Just two months after cryptos hit an all time high amid widespread euphoria that the newly launched bitcoin ETF would lead to even more substantial upside, the two largest tokens have lost half of their value, with the broader crypto sector suffering more than $1 trillion in losses amid an accelerating liquidation panic that the Fed's tightening cycle will lead to another crypto winter.
Such is the volatility in the sector where, as Bloomberg put it overnight, there has been just one constant recently: "decline after decline after decline." Of course, for veteran hodlers, Bloomberg hyperbole seems trivial in a world where 80% drawdowns are the norm and the current drop may have a ways to go before it hits a bottom, before a new all time high is hit.
Where Bloomberg is right however, is that superlatives for the latest carnage have been easy to come by: Friday’s decline led to the liquidation of more than $1.1 billion in crypto futures positions and overall more than $1 trillion in market value has been destroyed since the last peak. In other words, "the meltdown is pouring salt on an already-deep wound."
After the latest furious puke that pushed Bitcoin RSI's indicator to the most oversold level since the covid crash in March of 2020...
... Bitcoin, which lost more than 12% on Friday, saw its price drop just above $34,000 with Ethereum sliding as low as $2,400, as the two largest digital assets now trade at a 50% discount from their all time highs and are back to levels last seen in late July, early August. Other digital currencies have suffered just as much, if not more, most meme coins mired in similar drawdowns.
While the selling has been relentless for the past two months, it accelerated in the past three weeks, after the latest Fed minutes - published in early January - showed its intention to not only hike rates but to accelerate the unwind of its balance sheet, which has sent all "bubble baskets" plunging, with bitcoin getting hit especially hard amid the carnage.
And while there have been much larger percentage drawdowns for both Bitcoin and the aggregate market, according to Bespoke, this marks the second-largest ever decline in dollar terms for both.
“It gives an idea of the scale of value destruction that percentage declines can mask,” wrote Bespoke analysts in a note. “Crypto is, of course, vulnerable to these sorts of selloffs given its naturally higher volatility historically, but given how large market caps have gotten, the volatility is worth thinking about both in raw dollar terms as well as in percentage terms.”
Another fact that Bloomberg gets right, is that over the past year, cryptos have transformed from relatively uncorrelated assets providing diversification during market turbulence, into what is effectively a high beta stock. This is easily seen in the following chart showing the 60d correlation between cryptos and stocks. One can thank institutional adoption for that, because the same institutions that are now facing margin calls on their tech holdings, are also dumping cryptos to provide much needed liquidity.
“Crypto is reacting to the same kind of dynamics that are weighing on risk-assets globally,” said Stephane Ouellette, chief executive and co-founder of institutional crypto-platform FRNT Financial. “Unfortunately for some of the mature projects like BTC, there is so much cross-correlation within the crypto asset class it’s almost a certainty that it falls, at least temporarily in a broader alt-coin valuation contraction.”
Antoni Trenchev,, co-founder of Nexo, cites Bitcoin’s correlation to the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100, which right now is near the highest in a decade. “Bitcoin is being battered by a wave of risk-off sentiment. For further cues, keep an eye on traditional markets,” he said. “Fear and unease among investors is palpable.”
According to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities, it’s useful to think of cryptocurrencies as living in the same space as other speculative sectors, including special-purpose acquisition companies and electric-vehicle makers. “When we’re in an environment where all of those riskier assets are selling off, crypto is going to find itself doing the same,” Hogan said. “When the Nasdaq 100 or any of the other more-speculative, rapid-growth, momentum-type asset classes start to gain some traction, so will cryptocurrencies.”
Unfortunately for Bitcoin longs, one place where the token's correlation is especially high is that to such market naplam as Cathie Wood’s sinking ARK Innovation ETF, a pandemic poster-child of speculative risk-taking. That correlation stands at around 60% year-to-date, versus about 14% for the price of gold, according to Katie Stockton, founder and managing partner of Fairlead Strategies, a research firm focused on technical analysis. It’s “reminding us to categorize Bitcoin and altcoins as risk assets rather than safe havens,” she said.
Perhaps unaware what "hodling" means, data from Coinglass shows that more than 342,000 traders had their positions closed over the past 24 hours, with liquidations totaling roughly $1.1 billion.
“Digital-currency markets in total have been challenged this month,” said Jonathan Padilla, co-founder of Snickerdoodle Labs, a blockchain company focused on data privacy. “There’s definitely some pain there.”
Though liquidations have spiked, the numbers are rather muted when compared to previous declines, according to Noelle Acheson, head of market insights at Genesis Global Trading. Acheson points out that Bitcoin’s one-week skew, which compares the cost of bearish options to bullish ones, spiked to almost 15% on Wednesday compared to an average of about 6% in the past seven days.
“This flagged a jump in bearish sentiment, in line with overall market jitters given the current macro uncertainty,” she said.
Amid the pain, some of bitcoin's most faithful are professing patience...
HODLing #Bitcoin is painful.— Dan Held (@danheld) January 21, 2022
If you survive the journey, you will truly know what HODL means.
... while others are starting to wonder out loud at what point the battering might end. Famed crypto investor and (former?) billionaire Mike Novogratz mused on Twitter that “this will be a year where people realize being an investor is a difficult job.”
2600 $Eth would be the next support. Hoping and thinking it holds. Unfortunately Russel has like 14 percent more to go before it bottoms. Won’t be a straight line down.— Mike Novogratz (@novogratz) January 21, 2022
This will be a year where people realize being an investor is a difficult job.
Unfortunately for Novogratz, 2600 did not hold and Eth is now trading below 2,400.
Still, many point out that like on all previous occasions when cryptos crashed, they eventually rebounded to new all time highs. At some point, sellers will become exhausted and the market could see some capitulation soon, said Matt Maley, chief market strategist for Miller Tabak + Co. “When that happens, the institutions will come back in in a meaningful way,” he said. “Once the asset class becomes more washed-out, they’ll have a lot more confidence to come back in and buy them. They know that cryptos are not going away, so they’ll have to move back into them before long.”
But it's not just central bank tightening fears and liquidation technicals that have depressed cryptos: one can also throw in a relentless news cycle, where just in recent days, regulators from Russia, the U.K., Singapore and Spain all announced interventions that could undermine crypto companies looking to grow in those regions. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is preparing to release an initial government-wide strategy for digital assets as soon as next month and task federal agencies with assessing the risks and opportunities that they pose, Bloomberg reported late on Friday.
Testing the resilience and patience of the faithful, so far the sharp drop below the psychological level of $40,000 has failed to serve as an upward inflection point. Crypto proponents say heavy liquidations often serve to cut out the froth in easy-win asset speculation, helping to solidify new bottoms in the market.
Ultimately, the real support will come from none other than the Fed, which will soon realize that it is hiking into a slowing economy...
Tightening into a slowdown… Déjà vu? pic.twitter.com/pczXzMVSxb— Julien Bittel, CFA (@BittelJulien) January 22, 2022
... and will be forced to be far more dovish during this week's FOMC meeting, a reversal which should serve to send risk assets sharply higher.
“Fear and unease among investors is palpable,” Nexo's Trenchev,said. “If we see a bigger selloff in equities, expect the Fed to verbally intervene to calm nerves and that’s when Bitcoin and other cryptos will bounce.”
In other words, the more the Fed tightens - or the more the Fed scares markets into believing it will tighten - the bigger the market selloff, and the worse the economic slowdown, until eventually Powell will be forced to ease, a key point brought up by Bank of America CIO Michael Hartnett yesterday.
Incidentally, it also means that the faster markets crash, the faster the Fed panics, and is forced to stabilize stocks because even if the new and improved Powell Put is well below previous levels, the Fed can't risk a market crash just to appease Biden's demands for an inflationary slowdown so Democrats aren't destroyed in the midterms.
And incidentally, this weekend's ongoing selloff in cryptos means that while stocks are currently mercifully not trading, Monday should be another bloodbath, as Jim Bianco reminds us.
The BTC/SPX correlation is "significant"— Jim Bianco biancoresearch.eth (@biancoresearch) January 22, 2022
Or as @jeffdorsman says, crypto is a 24/7 VIX.
See the table, as of this writing, Crypto is down another 10% since Friday's NYSE Close.
If this hold, no-coiners have about 36 more hours to gloat before it is their turn. pic.twitter.com/JpWeMJZbAf
One thing is certain: several more 2% drops in the Nasdaq, and Powell - who two years ago crossed the Fed's final rubicon and bought corporate bonds to halt a catastrophic collapse - will be making emergency phone calls to put an end to the carnage. As such, a continuation of the meltdown may just be the best thing that the bitcoin faithful can hope for.