There was a brief period in mid-2020 when Bitcoin was rising along with gold to an extent crypto bulls were claiming that, like the yellow metal, it was a risk-off asset — a hedge against inflation, economic turbulence and geopolitical unrest.
Since then, it has looked increasingly like a risk-on asset, something that rises in value when investors are feeling confident and falls when they’re fearful.
That dynamic was on show on Thursday as bitcoin fell more than 7 percent amid warnings from US President Joe Biden that Russia could invade Ukraine within days and pro-Moscow separatists in the east of Ukraine had stepped up shelling.
“Wall Street has gone full de-risking mode and bitcoin is paying the price,” said Edward Moya, a senior market analyst at Oanda.
“Fears over geopolitical concerns and potentially aggressive central bank tightening has cryptos across the board in freefall,” he added.
Gold, the ultimate haven asset, climbed 1 percent to an 8-month high of $1,902 per ounce, while the S&P 500, a traditional risk-on asset, dropped more than 2 percent.
Some of bitcoin’s behavior can be attributed to its increased exposure to institutional investors, who are treating it like another technology stock. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index is down almost 15 percent since reaching a record in November 2021.
“Bitcoin/crypto is acting more like high growth tech assets,” Ben Lilly, a crypto economist at Jarvis Labs, told CoinDesk. “Just like Nasdaq is filled with Web 2, it’s almost as if the Web 3 narrative has pegged crypto to act similar to the Nasdaq in less certain environments."
Bitcoin could yet change its ways. One of the reasons it has been compared with gold is its finite supply – there will only ever be a total of 21 million bitcoin – while fiat currencies, such as the dollar, can be issued indefinitely.
Bloomberg analyst Mike McGlone predicted in January of this year that bitcoin will complete its transition to a risk-off asset this year, helping propel it to $100,000. It was trading at $40,389 at 11:23 a.m. in London.
Elsewhere in the cryptoverse, the US Justice Department announced that Eun Young Choi, a prosecutor who led the case against a Russian hacker who helped steal information about more than 80 million JPMorgan & Chase Co customers, will lead the department's cryptocurrency enforcement team.
He will be supported by the creation of the FBI’s new unit for blockchain analysis and virtual asset seizure, following the Justice Department's largest-ever financial seizure earlier this month. It charged a married New York couple with allegedly laundering bitcoins now valued at over $4.5 billion that were stolen in the 2016 hack of the digital currency exchange Bitfinex.
U.S. regulators under President Joe Biden have been ratcheting up their scrutiny of the crypto industry in the wake of a series of high-profile cyberattacks last year on the largest US fuel pipeline network and the world's largest beef supplier. Ransomware groups often demand their fees in bitcoin.
In some of those cases, the FBI has been able to track down and recover some of the ransom.