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Newsletter
Tom Rodgers
Tom Rodgers Head of Research
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ETC Group Crypto Minutes Week #16

This week was a reminder that relentless bid-up price action in BTC cannot necessarily be sustained indefinitely, and those investors that are most likely to be hurt by brief periods of volatility are those using excessive leverage.

Leverage in spotlight as $9bn of Bitcoin futures liquidated

This week was a reminder that relentless bid-up price action in BTC cannot necessarily be sustained indefinitely, and those investors that are most likely to be hurt by brief periods of volatility are those using excessive leverage.

Over the weekend a record $9bn of BTC futures positions were liquidated across the major exchanges when the Bitcoin price trended downwards more than 10% in a single session.

Leverage, of course, amplifies the dangers of retail investors attempting to trade Bitcoin without a disciplined risk management approach.

As per TheBlockCrypto, $7.6bn of long positions were liquidated in less than an hour when the BTC price fell to $52,000 on Saturday 17 April. Most exchanges recorded closing traders’ long positions with a dollar value of 10 or 20 times larger than average, as the cascade effect of falling prices rippled through the market.

And while major investment banks like JP Morgan have been touting Bitcoin’s reduced volatility, this episode illustrates why so many investors are turning to unleveraged market trackers like ETFs and ETPs for notionally safer exposure to cryptoasset sector prices.

Under the radar: institutions continue buying BTC, ETH, and LTC

Even amid the volatility of the past week, and while retail traders sought to amplify their gains by buying illiquid nano-cap and small-cap coins, institutional investors were still moving cash into BTC and ETH in record volumes.

There is a stark parallel to be drawn here: on one side we have retail, social media-driven speculative buying of assets with little to no mainstream utility. On the other side, we have large-cap, liquid cryptoassets like Bitcoin, and those like Ethereum and Litecoin which offer innovative solutions to intractable problems with existing financial services.

Dan Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund, with $17bn AUM, is now holding crypto as a Coinbase Custody institutional client, according to filings lodged with the US market regulator, the SEC.

Initially there were no details forthcoming from the filing on which exact assets Third Point shifted funds into. But when industry website Coindesk tweeted their findings, Loeb retweeted the message with his own, saying “Outed as a HODLr”, a common market term for a Bitcoin investor, so it appears fairly clear what the fund’s core assets could be.

Bloomberg also reported this week that Brevan Howard, a $13bn hedge fund, was beginning to invest 1.5% of its $5.6bn main fund into digital assets. In the early 2010s Brevan Howard was one of the world’s largest macro funds with $40bn AUM but dipped as low as $7bn. It recorded a 99% gain in 2020 for its best year on record.

Citing an anonymous source, Nishant Kumar reported:

The initial allocation will be overseen by crypto investment firm Distributed Global...Brevan Howard’s fund will bet on the rising value of digital assets.

British founder Alan Howard has long been an advocate for cryptoassets and as long ago as 2019 was designing portfolios for institutions. The Financial Times reported that Howard aimed to

steer investors towards a select grouping of funds with higher quality operations, so they can avoid blow-ups in a sector full of hazards

Brevan Howard joins a laundry list of billionaire hedge funds diversifying their asset base into crypto. Among first to make significant investments and peek above the parapet were the likes of the Tudor Investment Corporation, run by Paul Tudor Jones. Jones noted in response to the trillions of monetary stimulus from central banks that

the best profit-maximising strategy is to own the fastest horse. If I am forced to forecast, my bet will be Bitcoin.

He was followed by veteran mutual fund operator Bill Miller, whose $2.25bn Miller Opportunity Trust filed for the right to invest 15% of its assets into Bitcoin in February 2021. One-time skeptics like Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates and Anthony Scaramucci’s Skybridge Capital also followed suit.

China softens stance, calls Bitcoin and stablecoins ‘investment alternatives’

Some surprising news out of China this week was that the deputy governor of the country’s de-facto central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), told an audience of global investors that the government was considering the use of cryptoassets as investment options.

Speaking at the high-profile Boao Forum for Asia, Li Bo said that cryptoassets like Bitcoin and stablecoins could be used as “investment tools or alternative investments”, rather than as currencies. This marks the first time that the Chinese government has formally recognised the asset value of cryptocurrencies.

Industry insiders hailed the comments as “progressive” and “significant”, according to CNBC.

China’s relationship with Bitcoin and other cryptoassets — like that of many other major economies — is in a state of flux and is still being defined. Since 2017 China has banned project fundraising through Initial Coin Offerings and maintained its stance that cryptocurrency trading is illegal.

At the same time, in 2021 the progressive Hangzhou Internet court adopted blockchain smart contacts, and two years earlier ruled that Bitcoin was a protected virtual property under law.

We regard bitcoin and stablecoins as cryptoassets...these are investment alternatives, they are not currency per se. The main role we see for cryptoassets, going forward, their main role is [as an] investment alternative. Many countries including China are looking and thinking about what kind of regulatory requirements — maybe minimal but we need to have some kind of regulatory requirement — to prevent the speculative nature of such assets [from creating] any serious financial stability risk. And before we have a clear idea what kind of regulation we need, I think we will keep our current regulation. Li Bo, deputy governor, People’s Bank of China

Macro BTC: Currency or asset?

In a macro sense Li Bo’s words perhaps speak to the kind of relationship that Bitcoin will have with other Central Bank Digital Currencies: it will exist in parallel with fiat currencies rather than as a replacement. In other words, bitcoin is more likely to be treated under law as a kind of digital gold, inflation hedge and portfolio diversification asset, rather than necessarily the alternative cross-border currency that Bitcoin was originally intended to be when it was created in 2008.

China has a number of competing priorities given that its Central Bank Digital Currency — the digital yuan or ‘e-CNY’ as it is now known — is well underway.

Societies worldwide are increasingly cashless — a situation exacerbated and accelerated by Covid-19.

Last year the PBoC tested e-CNY issuances in major population centres, including Shenzen and Chengdu. Li Bo reported to a second panel at this year’s Boao Forum that the digital currency will be used by Chinese citizens as well as international visitors to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in 2022.

According to the bank of banks, the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, 80% of the world’s governments are actively working on CBDCs of their own. And we heard from UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week that his Treasury Department was launching a taskforce to accelerate the potential issuance of a UK digital pound.

Now all eyes are on these central banks for any further regulatory pronouncements.

Markets

The road to ever more bullish price predictions took a knock this week, as crypto markets struggled to maintain their rapid recent momentum, pulling back from record-busting prices in a sector-wide correction.

From an all-time high of $64,915.12 on 14 April 2021, BTC dipped 20.9% to briefly touch $51,337.81, a nudge above a support level last seen in late March. The world’s largest cryptoasset by market cap then recovered by 9.8% to reach $56,387.95.

Ethereum’s internal cryptoasset ether (ETH) managed to keep a tight grip of the gains above the $2,000-mark that it has posted in recent weeks, with that round number level now acting as short-term support. But it, too, could not hold on to its own all time high price level amid the wider market pullback. From its record high of $2,543.61 set on 14 April 2021, ETH fell against the US dollar by 21.3% before paring back those losses to hit $2,221.67.

Litecoin is celebrating its 10th anniversary of 100% network uptime this year, and briefly rose higher in the crypto market cap stakes, swiping ninth place from Bitcoin Cash. Momentum stalled out from an all time high of $335.40, set on 14 April 2021, before dropping as much as 30.1%. The precipitous fall did not last, however, and LTC gained back more than 12.5% by the end of the week to finish at $263.78.

BTC/USD

Source TradingView

ETH/USD

Source TradingView

LTC/USD

Source TradingView

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