Markets Weekly is a weekly column analyzing price movements in the global digital currency markets, and the technology's use case as an asset class.
Bitcoin prices traded largely between $410 and $420 during the week between 11th March and 18th March, as 30m BTC was traded on exchanges globally.
The digital currency’s price movements were largely subdued, starting the week out at $416.24 on 11th March at 12:00 UTC before surpassing the $420 level at 09:10 UTC. For the remainder of the week through 12:00 UTC on 18th March, the digital currency remained range-bound between $410 and $420.
Since then, bitcoin’s price has weakened, falling at around 14:00 UTC to a press time low of $403.63 at 19:45 UTC, a decline of $11.43 over the course of the day’s trading.
However, the modest price movements may have been overshadowed by the sudden attention given to ether, the token that powers the Ethereum blockchain.
Ether, which has been generating significant visibility as a digital asset, experienced sharp fluctuations during the week. The development is notable as ether serves as a way to run applications on the Ethereum blockchain and is not positioning itself as a store of value.
Ethereum released Homestead, the first production version of its software, on 14th March. Because of Ethereum’s success in drawing attention, some members of the digital currency trading community believe that ether is starting to serve as an attractive hedge for the uncertainty surrounding bitcoin.
The bitcoin community is currently grappling with uncertainty caused by perceived issues about the size of its processing capacity, with some arguing the protocol needs to be upgraded to accommodate more users and others proposing top-level networks that would build on its stability.
Amid this situation, Ethereum is "emerging as a strong hedge against bitcoin," digital currency expert Joseph Lee told CoinDesk. Lee, founder of bitcoin derivatives trading platform Magnr, emphasized that earlier this month, many bitcoiners were "buying ether to profit from its current state of renewed interest."
Despite the attention, however, ether trading remains in early stages. A large majority of the exchange trading currently takes place on a single exchange, US-based Poloniex, though other major market players Coincheck and Bitfinex have recently added offerings.
Yet, while Ethereum may be appealing to digital currency traders with a higher appetite for risk, there are some who view bitcoin's relative stability over the week as a position sign.
Christopher Burniske, analyst and blockchain products lead at investment management firm ARK Invest, for example, noted that Ethereum peaked around the time of its launch, and that its price had since fallen as early adopters sought to cash in on the new attention.
"Now that ether is down about 40% from its all time high, and still falling, it’s interesting to see bitcoin holding its price. I would have expected to see a bit more of a pop," he told CoinDesk.
Prior to today's decline, bitcoin had a steady week, rising about 1% from $416.10 12:00 UTC on 11th March to $418.32 at 12:00 UTC at 12:00 UTC today.
Market observer George Samman also noted that the bitcoin market, to some extent, benefits from a more active market for Ethereum.
“The thing that I look at though is how are people cashing out of Ethereum, really there is one major way and that's through bitcoin, so if you want to sell out of Ethereum for fiat you need to go through bitcoin and vice versa to buy,” he noted.
Ether's volatile start
By contrast, $56.9m worth of the ether digital asset was transacted during the 24-hour period ending between 12:00 and 23:59 on 14th March, CoinMarketCap figures reveal.
Trading volume has risen sharply this month compared to February, having reached a 24-hour volume of $57.6m on 6th March between 00:00 and 11:59.
Amid this robust trading volume, Ethereum plunged from a weekly high of 0.036 BTC at 20:00 UTC on 13th March to a weekly low of 0.021 BTC at 12:00 UTC on 18th March, additional CoinMarketCap data shows.
This decline represented a 41.7% drop, which contrasted with the roughly flat week-over-week price movement Ethereum experienced between 12:00 UTC on 11th March and 12:00 UTC on 18th March, registering 0.026 BTC both times.
Charles L. Bovaird II is a financial writer and consultant with strong knowledge of securities markets and investing concepts.
Follow Charles Bovaird on Twitter here. Pete Rizzo contributed reporting.
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