Covid-19 cases are now above 120,000 worldwide, and the World Health Organization has officially determined it’s a pandemic. It’s torn families apart, tanked the global economy, and world leaders are calling it the biggest global crisis in decades.
So, uh, how’s the coronavirus affecting crypto? Though some claim that Bitcoin doesn’t track regular markets - this week it... did. Just as global markets sharply dropped this week, on early Friday morning, the price of Bitcoin sunk to its lowest since March, 2019, briefly below $4,000, according to metrics site CoinMarketCap. Like global markets, it’s recovered slightly, now valued at around $5,425.
So, are people getting rid of magic money so they can feed themselves under quarantine? Or will Bitcoin’s price pump back up as global markets decline, proving it to be a safe haven after all? We asked the crypto-experts, in the latest edition of Bulls vs Bears.
Bitcoin and the coronavirus: the bull case
Eric Wall, CIO at crypto investment firm Arcane Assets, told Decrypt that this short-term volatility is down to people de-risking their portfolio—crypto’s a risky asset, even when the economy’s doing well. But in the longer term, Wall said, “coronavirus-related stimulus packages from governments are likely to further bankrupt fiat's reputation as a form of store-of-value.”
He thinks that the crisis will reveal to investors that cryptocurrencies “represent the only non-inflatable monetary asset that exist in a digital form that we have access to.” COVID-19 is a much greater stress test to the fiat currency system than to cryptocurrencies, Wall pointed out: “In a way, they're excellently positioned to benefit from this tragedy.”
Jack O'Holleran, CEO of SKALE Labs, a decentralized application startup, thinks it’s business as usual for Bitcoin, “except we're doing more virtual events and less handshaking.” He acknowledges that public market drops will “certainly affect new financings in crypto and overall assets flowing in,” but that crypto won’t feel the economic shock as much as the travel, oil, and gas industries.
If anything, the funding shortages that follow the coronavirus will cut the fat off of the crypto economy, “allowing well funded and well executing projects to come out of this in an even stronger position."
Mike Alfred, CEO and Co-Founder of Digital Assets Data, which builds software for crypto hedge funds, told Decrypt that Bitcoin is “setting up for a very bullish 18-20 months, and I don't think coronavirus will have any long term impacts on it.” He thinks that Bitcoin “has behaved well amidst coronavirus scares; some days it appears to be correlating with certain assets, but in the long run it is not correlated with anything,” he said.
If anything, Alfred said, the recent interest rate cuts are “bullish” for Bitcoin, as they create more liquidity for investors. And in 2020, Bitcoin has the highest daily average price over any year of its existence, he said. Granted, 2020 hasn’t lasted that long, but this “further supports a more bullish backdrop” for the upcoming Bitcoin halving—when, in mid-May 2020, the supply of Bitcoins issued as mining rewards will cut in half. (Some think the halving will lead to a price bump for Bitcoin.)
Bitcoin and the coronavirus: the bear case
Dan Schatt, CEO of Cred, a crypto loans company, told Decrypt that “the euphoria that had been predicted in the run-up to Bitcoin’s May halving looks to have been dampened.” He pointed out that governments around the world are creating fiscal stimulus packages, including the delivery of so-called helicopter money. But aside from further rate cuts, which are already historically low, “there’s not a lot else that policymakers can do,” he said. He expects high volatility over the next few weeks, though thinks that the market will pick up following the Bitcoin halving.
Brian McCabe, Head of Market Insights at Paxful, a peer-to-peer crypto marketplace, takes a cautious approach. He thinks that Bitcoin could benefit from economic pain caused in countries that must pay debt back in the US dollar.
If the coronavirus continues to weaken local currencies and makes the dollar stronger, McCabe said, “money will continue to flow out of these economies and their relative debt will increase.” That could lead to Bitcoin once again becoming the alternative, if these economies continue to come under pressure and people are unable to preserve wealth in their own currency.
But equally, McCabe said, “Margin calls and investors losing money in equities and other higher-risk markets should lead to more people having to close positions in Bitcoin to reduce overall risk exposure.” He notes that it’s a similar “flight to safety” to that which caused the yield on US 30-year treasury bonds to reach a record all-time low this week.
David Gerard, blockchain critic and author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, pointed to the impact of the coronavirus on crypto conferences. “Conferences are important for generating buzz around coins and new crypto financial instruments as well,” Gerard said. “Video can replace the main sessions, but it can't replace the "hallway track"—meeting people you didn't expect to and talking,” he said.
The death of conferences is not, of course, fatal to crypto, but if companies can’t meet investors, then business can’t flow, and deals won’t be made. Decisions might be postponed until the conference circuit is revived, whenever that may be.
Of course, with Bitcoin forming such a minor part of the global economy, crypto’s future may be out of the hands of a group of pundits. According to Ido Sadeh Man, founder and chairman at the board of Saga, a reserve-backed global currency: "If coronavirus teaches us anything is that we live in a hyper-globalized world, whether we like it or not. The exact same virus in the 1980's would have been a Chinese crisis, not a global one."
Sure, Man adds, “in such unstable times, people seek first to regain the security they feel is not provided by their national institutions.” But perhaps a truly international currency like Bitcoin will show its worth. “As uncorrelated as it maybe, Bitcoin may reside in the side of crisis opportunities,” he said.
But one thing’s for sure, as Sinjin David Jung, founder and Managing Director at the International Blockchain Monetary Reserve, a social impact economic development reserve and advisory, pointed out: “There are no bulls or bears when the entire global economy is being brought down to its knees as the very issue of life and death now take center stage.”