The macroeconomic outlook for the cryptocurrency/digital asset market is definitely not looking good, at this time. There are a multitude of reasons. I think this is largely because Cryptocurrencies are considered “trendy” in financial services, however I’ve recently been asked for my take on specific Crypto’s (Bitcoin primarily) and what I’ve come to refer to as “Complex Crypto’s” (ETFs, other Exchange Traded Crypto Securities, Crypto IRA’s, etc.). Of course, at the center of this conversation is Cryptocurrency mining and trading. As most who follow this market even casually know, the two are intimately related.
Standpoint on Cryptocurrency and Digital Assets Throughout the Recession
Disclaimer: Pro-crypto enthusiasts will not be happy. This is how I’d put it, favorably. I see the cryptocurrency market, coming out of the recession – assuming it does – with entirely new technologies, marketing strategies, market dynamics, etc. To elaborate, let’s take what we can all agree to be true about the cryptocurrency fan base today, largely speaking. They’re a) not long-term strategists, b) very weak (or completely incoherent) when it comes to basic knowledge of financial markets and even more complex financial instruments, and c) the composition of cryptocurrency investors is not one you’d generally – or ever – consider “cash rich” compared to other investors (both individual and institutional).
We’re looking at a market with the majority of participants being short-term, stubborn and perhaps unqualified thinkers, with little to no savings to boot. Market dynamics aside, Bitcoin has been religiously dropping for quite a while now. If conceptually it doesn’t make sense and the numbers aren’t there, investors are in deep trouble.
Fast forward a few months. The Fed continues their ongoing strategy of “deflating the inflation” with historically “aggressive” rate hikes. The participants in the market described above would generally be considered high in terms of price elasticity. Meaning, their sensitivity to pricing changes is above average. In prices rise, they are more likely to sell quicker than someone who is more price inelastic, perhaps because they have a larger savings (as an example). On average, the same cryptocurrency enthusiasts who decided to invest in a Crypto ITF are the ones who will be forced to sell off their digital asset portfolio the quickest.
When the average cryptocurrency enthusiast starts to get more and more burdened by everyday essentials, their digital wallet’s intrinsic value will diminish rapidly. Are you willing to struggle to pay rent to hold onto Bitcoin at the price you bought it? If you’re already a short-term thinker, the answer is more or less common sense. No. Nor are you willing to sell your house to maintain a bullish position on Bitcoin (if you’ll be in one of the unfortunate groups that lose their job in the recession).
The Cryptocurrency Enthusiasts with Never-ending Dedication
Cryptocurrency enthusiasts will undoubtably disagree with the short-term thinking narrative, but it’s respectfully backwards. There’s no other asset in financial markets you’ve analyzed as a better bet for the long-term. Really? Not the S&P 500 Index? US Treasuries that have never defaulted? If you’re looking for enhanced potential for extravagant short-term returns, cryptocurrency is an area for you. But that’s a complete contradiction to the long-term value proposition. There is none.
Their last standing argument: Blockchain Technology. This is debated in part, but the general consensus among the Crypto community appears to be along the lines of, “Blockchain technology is considered a commodity and regulated by the CFTC that we simply cannot live without as a society. Therefore, Bitcoin will survive and prosper through any recession, since we have propriety technology that will revolutionize the world” [I’m paraphrasing]. This technology is by no means universally accepted in traditional financial markets. Bill Murray’s Ethereum wallet was recently infamously hacked. This will no doubt bolster the SEC’s position against institutionalizing digital assets.
It’s relied on even less so by traditional financial investors. Let’s not forget, the SEC is still unwilling to budge on a Bitcoin spot ETF with the number one concern being lack of technological innovation to eliminate jacking and market manipulation. If the SEC says it’s too dangerous, where do you think institutional investors will fall with the current macroeconomic trajectory? Why is Bill Murray’s Ethereum wallet suddenly the focus of all the daily financial newsletters?
Near and Long-Term Cryptocurrency and Digital Assets Outlook
In the near term (3-4 months), look for prices to continue dropping steadily. This goes across the board for all digital assets. In the long term (1.5-2+ years), that becomes a very complicated question when you dig into potential hypotheticals. Digital assets and cryptocurrencies are almost completely unregulated. There are no remotely serious regulatory requirements or disclosures of any information about holdings reports, portfolio allocation, investor reports, or any other typically standard financial accounting. That was part of the initial pitch: anonymity.
Now, when purely digital asset portfolio managers like Grayscale want to get through to institutional investors, they start to create SEC approved Bitcoin Trusts, strategically push for Bitcoin spot ETFs, make it publicly known they own roughly 4% of all of Bitcoin, etc. That goes back to an original point. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies may not get completely cratered like the dinosaurs did, but will we have thousands – or tens of thousands – of different cryptocurrencies, trading on infinite different platforms, with an unlimited amount of different marketed benefits? I don’t see it.
Are Cryptocurrencies and Digital Assets Going to Crash from the Recession?
To the more interesting question, can digital assets become the modern-day dinosaurs? It’s vaguely possible, but unlikely. This is where global politics, luck, and irrational/unconventional investor behavior tend to make the largest impacts. Let’s say Bitcoin drops below $5,000 and Grayscale, owning roughly 4%, assesses a further drop to $3,000 by next month. What does Grayscale do? Every financial product they sell is a digital asset and they’ve marketed Bitcoin as the obvious face. They get absolutely no protections from bankruptcy and neither do their investors. Yet, with the amount of Bitcoin they own, could they theoretically have backdoor discussions that would lead to the price of Bitcoin artificially being propped up? It’s a definite theoretical possibility.
Again, we don’t know who Grayscale would be in the room and how much bargaining power they’d have. To the cryptocurrency enthusiasts who think it’s “cool” to invest in cryptocurrencies specifically because executives at traditional investment institutions are known for appeasing shareholders (in other words, doing their jobs) and “throwing investors under the bus”, well what do you think will happen to you? Will the CEO responsible for making those decisions that has the potential to change investors lives do the “ethical” thing because they don’t have shareholders to protect? I think the fair and impartial response is that remains to be seen. That’s the truth.
Let’s face it: cryptocurrencies and digital assets are in for the fight for their existence. This is newfound territory for this comparatively new market. It will absolutely shed so much more light than we have today about investors true perspectives and feelings on digital assets. At the end of the day, in a world where quantitative data leads investment decisions, rather than personal belief and alleged loyalty, we’ll have to see what executives and cryptocurrency holders alike do on a broad scale.
The Bottom Line and What to Do
The “correct” decision – meaning the decision statistically likely to have the most favorable outcome – would be to reinvest your holdings elsewhere. The risk is way too big, while the reward is way too small or nonexistent. Of the at-risk assets on the chopping block, digital assets are first in line. There is no remotely likely scenario where cryptocurrency supporters get to say “I told you so” anytime soon.
In reality, what you do is listen to the experts, at least in this case. No one’s saying you need to get your IRA, or any other investment vehicle out for that matter, but you can’t think of a more prudent investment given the economic climate you’re being explained? What about real estate? You have the benefit of a physical asset, upside to earn capital gains if market prices increase, and at the simplest level, housing is essential. Individuals will never not need housing. If the recession impact results in a catastrophic scenario, you have an asset with no real danger of going to zero.
If you’re going to hunker down and stay invested in digital assets until the end, you can still diversify and reduce your exposure. There are Bitcoin futures ETFs, like the VanEck Bitcoin Strategy ETF we discussed last time. There is the SEC-backed Bitcoin Trust; Grayscale’s GBTC. You can invest in hard currencies that would offset your exposure to digital currencies.
There’s a plethora of options of the astute investor, but the question in my mind continues to be, why? Why go through an agonizing recession, where you’ll make difficult financial choices just to maintain your current cryptocurrency holdings? Again, if you’re so over-the-top for Blockchain technology, it will be available for purchase at a lower price in the future. But the near future? No chances from the present. Bitcoin will continue to systematically drop daily until there is major turnaround. There’s no telling what that will look like yet.
The Warren Buffett Philosophy
Consider this quote from Warren Buffett and how it applies to this debate. Buffett is universally known as the most intelligent and disciplined value-based investor of our generation.
“People should only [make investments] in companies that exhibit solid fundamentals, strong earnings power, and the potential for continued growth.”-Warren Buffett, Unpublished
Does the cryptocurrency market currently a) exhibit solid fundamentals, b) has strong earnings power, or c) has a solid potential for future growth? The answer to all three is no. That’s likely why Buffet has always remained a staunch opponent to digital assets. Buffet’s average holdings are somewhere from 10-34 years. It’s more than fair to say he views investing as a marathon, not a race.
Concisely, as all other major financial news agree, the cryptocurrency market is at a crucial testing point, at bare minimum. We know crypto products aren’t going to gain market value during a recession, for sure. However, the extent of the damages digital assets will take compared to other “at-risk” assets remains to be seen. Time, Forbes, CNBC, and Reuters all predicted major cryptocurrency market tumbles during the recession just this week. Again, a lot of it will depend on luck and how things play out, but there are actions you can take as an investor to mitigate your exposure to the bullish side of the crypto/digital asset market during a recession.
I’ll end with one final argument against cryptocurrencies and digital assets. Ironically, this goes against Warren Buffett’s main investing principle (at least in part). I believe he’s said that during a recession, his investment philosophy changes, but I was unable to find that quote.
“Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a fly epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”-Warren Buffett, Unpublished
The Secret Behind Buffett’s Legacy: Some Deals are Simply too Risky
Whether you agree with the risks to digital assets now or not, Buffett is spot on as usual. He has more famous quotes regarding investing in the stock market for the long-term, which is what he starts with. Buffett has held AXP (American Express) since 1964, KO (Coca-Cola) since 1988, and Wells Fargo (WFC) since 1989. Buffett’s outlook on the stock market is almost exclusively dependent on his analysis of that specific business. He’ll look at the financials in extensive detail, but he’ll also study the business model. How the company generates profits, what kinds of costs they incur. He’s the third richest person in the world off investments alone. Warren Buffett – rather than major investment banks or cash lenders – is known to have plenty of available cash during a recession or financial panic.
Why? He hedges anywhere he’s far too overexposed and to boot, he has a knack for taking good bets on massively successful companies. In the context of cryptocurrency and digital assets, are they going to withstand all those arduous times? WWI & WWII, Vietnam, the Great Depression, over a dozen recessions and financial panics, oil shocks, a fly epidemic, and a political catastrophe? That wasn’t just an ego-trip; Buffett lived through those eras and more so, he prospered through them. Very few, if any, can say the same. Buffett stays away from a certain level of risk, period. No matter what the potential or hypothetical reward is, Buffett doesn’t execute the deal unless it’s met his standards.
With the way Blockchain was initially pitched, then repurposed, and gained little traction since is worrisome to me. The bottom line is cryptocurrency and digital assets have nowhere to go but down during an impactful recession. What you should do, in full sincerity, depends almost exclusively on your investing goals and available capital. In common, everyday situations – for example purchasing an overpriced digital currency – you should still mitigate your losses.
You don’t want to be taking a bigger loss because you were too stubborn to take a much smaller one initially. I believe we’ll wind up seeing a lot of cryptocurrency investors in that boat. At what point will they be willing to toss it in and accept this investment just didn’t work out? Will they get to that point? Time will tell. What’s certain is the magnitude the recession’s impact will have on the cryptocurrencies and digital assets markets.