Does Anyone Else Feel the Crypto Vibe Shift?

Surveying the small, telltale signs that the market is back. But what’s different this time?

AccessTimeIconFeb 20, 2024 at 8:44 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 14, 2024 at 3:36 p.m. UTC

Is crypto back? It seems that every other week there is a headline saying bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH) are trading hands at prices not seen since 2021, when the crypto market was in an upswing. It’s not obvious that the price appreciation is going to stop anytime soon; things feel different this time around.

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The pandemic-era bull market was a period of mass exuberance, hysteria and fun. Everyone from Elon Musk to my mom seemed to be talking about crypto. Celebrities were endorsing meme coins and buying NFTs. Crypto became a cultural touchstone: perhaps the best signifier of an economy going through wild gyrations as the post-pandemic world began to reopen, a weird time dominated by “vibes.”

In comparison, the latest market upswing has been quiet. Sure, a few friends have reached out to see if they should buy bitcoin — an anecdotal indicator suggesting increased retail interest. But, by and large, it seems very few people have taken notice as crypto prices have ticked up.

Of course, following the wave of protocol failures and corporate bankruptcies in 2022, starting with the high profile implosion of Terra and culminating in the collapse of FTX, crypto has become toxic to talk about. The same level of enthusiasm and lightheartedness is hard to regain while still living through the hangover.

There are a number of indicators besides price action that suggest the crypto market rebound has begun in full force. MetaMask, the primary means of accessing the Ethereum network, is nearing an all-time high of monthly active users (30 million); Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange, posted its first profitable quarter in two years as trading volumes bounce back; and bitcoin search interest is bouncing back (a little), according to Google Trends.

A number of factors could be contributing to rising interest. The bitcoin halving, an event that occurs roughly every four years, is always a popular media topic. Meme coins and token airdrops feed the idea that the crypto industry prints people free money. Endorsements from figures like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and even government bodies, in places like Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, foster a sense that crypto is technologically significant.

Most notably, the launch of nearly a dozen spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) has gone better than expected, with BlackRock’s ETF already posting the fifth-largest inflows this year and billions of capital flowing into the crypto funds.

Moreover, there is a growing sense that the worst may be over for crypto, legally-speaking. Large overhanging concerns have more or less wrapped up, often in crypto’s favor. The Department of Justice settled with Binance, imposing a strict financial penalty, but one the world’s largest exchange appears able to carry. The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission’s hostile attempt to “regulate through enforcement” was dinged after Ripple won a significant legal battle in court, and as the agency faces other uphill battles in court. And the FTX bankruptcy process is winding down, with full restitution expected for all former users.

Increasingly governments, including in the U.S., appear to want to work with the industry to develop policies that protect consumers without hampering the development of crypto. The European Union passed the significant MiCA ruleset while the U.K., Hong Kong, Nigeria, and others are all vying to become crypto “hubs.”

It’s as dangerous as it is stupid for journalists to try to predict the future, especially in an industry as volatile and quickly changing as crypto. There’s no guarantee the bitcoin rally will continue, and there’s always the chance for fortunes to reverse. But there certainly is a growing sense that crypto is on the cusp.

A lot of things have changed since 2021, many for the better. If the buzz grows, crypto has the opportunity to do it better this time, leaving behind the shameless celebrity endorsements, wanton financial speculation, pure fraud and waves of rehypothecation and backroom deals that defined crypto’s bad vibes last time to focus on building something more substantial and long-lasting.

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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.