After months of relative calm, the price of bitcoin broke out this week, spiking to a high of $257 on 17th June.
Of particular focus for many observers was the speed at which the market made its gains, with most of the run occurring between 13:00 and 15:00 UTC on 16th June. Though such volatility is by no means uncommon in the bitcoin market, the wider community quickly sought to correlate the market movement to larger trends.
One of the most prominent theories that emerged was related to the market's timing, which roughly coincided with growing indications that Greece will likely default on its debt obligations. Nicknamed the "Grexit", some believe the default could result in Greece leaving the eurozone, even as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders strive to downplay such speculation.
The narrative is not a new one for the bitcoin market, given that, as an asset class, digital currencies are one of the few that can act as a hedge against fiat currency fluctuation. For example, many in the bitcoin community have correlated the rising interest in bitcoin in 2013 with economic issues in Cyprus.
As CEO of bitcoin-to-gold exchange Vaultoro Joshua Scigala admits, while mostly psychological, the connection is still powerful given that the market that moves on sentiment.
Scigala told CoinDesk:
Nonetheless, the connection was seized upon by the press, with an early and prominent piece from Reuters contributing to the wider discussion.
But as UK Digital Currency Association board member Paul Gordon points out, while a convenient narrative, there remains little evidence to suggest the timing is anything but coincidental or that activity in Greece is actually at the root of the movement.
"It's nice to say that the Grexit is happening and the price has gone up, sure. But, we could've gone down," Gordon told CoinDesk.
Still, the larger question that has emerged is whether the price increase will mark an end to the downtrend that has persisted since bitcoin's all-time high in 2013.
As indicated in interviews, most say it's too early to tell whether the latest price movement is the sound of a sleeping giant awakening or simply a loud snort in a still-deep slumber.
Links to Grexit scarce
As for whether any real-world metrics can support the notion that Greek citizens may be turning to bitcoin, Scigala seems to be among the few business owners that seems to have found evidence of the conclusion.
Vaultoro, he said, has recently seen a 124% increase in visitors with Greek IP addresses, compared to 64% growth in Europe and 83% in Asia.
"Greece stood out at 124% growth because it’s a smaller country and we don’t do any direct marketing in Greece," he continued. At the same time, Vaultoro saw 66% and 62% increases from Germany and Spain, respectively.
However, because Vaultoro ultimately allows its clients to use bitcoin as a medium of exchange between fiat currency and gold, Scigala clarified that any uptick in Greek users on his service was unlikely to affect price.
"I can’t see any notable increase in new registered users from Greece apart from normal growth," LocalBitcoins community manager Max Edin told CoinDesk. "Overall trade in EUR is up a bit this past week, but still within the regular growth trend we see."
Further, Edin sought to downplay the idea that activity in Greece on its exchange was notable enough to spur price movement.
"Trade volume from Greece is such a small part of our overall volume that it can’t have an effect on the market price," he added.
Kraken CEO Jesse Powell supported this conclusion, stating that he has found no figures from his exchange that suggest interest from Greece is on the rise. Additionally, he found no increases in account funding or trading volume due to the activity of Greece-based clients.
"It's really hard to know how much actual bitcoin movement in Greece is driving activity and how much of it is just outside speculation," Powell continued.
Despite the figures, the idea that Greece may be a prevailing psychological factor in this current trading cycle still holds sway on some traders, including Crypto Currency Fund manager Timothy Enneking.
"It's not 100% that this price move is due to Greece, but I'd say that 95% it is," Enneking said.
Enneking believes that this might actually be a bearish comparison for the market due to his conclusion that all gains from bitcoin's Cyprus bump were eventually erased. To this point, he noted how it would be unlikely for bitcoin to become anything but a short-term solution to local issues with fiat currencies.
"Greeks aren't going to buy bitcoin because they have long-term faith in bitcoin. That means they're going to sell their bitcoin. They're not sudden bitcoin converts, capital controls are only temporary," he cautioned.
Powell, however, believes there could be consequences in drawing attention to a false correlation between Greece and the price of bitcoin, namely that, without any inciting incident, he suggested the spike in market activity might subside.
"If it turns out that the price movement is purely speculative and there isn't any real underlying interest materializing in Greece, the increase might not be sustained," Powell said.
Others, like Whale Club community leader BTCVIX, suggested that this time around, much of the attention to the price was perhaps a construction of those with vested interests in the technology.
"To be frank this is just a news story in excuse of price action movement, I see no reason that this event specially increases demand for BTC in that region but hey if it gets BTC price action news hype going might as well get on the bandwagon," he told CoinDesk.
This isn't to say that the latest movement in price isn't significant for traders.
Whether or not the price falls back eventually, there is at least some sentiment that the market might have found a stable bottom from which it can build. Such an opinion was expressed by Enneking, who indicated that he believes that the continued stability of bitcoin might have played a role in the price increase.
"It had been stable so long, it might have been time to move up and Greece may have had a small psychological effect," he suggested.
BTC.sx co-founder George Samman indicated that this might have been the case as well, suggesting some traders might have been feeling a bout of "selling fatigue", as evidenced by what he called a recent drop in exchange liquidity.
Enneking estimated the shallow orders books at major exchanges have created a scenario where as little as 10,000 BTC in buys could have caused the increase. Should the market have been affected by a small amount of large trading, however, he suggested the price would likely return to previous levels, erasing recent gains.
BTCVIX indicated he would be looking for more consolidation around current levels as a precursor to any spring or summer rally.
"The bitcoin market is heavily driven by sentiment and technicals so Grexit plus price breaking above key levels has been enough to get people's attention, now the question is, 'Is this a countertrend rally or the start of a new trend?'" Samman asked, adding:
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