cryptos in general, in commerce. It seems the idea of bitcoin, and its brethren, as currency is losing currency.

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