Bitcoin (BTC) whales clearly expect massive price rises in future as the number of wallets containing over 1,000 BTC ($35 million) hits an all-time high.
Data from on-chain analytics resource Glassnode confirms that as of Jan. 20, there were in excess of 2,400 large-balance wallets.
Whale wallets hit record highs
In 2021 alone, 164 new 1,000+ BTC entities were created, together controlling around $6 billion. While these may not all denote whales increasing their positions, the numbers feed into an existing narrative of wealth transfer which has characterized Bitcoin’s latest bull run.
As Cointelegraph reported, the 1,000+ BTC wallet category was the only one to increase in recent times, with smaller wallet holder numbers conversely dropping.
While some appealed to hodlers not to sell out to whales, others argue that these newly-minted big players will aggressively protect the value of their investment.
“Large inflows to whale wallets were happening at $29,314. They will be protecting their btc… This should be strong support for bitcoin in the short term, and hopefully long term,” monitoring resource whalemap summarized on Twitter this week.
Bitcoin remains at a crossroads in terms of spot market price action, trading in a corridor between $30,000 and $40,000 throughout the week. At the same time, institutional giant Grayscale unveiled its largest-ever one-day BTC buy-in, which totalled over 16,000 BTC worth around $700 million.
“Strong part” of bull market yet to start
Looking ahead, however, and indicators continue to reveal extreme bullish upside potential for BTC/USD.
After Bitcoin’s thermocap pointed to the price being in the early stages of a bubble setup, volatility now suggests that the market is just getting going on its gains. A reference point, macro investor Dan Tapeiro suggests, seems to be early 2017 — the start of almost a year of uptrend.
“Phenomenal chart. Strong part of the #bitcoin upmove has not started yet. Chart suggests we are in Q117 equivalent time period,” he commented uploading a combined graphic of Bitcoin 90-day volatilty relative to S&P 500 260-day volatility.
“Volatility measurement spikes at end of moves… now still near the lows. Hard to think #btc could 5-8x from here in 2021. Best to just #HODL.”
On Tuesday, Ether (ETH) underwent a bullish breakout which propelled the price to a new all-time high at $1,428.
While the move may have been technical, the fundamentals for Etheruem continue to improve as less than one month after launch there is now $3.8 billion worth of ETH locked on the Eth2 blockchain.
The rapid rise in price has clearly attracted the attention of pro traders but Cointelegraph analyst Marcel Pechman warns that Ether’s rise to a new high was also accompanied by a large increase in short positions.
Ether’s break to a new high had little effect on Bitcoin price and it appears that critical comments from former U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, had a negative impact on the wider market today.
Yellen, who has been nominated as President-Elect Biden’s Treasury Secretary, said that cryptocurrencies are being used “mainly for illicit financing.” She issued the comments during a hearing with the Sentate Finance Committee and also advocated for major fiscal stimulus by telling Congress to “act big” when it comes to aid for the ailing U.S. economy.
Institutions are still bullish
Despite today’s slight correction, institutional investors are still bullish on Bitcoin’s long term prospects. A recent projection from hedge fund Vailshire Capital Management called for an “imminent breakout” and PlanB, the creator of the popular Stock-to-Flow model, has predicted that Bitcoin price could close the month near $48,000.
Unlike the crypto market, traditional markets ended the day with strength as Yellen’s call for additional economic stimulus are viewed as a positive by Wall Street. The S&P 500, Dow and NASDAQ all finished the trading day off strong following Yellen’s remarks, closing up 0.81%, 0.38%, and 1.5% respectively.
Despite the negative view expressed by Yellen, positive developments for several blockchain projects helped drive select altcoin prices higher.
Enjin (ENJ) price rallied 71% after the project was legally authorized for trade by the Japanese Virtual Currency Exchange Association (JVCEA). Aside from Ether (ETH), the best performing top 20 coin over the past 24-hours was Bitcoin Cash (BCH), up 7.46% and trading at $546.
The overall cryptocurrency market cap now stands at $1.046 trillion and Bitcoin’s dominance rate is 65%.
The Dubai Financial Services Authority, the financial regulatory agency for the special economic zone, the Dubai International Financial Centre, is looking to enhance local cryptocurrency-related regulations.
The DFSA is planning to introduce a regulatory framework for diverse digital assets as part of its 2021–2022 business plan released on Jan. 18.
According to the DFSA, the upcoming crypto framework will further expand the DFSA’s regulation of digital asset issuers and associated trading platforms. The framework will include a number of digital asset types like tokenized securities and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC):
“We will build upon recent achievements in this space over the business planning period through developing a regulatory regime for digital assets (such as tokenised securities and crypto-currencies), having already implemented regulations supporting various innovative business models.”
According to a report by local news agency The National, the DFSA plans to publish two consultation papers seeking feedback on the upcoming rules. Peter Smith, the DFSA’s head of strategy, policy and risk, said that the two consultations will be released in the first two quarters of 2021. “We will look to regulate a wide range of digital assets, including security tokens, utility tokens, the various types of exchange tokens, such as cryptocurrencies and the firms that provide relevant services in these markets,” Smith noted.
The UAE’s first cryptocurrency-related rules emerged more than two years ago. In June 2018, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, or FSRA, of the Abu Dhabi Global Market published guidance on cryptocurrencies, exchanges and initial coin offerings. The FSRA continued to actively engage with the industry, granting several regulatory approvals to companies like the BitOasis cryptocurrency exchange in 2019.
The United States Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, recently proposed a series of new regulations applying to financial institutions dealing with digital currencies, such as Bitcoin (BTC). To summarize the proposed regulations, exchanges would essentially be required to file a report with FinCEN when a customer makes a purchase in excess of $10,000, and gather Know Your Customer information any time a transaction of $3,000 or greater is conducted using a non-custodial wallet.
This means that if a customer buys $3,000 worth of Bitcoin and withdraws it to a wallet they control, they would have to not only prove ownership of that wallet but also provide their name and physical address, along with additional identifying information.
Personally, my life stands to change very little. I’ve been living entirely off of cryptocurrency since 2015, unbanked since 2016, and have never used a centralized exchange, receiving all of my coins as compensation for goods and services. But as few live as I do, we will likely see a significant impact on how most cryptocurrency users conduct their business. I would hazard a guess that most users have interacted with a centralized platform requiring KYC.
For the rest of cryptocurrency users, the newly proposed regulations would put a significant friction point on deposits and withdrawals. At present, a user signs up to an exchange, submits KYC documents for approval, and can buy and withdraw Bitcoin to a wallet they control, including a hardware wallet for cold storage. When wishing to realize gains, they can then move the funds back onto the exchange and sell for spending money in the bank.
In the future, however, they may be required to prove ownership of the wallet to which they withdraw, including providing their physical address, and similarly, prove the origin of the funds when moving back on to an exchange. This may lead many users, including the privacy- and autonomy-conscious (of which there are many in the Bitcoin world), to seek other, less intrusive ways of using their digital funds. Making payments directly for the goods and services they desire, rather than first selling for fiat currency, avoids the headache of passing through the regulation-induced friction point every time.
The “centralized exchange closed-loop” experience Bitcoiners will wake up from
There’s a reason why relatively few people have engaged in regular transactions and purchases with Bitcoin — they haven’t needed to. The average user signs up for an exchange account, buys crypto, and may sell to realize some gains. Some of the more hardcore users may even buy a hardware wallet and transfer funds to it from an exchange, which could be an infrequent transaction of significant amounts with no real requirement for speed or particularly low fees. The basic process of buying for investment purposes, and occasionally selling to realize gains or to spend, is relatively smooth with centralized exchanges, which is why so few have ventured far out of this closed loop so far.
Many Bitcoiners have opted to stay inside this closed loop for exactly the same reason they may soon seek to exit it — avoiding friction. Sure, many will simply deal with the extra regulatory steps, but many more, particularly thought leaders and longtime community staples, will choose to stay closer to the cypherpunk ethos.
Bitcoin’s adoption ecosystem will get the push it needs
Bitcoin was born and bred for decentralized digital payments. At some point, this use case took a backseat to a digital store-of-value, and the tools necessary for it to reclaim this purpose haven’t adequately developed yet — foremost among these, of course, is scaling.
Bitcoin chose to pursue off-chain scaling solutions (Lightning Network) and on-chain transaction optimizations (SegWit). Both of these have seen lackluster development over the past several years, with SegWit transactions making up less than half of daily transactions over three years, and Lightning Network growth similarly stagnating, with very few exchanges or other major ecosystem players having integrated it at this point. As noted above, this hasn’t been that much of an issue with the current state of things.
However, when the average user gets direct exposure to the Bitcoin network as it functions today, they’re in for a rude awakening that will either prompt them to disengage entirely or will place pressure on wallets and service providers to prioritize SegWit and Lightning. In a free market, which the cryptoverse largely is, consumer demand drives innovation to meet its needs. If enough Bitcoiners start demanding that Bitcoin work seamlessly for small and efficient transactions (beyond simply posting about it on Twitter), the market will seriously push for the ecosystem to develop to meet its needs.
Hungry competitors line up to take over the digital cash role
Of course, Bitcoin is far from alone in the competition for cryptocurrency for direct purchases. Since its transition to a more digital gold-focused role starting in 2016 or 2017, quite a few hungry competitors have emerged. In the forefront of people’s minds are, naturally, the main Bitcoin forks, Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin SV (BSV). Both have pursued an on-chain scaling approach and have the capacity to field a large number of transactions cheaply, but neither has achieved a compelling enough differentiator yet to fully take over Bitcoin’s share of the payments market. Bitcoin Cash has the clear advantage in terms of integrations into valuable services such as Purse.io but lost significant momentum due to repeated forks, each one taking with it a portion of the community and mindshare. Bitcoin SV has quite a few innovations going for it, including social media platforms and rudimentary human-readable username systems. But with a market ranking firmly outside of the top 10 and with far fewer major integrations than Bitcoin Cash, there’s certainly an uphill battle ahead. Additionally, the mark of Craig Wright has soured the project in the eyes of much of the greater cryptoverse, making partnerships and publicity difficult.
Bitcoin Cash has the clear advantage in terms of integrations into valuable services such as Purse.io but lost significant momentum due to repeated forks, each one taking with it a portion of the community and mindshare. Bitcoin SV has quite a few innovations going for it, including social media platforms and rudimentary human-readable username systems. But with a market ranking firmly outside of the top 10 and with far fewer major integrations than Bitcoin Cash, there’s certainly an uphill battle ahead. Additionally, the mark of Craig Wright has soured the project in the eyes of much of the greater cryptoverse, making partnerships and publicity difficult.
Litecoin (LTC) presents an interesting case as the longest-running payments-focused Bitcoin alternative, but so far, it has not yet managed to come into its own. From 2014 to 2017, itstransaction volume trended downward, only to rebound significantly as Bitcoin’s scaling issues began to arise. Since then, it has served as a testnet for Bitcoin of sorts, as well as an off-chain scaling solution. Litecoin’s own scaling path seems to be uncertain, as its own Lightning Network implementation found even less success than Bitcoin’s, while its current 4x on-chain capacity compared to Bitcoin still leaves plenty of growing room. Will Litecoin remain as a substitute until Bitcoin or another project evolves to fully take the payments lead, or will this be the opportunity it needs to take over the digital cash role? Either way, its fate seems to be inexorably tied with that of Bitcoin.
The dark horse in this division may very well be Dash, whose name is literally an abbreviation of “digital cash” and has competed for this use case longer than any other alternative except Litecoin. And despite steady growth in transaction numbers, regardless of a bull or bear market, it has largely gotten lost in an increasingly crowded field of payments coins, some with crypto celebrity backers, especially after the realignment from a privacy focus to an everyday payments focus.
Unlike its competitors, however, Dash has spent years working on quite a few real improvements to the payments experience, including instant transaction settlement and anti-51% attack protection, making a Dash transaction arguably more secure in seconds than what its competitors could achieve in minutes or even hours — an experience that’s particularly useful for in-person retail payments. This, combined with the recent release onto testnet of the long-awaited “Evolution” upgrade, which not only provides human-readable usernames and contact lists but also fully-decentralized digital identities, could make 2021 an interesting year for the crypto payments space. It remains to be seen whether the combination of instant payments with protocol-level ease of use will be enough to catch the attention of an industry with a notoriously short attention span.
The new U.S. regulations regarding non-custodial wallets may push more cryptocurrency users to skip the exchanges altogether and use their coins to directly buy and sell goods and services. Will this be enough to push Bitcoin to reclaim its peer-to-peer digital cash purpose by finally getting scaling solutions, such as the Lightning Network, developed enough so that they’re easily usable by the average person? Or will one of its children choose this time to shine, taking over the payments space while Bitcoin holds down the investment use case?
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Joël Valenzuela is a veteran independent journalist and podcaster, living unbanked off of cryptocurrency since 2016. He previously worked for the Dash decentralized autonomous organization and now primarily writes and podcasts for the Digital Cash Network on the LBRY decentralized content platform.
Grayscale Investments, the world’s largest digital-asset manager, could hold the key to Bitcoin’s (BTC) short-term price outlook, according to JPMorgan Chase.
As Bloomberg reports, strategists led by Nikolas Panigirtzoglou believe Bitcoin could lose its luster over the short-term unless it can “break out” above $40,000. The flagship cryptocurrency breached that key level on two occasions this month, once in the lead-up to new all-time highs near $42,000 and the other just last week.
The strategists determined that the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, which currently has $23 billion in assets under management, will play a crucial role in whether BTC returns to that level or not.
“The flow into the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust would likely need to sustain its US$100 million per day pace over the coming days and weeks for such a breakout to occur.”
If BTC fails to re-take $40,000, trend-following traders “could propagate the past week’s correction,” the analysts said. That means the path of least resistance could be lower.
Since breaching $20,000 in December, the Bitcoin price more than doubled in just three weeks. The digital currency has been rangebound in recent weeks as traders look for the next major catalyst.
In the meantime, Grayscale continues to exert considerable influence over the cryptocurrency market. Average weekly inflows into Grayscale’s digital-asset products reached $250.7 million in the fourth quarter, marking a new all-time high. The Bitcoin Trust generated $217.1 million in weekly inflows, on average.
As Cointelegraph reported last week, Bitcoin’s price rose sharply after Grayscale reopened its services to new investors on Jan. 13.
Throughout 2020, we saw a consistent flow of news about legacy finance, major investment companies and large corporations looking to enter the digital assets industry. The value proposition for investing in Bitcoin (BTC) and other digital currencies started to move beyond just a store of value or thinking of Bitcoin as a commodity like digital gold.
In 2021, we’ll see the market’s understanding of Bitcoin maturing even further. The narrative will shift from a store of value to a powerful and appreciating currency. In 2020, Bitcoin was a commodity that institutions felt pressure to own. In 2021, Bitcoin and crypto will morph from a curiosity (2017) to a commodity (2020) to real money (2021).
Related: What lies ahead for crypto and blockchain in 2021? Experts answer
The dramatic reduction of the dollar’s purchasing power during the COVID-19 pandemic will stay with people for a long time. Depreciation has a psychological effect, one that MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor calls “financial energy.” The experience of watching purchasing power vanish is a drain on people’s emotional and financial energy.
Heading into 2021, consumers and investors are looking for ways not only to protect their purchasing power but increase their peace of mind. Consumers want sound money. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies can make people feel powerful.
Updating Saylor’s concept, I call this psychological effect “Crypto Chi,” for the eternal circulating life force that exists in everything, according to Chinese philosophy. Crypto can act as something that enhances your financial life and overall health.
Investing and using crypto can reconnect people to the notion that they control their destiny and can harness and channel their energy (whether that is in the form of money, actions, relationships, etc.) in positive ways.
The idea that Bitcoin is digital gold is becoming obsolete as it reaches beyond its 2017 high. By making that leap, Bitcoin becomes the catalyst for a new idea — that fiat currencies will have digital cousins. It’s possible that major fiat currencies like the U.S. dollar, euro, yen, British pound, Swiss franc and Australian dollar will have a group of digital cousins trading in the cryptocurrency market. In the foreign exchange market, daily turnover is roughly $6 trillion per day. It’s a massive market relative to crypto.
This idea of crypto increasing personal health and financial power can lead cryptocurrency investors to think beyond just Bitcoin. Just as kung fu master Bruce Lee had a wide variety of ways to fend off an attack, investors now have a variety of digital currencies to invest in to protect their purchasing power and, ultimately, make their lives better — not just materially but spiritually as well.
Bitcoin, Ether (ETH), Dash and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) are used as payment methods in the emerging market world. Contrary to popular belief, we see governments taking a positive outlook toward cryptocurrencies. If 2021 is a more challenging economic environment than 2020, governments may look to crypto to help their citizens in a way they can’t. That could be why the director of National Intelligence recently urged U.S. regulators to create a more favorable environment for the expansion of crypto in the United States.
As you delve into crypto research, you can see the vast potential. For example, if you research how Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance can empower people, you will see a wide variety of opportunities. For example, the big technology companies — Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google — are like mature redwood trees in a crowded forest. How much bigger can they get? In contrast, the altcoin world is like a bright green shoot popping up through fertile soil created by the Bitcoin rain. They are just getting started, and only the sky is the limit.
Technology is now intricately tied to finances, which, for better or for worse, has a deep impact on our lives. When our idea of money can be elevated to a spiritual level, we can see just how important it is to invest in the things that bring us joy.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
William Noble is the chief technical analyst of Token Metrics — an AI-driven digital assets research company. Noble is a 20+ year veteran of finance with experience at Goldman Sachs, Charles Schwab and Morgan Stanley, who’s brought his market analysis expertise to the cryptocurrency space. He has the rare ability to synthesize the crypto and traditional markets in a way that surfaces insightful trends.
Russian cryptocurrency exchange Livecoin has announced it is shutting down after abruptly halting operations in late December 2020.
According to Livecoin’s main page, the exchange is unable to continue operations due to financial and technical damages caused by an alleged attack on its servers in late 2020. Livecoin announced the shutdown on Jan. 16 on Twitter, linking to its new domain “Livecoin.news.” Livecoin’s previous domain Livecoin.net is not available at publishing time.
Livecoin said that it is looking to “pay the remaining funds” to its clients, asking users to contact the exchange via email to complete verification. In order to initiate the procedure, Livecoin users have to send their usernames and the registration date on the platform.
The exchange promised to provide detailed instructions in a reply, noting that reimbursement claims will be accepted until March 17, 2021. “After this date no new requests will be accepted,” Livecoin said. The exchange did not specify when Livecoin expects to repay its customers.
Livecoin also warned users about unofficial Livecoin chat groups that may be spreading false information and trying to defraud users. “Participating in these groups you run a high risk, because we [do not have any] groups,” Livecoin wrote, claiming that its website is the only source of official information. The company also said that there is an ongoing investigation.
Livecoin did not immediately respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.
As previously reported, Livecoin halted operations on Dec. 24, claiming that the exchange suffered a “carefully planned attack” causing it to lose control of all of its servers.
As part of the incident, hackers managed to take over Livecoin’s infrastructure and modify the prices on the exchange to abnormally high values. As such, Livecoin reportedly traded Bitcoin (BTC) at above $300,000, while its market price amounted to around $24,000 at the time. Some users subsequently suggested that Livecoin’s “hack” could be an exit scam.
While Livecoin urges its users to stay away from media channels, its supposed clients are struggling to get their funds back using Livecoin’s unofficial Telegram group. Some reported users speculated that Livecoin’s latest announcement could have been made by hackers, while others filed complaints with local enforcement proceedings.
Some users have refused to send their personal data to Livecoin over privacy concerns. One alleged exchange user provided a list of data supposedly required by Livecoin’s reimbursement procedure including passport scans, residence information, high-resolution selfies, data about the first transaction on the exchange, devices used on the platform, as well as a video of a withdrawal of the first incoming transaction.
Since 2011, a group of enthusiasts and collectors have been obsessed with the physical manifestation of Bitcoin.
On the face of it, physical Bitcoin seems like a contradiction to the key terms that define it, so a trustless, instantly transferable virtual currency becomes a real world coin that has all the disadvantages of Earth-bound cash. But there are numerous advantages too when it comes to privacy, storage and ease of use — and they look pretty cool too.
“A lot of people know about Bitcoin, but very few people actually own Bitcoin. Even fewer own physical Bitcoin,” explains Bobby Lee, who has owned a 10 BTC coin since 2011 and designed and produced his own coins under the BTCC Mint brand until 2018. He added:
“Physical Bitcoins are a rarity, they’re sort of like Picasso and Van Gogh paintings were back in those days. Nobody realized how rare they were. I expect these physical Bitcoins will gain in popularity and appreciation by connoisseurs worldwide.”
Physical Bitcoin typically comes in the form of metal coins, with the private key hidden behind a tamper proof holographic sticker Although highly prized by collectors, Lee said the coins are also practical too.
“The reality is that it’s impossible for me to send people Bitcoin if they’re new to Bitcoin,” he said, referring to digital Bitcoin’s steep learning curve to set up wallets and seed phrases. “Physical Bitcoin, there’s no permission needed, I just hand it to them. Recently my cousin got married in Toronto Canada, and I was able to give them some Bitcoin as a gift and they didn’t need to set up a wallet, I just mailed it to them.”
A piece of history
For ‘cryptonumist’ Elias Ahonen, author of the Encyclopedia of Physical Bitcoins and Crypto-Currencies, physical Bitcoin is also a marker of history. “These coins are the physical manifestation, or artefacts, of Bitcoin in every technical phase,” he says. “Anything that happened with miners from the early Bitcoin era we can’t really point to, but these physical coins we can and collectors find that personally meaningful and also something worth preserving.”
Ahonen was a first year political science student at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo when he first became interested in Bitcoin.
“I had just bought my first Bitcoin on an exchange and not being technically sound, I was convinced I was going to lose my private key to the wallet and get locked out of my Bitcoin,” he said: “So I decided instead to buy the physical Bitcoins which held the private key inside of them.”
This turned out to be a wise move as he did indeed lose access to his original wallet ,fortunately with less than 1 BTC in it. And of course it led to a whole new career as a Bitcoin historian and coin broker. “It’s taken me around the world on all kinds of adventures where I pick up half a million dollars’ worth of coins at an airport coffee shop,” he said.
Multi billion dollar industry
Precise figures for the size of the industry are hard to come by, but almost $3.25 billion dollars worth of Bitcoin (at today’s prices) was minted under the original ‘Casascius’ coin brand between 2011 and 2013. More than 1.5 billion worth (or 44,000 BTC) remains unspent and out in the wild.
One of the most valuable is the 1000 BTC coin, three of which remain unopened out of the five minted. “It’s actually the most valuable coin in the world,” said Ahonen. Worth $35 million on face value alone today, it’d fetch considerably more as an ultra-rare collectible. That puts it ahead of its nearest mainstream rival, the ‘Flowing Hair Silver/Copper Dollar‘ from 1794 which last sold for $10 Million in 2013.
Right now you can snap up a 1 BTC Casascius coin from 2011 on eBay for $130,000. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, there’s a 0.5 BTC coin from 2013 that’s a steal at only $30,000 – and there’s even an unfunded 1 BTC coin from BTCC Mint on sale for $4900. On Crypto De Change, they’re offering a 1 BTC ‘Titan One’ silver coin for just $15,100 (sadly, when you try to buy it you just get a 404 error).
Dim dark days of 2011
Physical Bitcoin traces its history back to 2011 when Utah computer scientist and Bitcoin contributor Mike Caldwell came up with the idea as an educational tool. “Bitcoin was very difficult to explain and in 2013 the average person simply could not get their head around it,” explains Ahonen, adding:
“The idea was that by taking this physical coin, and actually putting the Bitcoin inside of it, you could make a demonstration and say, look here’s a Bitcoin, I’m giving to you and now that you have it, I don’t control it.”
Caldwell’s first plan was to print out the private key to 1 BTC on a bit of paper, stick it in the middle of a washer, and seal both sides with tamper proof stickers. He quickly abandoned this in favour of something a little more high end, contracting a company that made brass tokens for amusement arcades to produce thousands of beautiful Casascius coins. They feature the Bitcoin logo, year and denomination, along with the slogan Vires In Numeris or ‘Strength in Numbers’.
The coins became popular and Caldwell introduced 5, 10, and 25 BTC coins, followed by gold plated bars with 100, 500 and 1000 BTC. As Bitcoin’s price surged in 2013, smaller denominations below 1 BTC began to appear.
“Crypto enthusiasts would buy these physical Bitcoins from Casascius and give them to friends and family as gifts,” recalls Lee, who’s brother Charlie is the founder of Litecoin. “And that’s precisely what my brother did.”
“That December (2011) he gifted me a 10 Bitcoin and paid about $50 for it. So it was relatively inexpensive. Obviously it’s now worth $100,000.”
By 2013 Caldwell had sealed 90,683.9 Bitcoin into metal coins — around half of which remain unspent in the form of 21,000 or so physical coins.
“It was very much a hobby, I don’t think he ever made any money, or any significant amount of money selling those,” says Ahonen. “Frankly, he took a huge amount of personal risk by basically handling the private keys. He was actually concerned that someone would come and hurt him (to steal them).”
The Feds object
The whole exercise came to a shuddering halt in 2013 when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network contacted Caldwell to accuse him of operating an illegal money transmitting business, and he was forced to wind it up.
“It put a damper onto the physical Bitcoin thing,” Ahonen said. “That’s where the rise of these buyer funded coins really came from and also other larger companies that actually have money transmitter licenses.”
A raft of different manufacturers, from boutique artisans to big companies, sprang up in its wake, producing not only Bitcoin but also Litecoin, Dogecoin and Ethereum among others. They included bhCoin, Lealana, Microsoul, Nasty Mining, Recalescence Coins, Ravenbit, Alitin Mint, Cryptmint, Titan Bitcoin and Satori Coin. Ahonen detailed the works of 50 different outfits in his 286 page encyclopedia in 2015, and leveraged the contacts he made writing it to produce a new book called Blockland.
Bobby Lee’s BTCC Mint
The BTCC Mint was an offshoot of Lee’s exchange, BTCC and produced some of the most sought after physical Bitcoin until the company changed hands in 2018. Lee designed the coins himself — “I see myself as an artist having created BTCC Bitcoin” — with the first coins released in early 2016.
“The idea was to take advantage of our BTCC Mining Pool, to mine fresh uncirculated coins into the physical Bitcoins. Over the three years we ran the BTCC Mint business, we minted over 8,700 BTC worth of physical Bitcoins.”
Lee and a select group of highly trusted team members inserted the private keys into the coins by hand. He added:
“I handled the private keys with extreme caution, and have properly deleted all private key data, so naturally, there have been no reports of funds lost or stolen from any BTCC Mint products. I’m most proud of that pristine track record.” This touches upon one counterintuitive aspect of physical Bitcoin — it breaks the crypto commandment of: ‘don’t trust, verify’. Ahonen points out that purchasers need to completely trust the manufacturer and everyone in the production process as it’s impossible to tell if the coin even contains a private key, or if it does, if the manufacturer kept a copy.
“Bitcoin comes from a specific type of philosophy, which is around not your keys, not your Bitcoin. It very much goes against the concept of trusting other people. But with any type of physical Bitcoin, you effectively are trusting the person created to not have the private key. So there is this implicit paradox.”
Symbols of wealth
While BTCC Mint coins featured a Bitcoin logo and the slogan “In Crypto We Trust”, other coins featured artwork that attempted to capture the philosophy behind cryptocurrency. “I would say that with some there’s a very stark, very clear symbolism, which is very philosophical,” explains Ahonen. “With others, it will clearly be something more difficult to decipher and may be personal to the creator.”
There are plenty of circuit boards, bulls and rockets going to the moon, as well as mining pools, Greco Roman warriors, Buddhist imagery, famous figures like Adam Smith and Satoshi Nakamato and historic events like the collapse of Mt Gox and Bitcoin Pizza. “For me personally, the most striking had a burning bank that was on fire,” Ahonen said: “And the bankers were kind of crying on the steps as people were pulling down the pillars of the bank using chains which obviously represent blockchain.”
Not just keepsakes
Apart from collecting, there are a couple of real world uses for physical Bitcoin too. One is for inheritance planning. “Several of my buyers actually have been looking for physical Bitcoin because they want to put them in a safe deposit box for the purposes of inheritance,” he said: “They have got 100 individual coins, and will split them up with the kids evenly – which is much harder if you have exchange accounts or (have BTC) on wallets or USB sticks.”
Physical coins are also the ultimate privacy coins as there’s nothing to associate the owner with an address and they can be traded a million times without ever leaving a record on the blockchain. Theoretically of course, this would make physical Bitcoin a very attractive way to launder money or pay for drug deals, hence the interest from the U.S authorities.
“I don’t know of anyone specifically using it that way,” Ahonen said carefully. “But you could very easily imagine someone using that way, it’s extremely plausible.” He went on to add: “It’s the same as having gold coins. You can hide them, you can do anything with them. No one can really track them.”
Where did all the manufacturers go?
Sadly, physical Bitcoin’s best days appear to be behind it, with one of the last commercial scale manufacturers, Denarium, closing down in July 2020 after producing more than 15,000 coins. Lee believes that increasing regulations and the sky high Bitcoin price have made the logistics more difficult.
“You can’t sell physical Bitcoins in the U.S. due to regulations and as Bitcoin gets very expensive, it’s very cumbersome to ship in the mail,” he said. “There’s lots of inherent risks, insurance needs and so on.”
Ahonen added that there are still numerous hobbyists doing it as a labor of love or as a side project: “It’s a niche thing, but they do exist.”
Lee’s Ballet Wallet is probably the closest living relative — it’s a metal card with a QR code address and a scratch off wallet passphrase. Able to be used by complete noobs with zero technical knowledge, the wallets support 50 cryptocurrencies and more than $28 million worth of cryptocurrency is currently held on them.
“The inspiration for Ballet came in large part from how much customers loved the simple design of the BTCC Mint physical bitcoins,” he said. Lee designed it to appeal to our different senses, you can feel the design as it’s in relief and there’s a real heft to it as opposed to a plastic credit card.
“You can also hear it. I mean literally if you tap on the table that’s the sound of Bitcoin. And we have a surprise feature where if you actually scratch the QR code you can smell it.”
He scratches it off an empty wallet and holds it up to my nose. It smells like perfume. But don’t bother licking it though, as Lee didn’t come up with anything for taste.
Bank on the future
While the heyday of physical cryptocurrency appears to have passed for now, what about the future? Is there any chance that after Bitcoin becomes the world’s reserve asset that we’ll see 100 Satoshi notes being used for everyday purchases?
Lee thinks this isn’t likely, due to the need for trust:“So that’s why it’s not very feasible to have real Bitcoin embedded in physical form and go for 100 satoshi (coins) circulating in the real world. I think physical Bitcoin will remain in the art, limited edition … collector’s world, just like gold coins.”
But Ahonen sees a future for physical Bitcoin outside of art and collecting: “I do believe that there’s a future for physical Bitcoins simply because they’re such a simple way to hold and verify through the use of an intermediary.” He added:
“I mean, grandma can buy it and put it in her safe deposit box. It’s not necessarily as feasible to do that with a USB stick with whatever program that gets outdated. It’s fairly future proof and fairly idiot proof. And I could see banks, or some sort of institutions creating some sort of physical Bitcoins in the future.”
Over the past two months the open interest on Bitcoin options has held reasonably steady even as the figure increased by 118% to reach $8.4 billion as (BTC) price rose to a new all-time high. The result of Bitcoin’s price appreciation and the rising open interest on BTC options has resulted in a historic $3.8 billion expiry set for Jan. 29.
To understand the potential impact of such a large expiry, investors should compare it to the volumes seen at spot exchanges. Although some data aggregators display over $50 billion to $100 billion in daily Bitcoin volume, a 2019 report authored by Bitwise Asset Management found that many exchanges employ a variety of questionable techniques to inflate trading volumes.
This is why when analyzing exchange volume, it’s better to source the figure from trusted data aggregators instead of relying on the data provided by the biggest exchanges.
As the above data indicates, BTC’s spot volume at exchanges averaged $12 billion over the past 30 days, a 215% increase from the previous month. This means the upcoming $3.8 billion expiry translates to 35% of spot BTC daily average volume.
45% of all Bitcoin options expire on January 29
Exchanges offer monthly expiries, although some also hold weekly options for short-term contracts. Dec. 25, 2020 had the largest expiry on record as $2.4 billion worth of option contracts expired. This figure represented 31% of all open interest and shows how options are usually spread out throughout the year.
Data from Genesis Volatility shows that Deribit’s expiry calendar for Jan. 29 holds 94,060 BTC. That unusual concentration translates to 45% of its contracts set to expire in twelve days. A similar effect holds at the remaining exchanges, although Deribit has an 85% market share overall.
It is worth noting that not every option will trade at expiry as some of those strikes now sound unreasonable, especially considering there are less than two weeks left.
The bullish $46,000 call options and above are now deemed worthless and the same has happened to the bearish put options below $28,000, as 68% of them are now effectively worthless. This means that only 39% of the $3.8 billion set to expire on Jan. 29 are worth exploring.
Analyzing open interest provides data from trades that have alreadyd passed, whereas the skew indicator monitors options in real time. This gauge is even more relevant as BTC was trading below $25,000 just thirty days ago. Therefore, the open interest near that level does not indicate bearishness.
Market makers are unwilling to take upside risk
When analyzing options, the 30% to 20% delta skew is the single most relevant gauge. This indicator compares call (buy) and put (sell) options side-by-side.
A 10% delta skew indicates that call options are trading at a premium to the more bearish/neutral put options. On the other hand, a negative skew translates to a higher cost of downside protection and is a signal that traders are bearish.
According to the data shown above, the last time some bearish sentiment emerged was Jan. 10 when Bitcoin price crashed by 15%. This was followed by a period of extreme optimism as the 30%-20% delta skew passed 30.
Whenever this indicator surpasses 20, it reflects fear of potential price upside from market makers and professionals, and as a result, is considered bullish.
While a $3.8 billion options expiry is spine tingling, nearly 60% of the options are already deemed worthless. As for the remaining open interest, bulls are mainly in control because the recent price hike to a new all-time high obliterated most of the bearish options. With the expiry moving closer, a growing number of put options will lose their value if BTC remains above the $30,000 to $32,000 range.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph. Every investment and trading move involves risk. You should conduct your own research when making a decision.
New data from Pantera Capital, an investment firm and hedge fund, suggests that Bitcoin’s (BTC) current price action is closely following the stock-to-follow model’s trajectory and the firm’s analysts believe BTC will reach $115,212 by Aug. 1.
Bitcoin’s parabolic rally may have placed the price a bit ahead of the model’s projection and this week’s 28% correction sent temporary shivers across the market but sharp corrections and short consolidation periods are characteristic of bull markets.
The model focuses on the price impact of Bitcoin halving events that cut the amount of Bitcoin minted every block in half every 4 years.
According to the model, the impact of decreasing Bitcoin’s supply becomes present roughly 6 months after each halving. When Bitcoin price halved on May 11, 2020 the price was around $8,000 and 6 months later BTC was trading above $15,000 and on the verge of entering a parabolic rally to a new all-time high.
The chart above shows the progress of Bitcoin’s price in the days after each halving. A similar pattern developed over the past two halvings, just with a differing time span. The current BTC performance appears to be in between the 2012 market 2016 cycles, which has the potential to lead to a price of Bitcoin between $300,000 and $400,000 around 450 days after the last halving, or roughly Aug. 4.
Signs of a maturing market
Another significant difference between this rally and 2017 has to do with the overall market composition and where value is located. A majority of the value of the current market is consolidated in Bitcoin and Ether (ETH) as institutional investors have thus far chosen the most established chains to gain exposure to the cryptocurrency sector.
Andy Yee, a Public Policy Director for Visa in Greater China, pointed to this development in a Tweet response to Pantera’s report:
“This rally is different. Massive shift from high-speculative, non-functioning tokens in 2017 to #Bitcoin and #Ethereum today, according to PanteraCapital.”
As shown in the chart above, Bitcoin and Ether have 86% of the value. The other 5,000 chains have 14%. While BTC was peaking late in 2017, the two top coins had a total of 52% of the value, indicating that BTC and ETH have consolidated their market share over the past three years.
Possible reasons for this shift in funds include institutional money focusing on Bitcoin as an entry point into the cryptocurrency market due to its network security and vast mining infrastructure, and the burgeoning decentralized finance ecosystem which is predominantly built on the Ethereum network.
As the DeFi ecosystem continues to grow it will also attract institutional attention, further boosting the price of Ether as it is required to interact with all smart contracts and DeFi platforms on the Ethereum network.
Data from defipulse shows that the total value locked in DeFi now stands at $29.98 billion, near its all-time high of $23.116 billion.
As the TVL increases, so does the value of the top ecosystem coins including AAVE and Synthetix (SNX). Trading volume on the top decentralized exchanges, such as Uniswap and SushiSwap, continues to grow with data from Dune Analytics showing that the combined weekly DEX volume recently surpassed $13 billion.
Institutional inflow to Bitcoin may trigger a new altcoin season
While Bitcoin and Ether currently hold 86% of the cryptocurrency market value, past market cycles would indicate the possible flow of funds out of the top cryptocurrencies and into promising new projects. This dynamic has led analysts like Raoul Pal to suggest that after Bitcoin and Ether’s stellar rally, the “next stop will be higher risk alts.”
Media have also reported that Goldman Sachs is rumored to be preparing to offer custody services for cryptocurrencies could set the stage for the next hype cycle for Bitcoin. A sustained inflow of money from the institutional class could be the catalyst that lifts the price of Bitcoin and keeps it in line with the projections of the stock-to-flow model.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.