INTERNATIONAL – Is this the start of a new phase for Bitcoin or the beginning of the end for the biggest cryptocurrency?
That seems to be the question being pondered by both proponents and skeptics with volatility lingering at the lowest level since before the epic surge and collapse of the peer-to-peer electronic alternative to cash.
Those looking for some guidance from historical pricing patterns are out of luck. Neither a strong positive or negative divergence has formed over the past month, technical analysis measures show.
Bitcoin traded in a similar pattern only one other time this year – in June when its price jumped from about $5 900 ( R87 000) to about $8 200.
"This could be a signal that the cryptocurrency market is maturing," said Nigel Green, founder of DeVere Group, a financial advisory organisation.
Bitcoin is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. But it took years for the cryptocurrency to gain steam as investors considered the potentials – and legalities – of its payment network.
"This is a maturing market, so volatility should continue to decline," said Mike McGlone, Bloomberg Intelligence commodity strategist. "When you have a new market, it will be highly volatile until it establishes itself," he said. "There are more participants, more derivatives, more ways of trading, hedging and arbitraging."
That sentiment rang true for David Tawil, president of ProChain Capital, a crypto-focused fund. Lower volatility makes sense as Bitcoin’s illiquidity means there is a lack of momentum. "The buying community is folks that are invested in a long basis for a long period of time," he said.
Bitcoin’s potential to replace fiat currencies as a way of doing business brought about a wave of excitement in 2013 and 2014, leading to a rally in its price that hit $19 511 in mid-December.
However, regulators have cracked down on cryptocurrencies, rejecting recent proposals to list exchange-traded funds backed by Bitcoin. Expectations for widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies has also diminished, giving way to concerns over manipulation but a stabilisation in Bitcoin’s price has led to a decline in speculative investments, said Gil Luria, director of research at DA Davidson.
Bitcoin saw volume spikes last year from a combination of people investing in the digital token and speculators wanting to profit from its up and down moves regardless of its underlying value, he said. Now that the price has stabilised, there’s less speculation, he added.
"Volatility and volumes are two sides of the same coin," he said. “When speculators are involved, they drive unusually high volumes as well as volatility by trading the asset with high frequency. As speculator involvement is diminished, volumes go down and volatility goes down as well."
Naeem Aslam, the chief market analyst at TF Global Markets UK, struck a more sober tone. If volatility and volume both remain low, he said, it means "capitulation."