Notes 7/11: Bitcoin Price, GBTC Discount

One of the safest bets for a crypto story during a slow news cycle is bitcoin price. After last month’s mild rally, the cryptocurrency’s price hasn’t seen much action in July. But Standard Chartered is predicting good things for it for the future. According to the bank, bitcoin price could jump to $50,000 by the end of this year and $120,000 at the end of 2024. As of this writing, bitcoin is changing hands for $30,562, unchanged from yesterday.

Reading Tea Leaves

The math, if there is any, behind Standard Chartered’s price prediction is unclear. Bitcoin does not produce cash flow nor does it have tangible use cases to determine a possible market size. Still, the bank has provided a flimsy explanation: they say that bitcoin supply will become scarce because fewer miners will sell the cryptocurrency at exchanges, leading to an appreciation in its price.

But that explanation presupposes worth for bitcoin. It is true that the payment network has evolved this year and its transaction processing capability has improved considerably. But the token artificially appended to the network remains as worthless as ever.

There’s also the fact that liquidity in its trading ecosystem has declined since the beginning of this year due to a wave of scandals that began last June and shows no signs of subsiding. Investors are running away from crypto and, instead, placing bets on derivatives to profit from a future fall. The situation has forced bitcoin miners – the same ones that Standard Chartered says will rescue bitcoin – to sell their bitcoin holdings for expenses and pursue consolidation tactics for operating expenses.

Past experience has shown that rational analysis must be thrown out of the window while evaluating crypto prices. Instead, one must engage in making sense of the ecosystem through divinations and tea leaves. Some of those leaves look alarming right now. Jeff Roberts from Fortune has outlined some: a government crackdown or a collapse for Tether and Binance – the two entities that support bitcoin price.

Tether Explains Loss of Peg

Speaking of Tether, the stablecoin is still trading at a discount from its peg at Binance.US. As of this writing, it is changing hands for $0.89. The total trading volume for the USDT/USD is around $17,000. It has been askew from its peg since the third week of June, when Binance.US enabled US dollar withdrawals and investors fled from the exchange.

Tether’s chief technology officer Paolo Ardoino attempted to explain the loss of peg on Twitter. According to him, Tether is in charge of its primary market at while secondary markets like Binance.US are the responsibility of the respective exchanges.

That’s a fairly reasonable explanation, except Tether does not really have a primary market on its website. Its raison d’etre, so to speak, is to act as a connective coin between various markets. Therefore, it is joined at the hip to the exchanges where its stablecoin trades. And these exchanges, sometimes, deliberately engineer a loss of peg for the stablecoin and infuriate its CTO, as texts released last year showed.

GBTC Discount Narrows

In addition to bitcoin price movement and Tether’s reserves, there are many other things magical about crypto.

One of them is the widening and narrowing of discounts at the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC). The trust, whose shares had been trading at a discount of 44% to its net asset value (NAV), has narrowed that figure to just 26.7%.

The ostensible reason is the mini-kerfuffle created in crypto markets last week by BlackRock’s filing for a spot bitcoin ETF. GBTC has sued the SEC for denying its bitcoin ETF application and BlackRock’s filing was construed as a shot in the arm for its case.

But the chances of BlackRock’s application being approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are still far from certain. GBTC shares benefitted anyway from BlackRock’s news cycle.

A Closed Book

Not only is GBTC a closed end trust, it is also a closed book for all purposes. Its periodic filings with the SEC do not reveal much detail. For example, it is supposed to be one of the biggest holders of bitcoin but has never produced independent and audited proof of its holdings. SPDR, A statement by Coinbase Custody, its custodian, last year was routine and did not assure jittery investors. By the way, GBTC parent Digital Currency Group was also an investor in Coinbase.

The current circumstances – shrinking liquidity and regulatory crackdowns – in trading markets are also hardly conducive to boosting investor faith in crypto. So, who are the investors bolstering GBTC’s price movements? We don’t know because GBTC trades in OTC markets and its institutional ownership is not publicly available.

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