Ether's price might be getting a boost from the crypto industry's version of the dash for cash.
The coronavirus crisis has sent investors in both digital and traditional markets scrambling for U.S. dollars, seen as one of the best assets to park money in during a deflationary recession. In traditional markets, that's meant selling risky assets like stocks, junk bonds and developing-country currencies, and parking the proceeds in cash.
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In digital-asset markets, there's been a flurry of demand for tether and other dollar-linked stablecoins, many of them built atop the Ethereum blockchain network. Led by tether (USDT), the total outstanding amount of stablecoins surged this month to nearly $9 billion, from less than $6 billion in early March.
Some cryptocurrency analysts are now starting to ask if the stablecoin surge will boost the price of ether (ETH), which is used to pay fees known as "gas" to help process transactions on the Ethereum blockchain, including for other tokens.
Prices for ether, the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market value, have jumped 53 percent so far in 2020 to about $195. That compares with an 8 percent year-to-date gain for the larger bitcoin.
Ryan Watkins, a research analyst at the cryptocurrency data firm Messari, wrote last week in a report that tether's use of the Ethereum blockchain "should be positive for ETH."
"It's hard to ignore the promise of decentralized programmable money if you're spending time in the ethereum economy," he wrote. "This will provide a bid for ETH."
Ether, sometimes described as the "digital oil " to bitcoin's "digital gold," is the native currency for the Ethereum blockchain, which is known as a platform for easy issuance of new digital tokens as well as for its "smart contract" programming capabilities. In recent years Ethereum has become the premier ecosystem for the white-hot arena of "decentralized finance," where startup companies and developer teams are designing automated lending and trading protocols that might eventually challenge banks.
Yet, ether is notoriously difficult to value, with traders relying on everything from price-chart patterns to supply-and-demand predictions to discounted cash flow analysis. Earlier this year, one blockchain consultant estimated that the cryptocurrency's price might shoot as high as $10,000 if half of Argentina's money supply abandoned the peso for dai, a decentralized dollar-linked stablecoin that's backed by ether.
"I don't think we're at a point where fundamentals are driving these tokens," says Gary Zigmond, co-founder of Digico Capital, a cryptocurrency hedge fund. "We're still at the story stage, where everything's in the future."
Messari's Watkins says the rise of stablecoins might actually pose a longer-term threat to ether because they might usurp its potential use case as a "medium of exchange."
"In this scenario, ETH will have devolved into its native early branding of digital oil, a commodity-like lubricant for the ethereum blockchain," he wrote. "ETH would still be valuable like many commodities are, but ETH would not be valued like money is."
But with the price performance beating bitcoin's so handily this year, ether bulls probably aren't worrying too much about the valuation metrics.
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Trend: Bitcoin has nearly erased the losses seen on March 12 – "Black Thursday" – with a move to $7,800 early Monday, and now looks set to extend its five-week winning trend.
The top cryptocurrency by market value is trading near $7,714 at press time, representing a 0.2 percent gain on the day. Prices rose more than 8 percent in the seven days to April 26 to confirm bitcoin's sixth straight weekly rise, the longest winning streak since March 2019.
The price rise could be extended further, as bitcoin balances on exchanges continues to slide ahead of the miner reward halving – a sign investors are withdrawing their assets for long-term holding ahead of the supply-cutting event, as noted by the blockchain intelligence firm Glassnode.
Bitcoin has historically put in a positive performance in the weeks leading up to halving, Marcus Swanepoel, CEO of cryptocurrency platform Luno, told CoinDesk. The bullish narrative surrounding the halving could continue to draw bids for the cryptocurrency in the short term.
Further, speculation that savvy investors might use recently minted tether and other stablecoins to fund bitcoin purchases is likely to keep retail interest high. "Traders will want to pay close attention to the issuing of new USDT, which has historically led to a surge in bitcoin's price. With Tether having minted $120,000,000 USDT, Bitcoin could soon see a surge," said Swanepoel.
Technical charts, too, are signaling scope for an extension on the price rally. The four-hour chart is reporting a symmetrical triangle breakout, a bullish continuation pattern. The breakout is backed by an above-50 reading on the 14-day relative strength index and higher bars on the MACD histogram, both bullish signals.
Next, the cryptocurrency looks set to test the 100-day moving average at $8,000. The bullish case would weaken if the prices violate the support at $7,390 (low of the symmetrical triangle).
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