First Mover: Bitcoin Falls as COVID-19 Surges, ECB's Lagarde Steps Up, US GDP Hits 33%

The enthusiasm jolt from bitcoin's ascent toward $14K ran into realism, and options traders see low probabilities of a new price record this year.

AccessTimeIconOct 29, 2020 at 12:56 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:25 a.m. UTC
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Bitcoin was lower for a second day, even as traditional markets showed signs of stabilization following Wednesday's sell-off. 

Cryptocurrency analysts looked for solace in bitcoin's October-to-date return, still at an impressive 22%, during a month when the Standard & Poor's 500 Index of U.S. stocks has declined by 2.7%.

"The sell-off in equities and gold due to rising COVID infections and restrictive lockdowns had only a limited impact on the digital asset," Lennard Neo, head of research for the cryptocurrency-focused firm Stack Funds, wrote Thursday in a report

In traditional markets, European stocks rose as traders awaited a decision from the European Central Bank, headed by President Christine Lagarde, on whether further monetary support is needed amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases. 

U.S. equity futures pointed toward a higher open, as a key government report showed that the world's largest economy grew at a 33% pace in the third quarter – a somewhat context-less data point that's likely to do little beyond serving as an easy talking point for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign

Market moves

Just as bitcoin bulls were starting to salivate over the cryptocurrency's powerful rally over the past week toward $14,000, a sell-off in traditional markets has dragged prices back down.

Investors globally were rattled by reports of a resurgence in coronavirus cases. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country would implement tough new business restrictions, and French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to impose a national lockdown. 

Such restrictions could crimp economic growth, theoretically a deflationary development, which could reduce demand for bitcoin in the short term as a hedge against higher consumer prices. There's also the possibility that some investors, seeing further turmoil ahead, decided to bulk up on cash. One of the easiest things to sell is bitcoin, which is still up 84% year-to-date, even after Wednesday's sell-off.  

"It seems the pressure was too much," Mati Greenspan, founder of the foreign-exchange and cryptocurrency research firm Quantum Economics, told clients Wednesday. 

As detailed in First Mover on Wednesday, analysts relying on price-chart patterns have identified few points of resistance along bitcoin's path from the hitherto rarely breached $14,000 psychological level to the all-time-high around $20,000, reached in 2017.   

According to Greenspan, "$14,000 is a huge psychological barrier, and I would be delightedly flabbergasted if we were able to pass through it without first seeing a significant pullback."

Probability (left axis) of bitcoin being above $X (bottom axis) at maturity, implied from options market.
Probability (left axis) of bitcoin being above $X (bottom axis) at maturity, implied from options market.

And as reported Thursday by CoinDesk's Omkar Godbole, bitcoin options traders are assigning a low probability that the cryptocurrency will end 2020 above $20,000.

The implied chances of prices above that level currently stand around 6%, according to the cryptocurrency data firm Skew. 

“A below-10% probability of record highs by the year end means the market is unconcerned with that outcome,” Vishal Shah, an options trader and founder of Polychain Capital-backed derivatives exchange Alpha5 told Godbole in a Telegram chat.  

Despite the sincerest wishes of bitcoin bulls, it would take a rally of more than 60% in the next eight weeks for prices to set a new record. It wouldn't be unprecedented: There have been eight times in the 11-year old cryptocurrency's recorded history where prices have rallied more than 50% or more in a two-month span. 

It could be that traders are just being realistic. 

“The options market is seemingly not getting carried away with the recent strong price momentum,” Sui Chung, CEO of CF Benchmarks, said in a statement to CoinDesk. “If we extrapolate bitcoin’s price action and volatility of the past 90 days till December expiry, then bitcoin appears set to end the year between $14,000 to $15,000.”

Bitcoin watch

Bitcoin daily price chart showing resistance and support levels.
Bitcoin daily price chart showing resistance and support levels.

Bitcoin's price rally has paused, with the top cryptocurrency by market value near $13,100, having reached 16-month highs above $13,800 during Wednesday's Asian trading hours.

Investors are rotating money out of stocks and into safe havens like the U.S. dollar and Treasurys on concerns that Germany and France's new lockdown restrictions would torpedo Eurozone's fragile economic recovery.

Not just bitcoin, but almost every asset denominated in U.S. dollars has taken a beating in the past 24 hours or so. Markets saw similar but more violent action in March when recession fears triggered a global dash for cash.

Should the virus figures continue to rise, risk aversion will likely intensify, fueling a more profound decline in the cryptocurrency. However, it's possible investors could buy the dips, with rising institutional adoption boosting the cryptocurrency's long-term prospects.

Besides, stock markets will likely stabilize, helping bitcoin regain poise if the ECB announces more monetary stimulus later Thursday. While the central bank is expected to maintain the status quo, it could lay the groundwork for additional stimulus in December. Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs said the central bank could boost its pandemic bond-buying program by 400 billion euros ($470 billion) in December to counter deflationary pressures.

From a technical analysis standpoint, the immediate bias will remain bullish as long as prices are held above $12,500. On the higher side, the June 2019 high of $13,880 is the level to beat for the bulls.

– Omkar Godbole 

Token watch

Bitcoin (BTC): Winklevosses' Gemini cryptocurrency exchange allows purchasing and trading with euros

Ripple (XRP): San Francisco-based payments firm plans to invest in blockchain money-transfer app MoneyTap, a joint venture with Japan's SBI Holdings. Coin (CRO): Cryptocurrency-focused credit-card lender expands in Latin American market, hires former Visa exec Filomena Ruffa as general manager.

What's hot

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Former regulator who oversaw New York State's BitLicense development and more recently led New York Stock Exchange's regulatory division will now join crypto-friendly venture-capital firm Andreesen Horowitz (CoinDesk


The latest on the economy and traditional finance

Federal Reserve might be running low on ammunition to juice market and the economy (CNBC)

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO who also oversees payments-firm-turned-cryptocurrency-investor Square, grilled by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz over tweet platform's content controls (WSJ)  

Lenders now telling U.S. mall owners to pay up on past-due mortgage bills (WSJ)   

Chinese Communist Party set to detail 15-year economic growth plan (Bloomberg

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