Crypto markets have historically been led by retail investors, with professional investors following. Is that changing? After all, high-tech innovation in the past 15 years has executed an opposite about-face, flipping an enterprise-led pattern into a consumer-led pattern.
Retail’s lead was evident in the fourth quarter of 2017, as media hype soared, alongside the price. There’s no doubt the retail hype is quieter this time around. CNBC had nearly 100 “bitcoin” headlines in the first half of Q4 2017. These past six weeks, as bitcoin ran to a new all-time high in market value, it’s put up less than 40. Where the hell are Davy Day Trader and the “Robinhood effect” investors? Did their stimulus checks run out?
It’s premature to diagnose a secular trend in crypto investing, mostly because the retail/institutional dichotomy is problematically simplistic. Below, I’ll run through four dimensions of the market that show how the participants in this run-up are behaving differently than investors did in 2017:
- Bitcoin whales and trading vs. holding
- Bitcoin vs. ether and everything else
- Regulated vs. off-shore futures markets
- N. America vs. E. Asia investors
1. Bitcoin whales and trading vs. holding
The number of addresses holding at least 1 bitcoin increased at an unrelenting pace from the end of 2013 to the 2018 crash. It picked up again in 2019, then leveled off again this spring. This is different from the end of 2017, when it soared to a peak with the bitcoin price.
Compare that to the number of what we could call bitcoin “billionaires,” addresses holding at least 1,000 BTC. These whales were selling into the run-up in 2017. This time, the Bitcoin blockchain’s Forbes List is growing, not shrinking.
Address balances must be taken with a grain of salt; addresses ≠ entities. Behavior is a better signal. If there be whales, where are they swimming to? Wherever they winter, they are bringing their bitcoin bags along. The orange coin is accumulating more…