For skeptics and traditional market investors, bitcoin (BTC) is synonymous with extreme bouts of price volatility. However, in recent times, oil has become a relatively risky asset.
The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil price's one-month realized, or historical, volatility stood at 105.3 percent on Feb. 10, after having hit a four-month high of 119.6 percent at the end of January. Meanwhile, bitcoin's historical volatility recently dropped to 42.3 percent, the lowest level since September, according to Skew Markets.
Historical volatility measures how much prices have varied in the past and is calculated from the standard deviation of daily price movements of the front month futures price, typically for a 30-day period. It is stated in annualized terms.
However, it does not measure the direction and only tells us how the security's price is deviating from its average. So, with oil currently reporting a higher historical volatility than bitcoin, it seems safe to say that "black gold" has recently been more volatile than bitcoin.
WTI's volatility rose sharply from 38.7 percent on Jan. 6 to a high of 119.6 percent on Jan. 27. Bitcoin’s volatility has retreated in a steady manner from 66 percent to 42 percent in the four weeks to mid-February.
For comparison, the S&P 500 index's realized volatility increased in the last week of January and stood at 15.6 percent on Wednesday. Gold's volatility gauge doubled to 18 percent in the first 10 days of January before falling back to 10 percent earlier this month.
The spike in the oil price volatility was in large part due to two major news stories. First was the large price moves following increased U.S.-Iran tensions. On Jan. 3, the U.S. attacked an Iranian base in Iraq , killing a top military commander and injecting geopolitical uncertainty into markets. As a result, WTI rose from $61 to $64 in just two hours to 02:00 UTC. Prices rallied further to hit multi-month highs above $65 during the Asian trading hours on Feb. 8 after Iran retaliated by attacking U.S. bases in Iraq. However, the fear of all-out war quickly faded with wires reported zero U.S. casualties, sending oil prices as low as $60 on the same day.
Second was the continued sell-off in the following weeks as coronavirus fears had a major effect on market sentiment. WTI clocked lows near $49.50 two weeks ago before regaining some poise. At press time, a barrel of oil is changing hands near $54.40.
While WTI witnessed wild swings in both directions, the bitcoin market was relatively calm with a strong directional bias. The cryptocurrency charted a near straightline rally from $6,850 to $10,500 in the six weeks to Feb. 13. Hence, it's not surprising that bitcoin's historical volatility is lower than that of oil.
This is not the first time oil has been more volatile than bitcoin. As recently as the period from mid-September to mid-October, WTI’s historical volatility skyrocketed from 60.9 percent to 133 percent. Prior to that, however, bitcoin was consistently more volatile than oil.
Looking forward, bitcoin's price volatility may rise as whales, or addresses with balances ranging from 1,000 BTC to 10,000 BTC, have started accumulating coins. Thus, it's difficult to say if bitcoin would continue to witness less volatility than oil.
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