Bitcoin is up 72% in 2023. Is Crypto Winter finally over?
A regulatory crackdown, a banking collapse, and persistent inflation seemingly would spell trouble for the health of the crypto industry, but Bitcoin, Ether, and other marquee tokens have skyrocketed since the beginning of 2023.
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Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, is up 72%, recently crossing the $30,000 threshold. (It has since dipped below $28,500, as inflation and rising interest rates have spooked investors.) Ether, the second largest, is up 62%, blowing past $2,000 after a successful upgrade to Ethereum, the token’s blockchain. And the total market cap for all cryptocurrencies is up to about $1.2 trillion, an increase of approximately 50% since the beginning of the year, according to CoinMarketCap.
While recent prices for the most prominent digital assets still pale in comparison to their heights in 2021, when the total crypto market cap neared $3 trillion, the price rally has observers questioning whether Crypto Spring has finally sprung.
Is crypto winter over or should I still hang my warm clothes at the door? 📈
— Sariraa.eth (@SariraMerikhi) April 14, 2023
But is Crypto Winter actually over? Fortune spoke to four analysts to place the current rally in historical context.
The four-year cycle hypothesis
“Crypto has worked like clockwork in four-year cycles,” Matt Hougan, chief investment officer at Bitwise Asset Management, a crypto investment outfit, told Fortune.
And so far, he says, there have been three rounds of peaks and valleys.
From 2011 to 2013, the price of the cryptocurrency rose and then fell in 2014 with the collapse of one of the earliest Bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox, which went bankrupt after hackers made off with hundreds of millions in customer funds.
From 2015 to 2017, crypto prices increased again, plummeting in 2018 when the era of ICOs, or initial coin offerings, left many investors bereft as many of the tokens they feverishly bought turned out to be quick cash grabs.
And from 2019 to 2021, prices rose once more, dropping in 2022 after a series of high-profile crypto companies went belly-up, most significantly FTX, the bankrupt exchange once valued at $32 billion.
Some analysts have commonly understood Bitcoin’s price fluctuations—and the crypto industry’s growth writ large—to roughly correspond to when Bitcoin is “halved,” or when the rewards for mining Bitcoin, the process by which computers secure the digital asset’s blockchain, are reduced by 50%.
This reduction in Bitcoin rewards, the theory goes, makes the cryptocurrency’s supply scarcer, which thereby increases its price.
“Post-halving, there’s a big rally that happens,” Gautam Chhugani, managing director and senior digital assets analyst at AB Bernstein, told Fortune. “Pre-halving, there’s an anticipation rally that happens.”
Bitwise’s Hougan, on the other hand, believes that the start of each four-year cycle corresponds to technical innovations. In 2011, mass-market crypto exchanges—Coinbase, Kraken, etc.—launched, allowing laypeople to buy Bitcoin with cash. In 2015, Vitalik Buterin invented Ethereum, which promised to decentralize cloud computing. And in 2019, the “first real applications of Ethereum” appeared, Hougan says, including DeFi, or decentralized finance, stablecoins, and NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
The four-year cycle hypothesis uses a sample size of three instances of price gains and falls, a small dataset. However, if the trend holds, crypto is due for another bull run.
View this interactive chart on Fortune.com
Bullish on Bitcoin—and crypto
In the near term, Chhugani of AllianceBernstein believes Bitcoin and the crypto industry will follow the peaks and valleys of the larger world economy. However, he’s optimistic on its medium and long-term outlook. “Bitcoin has never had two negative years consequently,” he told Fortune.
Analysts at Bitfinex Alpha, a market research team within the crypto exchange Bitfinex, agree. “While the jury is still out as to whether the Crypto Winter is finally over, Bitcoin network activity is indicating a healthy uptrend in transaction fees,” they said in a statement to Fortune.
And Brian Rudick, senior strategist at crypto trading firm GSR, thinks it’s arguable that the industry is even in a bear market at all. “It depends on what your definition of Crypto Winter is,” he said.
Going by price and sentiment, or how the public views crypto, the chill of winter is obvious. However, going by other metrics, it’s comparatively balmy.
Rudick cited a 40% increase in crypto users in 2022, according to Crypto.com, a 5% increase in the number of developers in 2022, according to Electric Capital, and a 293% increase in smart contracts deployed on Ethereum, or programs running on the blockchain, according to Alchemy.
Despite the optimism, Chhugani, the analyst at AB Bernstein, warned that the feverish pace that saw Bitcoin’s price rise to almost $70,000 in 2021 isn’t directly around the corner. “Regulation remains challenging,” he told Fortune. “So we’re not in the middle of a crazy raging bull market.”
That said, he remains bullish. “This industry has died like a few hundred times in the last 14 years,” he said. However, despite constant predictions of crypto’s collapse, he added, “it doesn’t really happen.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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