Bitcoin Ends Q1 Down 10%, Outperforming Equities in Coronavirus Crisis

Bitcoin ended the first quarter of 2020 down from the start of the year, but not as badly as the record-setting losses suffered by global equities.

AccessTimeIconMar 31, 2020 at 9:13 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:24 a.m. UTC
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Bitcoin ended the first quarter of 2020 down from the start of the year, but not as badly as the record-setting losses suffered by global equities. 

On a 24-hour basis, bitcoin (BTC) was in the green less than a percent Tuesday afternoon Eastern time and ether (ETH) was up slightly as well. The performance of other cryptocurrencies was mixed. 

Notable assets on CoinDesk’s big board include decred (DCR) up 3 percent, XRP (XRP) in the green 2 percent and cardano (ADA) gaining 1 percent. Assets in the red included dash (DASH) slipping 1 percent and bitcoin SV (BSV) in the red 1 percent. All price changes are in the past 24 hours as of 20:30 UTC (4:30 p.m. ET) on March 31. 

In the traditional markets, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index closed down slightly, less than a percent. Europe’s FTSE 100 ended the day up 1.3 percent. In the U.S., the S&P 500 closed New York’s trading day down 1.6 percent. 

But for the full quarter, the Nikkei 225 was down 20 percent, the worst three-month showing for the Tokyo-based index since 2008. The FTSE lost 14 percent for the period, its second-worst quarterly performance ever, beating only the fourth quarter of 1987. The S&P 500 was in the red 18 percent to close out Q1 2020, its worst quarter since 1938

Cryptocurrencies operate 24/7 and don't have quarters for closing the books. However, bitcoin, the market bellwether, was down just 10 percent for 2020’s first three months. 


Despite its relative resilience, bitcoin still has been trending downward over the course of the first quarter along with traditional markets, undermining the narrative that it is a “non-correlated” asset.

“I think correlation across assets is still quite high, a telltale sign of when macro matters more than micro,” said Vishal Shah, founder of Alpha5, a new derivatives exchange backed by large crypto funds.

Indeed, the current period of turbulence isn’t the first time bitcoin has behaved similarly to mainstream financial investments.

“The lack of correlation to equities was a bit premature to announce. We had periods of high correlation, for example, in 2018, when bitcoin fell along with equities in December of that year,” said Siddhartha Jha, a former Wall Street analyst now working on blockchain-focused startup Arbol. 

On the other hand, he said, “we have had other periods of higher correlation to gold,” more befitting bitcoin’s aspirations as a hedge against inflation.

Since 00:00 UTC Tuesday, bitcoin has been trading in a tight range of $6,300-$6,500.

Trading on Coinbase since March 28. Source: TradingView
Trading on Coinbase since March 28. Source: TradingView

“BitMEX open interest remains low, but Coinbase is reporting great inbound activity. None of the typical signs for a crypto bull-run are there,” Shah said, referring to major derivatives and spot exchanges, respectively. 

March has produced the lowest level of outstanding positions on BitMEX in 18 months, although the derivatives exchange’s volume has seen gains the past four days prior to leveling off Monday. 

BitMEX XBTUSD open interest. Source: Skew
BitMEX XBTUSD open interest. Source: Skew

Gold dropped over 2 percent Tuesday as of 20:30 UTC, breaking out of its consolidation pattern on heavy selling volume March 31.

Contracts-for-difference on gold. Source: TradingView
Contracts-for-difference on gold. Source: TradingView

The road ahead

While the coronavirus outbreak has dealt a heavy blow to the world economy, analysts are unsure how long it will take for growth to resume. 

"Recessions typically unfold over a longer period of time - at least two consecutive quarters,” said Guy Hirsch, U.S. managing director of multi-asset platform eToro.

For the time being expect bitcoin’s role to keep switching for traders - it all depends on how other markets perform, experts say. 

“The novel-tech part of bitcoin leads to correlation with Nasdaq, especially as many of the investors have overlaps,” said Arbol’s Jha. “Other times it will go with gold. But if equity markets are crashing, that correlation is going to show up very fast.” 

How the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar holds up given massive doses of stimulus from Washington is something else analysts are watching keenly. 

“The economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic has been instant and the impact is unprecedented,” added eToro’s Hirsch. “There is a growing consensus that due to the Fed announcing unlimited QE, investors could soon be looking to BTC as an inflation hedge against a depreciating dollar.“ 


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