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Good As Gold? Bitcoin May Not Be The Recession Hedge You're Looking For

This will be the first time Bitcoin goes through a recession

bitcoin may not hedge as well as gold

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This week started with high hopes for a bull run. The New Zealand tax office legalized cryptocurrency salaries, and Goldman Sachs analysts advised clients to buy Bitcoin (BTC) at a relative ‘dip’ of $11,000.

Those hopes have been dashed by a significant market downturn.  More than $30bn has been wiped from the market since Tuesday afternoon, and Bitcoin plummeted by nearly $1,500. Large-cap altcoins lost around 10% of their value.

Bitcoin recession
Source: CoinMarketCap

As one analyst put it, “it’s been a crazy couple of days”.

Some analysts attribute the bloodbath to the looming recession, which led investors to pull out of riskier assets and into perceived safe havens. As equities fall across the board, demand for bonds has smashed records. An inverted yield curve warns that the market expects an economic slowdown.

Even though Bitcoin – which currently comprises about 70% of the total cryptocurrency market – has never been through an economic downturn, many advocates believe it could provide an attractive haven after the warning signs start flashing.

Bitcoin is a better store of value than anything that has existed before,” tweeted Block.One CEO Brendan Bloomer, “and is on course to replace Gold as it outcompetes on economics and digital functionality.”

But this seems to be based on economic folklore rather than experience. Although Grayscale and billionaire bro Mark Cuban referred to Bitcoin as ‘digital gold,’ Bitcoin has little in common with precious metals. The BTC-gold correlation is very weak, and shared movements could be coincidental rather than due to shared fundamentals.

The graphs say it all. While the gold price has been on a near-uninterrupted rise over the past month, Bitcoin has risen, plateaued and spiraled back down again. If a global recession is supposed to be Bitcoin’s ‘ultimate test,’ it’s not doing very well.

Bitcoin recession
Gold derivative (blue), against two Bitcoin derivatives (yellow and brown). Source: FT.
But if people are selling BTC, what are they selling it for? If bitcoin is not a reliable store of value, then we should see value moving out of virtual assets. Instead, the majority of USD-denominated volume appears to be heading into the stablecoin Tether (USDT).
Bitcoin recession
Source: Coinlib

That suggests two things: first, that investors are responding as they usually do in crypto downturns. Buying stablecoins allows investors to preserve value, while remaining in the asset class.

Second, it also betrays a degree of uncertainty. Moving into stablecoins gives investors time to formulate longer-term trading strategies. The market could be taking a pause to figure out what a global recession means.

Still A Fragile Market

The latest stock market plunge came at exactly the wrong time for cryptocurrency. Markets have been cooling ever since the Congressional hearing into Facebook’s cryptocurrency. With the fate of Libra in question, the main driver behind the recent rally disappeared.

And, even though crypto markets have been bullish, liquidity has remained low. Binance closed for eight hours of maintenance today, making trading markets even more shallow.

Bobby Ong, CoinGecko co-founder, believes that Binance’s downtime could have contributed to the latest plunge. With Binance orderbooks offline, it became “easier for traders to move the market,”  Ong said, and that could explain why Bitcoin fell below $10,000. When the exchange reopened, traders took advantage of the lower price to buy on the cheap, subsequently bringing BTC back above the $10,000 mark.

But while it’s premature to say BTC is a recession hedge, it’s also premature to say that it isn’t a recession hedge.

As investments, cryptocurrencies have unique characteristics. They are truly global, tradeable around the clock and, in most cases, have very clearly defined rules on scarcity. Whether that will help weather the oncoming storm remains to be seen.

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