First Mover Asia: Crypto Momentum Falters as Bitcoin Retreats to $23.6K

ALSO: Sam Reynolds considers a rising trend of crypto startups postponing their token launches, part of the fallout from the collapse of crypto exchange FTX and its trading arm Alameda Research.

AccessTimeIconFeb 17, 2023 at 12:39 a.m. UTC
Updated Feb 17, 2023 at 3:06 p.m. UTC
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Good morning. Here’s what’s happening:

Prices: Bitcoin shifted from flying high above $25K to sinking to $23.6K over the course of Thursday.

Insights: Alameda Research ranked among the crypto industry's largest market makers. Its collapse with its parent company FTX, has increasingly prompted startups to postpone their token launches.

Prices

Bitcoin Soars Early Past $25K, Tumbles Late Below $23.5K

1,098
−38.8 3.4%
$23,618
−1187.6 4.8%
$1,646
−54.5 3.2%
S&P 500
4,090.41
−57.2 1.4%
Gold
$1,842
+8.2 0.4%
Nikkei 225
27,696.44
+194.6 0.7%
BTC/ETH prices per CoinDesk Indices, as of 7 a.m. ET (11 a.m. UTC)

Bitcoin was rising again Thursday and then it wasn't as investors seemed to have second thoughts about persnickety inflation, Federal Reserve monetary policy and crypto industry woes.

The largest digital asset by market capitalization was recently trading at about $23,618, down 4.8% over the past 24 hours and well off its high earlier in the day above $25,100. That mark represented BTC's first sojourn above $25,000 since August, reflecting rising optimism about inflation and the economy. But both seemed to vanish in the space of a few hours as an unexpected 0.7% month-over-month spike in January's producer price index (PPI) suggested that the U.S. central bank monetary had not yet succeeded in taming price increases that have bedeviled the economy for more than a year.

Industry-specific problems during the day also offered a reminder that crypto itself remained on rocky ground as investment bank D.A. Davidson analyst Chris Brendler downgraded Coinbase (COIN) to neutral from buy; a New York judge overseeing the criminal fraud case of Sam-Bankman Fried warned he might revoke the bond of the former CEO of disgraced crypto exchange FTX if Bankman-Fried continued to defy bail conditions; and decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol Platypus Finance suffered a flash-loan attack with a potential loss of $8.5 million.

Other cryptos turn red

Ether followed a similar path to BTC, rising well above $1,700 for the second consecutive day before retreating. The second largest crypto by market capitalization was recently changing hands at about $1,650, down more than a percentage point. Other major cryptos also seesawed with APT, the token of layer 1 protocol Aptos, recently sinking 7.9% after rising more than 9% earlier in the day. MATIC, the native crypto of layer 2 blockchain Polygon Network was up over 6.3%, despite paring gains from earlier. Popular meme coins DOGE and SHIB were both firmly in the red a day after rising handsomely.

The CoinDesk Market Index, a measure of overall crypto markets' performance, was recently down about 3.8% after spending much of the previous 36 hours in the green.

Equity markets, meanwhile, flinched at the PPI data with the tech-heavy Nasdaq, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) all declining well over a percentage point. Investors remain wary about a strong employment market, an inflationary sign suggesting that economic growth remains solid.

Still, the recent crypto rally has a number of analysts feeling optimistic about prices. "The [consumer price index] in the U.S. has been playing a less-influential role as more evidence shows inflation has proven to be stubborn to tackle, and investors are adapting and cautiously getting into risky assets as a way of coping mechanism," Adrian Wang, founder and CEO at digital assets wealth management company Metalpha Limited, said prior to the Thursday downturn.

"We can expect the market going more bullish ahead," he said.

And Darius Tabatabai, the co-founder of Vertex Protocol, a London-based decentralized exchange, said that crypto markets seemed willing to move past the industry's myriad problems. "The news that the [Securities and Exchange Commission] was investigating [stablecoin] BUSD earlier this week led to some pullback in prices, but with the market seeming to slowly shrug off the news and retail sales data hinting at a soft landing for inflation, and we may have the makings of another bull market," Tabatabai said.

Biggest Gainers

Asset Ticker Returns DACS Sector
Polygon MATIC +4.1% Smart Contract Platform
Loopring LRC +1.1% Smart Contract Platform

Biggest Losers

Asset Ticker Returns DACS Sector
Decentraland MANA −8.3% Entertainment
Terra LUNA −7.6% Smart Contract Platform
Shiba Inu SHIB −6.8% Currency


Insights

Alameda Research's Contagion Effects Linger as Startups Postpone Their Token Launches

The crypto market is struggling with an "Alameda gap," with several projects postponing their token launch plans because of a lack of liquidity despite surging bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH) prices.

Data from crypto price tracking platform CoinMarketCap shows that new coin applications fell throughout 2022, from 10,264 in the first quarter to 6,350 in the fourth. The drop accelerated toward year's end after crypto exchange FTX and its sister concern Alameda Research collapsed in November. Before going bust, Alameda was one of the largest market makers, providing billions of dollars of liquidity to large-cap and small-cap tokens.

Year to date, the figure is just 3,000 applications.

“Post-FTX we have seen liquidity dry as up to 50% on major coins,” Guilhem Chaumont, CEO of Paris-based market maker and brokerage Flowdesk, said in an email. “On smaller market caps, the liquidity reduction has been even worse because Alameda has closed all their support for token issuers and other big market makers have reduced their exposure and activity.”

Chaumont said he is advising projects to postpone by three to six months. Flowdesk expects the bear market to be around for another 12 to 18 months.

Last month, the recently decentralized exchange dYdX said it was planning to delay its token unlock, which would release more than 150 million tokens to early investors and founders, to December 2023 with hopes that the market will have recovered by then. People familiar with the matter say it is because of concern over market liquidity.

Liquidity in bitcoin and ether markets as measured by the 2% market depth has dried up since Alameda went down, making it harder for traders to execute big orders without affecting the market price and for projects to issue new tokens.

The 2% depth represents a collection of the buy and sell orders within 2% of the mid-price – the average of the bid and the ask/offer prices being quoted at a given time. Data tracked by Paris-based Kaiko show the 2% market depth for BTC fell to less than 8,000 BTC in January even as the cryptocurrency rallied over 40%.

“Crypto liquidity is dominated by just a handful of trading firms, including Wintermute, Amber Group, B2C2, [CoinDesk sister company] Genesis, Cumberland and (the now-defunct) Alameda. With the loss of one of the largest market makers, we can expect a significant drop in liquidity, which we will call the “Alameda Gap,” Kaiko wrote in a November briefing note.

Data from Arkham Intelligence shows that balances at key market makers have dropped. Cumberland currently has a balance of $75 million, down from around $220 million in early December; Wintermute has $122 million, compared with $1.7 billion last February and $4 billion at the end of October 2021, when the bull market reached its peak.

Amber Group, which jettisoned a sponsorship deal with U.K. soccer team Chelsea in December, has been through multiple rounds of layoffs. Arkham says it currently has a balance of $92 million, down from a peak of about $350 million in mid-2022.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, said March Zheng, the co-founder and managing partner of Bizantine Capital.

“Crypto markets are cyclical in nature, but it needs stress test conditions like the last few months to prove its resiliency for the long term,” he told CoinDesk in a note. “New token issuance activity has been down, but it gives more opportunity for incumbent and top projects.”

Zheng points to developments in Hong Kong as bullish sentiments for the market.

Meanwhile, the market continues to rally, with bitcoin pushing past $24.5K during Asian business hours Thursday while shorts were hit with considerable liquidation losses.

Important events

H1HKT/SGT(UTC): China foreign direct investment (Jan./YoY)

CoinDesk TV

In case you missed it, here is the most recent episode of "First Mover" on CoinDesk TV:

Bitcoin was just shy of $25,000, hitting its strongest level since Aug. 15. Digital asset strategist Joe Orsini shared his market reaction. Plus, prosecutors asked a judge to modify the terms of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried's release on bond to ban him from using cellphones or the internet except under very specific conditions. Securities Lawyer James Murphy weighed in after Bankman-Fried's bond co-signers are revealed.

Headlines

BUSD Drama Sets Stage for Stablecoin Market Reshuffling: Binance’s bet on its BUSD stablecoin could backfire into a revamping of who’s winning in crypto’s dollar-pegged token markets.

Crypto Miner CleanSpark Extends Bear-Market Strategy, Buying 20K of Bitmain's Newest Rigs: The Bitmain Antminer S19j Pro+ machines will increase CleanSpark's computing power by 37%.

Only 31% of Staked Ether May Be Profitable, Binance Research: Around 2 million ETH were staked when prices were in the range of $400 to $600. These stakers are some of the strongest Ethereum believers, according to Binance Research.

Crypto Startups Are Increasingly Postponing Token Launch Plans as Alameda Research's Contagion Effects Linger: Data from CoinMarketCap shows a precipitous decline in applications for token listings as liquidity dries up.

Blur Surpassed OpenSea in Daily NFT Trading Volume Wednesday, Nansen Shows: NFT marketplace OpenSea’s dominance in the NFT ecosystem faces a growing challenge from Blur’s rapid ascent.

Disclosure

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

James Rubin

James Rubin was CoinDesk's U.S. news editor based on the West Coast.


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