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Is the Bitcoin bull run over?

April 21, 2021, 8:18 PM UTC

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Bitcoin has had a rough week. It dropped about 12% since last Thursday, largely during a savage weekend selloff. Although BTC now appears to be holding steady at around $55,000, it seems like time to ask the hard question: Is BTC’s epic bull run, which saw it rise more than 700% since last April, over?

With the caveat that I am infamously non-psychic, my short answer is “probably yes.”

The end of ridonkulous gainz wouldn’t necessarily imply the same kind of bloody collapse that ended previous BTC bull runs. The influx of institutional investors that materialized this go-round might create a firewall against massive crashes—though the truth is that if fear really sets in, institutions can unload just as fast as the most panicky day trader, if not faster. Much more stabilizing, I would argue, is the vast amount of infrastructure that has come online in the past twelve months, including an array of new Bitcoin purchase options.

Even more significant than those fundamentals, though, is the impending massive social transformation that will come as the pandemic winds down across most high-income countries.

To understand what’s happening, we can look at downward trends from outside the cryptosphere. First, there’s Netflix, which late yesterday announced first-quarter results that are hard to see as anything other than catastrophic. New subscribers totaled 3.98 million, a wild miss of both Wall Street’s 6.29 million projection and Netflix’ own forecast of 6 million. That compares even worse to 15.8 million new subs in Q1 of 2020. (To be sure, the streaming landscape is intensely competitive now, and those subs may have been lost to other streaming platforms.) The stock, no surprise, cratered 7% on the news. There’s also Zoom, its stock now off 45% from its all-time high reached late last year.

You can probably see where I’m going with this—these are ‘pandemic stocks’ that boomed on the idea that people would be spending more time both working and entertaining themselves at home. As the pandemic gets closer to a real endpoint for most of the developed world, and the U.S. in particular, that thesis is eroding fast.

And Bitcoin is also clearly a ‘pandemic stock,’ in at least two ways: There’s decent evidence that throughout the pandemic, some Americans were using stimulus checks to buy Bitcoin. What’s more, lockdowns gave people, including mega-influencers like Dave “Balsa Hands” Portnoy, time to dabble in crypto trading as a form of entertainment.

Just like bingeing Netflix, that activity is now winding down: Crypto exchange spot-trading volume has been trending broadly downward since mid-January. (Bitcoin on-chain volume is also off, but much more modestly.) This speaks to another vulnerability: Bitcoin isn’t very ‘sticky,’ at least logistically. It’s easy to sell, and the entertainment value of watching a ticker 24 hours a day may not be high enough for many folks to keep at it.

(Deep breath) Now, all that being said.

A fundamental principle of investing is that you should understand what you’re buying. And while details vary, an investment in Bitcoin is a bet on dramatic technological and social transformation. It’s a long-term thesis.

In that light, the outlook is much different, because Bitcoin was already booming before the pandemic: It zipped up more than 100% between April 2019 and February 2020 (though with a lot of intervening volatility), and a very nice 50% between December 2019 and February 2020, just before the pandemic hit Western shores. The same can broadly be said for Netflix, Zoom, and other transformative technologies that got a huge boost from the pandemic, but were already growing beforehand.

The end of COVID-19, in short, might be the end of a certain strain of aggressive over-optimism. But it isn’t the end of videoconferencing, or streaming—or Bitcoin.

A Final Note: This will be my last edition of The Ledger, and my last week at Fortune. It has been a privilege to write and edit this newsletter for the past two years alongside some of the most fiercely incisive commentators in the fintech and crypto universe. More importantly, writing for Fortune since 2013 (with one notable peregrination) has been a life-changing gift.

My next role will be more focused on finance and technology, and I will be announcing details soon. To stay in touch, please follow me on Twitter and/or join my Substack.

I’ll see you on the other side.

David Z. Morris

@davidzmorris

david.morris@fortune.com

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

Credits 🚀

$GME CEO is out as Ryan Cohen's influence grows ... Goldman plows $69 million into Starling Bank ... Mastercard buys digital identity firm Ekata for $850m ... FICO survey finds half of Americans prefer digital banking ... U.S. House passes cannabis banking liberalization bill ... Payhawk raises $20 million for corporate spending service ... Online lender Blend announces IPO draft filing ... Robinhood cofounder Vlad Tenev launches a podcast ... China shifts its tone on Bitcoin ... Hedge funds are abandoning short positions in droves ... Employees of crypto news site The Block buy out investors.

Debits 🐻

Regulators seek to revoke Robinhood's broker-dealer license ... Turkey bans crypto for payments ... Apple hosted iPhone games with hidden casinos ...  Bitcoin must regain $60k or lose momentum, says JPM ... Chamath Palihapitiya is the face of the SPAC crash ... Robinhood falls dangerously short on tax management ... How North Korea built a crypto-heist army ... U.S. banks use A.I. to surveil customers and employees ... Nigerian banks turn to regulators to defend against fintechs.

FOMO NO MO

The artist ... approached the Sotheby’s sale like a gamemaster seeking to demonstrate several technological intricacies offered by NFT smart contracts ... Some digital pieces in the artist’s “Fungible” series can be rendered useless or altered by their owners, a digital feat not usually touted by sellers of paintings or sculptures.

If you're looking for real, long-term hope for the potential of NFTs as not just a medium, but an artform in their own right, you absolutely must read this profile of the digital artist Pak in the Wall Street Journal. While many NFTs are rightly caricatured as .Jpegs and GIFs with a digital signature, Pak appears set on fully exploiting every potential of digital art on the blockchain.

Pak not only uses smart contracts to make pieces interactive, but leverages the online auction process by which most NFTs are sold to create unique experiences that comment on art, commerce, and finance. WSJ makes an easy comparison to the similarly pseudonymous Banksy, but a deeper parallel might be to Nam June Paik, a midcentury trailblazer who exploited and expanded the artistic potential of video technology in similar ways. (The slight similarity of their names, though, is probably a coincidence).

BUBBLE-O-METER

The theoretical supply of Dogecoin. While Bitcoin is intentionally designed with a fixed and essentially unalterable supply cap of 21 million tokens, the Dogecoin blockchain could be spitting out more than 14 million new tokens every single day until the heat death of the universe. The memecoin is rallying because demand is outstripping supply in the short term, but its inflationary issuance means buyers will have to keep snapping up all that new Doge to maintain, much less increase, current prices.

This 'feature' was intentionally built into the currency by creator Jackson Palmer to encourage Dogecoin's use for tipping, and discourage Bitcoin-style "hodling." Seems like not everybody got the memo.

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MEMES AND MUMBLES

This edition of The Ledger was curated by David Z. Morris. We are currently accepting pitches for guest columns. Contact robert.hackett@fortune.com.

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