Bear markets have grown almost routine for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency prices. Since its 2009 launch, Bitcoin’s price has tumbled more than 50% six times.
Coinbase (COIN) CEO Brian Armstrong, in a June 14 letter announcing an 18% staff cut, offered assurance despite the latest Bitcoin crash and walloping of other crypto prices. Armstrong said the cryptocurrency exchange “has survived through four major crypto winters” and is taking the steps needed to do so again.
Yet this storm is on an entirely different level. “It’s a crypto ice age,” Mizuho analyst Dan Dolev told IBD. “I think this is going to be very deep, very prolonged, and many cryptocurrencies will not survive.”
The blowup of supposed “stablecoin” TerraUSD, wiping out $40 billion in market value, has accelerated a deleveraging wave that has yet to run its course. This month, crypto lending platform Celsius Network, which oversaw $20 billion in crypto deposits and loans, halted withdrawals as it faced a liquidity crunch.
Both Terra, a blockchain payment and savings network, and Celsius offered double-digit interest payments that depended on bullish crypto scenarios. But the collapse of those Wild West business models is less a cause than a symptom of crypto’s unraveling. The real reason the cryptocurrency market is imploding: Bitcoin and the other roughly 19,000 digital currencies are up against their first Federal Reserve tightening cycle to stem an inflation outbreak.
Easy Money Fueled Cryptocurrency Prices
For most of their existence, cryptocurrencies have enjoyed the balmiest of monetary conditions. The period since Bitcoin’s launch has mostly seen the Fed trying to prop up demand. Over that time, the Fed bought up $6.5 trillion worth of Treasuries and government-backed mortgage securities. That suppressed rates in a bid to encourage risk-taking, boost asset values and stimulate demand through wealth gains.
The bulk of those Fed purchases — $4.5 trillion — came after the coronavirus lockdown cratered the economy in March 2020. Alongside multiple rounds of fiscal stimulus, ultra-easy Fed policy worked only too well. All that monetary fuel supercharged the vaccine-enabled economic reopening and touched off the biggest bout of inflation in 40 years.
Now the reversal of unprecedented Fed stimulus is deflating most asset values. The surge in the 10-year Treasury yield has hit growth stocks in particular. Their future earnings streams are less valuable when discounted to the present based on a higher risk-free rate of return. That helps explain why the tech-heavy Nasdaq has underperformed the broad market.
But when it comes to valuing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, there are no future cash flows to discount.
Bitcoin Crash Shows It’s No Digital Gold
The Bitcoin crash has “debunked” the idea that it offers a hedge vs. inflation, like digital gold, Deutsche Bank economists Marion Laboure and Galina Pozdnyakova wrote in May. Rather than trading like gold, the ups and downs of cryptocurrency prices have correlated with the Nasdaq to a “staggering” degree, they wrote.