Market Wrap: DeFi Is Helping Ether Outpace Bitcoin This Year

Thanks to growing interest in DeFi, ether is outperforming bitcoin when the market is moving higher.

Jun 9, 2020 at 9:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:50 a.m. UTC

Bitcoin and ether are soundly beating nearly all major global equities indices on the year. Of the two, ether is handily beating bitcoin's price performance when the market is moving higher. 

The second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, ether (ETH) is trading around $243 and climbed less than a percent in 24 hours as of 20:00 UTC (4:00 p.m. ET). 

At 00:00 UTC on Tuesday (8:00 p.m. ET Monday), ether was hit with high selling volume on exchanges like Coinbase. Its price swung between $239 and $249 within an hour. Since then, ether has been changing hands at around $243, slightly above its 50-day and 10-day moving averages, a bullish technical indicator were it to last.

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Ether trading on Coinbase since June 7

Since January, ether’s price performance has been steadily outpacing that of bitcoin (BTC). With over 90% in gains since 2020 started, ether holders are beating bitcoin investors because the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization is up by just over 30% since January.

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Ether versus bitcoin in 2020

One of the reasons for ether's boost is the increasing use of decentralized finance, or DeFi, said Peter Chan, a trader for Hong Kong-based crypto firm OneBit Quant. DeFi is used for lending and trading, including derivatives, using the Ethereum network’s smart contract technology instead of third parties providing centralized software.

“This explains why we see bigger pumps on ether than bitcoin when the market moves upwards,” Chan added. “Ethereum is evolving much faster than bitcoin with the rapid growth in DeFi."

Indeed, while dipping considerably during March’s market crash, the amount of U.S. dollar value locked in DeFi has recently surpassed $1 billion once again.

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Cryptocurrency locked into decentralized finance, in dollar terms

While the amount of price appreciation may have diverged, both bitcoin and ether markets seem to operate in tandem. Since the start of 2020, ether and bitcoin have been heavily correlated.

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Daily returns correlation for ether and bitcoin

“With insight, ether has been a better investment than bitcoin from a pure performance point of view so far this year,” said David Lifchitz, chief investment officer at Paris-based quant firm ExoAlpha. “But on the downside, they both behaved identically on downward slides.” 

Sasha Goldberg, a senior trading specialist for crypto firm Efficient Frontier, notes ether may rise more than bitcoin but has also dropped more than it, too. “Although it seems that ether outperforms bitcoin, when you look at the bigger picture, bitcoin is down 51% from its all time high while ether is down 83%,” he said.

In early 2018, bitcoin traded around  $17,900 on spot exchanges on the day ether touched its all-time high of $1,432. The bigger question may be which one has the highest price ceiling the next time crypto prices break out as they did in late 2017. 

Other markets

Digital assets on CoinDesk’s big board are mixed Tuesday. Bitcoin was trading around $9,735 as of 20:00 UTC (4 p.m. ET), gaining less than a percent over the previous 24 hours. 

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Bitcoin trading on Coinbase since June 7

The biggest cryptocurrency winners on the day included iota (IOTA) climbing 2.6%, nem (XEM) up 2.4% and neo (NEO) in the green 1%. Losers included cardano (ADA) down 1.8% and stellar (XLM) in the red 1.4%. All price changes were as of 20:00 UTC (4:00 p.m. EDT).

In commodities, oil is up 1.2% with a barrel of crude was priced at $38 as of press time. Gold climbed 1%, trading around $1,715 for the day. 

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Contracts-for-difference on gold since June 5

The S&P 500 index in the United States slipped less than a percent, dragged down by travel and retail stocks.

The FTSE 100 index of top companies in Europe fell 2.1% Tuesday on forecasts the global economy will contract in 2020

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 of top companies ended the day down less than a percent, weighed down by auto and chip manufacturing stocks.

U.S. Treasury bonds all slipped Tuesday. Yields, which move in the opposite direction as price, were down the most on the two-year bond, in the red 10%.

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