Bitcoin's Hedge Potential

View BTC as protection from inept central banks (and, yes, a tool for speculation, too).

AccessTimeIconJan 25, 2023 at 4:45 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 4:06 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJan 25, 2023 at 4:45 p.m. UTCUpdated May 9, 2023 at 4:06 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJan 25, 2023 at 4:45 p.m. UTCUpdated May 9, 2023 at 4:06 a.m. UTC

I come from traditional finance, where I covered the oil-and-gas sector as an analyst. My transition to digital assets has been informative and enjoyable. Because many readers here are sophisticated, I want to provide data that could lead to profitable cryptocurrency decisions.

Here are the pillars of my research-and-analysis process:

  1. Macroeconomics
  2. Price action
  3. On-chain analytics
  4. Regulatory concerns
  5. Dynamics of the asset itself (supply, use cases, etc).

I also want this to be a two-way conversation, so please reach out to me with your comments and questions.

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Bitcoin Failed as an Inflation Hedge. But It Was Nonetheless a Hedge

You need not look hard to find people calling bitcoin (BTC) a hedge against inflation, something that should rise in price if inflation is high. For years, that was a common refrain, and it still is in some places. And yet the past year suggests that's not true. Bitcoin has lost more than two-thirds of its value amid the toughest bout of inflation in four decades. Some hedge.

But I think bitcoin was a hedge against something else: inept central bank policy. It’s a seed of an idea that Renzo Anfossi, a senior trader at Arca Funds, planted in my head during a conversation recently – and I believe it explains a lot.

Federal Reserve officials spent months in 2021 saying red-hot inflation would prove transitory. Chairman Jerome Powell didn’t change course until November of that year, when he backed away from calling it a passing phenomenon. Bitcoin skyrocketed up until that point as policymakers appeared to be in denial.

The Federal Reserve poured money into the financial system to prop it up during the pandemic. M2, a measure of the money supply, jumped dramatically from about $15.5 trillion in March 2020 to a peak last year of $22 trillion. The Fed also knocked its main policy rate target down to zero. Dumping all this cash into the system and engaging in unconstrained monetary policy encouraged questionable risk-taking in markets. Bitcoin’s rise was a clear barometer that something irresponsible was going on.

FED.png

Then bitcoin crashed. It is not, I would argue, a surprise that this largely coincided with the Fed starting to raise rates a year ago – aka getting more responsible. Now, the end of Fed rate hikes to suppress inflation appears to be in sight. The central bank's target rate is now 4.5%, and policymakers have suggested 5% or so will mark the end of their campaign. M2 has fallen some, slipping to almost $21 trillion. The yield curve comparing two-year and 10-year Treasurys remains inverted at about minus 69 basis points, but that's an improvement from minus 84 basis points in early December – a sign of movement toward a more normal economy.

Bitcoin has soared early this year, surpassing $23,000 after being below $17,000 as recently as Jan. 8. Is that a sign of more central bank ineptitude? Not in the U.S., where it seems inflation is getting under control as the easy-money days appear to be far in the past.

What I think is happening is we're entering a period where bitcoin trades on multiple narratives. In the U.S., it’s being viewed as a tool for speculation and something valued for the technology that undergirds it.

Elsewhere in the world, ineptitude could remain a driving force for bitcoin investors. The Chainanalysis 2022 Geography of Cryptocurrency report highlights bitcoin adoption rates around the globe. Not surprisingly, a number of countries that are using bitcoin the most are saddled with numerous issues specific to monetary policy. Venezuela and Argentina, which have key interest rates above 60% and inflation near or above 100%, stand out in particular.

The U.S.-style speculative approach and central bank ineptitude angle seen elsewhere can both be bullish for bitcoin. Things have been considerably bullish in crypto recently, and not just for bitcoin. Bitcoin is up 37% this year and ether (ETH) is up 36%.

BTC Price Chart.png

How bitcoin ultimately behaves as an asset is yet to be seen. It remains relatively young, and opinions vary by the audience. The goal of “Crypto Long & Short” will be to highlight those views, so that they can be acted upon.

Takeaways

Here’s some news, from CoinDesk's Nick Baker, you should know about:

  • APTOS’ APTITUDE: The crypto rally is far from limited to the BTCs and ETHs of the cryptosphere. A terrific example of that is the huge jump in the APT token from Aptos, the vaunted Solana-killer (which was itself been pitched as an Ethereum-killer), as well as the increased interest in the shiba inu token (SHIB). Who knows if that’s sustainable, but risk is being sought in more far-flung corners of crypto.
  • YES, BUT WHEN?: Pantera Capital, a crypto investment and venture-capital firm with about $3.8 billion of assets under management, is looking toward the future, writing recently that it sees the business of finance moving over to blockchain infrastructure. It’s an old idea at this point with, frankly, not much real progress, but Pantera isn’t the only player still confident it’ll happen eventually. Hopes that traditional finance and crypto will intersect remain eternal.
  • MORE WAITING: Here’s another immortal idea: Crypto regulation is coming. There’s no question FTX’s collapse adds urgency to a topic that’s been talked about and talked about and talked about. Don’t forget, though, that a CoinDesk deep dive showed one in three members of the U.S. Congress have received money from FTX officials like Sam Bankman-Fried, creating awkwardness amid any regulatory push.
  • JUST ANOTHER DAY: Crypto lender Genesis (CoinDesk’s corporate sibling) recently fell into bankruptcy court. An on-chain analysis reveals, though, that the separate Genesis trading division is showing some semblance of normalcy. On the same day the crypto-lending arm began Chapter 11 proceedings, the trading business moved a lot of ETH around. It was one of its busiest days ever, in fact.

Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk's longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to consensus.coindesk.com to register and buy your pass now.


Disclosure

Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Glenn Williams

Glenn C Williams Jr, CMT is a Crypto Markets Analyst with an initial background in traditional finance. His experience includes research and analysis of individual cryptocurrencies, defi protocols, and crypto-based funds. He owns BTC, ETH, UNI, DOT, MATIC, and AVAX

Todd Groth, CFA

Todd Groth is Head of Index Research at CoinDesk Indices. . He has over 10 years of experience involving systematic multi-asset risk premia and alternative investment strategies.

Nick Baker

Nick Baker is CoinDesk’s deputy editor-in-chief and a Loeb Award winner. His crypto holdings are below CoinDesk's $1,000 disclosure threshold.